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Posts published in January 2013

Ethics options

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

As Idaho legislators come into session with, for the first time, a review on the table of how legislative ethics are managed, they needn't re-invent the wheel: They could grab one lying on the ground nearby, and modify to Gem State purposes.

Most of the 50 states have gone much further than Idaho is setting up some form of standard approach for overseeing legislator ethics, and they've tended not to be as controversial as you might think.

Among Idaho legislators, the whole subject often is taken personally: Of course I can be trusted. Arguments for ethical oversight usually are taken as personally insulting. They shouldn't be. Taken as a whole, and over time, Idaho's legislature has been generally clean, serious ethical breaches usually ranking low among its various faults.

But no group of people is perfect, which is why Idaho has, for example, a process for reviewing performance and possible ethical problems on the part of judges, a group that mostly holds itself to strong standards but now and again will find a less-than-worthy member in its ranks.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the professional organization that tracks legislative activities around the country, notes that all state legislatures have some means for internally reviewing legislator problems (or, problem legislators?), but that 41 states also have ethics commissions. Idaho is one of the few without one. Wyoming is the only other state in the region that has none. (more…)

Teachers make lousy killers

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY
 
Second
Thoughts

Inside the typical second grade classroom, 25 kids are working in several places. Nobody uses four rows of fixed, old-fashioned desks anymore. At a small table, six kids are doing an art project. At the computer keyboards across the room, five others are busy. The rest are scattered, working on today’s assignments. The teacher – as she does daily – is walking around, stopping to encourage or offer a prompt. Just the daily routine.

A guy in camouflage clothing, a bullet-proof vest and carrying an assault rifle steps into the room and starts firing immediately. The teacher – 20 feet from a locked cabinet – is stunned. She’s also among the first to die.

But, had she lived, she would have had to cross 20 feet through panicked children going every which way, find her purse, find her key ring, find the right key to the cabinet – which must be locked at all times to keep kids from accidentally getting hold of a firearm in the classroom - put the key in the lock, open the drawer, reach for the pistol, make sure she has it in her grip, unlock the safety, find her target and fire.

I tried a simulation. My best time for doing that is 40 seconds. A semi-automatic rifle can discharge about 90 large, flesh-ripping, bone-breaking bullets in the same period. So, how many died in those 40 seconds? Besides the teacher?

Or, consider this. An armed guard stationed at the school is called to the gym where a teacher has found an unlocked door. At that moment, the shooter – who earlier opened the gym door – comes through the school’s main entrance on the other side of the building. He turns left to the office which is always located near the front door and sprays it with 40-50 bullets – killing whoever’s there. And anyone on the other side of the now shredded thin wall. Then he fires off a dozen or two rounds down the hall – hitting anyone there. He replaces the empty clip with another 100 rounder and steps into the first classroom – about 50 feet from the office – spraying it with another 50 bullets. My best time for that was 40 seconds.

For the armed guard on the other side of the building to recognize the sounds of firing, decide which direction it’s coming from, draw his pistol and sprint to the right location, line up a shot – with no kids between him and the shooter – well, that would take over a minute. Easily.

So how many died in those 60 or so seconds? (more…)

Wyden at Newberg

wyden
Senator Ron Wyden at Newberg (photo/Randy Stapilus)

 

This time, they wanted answers about guns. And when they didn't get answers as specific as they were seeking, they asked again.

The economy seemed to take a back seat on this visit by Senator Ron Wyden to Yamhill County, one of his year's batch of town halls he has conducted (as he has for 16 years). Held at Newberg High School, it featured some questions about education policy (Wyden made a point of noting federal payments, related to land ownership, that has gone to Oregon schools, and his "know before you go" bill for college students). But guns and matters related to the "fiscal cliff" tended to dominate - both matters that haven't figured so heavily in other recent visits by Wyden.

At the sessions, the senator doesn't start with a discussion of any particular topic, and doesn't do much to steer the subjects of discussion. (He did ask toward the end, "No questions about gay marriage or marijuana?" He quickly got both, responding that he was in favor of the first and "not there yet" on the second - language suggesting, as President Obama did on gay marriage, that he's on a road heading there.)

One student did ask about the new federal health care laws, and Wyden singled out praise for the provision banning insurers from blocking people with pre-existing conditions. But he also noted the difficulty of reaching broad-based agreements, citing his efforts last year with Representative Paul Ryan on Medicare: "I still have the welts on my back from that one."

Guns seemed a preoccupying issue, but while Wyden set out general ideas he eased back from some specifics. He said he didn't yet know enough to decide whether large magazines should be banned (limited to military or police). He said he didn't like the idea of arming teachers (in response to a question about that from one student).

Next Yamhill senator town hall (with one with Jeff Merkley): Thursday, at McMinnville.

Our family concerns may be yours

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

For several years, I’ve occasionally written somewhat lightly of concerns about our burgeoning personal electronics revolution. – what effects it may have on society in general and personal relationships in particular. Now, some recent developments in our extended family are raising those concerns to the next level – high alert!

For the record, I’m a computer and cell phone user. Daily. They’re very useful tools. I’d hate to be without either. At my late stage of life, I’m better informed, have examined greater amounts of information I’d never have been exposed to without them and have valuable links with people that would have otherwise been lost. I’m an electronics believer.

We all know the basics. Computers can elevate learning – expose us to art, music, education, entertainment experiences for a lifetime – give us access to a truly international learning opportunities. All good.

Smart phones are similarly valuable. Quick, personal links to family and friends, worldwide access to quick information sources and very helpful in most emergencies. Yep. Good things. Glad we got ‘em.

No, my increasing concerns aren’t for the effects of this battery-powered revolution on you and me. It’s for those effects on my grandkids. Your kids and grandkids. Everyone’s grandkids. What my experience tells me it’s doing to them. What it’s doing to interpersonal relationships. Or – how it’s eliminating such societal interactions.

Use of these tools can be addictive. At Christmas, I gave my mostly well-adjusted teacher-wife an iPad. I did so after a lot of forethought. And some personal angst. Knowing her constant pursuit of knowledge – her vast world of friends, associates and interests – I had some fear she would dive into her new electronically-expanded world and wouldn’t be seen again.

Well, though I still see her from time to time, I’m seeing her less post iPad. Often, when she would otherwise be reading, she’s searching for new “apps” or taking pictures of the cat. Watching TV, there’s this intermittent absence as she uses the little screen in her lap to watch or do something else. Go somewhere else. Find something else. Talk to someone else. Learn something else. Read something else.

“Nothing wrong with that,” you say. “Sounds fine with me. So what’s your problem, Rainey?” (more…)

On LINE and nuclear, con’t

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

(continued from last week)

There are plenty of other problems with the LINE Commission’s progress report and wish list. Candidly, it looks like the proverbial Christmas Tree with new baubles being added all the time. Congress used to concoct these when at the end of a session they would pass a catch-all appropriation bill to keep government running and add pork chop after pork chop.

The first question that cries for an answer is where is the money going to come from, whether federal or state funds, to pay for all these wish list items? At a minimum a budget impact or estimate ought to be attached to each item and potential sources of funding identified. Then, the list ought to be prioritized with the Commission’s view as to what is truly feasible. Keep in mind this is just in reference to items not dependent on amending the agreement.

Secondly, where INL boosters get the notion that the site can avoid the budget cuts coming for most every federal department and program is beyond me, but it sure appears some may be trying to set up the agreement as the cause for these inevitable cuts. That’s both disingenuous and deceptive.

Third, INL Site boosters in southeastern Idaho make much of the fact that a couple of counties in New Mexico have responded with an initial positive response to becoming the final repository for nuclear waste. The implication is that they could steal away much of the Lab’s work because they are being more cooperative with the Feds.

The fact is though no other state has given even a tentative yes and such a decision to being a permanent repository will not be a local only decision. (more…)

Surplus, in some places

From a release out today from Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kriedler:

With two of the state’s largest health insurers sitting on surpluses totaling $2.2 billion, Washington’s top insurance regulator wants to use some of that money to lower costs for consumers.
According to the companies’ most recent financial statements, Regence BlueShield’s surplus has grown to $1.05 billion. Premera Blue Cross’ surplus is $1.15 billion.
“These are non-profit companies,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “It’s hard to square their billion-dollar surpluses with the fact that families are struggling to afford health insurance.”
Kreidler is proposing legislation that would allow his office to consider surpluses when reviewing nonprofit health insurers’ proposed rates. As things stand now, his staff must ignore them.
“As I’ve said before, it’s like trying to ignore an elephant in the room,” Kreidler said. “And the elephant’s getting bigger.”
The surpluses of both Regence and Premera have more than doubled in a decade. In the first nine months of 2012, Regence’s grew by $60 million. Premera’s grew by nearly $182 million.
“It’s important to remember that these are not reserves, which are set aside to pay future claims,” Kreidler said. “These billion-dollar surpluses are in addition to their reserves.”

How independent on K-12?

The most interesting Idaho political development today wasn't the mostly pro forma state of the state speech but rather an announcement out of a new web site called Idaho Ed News, described as a non-profit which will focus on statewide news kindergarten through grade 12. The specific news was the addition of two prominent Idaho newspaper journalists - Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin of the Idaho Falls Post Regisgter - to the existing staffer Jennifer Swindell, formerly of the Statesman.

On Facebook, the comment about that has been lively. My attention came to it with a comment from former Idahoan Julie Fanselow (formerly of the Idaho Education Association) who remarked, "Jennifer Swindell is involved, too. She's another former Statesman reporter turned Caldwell schools PR person who followed her boss - Luna backer Roger Q - over to BSU last year. The BSU connection gives this all a whiff of impartiality, but the Albertson backing probably neutralizes that. I expect that longtime Idaho political and media observers including Randy Stapilus will find this all most interesting."

And that followed discussion of Superintendent of Public Instruction tom Luna touting the outlet in a tweet: A new, independent news service focused on providing comprehensive information about education in Idaho launched today: Idaho Ed News."

The question batted back and forth is: Just how independent is, or will be, the Ed News?

A suggestion from here: Wait and see.

Not that there aren't tea leaves, and you do have to wonder. But tea leaves can mislead, and we'll all be able to judge the site soon enough based on its actual content. (Swindell is already on staff, and Richert and Corbin are scheduled to join on January 21.) Their actual product will be the best basis for judging them.

Another, side question: Was there a reason richart chose to jump from the Statesman now?

The conservative Republican split

idahocolumnn

If it's a major-office Idaho elected official, it's a “conservative Republican,” for whatever that may mean. (Republican, as a party member, is at least specific enough.) But is it possible to make more precise distinctions?

The New Years Day vote on the Biden-McConnell proposal is a good indicator of this – there are others, and there will almost surely be more to come. And the best way to think about it as not ideological. (Once again: What does “conservative” mean?) One national article suggests drawing the line between “establishment” Republicans and “insurgent” Republicans, at least within the House Republican caucus, and that may be as useful a dividing line as any. John Boehner, the House speaker, is an establishment Republican. Eric Cantor is an insurgent.

In Idaho, then, there's this: The senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are establishment Republicans, as is Representative Mike Simpson. 1st District Representative Raul Labrador is an insurgent.

These descriptions draw from the votes on the bill, as establishment Republicans – a big majority in the Senate but a nearly 2-1 minority in the House – favored the measure, while the insurgents opposed.

The difference is in perspective. (more…)

From this week’s Briefings

Boise street
The Idaho Historical Society is launching celebration of the Idaho Territorial Sesquicentennial – 150 years since the formation of Idaho Territory (the first major land mass with the name of Idaho), in 1863. This street scene from Boise in 1866 is one of several free photos available for download.

 

Little noted in current news, but - this is the year of Idaho's territorial sesquicentennial; it marked the first real designation of a substantial land mass as "Idaho."

Last week was a quiet week, but the political storms are just beginning to brew as legislatures in Washington, Oregon and Idaho get ready to gear back up into action.

Pay national debt with funny money?

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Suppose you get a bill from your credit card company. It shows a large balance due the end of the week. Deciding you should pay in full promptly, you get out pen and checkbook. You draw what looks like one of your usual checks, fill in the exact amount and drop it in the mailbox. Bill paid.
Yeah. Sure.

But, before you ashcan this example of substituting worthless paper for currency-of-the-realm to pay bills, consider what folks are tossing around in Washington, D.C. circles. And not all of ‘em elected incompetents.

We’ve hit the debt ceiling. Did it a couple weeks ago. Federal debt reached $16.394 trillion. That’s the current limit. The ceiling. So, until the zoo we used to call Congress fixes the problem, the Treasury Department is playing shell games with the loose change still available to pay bills. Even that slight-of-hand will have to stop about the first of March. Flat broke.

So – let’s have the folks at the U.S. Mint create a platinum coin in the exact amount of the national debt – $16.394 trillion. We’ll take that new coin down to the nearest bank and deposit same in the federal account that’s brimming over with red ink. Bill paid. Debt gone.

Crazy? Maybe. Legal. Yes. (more…)