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Posts published in April 2013

Congressional utility

bonamici
 
Representative Suzanne Bonamici (center) at the McMinnville town hall. (photo/Randy Stapilus)
 

The 50 or so people who turned out at the McMinnville town hall of Representative Suzanne Bonamici mostly probably already were aware that getting much done in Congress is, at best, a problematic idea. Bonamici pretty much confirmed that.

Asked at one point what she would do about immigration if she had her druthers - if working with Republicans and the various interests involves weren't a factor in the equation - she got around to answering the point, but made a strong point first of emphasizing just how hypothetical that was.

There are efforts, though, and part of what came clear in the talk was which areas shee was most interested in, and working on - not all of them equally. Education - early childhood and schools - clearly continue to be a focus for her. One of the points she came back to, repeatedly, was the effort to amend the math/tech STEM emphasis in many schools to add an art and design components ('STEAM').

In some other areas, she spoke more generally, and she may be developing background in some others (banking, forests and some others).

But this fit in to some extent with the interests of the audience, which were more local than in many recent town halls (including those of the U.S. senators). A large and controversial local garbage depository near McMinnville came in for repeated discussion, as well as the Highway 99 bypass around Dundee and a large economic dvelopment projects. What was being sought in these cases wasn't legislation, but rather working with federal and other agencies.

That may be the more useful part of a member of Congress' job at this point.

In New Jersey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Despite “explosive” stories being covered in national media these days, one that might be defined as such has been overlooked. As a public service, we’d like to bring you up-to-date on a news item that may soon “go off.”

In one state, a governor has adjusted his list of official priorities for legislative action and submitted an amended version. The update is apparently based on recent events in our society. Here’s the revised set of initiatives he’s asking for. In law.

** Background checks for ALL gun purchases. ALL.

** Parental consent – IN WRITING – for minors wanting to buy violent video games.

** A TOTAL BAN on purchases of the .50-caliber Barrett rifle.

** Legislation to make it easier for doctors and courts to commit “potentially dangerous” people to mental health treatment – EVEN AGAINST THEIR WILL.

The state is New Jersey. The governor is Chris Christie. A Republican. He’s running for re-election in 2014.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Fixing the wrong problem

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Last week was a perfect illustration of the broken structure that is the United States government. Congress cannot pass a budget. It can barely pass a law to pay bills already incurred and owed. And its best “deficit” cutting attempt is the decade-long sequester, across-the-board cuts that hit the wrong programs, at the wrong times, and in the most harmful process.

Yet inconvenience air travelers and the entire Congress (and President Barack Obama) moves faster than Usain Bolt. So a bill is proposed and enacted to lift the sequester giving the Federal Aviation Administration more flexibility in its spending ending the furlough for air traffic controllers. Problem solved.

But for most of the country the sequester continues for another decade.

Cuts that make less sense than air traffic delays, such as laying off teachers in more than three-quarters of all school districts, will continue as planned.

Or the sequester cuts to programs that serve American Indians and Alaska natives. In testimony last week to the House, the National Congress of American Indians reported: “For many tribes, a majority of tribal governmental services is financed by federal sources. Tribes
lack the tax base and lack parity in tax authority to raise revenue to deliver services. If federal funding is reduced sharply for state and local governments, they may choose between increasing their own taxes and spending for basic services or allowing their services and programs to take the financial hit. On the other hand, many tribes have limited ability to raise substantial new revenue, especially not rapidly enough to cover the reduction in services from the across the board reductions of the FY 2013 sequestration.”

NCAI says the sequester process undermines “Indian treaty rights and obligations.” (more…)

The other solution

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

As the battle over gun regulation continues, the argument most promoted as an alternative to gun restrictions is the need to do more about mental health. National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre, last December, making the case: “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed.”

As a gun-rights state second to none, Idaho might be expected to go after the matter of mental health in a more serious way. As a matter of policymaking, concerns about mental health per se might be a hard sell, but propping up the argument on guns would seem to be front burner … if problem-solving really is of much interest.

Idaho hasn't been doing (yet) what its neighbor to the south, Nevada, reportedly has been doing of late: Packing mentally ill patients on Greyhound buses and sending them to the other 49 states (1,500 or so from the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Center at Las Vegas). But ....

In February, the Idaho Department of Correction, which had been seeking approval for a secure mental health facility containing 579 beds – a substantial percentage of people behind bars in Idaho as elsewhere have serious mental issues – dropped the proposal. The department said that “Director Brent Reinke decided to withdraw the proposal while the agency works with the Department of Health and Welfare, the courts, the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission and other stakeholders on developing a plan for addressing broader issues.”

Could that be a longer version of: “Let's form a committee”? That would cost less than the facility.

The department outsources medical care, physical and mental, at the correctional institutions, and its current contractor is Corizon, of Brentwood, Tennessee. It's a big company, providing services at 349 correctional facilities in 29 states. But as with the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs one of Idaho's prisons, there have been issues.

Last week the Board of Correction chose to continue its Corizon contract, now valued at $27 million annually, just until January rather than for a full year. It will also solicit other bids. There were prompts for this: Idaho fined Corizon for missing benchmarks, and a federal lawsuit has added pressure for improvements. The Associated Press said in one story last week that “a federally appointed expert concluded its medical care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.” (more…)

First take: Coal transport

news

COAL TRANSPORT The summary on the Seattle Times piece says "A push for more Montana coal exports to Asia and a pushback over fears about global warming may turn into the region's biggest environmental battle in years." That's becoming pretty credible. It has all the elements right up front: Dirty polluting, exposure over a large geographic area including major population centers, global warming concerns, job and economic concerns, major corporate backing - all the pieces are there. This is a good, strong overview.

“License to hate”

You might think that a big warning sign might have been posted, in letters too large and obvious to ignore, somewhere in the Washington Senate Republican caucus, a clear message: Don't give the Democrats social-issue raw meat. Stick to taxes and budgets; leave the rest for another day.

But no. Here's the text (all but a link) of what may be the Senate Democrats' last press release of the session: "With literally hours left in the 2013 session, and virtually nothing to show for more than 100 days of work, 11 Republicans have decided their time would be best spent rolling back civil rights."

The measure in question is Senate Bill 5927, and has to do with civil rights. Here is how one Democrat, Senator Kevin Ranker, described it: "if you own a business in our state and don’t like gay people because of religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs or just because you don’t, you will no longer have to provide services or sell your goods to any gay people. How’s that for progress? This of course all stems from the case of a florist in Richland who decided to not provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. Providing legal protection for this kind of bigotry takes us back to the days before Martin Luther King Jr., and attempts to reopen an issue that has been settled history in this country for decades."

You will be hearing about all the way through 2014, as the parties battle for more outright control of the Washington Legislature.

What is terrorism?

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

One of the thorny issues in our world these days is trying to define the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” Our federal government hasn’t done that successfully, either. One department has a definition – two others have their own “unique” meanings. Since we appear headed to court soon, we need to have some clarity on these words.

While no one in our little Oregon burg-in-the-woods would try to affect thinking at those rarified, higher bureaucratic levels, we would like offer a definition of terrorist no one along the Potomac seems to have considered.

How about someone – or anyone – who violates a minimum of more than three dozen federal/state laws while running a fertilizer plant near the center of a small Texas town? How about an ownership that deliberately stored on site 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate at the plant in violation of operating and licensing agreements? How about owners who knew – HAD to know – the last OSHA inspection was in 1985 but never – never – contacted OSHA or Dept. Of Homeland Security when their inventories increased as required by federal law?

How about three federal agencies that failed to inspect a West, Texas, plant under their purview – the lead office for more than three decades? How about two state agencies that virtually ignored what was going on at the plant for years and years? How about local elected officials who watched the fertilizer operation grow and grow for 60 years without considering more than just the economic benefits of larger payrolls?

How about the anonymous (aren’t they always?) federal bureaucrats who decided such companies – dealing in amounts of explosives to guarantee catastrophe in event of a major accident – would be tasked with “self-reporting” when increasing on-site storage capacities or letting regulators know of leaks, accidents or other anomalies? Or the federal cabinet officers up the chain who signed off on such stupidity?

This nation did everything but stand on its head for 10 days when a couple of guys set off two bombs that killed three people. But the Texas blast killed five times as many and decimated a small town. For several days, we found details on page 12. Or buried – if not ignored – in the TV news.

Now, let’s talk about the word “terrorism” from this perspective. How about applying that word to the constant political B.S. we hear about needing to reduce regulations on business? “Political B.S.” because repeated surveys have shown politicians do the most complaining – not the guy along Main Street. Repeated surveys have shown, more often than not, business people see regulation as leveling the playing field – as assuring the competition across town is playing by the same rules. Those that do complain to the politicos are far over-represented in the resulting specious, campaign-solicitation dialogue. (more…)

Eight questions

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From the IdahoEdNews site, a post by Kevin Richert.

The governor’s education reform task force wraps up its statewide road show Thursday night in Boise.

If this listening session goes like the preceding six, it’s likely that the testimony will focus on funding and Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of the multistate Common Core effort. Those have been two recurring themes from the other sessions, including Tuesday night’s session in Pocatello.

But this task force tour has been nothing if not unpredictable.
Nampa forum

Richard Westerberg of the State Board of Education kicks off the task force forums April 10 in Nampa.

Crowds have varied widely from city to city, from sparse in Lewiston and Twin Falls to near capacity in Idaho Falls. And the testimony has taken on an open-ended feel. Task force members have heard everything from the heartfelt (from parents who question whether schools can adequately teach children with autism) to the offbeat (from a speaker who said Idaho should encourage the use of e-readers, so kids aren’t overburdened with heavy backpacks).

Ask Idahoans how the state should improve its education system, and you’re apt to get any number of responses. Especially when the Common Core controversy has taken on a talk-radio life of its own in recent weeks.

So let’s go back to where the task force started, two weeks ago, when these forums began.

The task force posed eight questions designed to get people talking. They’re on the State Board of Education’s website, but let’s save a keystroke. Here they are:

What is the basic amount of funding needed to adequately educate a student in Idaho?
˜Given the finite amount of funding, how would you like it spent in your school?
˜How should/could we balance a decentralized model with the Constitutional requirement for a uniform, thorough, common system of education?
Is funding based on attendance an appropriate model?
˜What should be the measure(s) to hold schools and districts accountable?
˜What should we be measuring with respect to student achievement?
˜What should be done about schools/districts that continually underperform?
˜What professional technical education skills would you like to see taught in high school?

Yes, you see several questions about funding. And why not? Education funding is a perennial Idaho issue. And in theory, the task force could have some say over where education dollars go (see Question No. 2). The Legislature earmarked some $34 million in one-time money for schools in 2013-14 — temporary spending on merit pay, professional development and technology, designed to free up money in 2014, at the task force’s disposal.

But you don’t see a question that addresses Common Core, even obliquely. And here’s a possible reason: It’s a settled issue. The State Board approved the math and English language arts standards in November 2010. And the House and Senate education committees approved the standards in January 2011 — amidst the heated debate over the Students Come First bills. Schools will begin teaching to Idaho Core Standards in 2013-14, four months from now.

So the task force has some pretty clear ideas of what it wants to talk about. Whether these topics come up Thursday night is another matter entirely.

Cormorants

cormorants
 
Cormorants perched above the water, on an estuary along the Oregon coast. (Image/Oregon Fish & Wildlife)

 

An image from the Oregon Weekly Briefing, a year ago. Good odds that the cormorants are back again.

Worth a note on a fine spring day in most of the Northwest.

Some good Republican governors

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

A black-hearted Republican friend called recently and asked “are there any Republican governors in Idaho’s history, or anywhere for that matter, you thought did a good job?”

“Sure,” I responded.

“Then name them. I’m getting bored with your continuous haranguing about how lousy a job Butch is doing. You may be right, but say something positive about any Republican governor once in awhile,” he advised.

After pondering this advice for a bit, I decided my friend had a point.

During my 66 years there have been three exceptionally good, well-qualified, progressive and constructive Republican governors who left the state of Idaho in great shape. They did little harm and much good. C.A. “Doc” Robbins from St. Maries (1947 to 1951); Phil Batt from Wilder (1995-1999); and, Robert E. Smylie from Caldwell, (1955-1967).

Looking across the nation but understandably focusing more on the west, several others come to mind: Washington Governor Daniel J. Evans (1965 to 1977); Oregon’s Tom McCall (1967-1975); Utah’s Jon Huntsman, Jr., (2005 to 2009); Montana’s Marc Racicot (1993 to 2001); Nevada’s Paul Laxalt (1967 to 1971); California’s Pete Wilson (1991 to 1999); and, Alaska’s Jay Hammond (1974 to 1982).

Of that entire distinguished group, Hammond was my favorite. Here’s why.

An incredible ability to see over the horizon, down the road, into the future. From his first elected office as an independent in the House of Representatives in the very first session after Alaskabecame a state in 1959, Hammond recognized the need to conserve some revenue from the development of Alaska’s abundant resources not just for a “rainy day” fund but also to put it into a fund that the Legislature could not touch, a fund designed to give each Alaskan an annual payback for their commitment to the State. (more…)