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Posts published in May 2013

In the Briefings

red algae
 
ALGAE BLOOM: This is a red-orange algae bloom spotted at Edmonds on May 16. (Photo/submitted to the Department of Ecology by Jeri Cusimano)
 

In Washington and Oregon both (most notably in Oregon), state tax revenue reported as rising, and unemployment dropping – one of the best weeks of economic news in more than half a decade. Not bad in Idaho, either.

If the mood in Olympia seems still a bit sour, that has more to do with political battling than anything else: The core news is not so bad, though legislators are likely to keep up their conflicts for some weeks to come. How about special session?

A letter to Fox

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

My Fox Friends:

Because I know you operate with limited “fact” checking folk – relying instead on GOP in-house “research” and the Heritage Foundation for that – I’d like to pass along some old fashioned, shoe leather research Ben Cesca of Huffington Post recently did. All from the public record. Because of the nature of his findings – pre-Benghazi – I’m certain none of you were allowed to read it. Forbidden, actually. So, here goes.

Jan. 22, 2002: Calcutta, India – Harakat-ul-Jihad as-Islami attack U.S. Consulate – five employees killed.

Jun. 14, 2002: Karachi, Pakistan – al Qaeda suicide bomber hits U.S. Consulate – 12 employees killed - 51 injured.

Oct. 12, 2002: Denpasar, Inbdonesia – Diplomatic offices bombed.

Feb. 28, 2003: Islamabad, Palistan – Gunmen fire on Embassy - two killed.

May 12, 2003: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: al Qaeda stormed U.S. diplomatic compound – 36 killed including nine Americans.

Jul. 30, 2004: Tashkent, Uzbekistan: U.S. Embassy bombed – two dead.

Dec. 6, 2004: Jeddah Saudi Arabia – al Qaeda stormed U.S. Consulate – nine dead.

Mar. 2, 2006: Karachi, Pakistan – For the third time in four years, U.S. Consulate bombed – four dead including Ambassador David Foy.

Sep. 12, 2006: Damascus, Syria: Gunmen storm U.S. Embassy killing four.

Jan. 12, 2007: Athens, Greece – Rocket attack on U.S. Embassy. Bad shots.

Mar. 18, 2008: Sana’a, Yemen – Islamic Jihad of Yemen fire mortar at U.S. Embassy. Missed. Hit school next door killing two.

Jul. 9, 2008: Istanbul, Turkey – Terrorists attack U.S. Embassy killing six employees.

Sep. 17, 2008: Sana’a, Yemen – Terrorists with car bombs and RPGs kill 16 including an American student. Second attack there in seven months.

That’s 13 American embassy and consulate attacks during the two-term tenure of G-W-B. Two terms during which you were just not as worked up as you are today. (more…)

Impacts of the cut

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Indian Country has already been hit hard by the sequester.

Lacey Horn, treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, recently told National Public Radio that the tribe had been planning for the impact for some time with cost-cutting measures, a hiring freeze for all non-essential positions, and canceled training and travel. “We’re delaying or foregoing any capital acquisitions, both large and small. And we're looking at our encumbrances to see if there's any changes in scope or quantity that we can make and strictly enforce the employee overtime.”

Horn’s goal is to try and absorb the sequester “to the greatest extent possible before we start making reductions in jobs and services.”

This is exactly what a tribal government should be doing. Looking for ways to “absorb” the cuts with as little impact as possible on direct services or jobs.

But can tribes do that over and over for the next decade? The Budget Control Act, the law that governs the sequester, is a ten-year austerity effort. As the Bipartisan Policy Center describes the law: “Sequestration’s effect will be akin to that of a slow motion train wreck ... the ramifications will steadily worsen as time passes.”

The Congressional Budget Office reported that the president’s budget would “lower the caps for 2017 through 2021 on discretionary spending that were originally set by the Budget Control Act and extend those caps through 2023. However, much of that lower spending would be offset by eliminating the automatic spending reductions that have occurred or are scheduled to occur under current law from 2013 through 2021. In total, those changes would lead to discretionary outlays that are 6 percent lower in 2016 than they were in 2012 but that would grow later in the decade; as a percentage of GDP, such outlays would fall from 8.3 percent in 2012 to 5.0 percent in 2023, 0.5 percentage points lower than the amount in CBO’s baseline and the lowest level in at least the past 50 years.”

Think about the last part of that sentence. The president’s budget would lift some of the hard spending caps under the Budget Control Act, but even then federal spending for domestic programs would be at the lowest level since President Kennedy’s time. And, as I have written before, the president’s budget represents a decent outcome. The president’s budget, according to CBO, would trim federal deficits by $1.1 trillion over the coming decade. Not a bad outcome. But the president’s budget would require a “yes” vote from both the House and the Senate. That’s not going to happen. (more…)

Weakening Oregon’s public meetings

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From testimony prepared for delivery by Sal Peralta, secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon, about a bill amending Oregon's public meeting law.

I am here today to testify on behalf of the Independent Party of Oregon in opposition to HB 3513.

Before addressing the substantive provisions of the bill, I would like to point out that Oregon ranks among the worst states in the nation with regard to “Public Access to Information”, according to the State Integrity Investigation, a project of Public Radio International and the Center for Public Integrity.

This bill would take a bad system and make it far worse. Short of an outright repeal, it is difficult to imagine a bill that would more effectively dismantle Oregon’s public meetings law.

The impetus behind this legislation appears to be a case that was settled in 2011, in which the Lane County Commission, and most particularly Commissioners Pete Sorenson and Rob Handy, were convicted of violating the state’s public meetings law for engaging a series of meetings and communications in 2009 that culminated in what Judge Michael Gillespie called a “sham vote” to approve a supplemental budget that hired part time assistants for the Lane County Commission.

I have attached a copy of the judge’s ruling in that case, as well as copies of numerous editorials and news stories that were published around the time that decision was reached that affirm the need for maintaining strong open meetings laws in Oregon.

Given the importance of the state’s public records law, I suspect that this
legislation will draw intense scrutiny from the press should this legislation move forward in this committee.

With regard to the bill itself…

HB 3513 constitutes a radical departure from current law.

Under Oregon Statute, all meetings of governing bodies that involve "deciding on or deliberating toward a decision" must be held in public unless the content of the meeting is specifically exempted in ORS 192.610 – ORS 192.690.

This legislation limits the scope of matters relating to decisions by governing bodies only to those relating to “budget, fiscal, or policy” matters.

None of these terms “budget, fiscal, and policy” are defined in the bill or in any part of ORS 192.610 to 192.690, so presumably it would be left to the governing body seeking to circumvent the public meetings law to determine whether decisions made in private meetings relate to any of those categories.

Second, the bill effectively neuters Oregon’s Public meetings law by exempting the following topics from the definition of "deciding on or deliberating toward a decision."

(A) Communication that is wholly unrelated to the conduct of the public's business;

(B) Fact gathering activities; or

(C) On-site inspections of property or facilities at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the governing body.

The latter two of these exemptions are especially troubling.

Fact gathering missions must currently be held in public, pursuant to Oregonian Publishing Co. v. Oregon State Board of Parole, 99 Or App 501 (1989).

Fact gathering is often the most crucial stage at which decisions are made by government. It would be unimaginable that a judge in a court of law should accept facts outside of the context of a public hearing open to all parties. Given that the role of governing bodies such as county commissions or city councils is often “quasi-judicial”, as in the case of land use decisions or other variances from local ordinances, what is the rationale for adopting a lower standard for Oregon’s governing bodies?

Similarly, the bill exempts from the definition of “deciding on or deliberating toward a decision." “Onsite inspections of property or facilities at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the governing body.”

The plain ordinary language of that subsection makes it clear that anything can be discussed in private, so long as the meeting occurs at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the

ORS 192.620 states that: "The Oregon form of government requires an informed public aware of the deliberations and decisions of governing bodies and the information upon which such decisions were made. It is the intent of ORS 192.610 to 192.690 that decisions of governing bodies be arrived at openly."

I would respectfully submit that no part of this bill serves that public purpose and recommend against moving this bill forward.

What they want it for

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The norm in campaign finance, traditionally at least, goes like this: The candidate files and sets up an account for campaign spending, receives funds for campaign purposes, then spends it, presumably to around zero by election day, on such as ads, printing and mailing, salaries, office space, polling, depending on the size of the campaign. Traditionally, campaigns are like the Snake River at Milner Dam, which is dewatered at the end of one stretch, then refills in the next one.

That still often happens when candidates are in competitive races, when they collect whatever they can and spend it down, because they can't politically afford to leave resources on the table.

Nowadays, however, fewer congressional races are really competitive. If you're one of those nearly impregnable incumbents – say, a Republican in Idaho (or, a Democrat in some other states) – you really don't need but a fraction of the funds you take in. Most of your contributors aren't donating because they think you need it to win; they have other agendas in mind. You wind up with excess cash.

The handling of that excess money has come up in the case of Senator Mike Crapo's campaign treasury. Here's some background.

In the cycle leading up to his last election in 2010, Crapo raised $5.1 million, which was added on to some cash he already had on hand. In the campaign he spent about $3.4 million, only a portion of what he had available but still far more than he needed, since that was about 34 times as much as his Democratic opponent, Tom Sullivan, spent. Crapo ended the 2010 cycle with about $3 million cash on hand, and has continued to raise money since, though he's not up for re-election until 2016. As of the end of March, he had $3.4 million on hand. This is not an unusual situation; quite a few successful congressional candidates of both parties also are well padded. (more…)

From explanation to exploitation

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Nearly all our lives, we adults take great pains setting ourselves apart from each other – our individualism, if you will. Whether in appearance, style of dress, cars we drive or books we read, we spend our lives expressing our differences rather than our shared sameness. Then a commonality sneaks up on us – the shared experience of all – because we were once six or seven years old. Each of us. All of us.

That one genealogical thread of age may be the largest single reason why the Newtown massacre struck our consciousness so deeply. Months after a school meant for learning became a chamber of mass murder, we’re not letting this one fade from memory as quickly as we have so many others. All of us have been six or seven. We’e all been in classrooms.

A few miles up the road from my own little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods, we had our own indiscriminate killings in a shopping mall a few months ago. ut I’ve days and weeks in that time without thinking about Clackamas Mall. Not so Newtown, Connecticut. Despite other distractions of daily living, the Newtown horror still intrudes from time to time.

Several years of my life were spent as a hospice volunteer, ministering to the dying one-on-one. Death – impending death – certain death. You learn not only how to provide comfort to the “client” – you learn to deal with death after death after death of people you come to know as friends. Even if for only a brief time. You learn how to do that. Or you fail.

But most of my life has been spent in journalism – passing along the daily events of our lives. You used to learn how to do that in much the same clinical way – observing but not getting personally involved. Not anymore.

Maybe it’s the collision of experiences in those two backgrounds that makes my disgust with so much of the media so overwhelming in these months following the Newtown killing. Most of my anger is caused by the so-called broadcast “professionals.”

All of us experience a period of grief following the death of someone close. It permeates our entire being. Some survivors or onlookers handle it better than others. But it’s always there. When the death is that of someone we don’t know or aren’t particularly close to, there may be feelings of sadness but usually not disabling grief. But what happened in Newtown – though involving complete strangers for most of us – what happened in Newton has – in many ways – shown up in a sort of national grief. (more…)

Health metrics

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

States like Idaho wondering what's going on with other states that got fully on board with the Affordable Care Act, might take a look at Oregon. The latest update on its progress, out today:

A report presented to the Oregon Health Policy Board today provided information on key health and financial metrics for the Oregon Health Plan. The metrics will be used to help drive improvement and innovation under the state’s health system transformation plan.

“This report brings more transparency and accountability to health care by showing us where we are starting and where we need to go,” said Gov. John Kitzhaber. “I am confident that together we can make Oregon’s health system transformation a success and meet our goals for better health, better care and lower costs.”

The metrics provided show statewide data on everything from how often women receive pre-natal care to how often people use the emergency room for care that could be done better and more affordably elsewhere. The list was created by a nine-member stakeholder committee.

The first coordinated care organizations (CCO) began serving Oregon Health Plan clients in August of 2012 and were brought online throughout the year. The report takes data from 2011 - before CCOs were started - and compares it to benchmarks for each metric. The state’s health system transformation plan calls for closing the gap between all baselines and benchmarks within 10 years.

The report also includes stories about innovations happening statewide and in each coordinated care organization.

“This is how we transform the health care system. Set clear goals to improve the quality of care and let each local community work together to meet those goals in the way that works best for the people they serve,” says Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Health Authority.

The report can be found at www.health.oregon.gov.

Idaho clouds

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

I have always been extremely optimistic about Idaho and its future. Several years ago an Idaho journalist wrote a piece about being so depressed about living in Idaho that he was moving to another state. I was incensed and wrote a strong rebuttal that was picked up by several papers and brought me an offer from a news syndicate to begin writing for them. An offer which I declined.

But now I am seeing some disturbing statistics that are leaving me wondering if my optimism is really justifiable.

The fact that we lead the nation in the percentage of workers receiving the minimum wage is troubling. In 2011 5% of all of our workers were in minimum wage jobs. By 2012 the number had grown to 7.7%. By way of comparison, the rate for Montana is 1.5%, Oregon 1.1% and Washington 1.7%.

In Idaho we make it more attractive for recruiting employers that pay the minimum wage by keeping our minimum wage well below that of our neighboring states. Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Montana is $7.80, Oregon, $8.95, Nevada $8.25 and Washington $9.19.

Idaho’s median wage – half earn more and half earn less – is $18.48, which is 84 percent of the national average. Our statewide average wage places us in 45th place nationally.

Idaho’s population has grown significantly in recent decades. Much of that has come from people migrating to Idaho in search of better jobs and, for some, an improved quality of life.

But now we are seeing some rather startling new statistics concerning outmigration in Idaho.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, in 2012 57,270 members of Idaho’s work force left the state. Nearly every age group under 55 experienced a decline, with those in the 25 to 29 year age category declining both as part of the labor force and part of the overall population.

In 2008, Idaho had 10,500 people with doctoral degrees. Since then, 700 of those have left, followed by 2,400 with master’s degrees, 10,300 with bachelor’s degrees and 3,600 with associate degrees. These are 27,500 of Idaho’s best educated citizens who are leaving at a time when the State Board of Education has announced its intent to have 60% of Idahoans aged 25-34 hold a college degree or post-secondary certificate within the next seven years. Only three states have a lower percentage of their high school graduates going on to college than Idaho. A cynic might note that with fewer Idahoans aged 25-34 it might be easier to meet that goal. (more…)

Badge beats gun

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The question of “a gun or a badge” for security in school classrooms seems to have been answered this week with the very successful testing of a WiFi-based system in a Nampa, Idaho, high school. (See “A gun or a badge” column below)

The equipment – made by EKAHAU – replaces badges most teachers already wear around their necks daily. But this one is sensitive to applied pressure in several spots. When touched, it silently calls for help, puts the school on “lockdown” and notifies local police dispatch – all in seconds. And I mean “seconds.” On Monday’s test in Nampa, it did all that in less than four!

A randomly selected teacher decided when to send a signal. Could have been any classroom on campus. All similar badges in the building flashed, a computerized map lit up and the school resource officer took off. From start to his arrival – less than 20 seconds!

In Sandy Hook Elementary, the gunman killed 26 people in just over five minutes. Using the Nampa cop’s response time of about 20 seconds – with gun drawn – you might have had some fatalities. Certainly not 26. What if this system saved 15 kids – or just one? Saved three teachers- or just one? Or you could have had 30 scared kids run screaming in all directions while a scared teacher tied to find a gun in a locked drawer to have a gunfight with a crazy person filling the classroom with bullets while waiting for a resource officer who might have been unaware of the danger.

The answer for me – from personal experience – is very simple. Several years ago, my teacher wife was attacked in a classroom by a teen almost her size. But stronger. A male teacher heard the racket and eventually responded. But what if she had been wearing one of these Ekahau badges? Would she have had the scrapes and bruises? Or been seriously injured?

A donor put up the $20,000 necessary for the system in Nampa. While $20,000 is a large sum, it allowed this state-of-the-art coverage in an entire high school.

We can’t expect all schools in all districts to have such citizen support. But the system works. It works so well districts across the country should begin budgeting school-by-school starting now. Make it a 10 year plan Or 20. Have some community fund raisers. Contact foundations, service clubs, corporations. Have bake sales and carwashes if necessary. Set a goal of one of these badge systems for the school your kids or grandkid go to and get started!

Or, as our friends at the NRA have decided, we can put a gun on the hip of every school teacher in every classroom and let ‘em shoot it out with the bad guys. Over and around the heads of ourloved ones. Our choice.

Repeal it again?

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled a vote Thursday to repeal the Affordable Care Act (including the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act). House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, tweeted: “It just keeps getting worse. I am scheduling a vote for next week on the full repeal of #Obamacare.”

Since the law was enacted more than three years ago, House Republicans have voted more than thirty times to repeal part or all of the law. And, perhaps, more important, Republicans in Congress have tried to pull every lever they can think of to make sure the current law is neither executed nor fully-funded. The goal of Republicans in Congress is to make the Affordable Care Act “worse.”

But the problem for Republicans (and in a different way for supporters of the law) is that Americans are confused. Polling last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that four in ten Americans, or 42 percent, are unaware that the Affordable Care Act is the law. Some 12 percent think it was repealed. Another 7 percent say the Supreme Court overturned the law. And 23 percent have no idea whether the act is still law. Nearly half of those surveyed say they “do not have enough information about the health reform law to understand how it will impact their own family, a share that rises among the uninsured and low-income households.”

Then again, it’s no wonder most people are confused by the law. From the moment it passed there has been a misinformation campaign from opponents designed to confuse and stir up distrust.

President Barack Obama said last week that “misinformation” will continue at least through the next election cycle. He talked about the Affordable Care Act last week using Mother’s Day as the reason, saying, “the law is here to stay.” So many people are already better off because of the law, seniors, women, low-income Americans, sick people and families with children. “You're benefiting from it,” he said. “You just may not know it.” (more…)

A gun or a badge

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Armed police in every school. Every teacher packing a gun. The NRA’s outrageous ideas for school safety. Just how outrageous will be even more evident if a little test going on at a high school this week in li’l ol’ Nampa, Idaho, works as everyone thinks it will.

Imagine each teacher replacing the badge most now wear around their necks with a similar one that tracks their immediate locations, calls the police and puts a threatened school on “lockdown.” Within four seconds. Automatically. That’s what they’re trying out in Nampa this week.

EKAHAU is the outfit that makes these things. Along with a lot of other hi-tech gizmos used in hospitals and mental institutions that work off a common WiFi system.. One version is a little device that looks like a badge but you hang this one in the refrigerated cabinet where blood or certain drugs are stored. If the temperature varies outside desired degrees, it flashes a warning at the nurse’s station.

Or, a violent mental patient attacks an employee. Touch one of the tag “hot spots” and security – even off-campus local police – know instantly help is needed. All kinds of uses.

Put one on a teacher, for example. In an emergency, a “hot spot” touch will summon help if that teacher is attacked. Or, pull the badge and lanyard apart quickly and the school immediately goes on “lockdown” and the nearest police emergency dispatch is notified. Immediately. Silently.

Obviously something this good is not cheap. The cost for all the badges and peripheral gadgets in the Nampa case is a little more than $20,000. But a local donor has put up the money for the tryout.

Now, which would you rather have? A teacher carrying a gun trying to shoot it out with an armed assailant while also trying to protect 30 screaming and terrified, running kids. Or, a teacher with a small badge giving an immediate silent warning to the entire school and local law enforcement? Go ahead. You decide. I’ll wait.

So, is the NRA idea to make sharpshooters out of teachers outrageous? It certainly is in my book. A “good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun?” Or an alert teacher who can communicate with the entire school staff and local police just by touching a piece of plastic hung around her neck.

We’ll keep an eye on the Nampa experiment and let you know. I wish ‘em well. Seems like a damned fine idea. And please don’t tell Wayne LaP. This is a bit outside-the-box for him.

Dear Secretary Jewel

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Noticed a few weeks back where you climbed Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park on a Sunday with your press aide, a reporter from the New York Times, and some National Park Service personnel.

It certainly befit your image as a hard-charging executive into vigorous outdoor activity as one would expect a former REI president, banker and engineer to be. That you are successful, smart and talented cannot be questioned.

How attuned you are to the politics of the Interior Department, both internal
and external, is another question entirely. Candidly, your lack of any
experience in the political world would have disqualified you in my book,
but now that you’re there in the interests of you having a successful tenure
here is some unsolicited advice:

1. Pick the brains of your predecessors. There’s no substitute for experience and there is a wealth of it in your predecessors, both Republicans and Democrats. Look at former secretaries as a Club and a talent pool to be tapped and develop relationships with all of them. Bruce Babbitt, Cecil Andrus, Ken Salazar, Dirk Kempthorne, Gail Norton are all individuals who can and will give discreet counsel if asked.

2. Be aware of fiefdom agendas. Interior is a collection of fiefdoms all
fighting for your ear and your favor, especially at budget time. Many are in actuality run by career bureaucrats who have seen secretaries and political appointees come and go, but they remain and stay focused on their agency goals. You may have liked the symbolism of climbing Old Rag because of the image enhancement it conveyed to the public. I did not because it made me wonder if you were not already being entrapped by the Park Service.

There’s an old saying in politics, “it’s your friends, not your enemies,
whom most often do you in.” Governor Andrus was constantly running into “land mines” being laid for him by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of the fiefdoms that simply decided he was not pure enough on their issues.

3. Fire someone right away and make it stick. There’ll be plenty of candidates but until you demonstrate to the bureaucracy that you know how to fire someone for incompetence and make it stick you’ll not really command respect. Real leaders are not just loved, they are also feared. It takes real skill to fire someone in the federal service given the layers of civil service rules and regulations. It’s easy in the private sector, almost impossible in the public sector.

4. Recognize and embrace Interior’s revenue generation activities. Interior is one of the few federal agencies that generates real money for the treasury - from grazing leases to off-shore oil and gas drilling activities, to coal production to Park fees - there’s a vast gamut of money generators, and a major part of your job is to keep the ka-ching going. Hence, decisions you make on tough issues from oil pipeline permits to the regulations governing “fracturing” on the public lands have to balance the environmental concerns against the economic necessities. Trying to strike the right balance is the challenge. (more…)