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Posts published in March 2013

Austerity’s limits: Will Congress notice?

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Three words to think about as we near the next budget fight on Capitol Hill: Austerity has limits.

As I have written often, I view the austerity trend as a global one, not a national debate. That’s important to remember because other countries are further along in their austerity implementation, policies that should give the U.S. Congress real examples of what works and what’s a disaster.

Italy’s soon-to-be former prime minister makes that case. “Public support for the reforms, and worse, for the European Union, is dramatically declining, following a trend which is also visible in many other countries across the union,” Mario Monti said in The Guardian newspaper. “To revive growth and fight long-term and youth unemployment would be the best message to counter the mounting wave of populism and disaffection with the European Union, showing that Europe is listening to people's concerns.”

Anti-austerity efforts are gaining strength in the United Kingdom and Spain.

But the dumbest austerity action came last week in one of Europe’s tiniest countries, Cyprus.

As part of a bailout deal, that country’s government agreed to a tax on the savings accounts of its citizens ranging from 6.75 percent to 9 percent. The president of Cyprus said Sunday night it was either the tax or his country would have to leave the European Union and face national bankruptcy. “I chose the least painful option, and I bear the political cost for this, in order to limit as much as possible the consequences for the economy and for our fellow Cypriots,” Anastasiades said in The Global Post.

So the people of Cyprus rejected that policy and began withdrawing money as fast as they could before any such tax could be imposed; a classic run on the banks. (more…)

Priorities

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

No one living in Idaho or in other states should be unaware how the cost of health care, and insurance for it, has ballooned in the last few decades, driving people into individual ruin and straining businesses and other organizations (and economic recovery). A brush with a hospital is flirtation with bankruptcy – and it has meant bankruptcy for many. That's true even for the insured, who find their protections eroding each year. And the number of uninsured sits at about 16 percent of all people nationally, 18 percent in Idaho (21 percent among those 64 and younger). This is an enormous problem.

There is no one cause and no one answer. One tactic intended to help, one that makes use of a marketplace, is an insurance exchange: An organization allowing buyers of insurance to shop around, compare costs and benefits and get assistance, in a way they haven't been able to. Such a plan was built into the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and in it states were given the option to set up exchanges.

That's the background for House Bill 248, which would establish by the state of Idaho an exchange aimed at helping consumers of health insurance to locate and buy appropriate policies. Alternatively, the feds would establish one in Idaho. The bill passed 41-29, after more than seven hours of debate.

You might suppose that long debate, one of Idaho's longest legislative debates in decades, would have centered on the problems and costs of health care and insurance. You would suppose wrong.

The bill's stated “purpose and intent” begins, “It is the public policy of the state of Idaho to actively resist federal actions that would limit or override state sovereignty under the 10th amendment of the United States constitution. Through this legislation, the state of Idaho asserts its sovereignty ...”

That framing overwhelmed the debate. The need of Idahoans for affordable health care and insurance, whether the exchange was a good solution, whether this specific model might be improved upon: These were touched upon almost not all. The course of debate suggested the health (in effect, the safety) of Idaho's people wasn't of significant interest. Maybe the closest graze came from the conservative Representative JoAn Wood, who aptly noted the absence of strong consumer protections in the bill. The “sovereignty” of Idaho seemed the lone general concern – that, and taking potshots at anyone federal. (more…)

Perceptive legislating

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

A couple of thoughts about the Senator Rob Portman/gay marriage story, tangentially about the issue involved but mostly about the way Portman arrived at his reassessment.

The story is that the Ohio Republican senator, who until this week has been firmly opposed to allowing same-sex marriage, has changed his mind. He told CNN, "I've come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay." Learning about his son's orientation and life preferences, he indicated, was central in his thinking.

A lot of people have changed their minds over the years on this subject. 15 years ago, polling showed that just over a quarter of Americans thought same-sex marriage should be allowed; back then, I was among the majority who thought not. In the last decade especially, opinions have moved drastically, and now a majority around the country thinks it ought to be allowed; and once again, I'm in the majority having changed my mind too.

What changed, what caused that change, is something worth exploring. In my case, the evolution started with a general acceptance of a broadly understood norm, that marriage was between a man and a woman, period. Until not too many years ago, the subject wasn't much publicly debated, and - for many people - not deeply thought about.

It moved to the front burner partly, I suspect, in response to two things. One is that more people have tended to become more open about homosexuality, bringing more people into contact with the impact of policies including those concerning marriage. (The don't ask don't tell military debate was part of that too.) And, a then-pointless political opposition to same-sex marriage, pushed as a political wedge issue about a decade ago, wound up exposing the emptiness of the argument against: Simply, the case against seems awfully thin compared to the case in favor, in which actual people are demonstrated actual and easily corrected damage to their lives.

The shift of attitude among Americans probably relates, to some degree, to those two factors (much as they may overlap). Some people, and I would be one of them, considered the arguments pro and con over a period of years, and changed point of view after considering them. You could call this the legislative approach, since it involves weighing the pros and cons of a policy. (more…)

First take: Private schools, insurance fraud

news

PRIVATE SCHOOL CREDITS The Idaho House Revenue and Taxation Committee has voted (12-4) to extend tax credits to scholarship funds specifically aimed at private schools. From a news report: "Coeur d'Alene Republican Sen. Bob Nonini said this could actually save Idaho money, because reducing public-school enrollment would also cut Idaho's per-student funding obligation." This seems legally problematic, however - it has the look of back-door funding for private schools - and it effectively removes funds from public schools to be funneled to private.

INSURANCE FRAUD Oregon legislators are looking seriously at Senate Bill 686 which is aimed at allowing the state (and, depending on final versions, maybe others) to sue insurance companies for fraud - such as when they convey the impression something is covered, and then decline to pay. From a statement by sponsor Senator Chip Shields: "Too many businesses, medical providers, and consumers tell me that their insurance company is driving them to bankruptcy. If your insurance company blatantly won't pay the reimbursement that their big premiums or contracts are supposed to cover, it's wrong. It's time the Legislature protects small businesses and consumers by removing the insurance exemption." This would set up in law the concept of insurance fraud running in a different direction than the one we're most accustomed to (and comfortable for insurers).

Personal knowledge, political dishonesty

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Check any dictionary in any language and you’ll usually find these two definitions for the word “politician” among the several listed. One will be “a person holding political office.” The second will use the word “devious” in some way. A descriptive word you’ll never find there is “love.”

While historically an honorable profession, our recent experiences have made us use other words to define politicians. “Self-serving.” “Deceitful.” “Dishonest.” “Uncaring.” “Ignorant.” “Out-of-touch.” And worse. Too often, they are apt.

I’d like to see that word – love – used in politics more often because it can be a great “leveler.” In recent days, it publically appears so for Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), father of a gay son. Long an outspoken conservative voice opposing gay marriage and any other homosexual recognition efforts, Portman is now getting a lot of sympathy for changing his gay marriage stance. It’s no longer just another “safe” political topic to include in speeches to his “conservative” base. It’s become a personal issue dealing with a loved one. Well, good for him. Let’s show the Portman’s – father and son – a little love. But not too much for the Senator.

Portman is only the most recent ardent Republican foe of gay marriage to seem to have a “come-to-Jesus” moment on the matter. Probably the most notable figure to be similarly affected is former VP Dick Cheney. Early in his career in Congress, neo-con Cheney’s was just another contemptible voice loudly damning the country’s gay community. Then – BANG. Suddenly he had a teen lesbian daughter who “came out.” Cheney quickly did a 180 and said marriage should be allowed for “any two people who love each other.” Very similar to the Portman “conversion.”

Except for one thing. When Mitt Romney looked around for a vice presidential running mate over a year ago, Portman’s name was right there near the top of the list. To Romney, Portman was the quintessential, very compatible candidate. Experienced. Squeaky clean. Popular with the GOP base. Represented a large swing state. Matching positions on all the major issues. Including Portman’s oft-pronounced opposition to – wait for it – gay marriage and other issues of homosexuality.

Romney’s search team called him in many months before the election. He was vetted in all possible ways. It was then – over a year ago – that Portman told Romney’s people his son was gay. He was immediately dropped from consideration. Banished. (more…)

First take: Tow truck “reform”

news

TOW TRUCKS Ah, the free market: Your car is towed, and to collect it and get it released, you have to pay - what? Absent rules to the contrary, you pay whatever the truckers demand. Portland has had lots of headlines over this; some of the more recent in the Puget Sound charged with an $800 tab and then, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat notes, "came horror stories of even gougier bills, as high as $1,400. City officials and state lawmakers vowed to cap towing rates, which in Wild West fashion could be jacked as high as the tow truckers desired." There's a reform bill in the legislature this session, but consider that "reform" in quotes: This is a bill the tow truckers love, because it sets state rates that are nearly as bad as the horror stories, much higher than most of the state now experiences, and four to five times higher than in places like New York. Westneat: "Well played, tow truckers. Well played."

Idaho’s MVP: Polk

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial celebration will present many opportunities to reflect on our state’s history. At the kick-off ceremony on Boise’s capitol steps on March 4 there was a considerable focus on the role of Abraham Lincoln in Idaho’s territorial history. Considering that he was president when Idaho Territory was created and that he appointed all of our initial territorial officials, the attention paid to him is appropriate.

But was he the most important president with respect to Idaho? There are several presidents who, for varying reasons, could be considered for that distinction. Lincoln is clearly one. Others might suggest Jefferson for his role in initiating the Louisiana Purchase and dispatching Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery. Another possibility is Benjamin Harrison, who signed the legislation creating the state of Idaho.

And then there is the interesting, but little known, role of Grover Cleveland. During Cleveland’s presidency legislation was approved by both the House and Senate to divide Idaho Territory, attaching northern Idaho to Washington and southern Idaho to Nevada. This legislation would have actually eliminated Idaho. But by the time the bill reached President Cleveland for his consideration, Congress had adjourned. He declined to sign it, which effectively vetoed it.

Even though each of these presidents played significant roles in the creation of Idaho, I would suggest that none of them deservers the title of Idaho’s most important president. Rather, I think that distinction should go to our country’s eleventh president, James Polk. If you aren’t familiar with him, consider yourself to be part of the majority. But without him there would not have been either the territory or state of Idaho.

James Polk was from Tennessee and a protégé of Andrew Jackson. His first elective office was to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he eventually was elected Speaker of the House. He also served as Governor of Tennessee. Elected president in 1844 as a dark horse candidate, he pledged to only serve a single term. Polk was a Democrat and the Democratic Party was badly divided, especially by the issue of slavery. The leadership of the party was also filled with
wannabe presidents, including Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, John C. Cahoun and others, all having individual agendas to help promote their own political interests. Polk had a difficult, but highly successful, four years, as president.

The highest item on Polk’s presidential agenda was territorial expansion. At the time, the western border of the U.S. was defined by the Louisiana Purchase. When Polk took office in 1845, the United States consisted of 1.7 million square miles of land. (more…)

The disappearing

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Something’s happening here in our little Burg in the Oregon forest. Something distressing and disappointing. A damn shame. I’d bet it’s happening where you are, too.

Our little Rotary club is slowly disappearing. More people going out the back door than coming in the front. The other two local Rotary clubs are in the same trouble. So, too, are the Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, VFW and other business and social organizations. Our problem’s not unique. It’s an international issue. Times have changed. We – and they – have not.

Take Rotary. Founded in Chicago over 100 years ago by business leaders to share business news, gossip and professional tips while doing good works, it’s been a highly successful civic group in many a community, eventually going international. To its everlasting credit, Rotary has nearly wiped out polio in the world. If that’s all it ever did, Rotary would have earned everlasting honor in world social and medical history. Great job!

But times have changed and too many organizations have not. For instance, take those “business news, gossip and professional tips” reasons for Rotary’s creation. In too many local clubs, heads of business no longer participate on a regular basis. Most people who belong now can’t write a company check or commit corporate resources to a given community project. Many members have been “appointed” to Rotary or other civic groups by an employer rather than joining voluntarily out of a personal commitment to local volunteerism. Others are there because they genuinely want to do the “good works” but they don’t bring the resources – financial and corporate – that traditionally made clubs viable. And valuable.

As for “business, news and gossip,” small “tips” clubs have sprung up in every city and town. They’re designed to share member news for the benefit of others. A commonality. They meet – share – and go to work. They don’t usually undertake community projects as service clubs have done historically. They’re linked electronically. For their own welfare. It’s a “network” by definition. Business oriented. Not community service.

Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, Masons, Eagles, Moose, The Grange and other business and fraternal groups – like Rotary – have done similar good works and are important parts of the fabric from which this nation was crafted. And – like Rotary – they’re suffering membership losses because – in too many cases – they’ve not changed with the times. Some are already gone. (more…)

A red light study

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

Those red light cameras popping up around the Northwest have aroused a lot of discussion and even at least one initiative attempt (another Tim Eyman special in Washington).

Here's an extensive report on the subject, posted on the Insurance Quotes site, with what looks like plenty of useful background in considering the issue.

Among the notable tidbits, chew on this: "Although red light cameras can be effective in some cities, when asked, citizens tend not to vote for red light cameras. When put up to vote, residents of Houston, Cincinnati, Anaheim, and Albuquerque all expressed their displeasure against red light cameras and voted to either stop initiatives or shut down projects entirely. But, there is national support for the cameras: a 2009 survey of voters found that 69% of Americans support the use of red light cameras at dangerous intersections."

Phoenix

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Former Idaho Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor David Leroy is garnering deserved accolades for his efforts to educate Idahoans regarding the state’s historical role under the guidance of President Abraham Lincoln in thwarting southern efforts to bring slavery into the territories west of the Mississippi.

A successful attorney and a dedicated Abraham Lincoln historical buff, he has traveled Idaho with a refined presentation on Lincoln’s role in the formation of the Idaho territory 150 years ago. He and his wife, Nancy, have also collected numerous Lincoln memorabilia which they intend to donate to the State‘s historical museum.

He also fills in the background against which one can measure a mistaken view promulgated by his party’s Tea Party types regarding “nullification.” Leroy’s presentation reminds audiences this nation fought a Civil War led by a beloved President who was saying to hell with this nonsense about a state being able to nullify laws passed by Congress they don’t like.

For Lincoln and Leroy, the operative phrase is “one nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all,” as we all recite in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Civil War settled the issue of nullification.

Leroy is quintessentially political to his core. He has disarming charm, an ability to tell good stories and to laugh at himself. He also is one of the most calculating, Machiavellian, shrewd, insightful and instinctive politicians to move across the Idaho stage in years.

A rising GOP star in his youth, there seemed no limit to his potential. A Republican version of Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, he was the “happy warrior” exuding energy and joy as he went about fulfilling expectations as a competent attorney general and then lieutenant governor.

When I returned in 1981 to Idaho from four years of exile serving with former Governor Cecil Andrus at the Department of the Interior, Leroy and I became good friends. We often jogged daily and talked politics as we ran.

Then the attorney general, it was clear he aimed to be governor and then a senator someday. A fan of former Governor and Senator Len Jordan, and his wife, Grace, Leroy and his first spouse, Helen, named their daughter Jordan after his hero. He delivered an eloquent and moving eulogy on the occasion of Grace’s passing.

Candidly, I told Leroy if he wanted to be governor he had best contest Phil Batt for the 1982 Republican nomination to challenge Andrus successor John Evans. I thought he could defeat Batt and would have a 50/50 shot at beating Evans who one had to concede was doing a solid job in the governor’s chair. (more…)

Clinically proven politics of fear

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

I’ve long believed fear drives most of our politics on the right. But it’s been more an unsupported belief than a provable fact. Until I came across some interesting work by Dr. Rose McDermott of Brown University, that seems to show there really is a direct connection. She and several colleagues published their research in the American Journal of Political Science.

Using a large sample of related individuals, researchers first assessed their propensity for fear using lengthy, standardized, clinically administered interviews and tests. In subjects who were related, Dr. McDermott and her crew identified influences such as environment and personal experience and discovered some had a genetic propensity for a higher level of baseline fear. In fact, they experienced fear at even lower levels of threat or provocation than the rest of us.

The primary research finding? “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful; it’s that fearful people are more conservative.”

In one area, there was a strong correlation between social fear and anti-immigration and pro-segregation attitudes. Individuals with higher levels of social fear exhibited the strongest negative attitudes to those two subjects. And there were others.

“People who’re scared of novelty, uncertainty – people they don’t know and things they don’t understand,” McDermott said, “these people are more supportive of politics that provide them with a sense of surety and security.”

The team also found direct links to how political campaigns can be designed to manipulate some people more than others. To make a sizeable group more fearful. Deliberately.

One of the most predictable political certainties of the far right is – and has always been – that it will always frustrate its own efforts. Step on its own feet. It always goes just so long before it splits into smaller factions. Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, Americans For Freedom – you name it. Their origins were with people who were frightened, distrustful – fearful – of conditions at the time. But soon, something in the new group sparked new fears and new distrust. And, amoeba-like, there was a split. Pick a fringe group – research its history – you’ll find a breakup. Maybe two or three. Or more. Time after time after time.

The other factor always found in that scared societal segment – certain people will step up to manipulate the fear. As McDermott’s research pointed out, “political campaigns … designed to manipulate.” I give you Karl Rove, Dick Armey, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Ron and Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Wayne LaPierre. And the most skilled master of political manipulation based on fear - the shameless self-promoter – Newt Gingrich. (more…)

In the Briefings this week

jewell
JEWELL AT SENATE: Interior Secretary-designate Sally Jewell speaks before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in Washington. The committee, which includes Washington Senate Maria Cantwell, was holding a hearing on her confirmation. (image/Office of Senator Cantwell)

 

In Washington, couple of seemingly counter headlines, about an unemployment rate that remains the same, but overall improvement (albeit modest) in the state economic picture. The two are reconciled to some degree by the additional statistic that the overall number of jobs rose during January, meaning that the rate reflected more people in the labor force.

In Idaho, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee last week drafted a public school budget that seems likely to gain clearance (since there was not a lot of dissension surrounding it). Odds are that will translate to a relatively quick legislative session, possibly ending by the close of this month.