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Posts published in December 2012

Some offshore loophole options

carlson
NW Reading

As the Washington out east ponders budget balancing, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group is suggesting some ways to raise $150 billion, painlessly for most us, by hitting offshore tax dodges. Regulatory devices that are legal (the lobbyists make sure of that), but that many taxpayers probably would deem unfair.

From OSPRIG's email this morning ...

With Congress scrambling to agree on ways to reduce the deficit, OSPIRG released a new analysis, pointing out a clear first step to avoid the “fiscal cliff”: closing offshore tax loopholes. Many of America’s largest corporations and wealthiest individuals use accounting gimmicks to shift profits made in America to offshore tax havens, where they pay little to no taxes. This tax avoidance costs the federal government $150 billion in tax revenue each year. OSPIRG’s new data illustrates the size of this loss with 16 dramatic ways $150 billion could be spent.

“When corporations skip out on their taxes, the rest of us are left to pick up their tab.” said Celeste Meiffren, Consumer and Taxpayer Advocate with OSPIRG. “Right now, this kind of tax dodging is perfectly legal, but it’s not fair and it’s time to put an end to it.”

At least 83 of the top 100 publically traded corporations in the U.S. make use of tax havens, according to the GAO. American companies like Wal-Mart, Coca Cola, and Pfizer – which benefit from our educated workforce, infrastructure, and security – keep more than 70% of their cash offshore. Thirty of America’s largest, most profitable corporations actually made money off our tax code between 2008 and 2010 by avoiding taxes altogether and receiving tax rebates from the government. By using offshore tax havens, corporations and wealthy individuals shift the tax burden to ordinary Americans, forcing us make up the difference through cuts to public services, a bigger deficit, or higher taxes for everyday citizens.

To illustrate the size of the revenue lost each year to tax havens, OSPIRG presented 16 specific ways it could be spent, in a fact sheet released today, titled “What America Could Do With $150 Billion Lost to Tax Havens.” Examples include: (more…)

Denney out

Idaho's House speaker for the last three terms, Lawerence Denney - derided in many editorials around the state as "Boss Denney" - is out as the top House leader. He lost to the assistant majority leader, Scott Bedke. (Ironically, Denney has been AML before he won the top spot.)

This was mainly a contest over personality and management style more than stands on legislation; Denney and Bedke haven't had discernably different voting records. Still, management style can matter: Legislation may surface, or get to the floor, depending on that style. An early take from one observer: The session may run a little longer now than it would have if Denney had prevailed.

No other changes of major note in the leadership races. More in this weekend's column. - Randy Stapilus

I-502, on the immediate side

carlson
NW Reading

From a note to editors by the Washington State Patrol, concerning new state law on marijuana going into effect tomorrow ...

However, it is unlikely that we will have much to report tomorrow regarding immediate effects of the new marijuana law. In particular, there will be no way to tell how many people troopers might have contacted with less than an ounce of marijuana and who were NOT arrested. It’s fundamental that we don’t keep tabs on people engaged in legal conduct.

It will take a month to six weeks to have completed trooper time sheets that might indicate a change in the number of arrests for possession. However, trooper timesheets only indicate “drug arrests,” they do not indicate the type of drug involved. So even this might not be definitive.

With respect to impaired driving, we hope you’ve all heard our mantra by now: We’ve always arrested impaired drivers regardless of the drug involved. It has always been a crime to drive while impaired by drugs whether they be illegal, legal or even medically prescribed. This new law does not change how troopers will determine impairment at the side of the road.

The THC level in a suspect’s blood will not be known for days or weeks after the roadside contact. That will be an issue for prosecutors and defense attorneys not troopers.

Fiscal cliff or backroom poker?

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

A magician’s best weapon to fool you is “misdirection – a word, a gesture or a movement to make you think or look at something different from what the guy’s actually doing. When the really good ones master the concept, you’ll be fooled every time. Works well in politics, too.
All our national media is awash in “fiscal cliff” hysteria. Will we go over? Will we be saved at the last minute? How bad will it be? Who’ll be to blame? All this “cliff” business is drowning out just about everything else. To me, all that noise is misdirection. You gotta keep your eye on what they’re doing – not what they’re saying.

Both sides are dug in. Really entrenched if you believe the talking heads. “Absolutely no way they’ll get together on anything before the end of the year” all the “experts” say. Maybe. Maybe not. A little piece of news out of the U.S. House this week may have more to do with that “misdirection” analogy than the media thinks.

Speaker Boehner jettisoned four of his soggy tea baggies off two important committees. Huelskamp of Kansas and Amash of Michigan are no longer on House Budget. You remember that group? Paul Ryan chairs that one. He of “Ryan Budget” fame. Medicare vouchers and all that. The other two – Schweikert of Arizona and Jones of North Carolina – no longer have keys to the House Financial Services Committee men’s room.
All four were abruptly dropped – apparently told by the media before being officially informed – for what House leadership said was “failure to be team players.” And what had these miscreants done? Well, three voted against the Ryan budget in committee or on the House floor. And Jones openly challenged leadership by opposing the war in Afghanistan. Defiance of orders to “get in line and go along.” Plus – he’s a budget “hawk.”

While such punishments are not normally worth noting outside the inside pecking order, these four get my attention. They share a common connection – three contaminated by tea baggerism and a fourth spouting anti-war sentiments. All are bedrock hard opposing new taxes. Of course, they’re not the only ones in the House. But – when pushed to a vote in the “official” House budget process – these four have been among the loudest naysayers. They want more and much deeper cuts in the national debt and no – absolutely NO – tax increases of any kind. Not likely they’re going to change. For any reason. These are not the kind of guys you want in positions of authority behind your back if you’re Boehner and trying to compromise with the rest of your caucus and the White House.

That’s why I label this interior shuffling “misdirection” and give it some importance. Boehner’s team is going to lose some votes on the House floor no matter what the final meeting-of-the-minds compromise turns out to be. He knows that. He also knows if he can’t get enough votes from hardliners in his financial committees to get any compromise out for a full vote, all Republicans are going to get pounded in the 2014 election because the public already perceives them as obstructionists. Polling in recent days has run as high as 58% against them if there’s no deal.

Boehner – who’s been a real underachiever in the Speaker’s job – wants desperately to compromise. But, to do that, he has to do some House “cleaning” or any agreement he signs onto will die before it’s born.
At the same time, in the Senate, eight members from both parties have been secretly trying to build a budget deal. Idaho’s Mike Crapo is one of ‘em. Using the Simpson-Bowles report as a starting point, this little group has been cutting, shifting and whittling numbers for a couple of months. And – with rumored “unofficial” input from the White House. Scuttlebutt is they’ve made significant progress. Enough so their discussions have turned to how to get whatever their final plan is through the House. If this group of “four+four” is successful, odds are good their compromise will be approved by the full Senate. But, what about the House? What if all their work winds up dead in some House committee because the extreme minority of goofy tea baggerists can keep it bottled up? (more…)

Limits of sovereignty

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Round House, in early November was chosen by the National Book Award as the year’s best work of fiction. It is a worthy recipient, but in telling a compelling story of a Native American woman’s violent rape (Told by her 13-year-old son), the art of fiction transcends boundaries and presents an all too believable “true” story.

At one level it is a tale of injustice. At another it is one of vengeance as well as the coming to terms with tragedy full of ambiguities by two precocious 13 year old boys trying to make sense of their world while still full of teen-age angst driven by their own developing sex drive.

With skill and selective humor the author captures the complexities of reservation life and of Native Americans still trying to find their identity in a world that very much looks down on their culture and them. Now living in Minnesota, Ms. Erdrich grew up in North Dakota near the Chippewa Reservation and is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain band. Her eye for the revealing detail is incredible while still employing a bare, fast moving writing style that quickly engages a reader.

In a powerful and emotional appeal Erdrich is making the case for a change in jurisdiction law in a more effective way than did Walter Echo-hawk in his scholarly book reviewed in this column earlier this year entitled In the Court of the Conquerors. Echo-hawk outlines the ten most outrageous cases upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court over the years that systematically denied America’s native peoples rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Each author, though, in their own thoughtful way makes the case for tribes to be allowed by Congress and the Courts to administer justice to native and non-native alike for crimes committed on their reservation. Non-native folks in counties containing or adjacent to Native American reservations immediately protest saying that since they can’t vote for tribal officials and judges they should not be placed under tribal jurisdiction. (Try using that argument if arrested in Turkey for drugs)

If the US Supreme Court starts recognizing tribes as having full sovereignty on their reservations (as opposed to the apparent interpretation that tribes only have “quasi-sovereignty”) then it is inevitable that the day will come when non-natives will be prosecuted in tribal courts for crimes like murder and rape.

In Erdrich’s novel it is just this issue of jurisdiction that lies at the heart of the story. The rapist is allowed to walk because neither the authorities nor the victim can say for sure where the rape physically took place. Sure, it was near the novel’s namesake “Round House,” but there are multiple ownerships in and around this particular site.

In the Afterword, Erdrich cites stunning statistics from an Amnesty International report which says one out of every three Native American women will be raped during their lifetime and 86% of their attackers will be non-Native men. For Erdrich this is as much an issue of safety for Native American women as it an issue of justice.

A minor yet central character in the story’s plot is a “fictional” South Dakota governor, Curtis W. Yeltow. In the book he fathers a daughter by a 17-year-old Native American intern working in his office and then pays her $40,000 to keep quiet and disappear. She disappears alright by way of murder. (more…)

Public-private partnerships

elephant
The new arrival/Oregon Zoo

 

The concept of public-private partnerships sounds sensible and even high-minded, a resident in the world of win-win. Sometimes it is. But other times, it seems more questionable the closer you look.

Consider the story - one that surely will become so large as to be unavoidable before long, and interestingly broken by the daily in Seattle and not Portland - that the new baby elephant at the Portland Zoo belongs not to the zoo but to a private company.

From the Seattle Times: "A baby elephant born at Portland's zoo last week may be fated to a life with a controversial traveling elephant show that rents out pachyderms to the entertainment industry, stages circuslike events and offers elephant rides at $500 an hour, The Seattle Times has found. ... Oregon Zoo officials quietly cut a deal to give up the second, fourth and sixth offspring between Rose-Tu, owned by the zoo, and Tusko, a prolific male owned by Have Trunk Will Travel. Last week's birth was the second offspring between the pair."

That sort of agreement is said - now - to be fairly common among zoos. But how many people know that? (Many more will soon.) And what will they think about it as they learn the details?

The story hasn't hit bottom. The Oregon Zoo has issued a FAQ which runs like this, answering some questions but sounding a little vague still in places:

Will Rose-Tu's baby be sent away?
No, Rose-Tu's calf will stay at the Oregon Zoo where she will live with her family in the newly expanded Elephant Lands habitat. She isn't going anywhere.

Will the company Have Trunks Will Travel try to claim Rose-Tu's baby?
Have Trunks Will Travel stated that they have no intention and have never had any intention of taking Rose-Tu's calf. Read their statement here.

Does the zoo have a contract with the company Have Trunks Will Travel?
Yes, the zoo and Have Trunks Will Travel have an agreement outlining the breeding loan of Tusko and the resulting offspring. This agreement has always been a fact we've been willing to talk about. It has been reported in Portland's local media.

Did you deny knowledge of this contract to the Seattle Times?
We've always been open about this information. When the Seattle Times reporter called, we denied that the calf would leave. We did not deny the existence of the contract.

Does the Oregon Zoo own Rose-Tu's baby?
Have Trunks will Travel is the formal "owner" of the baby, although that ownership is in name only. We may eventually take formal ownership of Rose-Tu's baby, but regardless, she will always live with her Oregon Zoo herd. The Oregon Zoo has been home to other residents who were not initially owned by the zoo, most notably Packy.

Why did the Oregon Zoo enter a contract with Have Trunks will Travel?
Simply put, the Oregon Zoo contract with Have Trunks will Travel is all about Tusko. The Oregon Zoo is an AZA accredited zoo and therefore participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for elephants. The Taxon Advisory Group recommended breeding Tusko with Rose-Tu to increase genetic diversity in our herd.

- Randy Stapilus

32 years north, 28 south

westcascades

Washington has been getting national notice for its long-running stretch of Democratic governorships, with 32 years now passing since the last time a Republican (John Spellman, a King County executive, in 1980) - the longest unbroken run by Democrats for that office in the country. (That's eight elections; by comparison, the GOP in much more Republican Idaho stand at five.)

But what does that really indicate about Washington - or Oregon, which is close behind at seven consecutive Democratic gubernatorial wins?

Both a little less and a little than meets the eye. Republican John Carlson, who himself was one of those losing Republican nominees for the office (in 2000), has out on Crosscut an excellent recap of those races from 1984 to present, running through explanations of why those races turned out as they did. It's a highly recommended read as a fine recent overview of Washington politics.

Allowing for some quibbles and a small slice of partisan view, Carlson's take here seems fair and reasonable. He writes, "Washington is more liberal today than it was during the Reagan era, but of those eight races, one was essentially a tie, one was squandered, one was blown in the primary, two were lost at the national level, and two others were unwinnable."

The two unwinnables (quibble: no race is totally unwinnable, but these were surely extremely difficult for a challenger) were the re-election campaigns for Democrats Booth Gardner and Gary Locke. "Essentially a tie" was the Chris Gregoire win in 2004 (a fair description) - the Republican there (Dino Rossi) was a coin flip from winning. And the others? They were a combination of poor Republican choices, either of nominee or of specific campaign tactics, and of the national political environment, especially presidential races. Washington's gubernatorial elections run in the same cycles with presidentials, so the national picture is apt to have some significant impact. In 1980 and 1984, when Ronald Reagan won Washington, that may have helped Republican candidates a bit (though 1984 was when the Democratic streak began, owing partly to a bum economy at the time). But since then, the state has voted Democratic for president, more and more strongly, and that must have been one of the factors boosting Democrat Jay Inslee this year.

Also worth noting: Many of these races have been close. This year's was roughly a 52-48 race; so (roughly) was 2008; 2004 was a near-tie; and 1992 was another 52-48. That level - fairly close, albeit with a Democratic edge - seems to have emerged as a norm, barring a governor who is personally either very popular or unpopular.

So what of Oregon, where the governors are elected on the off years? Is there a shorthand for those races?

The last Republican to win in Oregon (twice) was Vic Atiyah, in 1978 and 1982. From 1986 to present, it's been all Democrats. What lessons can be drawn from those elections? (more…)

Christmas of the witless and departed

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

There are two ways to know for certain when Christmas is upon us:

Faux “News” begins its annual defense against the “War On Christmas” and the stores are filled with voices of dead people singing Christmas songs.
The Faux children got an early start this year in their defense of something against which there is no “war.” Just before Thanksgiving, Murdoch’s Misfit Munchkins were sounding the alarm with “breaking news” to match their breaking zits. Christians and faux Christians were being warned that “this time it’s real!”

Actually, this is the kind of “war” I most enjoy. A phony one. As we send out Christmas cards, put up the Christmas tree, hang the colorful Christmas lights, draft the Christmas guest list, set up the Christmas manger tableau, play the Christmas music on the stereo, shop for the Christmas turkey and attend multiple Christmas religious celebrations, I feel so – well – not under attack. We’ve had no ACLUers coming down the chimney. Night after night the neighborhood groups belt out the Christmas carols. Folks up and down the street can’t get within 10 feet without saying “Merry Christmas!” Stores around town have their “Christmas Sale” banners out and are running Christmas ads in our almost-daily, almost-newspaper.

Yet the Faux children and O’Reilly – that perpetual Ghost of All Things Past – are staffing the bunkers in their seasonal farce of the make-believe threats to what appears to be a normal Christmas here in the Oregon woods. Their ammunition is mostly gibberish interviews with weird people gesturing and babbling about threats to “take Christ out of Christmas.” But, like a lot of their endless other Faux skirmishes, they appear – to really thinking citizens – to be shooting blanks. Again.
I’ve checked a lot of other news sources – print – broadcast – I-net. All the “War on Christmas” references or links I can find go right back to Faux News.

Well, if it makes them feel better. Gets them through the stress of the holiday, as it were. Their irrational output on the dangers of Christians losing Christmas in a “war” that never was is less harmful to a lot of people than their other year-round Murdoch-directed mayhem.

Then there are those dead folks. Singing all those Christmas songs. Have you ever noticed? They’re all around now. Incidentally, I’m not a fan of what is called “piped” music. That’s the scratchy, tinny noise you get out of those little speakers in the ceilings of all the stores. I like music when I listen or dance. Good music. Professionally amplified. I don’t like music when I shop. Distracting. (more…)

What the state owns

idahocolumnn

A logical subject for hearings, and maybe legislation, when Idaho lawmakers convene in January: Deciding what Idaho's endowment property policy should be. question: Should it be fungible?

When Idaho gained statehood in 1890, it got 3.6 million acres to be used for support of certain public institutions, mainly schools. The restriction was that they be managed “in such manner as will secure the maximum longer term financial return.” The job of directly managing the property was given to the State Land Board, which includes the governor and four other statewide electeds.

For many years governing these lands, widely scattered and often timber lands, was straightforward. Many were managed as timber properties, sometimes as leasable livestock grazing territory.

But what if the highest long-range return isn't managing the lands this way? What if, as Idaho moves beyond a resource-based economy, other ways of generating income are more profitable? Should the lands be considered fungible – translatable into money, or into other sorts of money-making property?

The question is not entirely new. About a third of the endowment lands were sold in Idaho's first half-century as a state, the money placed in an endowment fund. (Those sales have diminished, though exchanges have continued.) But more recently another development has caught interest: Acquiring private property as a money-making venture.

There are gray areas. Private companies have, since before statehood, managed their lands as timber property around Idaho, and some still do, so there's no bright line between public and private in that field either. Still, when news broke a couple of years back that the state owned and operated a rental storage building – in effect, private-type business – attention was paid. Should the state be so overtly in competition with private businesses? Is that what the endowment lands were intended to do? (more…)