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Posts published in December 2012

Entry points

carlson
NW Reading

The Oregon commission on public safety, tasked with making suggestions on cutting corrections costs while not harming public safety, has its report out, and some of the pieces of it seem clear enough.

The legislature, convening in February, may well take a good look at what it suggests.

Some of the core of it is in these summary paragraphs, worth some attention:

What the Commission found in Oregon’s data was, as expected, a state with tremendous public safety achievements. Commissioners were in complete accord that we begin our process by taking stock of the many things we have done well in our public safety system. Paramount among these is the historic and sustained crime decline we have experienced in Oregon. What’s more, we have achieved this crime decline with a comparably modest incarceration rate (still below the national average) and a prison system that focuses largely on offenders convicted of violent and sex offenses. This means that, for the most part, our state is appropriately focusing its most expensive public safety resource on the offenders who need it most. Finally, through its renowned commitment to evidence‐based practices, Oregon’s corrections system has achieved one of the nation’s lowest recidivism rates.

However, the Commission found that Oregon has lost ground on some of these achievements over the past 10 years. Even though our state imprisonment rate hovers below the national average, it has grown at over three times the rate of the national average in the last decade. During that same period, Oregon’s prison admissions have grown to include increasing percentages of nonviolent offenders, diluting the state’s strategy of concentrating prison beds on the violent and sex offenders who warrant them most. Oregon also has been handing down longer sentences for all offense types, including nonviolent offenses. Despite a growing body of research that points to the diminishing public safety returns of longer prison sentences, Oregon offenders are staying longer in prison today than they have at any point in the last decade.

Finally, the Commission found that as the state directs increasing resources to prisons, resources for Oregon’s community corrections programs, lauded across the country for their success in reducing recidivism, have shrunk. Many counties face significant shortfalls in the sanctions and services they need in order to hold offenders accountable at the local level.

Additionally, critical public safety agents like sheriffs, victim service providers, and the state police have gone underfunded. These shortfalls pose a real and pressing threat to sustaining Oregon’s reductions in recidivism and victimization.

The purpleness of districts

westcascades

A statistical rundown of presidential votes by congressional district has been completed - for the three Northwest states at least - on the Daily Kos site, and it offers some real perspective on just how Republican or Democratic the various districts in the states are.

This is least useful, probably, in Idaho, where the two congressional districts are very nearly each as Republican - very. It does show that the second district is incrementally less Republican than the first; In 2012 it went 33.1% for Barack Obama and 64.1% for Mitt Romney (in 2008, 37.1% for Obama and 60.5%) for John McCain). That compares with the first district's 2012 of 32.2%/Obama and 64.9%/Romney (in 2008, Obama/35.1% and McCain/62.5%) - hardly a difference at all, when the overall margins are so large.

In Oregon's five districts, which like Idaho's didn't change massively with redistricting, the numbers are a little more distinctive.

By far the most partisan-leaning district of the five was the Portland-centric 3rd, where in 2012 Obama took 72% (Romney/24.7%) and in 2008 won with 72.9% (McCain/24.3%) - a much more sweeping partisan dominance than even Republicans in Idaho. It was also much more sweeping than in the Republican-oriented Oregon 2nd district, where the Republican presidential nominees won but by less than landslide numbers (2012 Romney/56.8%, Obama/40.5%; 2008 McCain/53.8%, Obama 43.3%). In fact, the appropriate Oregon mirror image to the Republican 2nd now would be not the 3rd, which is much more blue than the 2nd is red, but rather the first district, where Obama both cycles won by about as much as his Republican opponents did in the 2nd (in the 1st: 2012 Obama/57.3% Romney/40%; 2008 Obama 59.6% McCain 37.7%).

The other two districts, roughly the southwestern quadrant of the state, are closely comparable, with clear but lesser Democratic leads. In the 4th (centered on Lane County but including much conservative territory), Obama won in 2012 by 51.7% to 45.0%; in 2008, by 54.2% to 42.7%. In the 5th, the numbers were not far off from that: Obama in 2012 by 50.5% to 47.1%, and in 2008 by 53% 44.2%.

The largest interest in these numbers, though, should be in Washington state.

Here we find a genuinely wide range of results. The single most partisan congressional district in the Northwest is here, in Seattle's 7th district, where the Obama wins both cycles were enormous (79.2% to 18.1% in 2012, and 80.4% to 18.0% in 2008), significantly exceeding even the Oregon 3rd. The third most partisan CD in the region is immediately south of Seattle, the much-reconfigured 9th district, where Obama overwhelmed Republicans in both cycles (in 2012, by 68.3% to 29.6%, and in 2008 by 68.6% to 29.9%).

Of the 10 Washington districts, the Republicans won the presidentials both time in just two, the easternmost. Their strongest was the Tri-Cities-based 4th, where they nearly won landslides both times (2012 Obama 37.9% to Romney 59.7%, in 2008 Obama 39.2% to McCain 58.9%). They approached that in the 5th (2012 Obama 43.7% to Romney 53.5%; 2008 Obama 46.3% to McCain 51.2%). They are clearly Republican-leaning areas, but not overwhelmingly so by comparison with the districts around Seattle.

The 3rd district, now held by a Republican and commonly described as a Republican district, is more marginal than you might think. Romney did win it in 2012, but only narrowly (Obama/47.9%, Rommey 49.6%), and McCain lost it in 2008 (Obama/50.9%, McCain 47.1%). And while the new 8th district has been commonly described as a Republican gift to Republican Representative Davie Reichert, this may come as a shock: Obama won it in both cycles (20120 Obama/49.7%, Romney 48.1%; 2008 Obama 51.5%, McCain 46.8%). Democrats might want not to give up in the 8th.

When it was formed by redistricters, the new 1st district looked maybe a tad more Republican than Democratic, but in any event very close. But the presidential numbers show that new Democratic Representative Suzanne DelBene's win there may be no fluke. Obama won in its contours 54.1%/43.3% in 2010, and by 56.3%/41.9% in 2008.

And the newly-redrawn Washington 6th and 10th look a little more Democratic, based on presidential numbers, than that - about in lines with expectations.

All of which may provide some guidance as political people plan out their races for the cycles ahead.

Could you shoot your neighbor?

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

(The following was written a week before the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. It’s here today with no apologies.)

Imagine your neighbor has begun nailing all his furniture to the floor, has tied his pickup to a tree and put long ropes on all three kids. He’s convinced God is going to turn off gravity across the world and all he has and cares about will be drifting out into space. Soon.

Now, before you write the guy off as an idiot from our little burg-in-the-woods, hear him out. Listen to his reasoning. Here it is. “It hasn’t happened yet – which means it will.”

That’s right. You got it. Gravity still worked this morning and is likely to continue all day. But, in his world, gravity will end – everything and everyone will become weightless and fly off the earth. He knows it’s true. Because “it hasn’t happened!”

With precisely this same kind of anti-logic, thousands and thousands of Americans have been rushing to gun stores since our general election. They are cleaning off the shelves of rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic weapons, pistols and millions of bullets. Some stores have been cleaned out and the underground weapons business is going strong, too.
So what connects these two unrelated pieces of nutcase off-the-wall-ness? Well, two things. First, President Obama has been re-elected. And, second, he’s going to take away your guns and put extremely high taxes on ammunition. The same ammunition gun owners won’t need if he takes their guns. Oops. Just injected some rational thought there. Sorry.

Some stores sales are up 100% in a year. Seems lots of people “think” they will need more guns and ammo to protect themselves because government is going to take away their “absolute” rights and they need protection. Though it hasn’t happened. Which means it will.

But the REALLY deep thinkers promise the President may also end the food stamp program. And IF that happens, people will need a lot of firepower to protect themselves from the starving masses.

None of this – NONE of this – is made up. I swear. Except my ersatz neighbors tying down all their worldly possessions so they don’t float off when gravity ends – which they will because it hasn’t. But these gun nuts are sure what hasn’t happened is going to happen. Because it hasn’t. But it makes the point. (more…)

Next session’s purity test

idahocolumnn

Last week, Washington and Oregon were two of the first six states to get initial (conditional) approval from the federal government for their plans to set up state-based insurance exchanges. Idaho is rapidly approaching a final decision point on whether to start.

An Oregon statement on the plan called Cover Oregon says: “Cover Oregon is a central online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for and compare health coverage options and access financial assistance, starting in October 2013. Coverage for plans purchased through Cover Oregon will be effective January 1, 2014. Through Cover Oregon, individuals and families will be able to easily compare plans, see quality grades for carriers and plans, and access financial assistance to help pay for premiums.”

Doesn't, in truth, sound much like tyranny, and actually sounds more like a free marketplace.

That aspect of it – the federal requirement for a setup notwithstanding – may have resonated with free marketeer Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who (a day after the federal approval for the neighbors) said he would support establishment of a state-run exchange in Idaho. (Failure to set one up on the state level would result in establishment of a federal-run program.) But actual setup takes action as well by the state legislature, and that's where things get complicated, and political.

A comparable proposal died earlier this year in the legislature but, partly because of personnel changes, chances may be better in 2013. An early spate of news stories on key players in the health and welfare committees suggest the proposal has at least a reasonable chance of getting to the floor in either chamber.

But whether it passes remains an open question, and so is its impact on Idaho Republican politics.

The insurance exchange easily could turn into a purity test for Idaho conservatives, with “squishes” – presumably including, improbably, Otter – being distinguished from the purists who simply say: hell no. It might (we don't know yet if it will) pit parts of Republican leadership (not all of it) against large parts of the caucuses. It could split Republican leaders against each other. (more…)

Christmas in Connecticut like no other

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

A week or so ago, a friend and I spent a few hours bell-ringing for the Salvation Army in our little burg-in-the-woods. It’s one of the annual activities of our Rotary club – one I look forward to each year. Not so much now.

My friend and I have stood in the cold outside several local “big box” stores through the years. We have time for good conversation and, for the most part, enjoy interacting with others during the holidays. My favorite moment is when a young parent puts a few coins in a small child’s hand and shows them how to put the money in the red kettle. Then quietly instructs, “Say ‘Merry Christmas’.” Touches my old heart.

What doesn’t touch my heart is watching what too many shoppers have put in their carts as they roll out past us to the parking lot. Oh, there’s the usual supply of small appliances, toys, clothes, lots of electronic stuff and a bit of groceries here and there. Just like the carts in your town, I’d guess.

But we keep seeing more. Cases of beer. Many per cart. Boxes and bottles of wine. Many per cart. And guns. And boxes of ammunition.

Now, I’m a tippler. And a gun owner. So my reaction to this annual scene is not one of moral judgement by the uninitiated. My own shopping could mean buying a firearm of some sort, maybe some ammunition and – more often – some spirits.

No, what I have trouble with each December is reconciling the armament and bulk alcohol with the real spirit of Christmas. Thinking of the birth of Christ as reported in the gospels – remembering tenderness, wonderment, joy and surprise we experience – filling our thoughts with Christmas.

And especially this Christmas – 2012 – when we mark the murder of 20 elementary school children who went to school one morning – looking forward to pageants, plays, singing carols, exchanging gifts and learning more each year about the true “reason for the season.” Doing all the “kid things” we did. They were anxious with fun and hope – doing projects they’d spent hours and hours practicing. Until bullets ended all that. (more…)

So what are we going to do about it?

stapilus
Randy Stapilus
View from Here

And so as we end another year, another round of madman shootings - just this week three dead and one injured at Clackamas Mall in Oregon - where only luck kept the death toll from rising much higher - and at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where so many children were slaughtered.

How much longer, how many more insanity-driven shootings, before something meaningful is done? Not, to be sure, with the idea that there's such a thing as a perfect prevention, but with the idea that mass killings should be at least harder to accomplish, and diverted more often. And recognizing that it doesn't have to be this way: The United States really is an aberration among the more developed countries around the world, most of which see nowhere near as much of this sort of violence.

Drawing in part from a Jeffrey Goldberg piece in the Atlantic and a spate of other articles, here are a few thoughts.

• If someone is determined to kill, they will kill. But the impact can be lessened. If guns were not the hand weapon of choice, violence would not end, but fewer people probably would die. Last week in central China a man entered a school and attacked about two dozen people - but he did it with a knife, and while many of those people were slashed and stabbed, all of them lived. The attack was not prevented entirely, but the efficacy of weaponry made a difference.

• With something on the order of 300 million guns of various kinds in the United States, the idea of getting rid of them, or even very many of them, is futile. Leaving aside legal issues, there are many legitimate legal uses of many guns apart from those use by law enforcement and military, and self-defense is a legitimate use. But relatively few people really know how to properly, carefully and safely use a firearm. Anyone who thinks the Clackamas or Newtown events could have been stopped by a population of shoppers or educators who'd been packin' ought to stop to visualize what probably would have happened in fact: A frantic shootout by panicked people that would have doubled, tripled, quadrupled the death toll. A public of vigilantes ready to shoot first and ask questions later would be vastly more dangerous than what we have now.

• Do we really need, on the open market and available for any (prospectively crazed) person to buy, semiautomatic firearms that can kill dozens of people in minutes? Yes, other guns can kill, too, but not so many people, so quickly. Do we really need such easy access to 30-round magazines for AR-15 semiautomatics? Shouldn't it be at least harder to access such lethal firepower? (more…)

Legal troubles? Go work for a big bank

carlson
NW Reading

"Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen," sang Woody Guthrie - but you're a lot less likely to serve time in the Crossbar Hotel if you use the latter.

That was the angry point of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley's letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice's ongoing refusal to go after even the most brazen bad guys in the financial section. And leading to the sad but logical conclusion that "jail time is served by over 96% of persons that plead or are found guilty of drug trafficking, 80% of those that plead or are found guilty of money laundering, and 63% of those caught in possession of drugs. As the deferred prosecution agreement appears now to be the corporate equivalent of acknowledging guilt, the best way for a guilty party to avoid jail time may be to ensure that the party is or is employed by a globally significant bank."

How that can be called justice is hard to imagine.

From his letter:

On Tuesday, the Justice Department entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with HSBC related to more than $800 million in illicit narcotics proceeds that drug traffickers laundered through the bank’s Mexican and American affiliates, as well as over $600 million in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer highlighted just how brazen the violations were, with traffickers depositing “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller window.” Sanctions violations were equally deliberate, with the bank intentionally stripping information from transactions to avoid detection. Yet despite these clear and blatant violations, the Department of Justice refused to bring criminal charges against the bank, relevant employees, or senior management.

Indeed, Mr. Breuer stated yesterday that in deciding not to prosecute, the Department considered the “collateral consequences” of its decision on the financial system. Mr. Breuer stated “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?” The HSBC decision comes on the back of deferred prosecution agreements with Standard Charter Bank and ING Group related to similar charges.

I do not take a position on the merits of this or any other individual case, but I am deeply concerned that four years after the financial crisis, the Department appears to have firmly set the precedent that no bank, bank employee, or bank executive can be prosecuted even for serious criminal actions if that bank is a large, systemically important financial institution. This “too big to jail” approach to law enforcement, which deeply offends the public’s sense of justice, effectively vitiates the law as written by Congress. Had Congress wished to declare that violations of money laundering, terrorist financing, fraud, and a number of other illicit financial actions would only constitute civil violations, it could have done so. It did not.

Instead, Congress placed these financial crimes squarely in the federal criminal code precisely because the consequences are so severe. Drug trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico continues to wreak extraordinary violence across North America, leading to 15,000 deaths in Mexico in 2010 alone and continued gang violence and deaths in the U.S. Drug cartels are also increasingly connected to terrorism. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 39 percent of State Department-designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) have “confirmed links” to the drug trade, as of November 2011. The consequences to U.S. national security for violations involving terrorism financing and Iran sanctions violations are obvious and severe. Congress deemed criminal law the appropriate tool for punishing and deterring actions that have such serious and damaging public consequences. (more…)

Pressure on coal

Coal transport is becoming a front burner issue in Oregon, but it already has made the leap in Washington. A port in Whatcom County, in the Bellingham area, is considering handling large-scale coal shipments to China, and protests have grown quickly, and grown large.

A hearing last night at Seattle drew about 2,300, most of the apparently in opposition.

Pushing past the solidly green political climate of the Cascades-west is going to be tough for the coal industry, which is why it has been hiring professional help. The green-oriented Sightline Daily has outlined some of the professional contours in a notable piece out Thursday.

Some of them, the article notes, are organizations with long histories of pro-green activities. An example: "A Portland-based economic consulting firm, ECONorthwest has a long history of work supporting conservation, so many were surprised to learn the firm took money from Ambre Energy to produce an economic impact analysis. ECONorthwest’s analysis has become a key piece of support for the Morrow Pacific Project, a complicated scheme to move as much as 8 million tons of coal annually in barges on the Columbia River for onward shipment to coal plants in Asia."

Really unaffiliated

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

STOP THE PRESSES! HOLD THE PHONE! Or, as Wolf Blitzer would say, “We have BREAKING NEWS coming into the Situation Room!” Well, that’s what he tries to say – no matter how it comes out.

Have you heard of the “nones?” No, not “nuns.” NONES! Well, you’re going to get familiar with that label and be seeing and hearing more about that group if you follow elections. It’s the newest identifier word among political wonks and the Nate Silver’s of the world.

“Nones” are officially voters who have no specific religious affiliation. The “nones.” In the 2012 election numbers, “nones” accounted for 17% of the vote. Put in perspective, 17% is larger than Hispanic vote, 18-24 year olds or the hardest core of pro-lifers. Can you say “significant?”

The Pew Research Center says this new classification of voters is “politically important and consequential” and “one of the strongest Democratic constituencies in the population.” In 2012, Pew found about one in five survey respondents called themselves “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” All said they never attend church.

Now that attendance information might be unimportant if you figure there are probably a lot more “unchurched” folks out there who don’t vote. So what? But if 17% of the people who DO vote can be identified, the question for political campaigns is “how do we reach them?” ‘Cause they gotta be reached!

These folks are important. In 2008, for example, numerically they were as reliable a constituency for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants were for John McCain. Democrats didn’t identify the “nones” and go after those votes! There was no specific effort to target them. How could there be? And their number grew a full three percentage points from 2008-2012.

The demographics of “nones” make them hard to appeal to. They seem to be liberal on social issues – more likely to support same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. But half surveyed called their political ideology “conservative” and about 40% “moderate.” A real mixed bag. Still, they appear to lean heavily toward Democrats.

It’s not surprising that two-thirds of the “nones” believe churches and other faith-based organizations are too involved in politics while 70% say religious institutions are “too concerned with money and power.”

Remember – it’s the “money and power” factors that make groups like evangelical Christians and Catholics targets of political campaigns because they can plug into nationwide communications networks and fund raising. These “nones” don’t have a system of connection so, again, how do you find them and how do you reach them? (more…)