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Posts published in June 2013

The MTC connection

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Last week's column on a possible bidding contest among private corporations for managing one of Idaho's prisons drew two complaints. Let's deal with them here.

One came from Gallatin Public Affairs at Boise, which said its client Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based private prison operator mentioned briefly in the column, had a beef. I wrote that MTC “is considered one of the comers in the business” (not disputed), and: “On May 30, news reports surfaced about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at its East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, alleging 'barbaric' conditions and denial of health and other basic care.”

The representative said that “MTC is not connected with this lawsuit and your readers are led to believe it is. … We would like MTC to be taken out of the column that mentions the lawsuit against Geo.”

I didn't say MTC was a party to the lawsuit, even that it was “connected.” Still, surely MTC would prefer greater clarity to erasure or cover-up. An editor of mine often said that when a writer opens a door, he should walk through it; especially, as here, given MTC's interest in Idaho (it operates the Idaho Correctional Alternative Placement Program). So, is MTC “connected” to the lawsuit?

The East Mississippi Correction Facility is a 1,500-bed prison mainly for mentally ill men, opened in 1999. In that state the Department of Corrections is responsible for all prisons, but it contracted operation of this one to the private GEO Group. Problems emerged, a state official said “MDOC was not satisfied,” and prisoners complained. MTC, self-described as “the third largest private operator of adult correctional facilities in the world,” was hired to replace it, and has run EMCF since July 2012.

On May 30 this year, a lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union for a group of prisoners at EMCF. The complaint, which is gritty reading, is online: www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/case/complaint.pdf. The defendants are not MTC, or for that matter GEO, but rather state corrections officials, since they are “vested with the exclusive responsibility for management and control of the correctional system ...”

Much of the complaint deals with the GEO years, but it includes events since July 2012. “In September 2012, prisoners on Unit 5C had no showers for three weeks” (page 9); “In May 2013, there was no electrical power on the top tier of Plaintiff Covington's zone for several days” (page 9); in late 2012, a prisoner who hanged himself was cut down, locked in an isolation cell and not seen by a psychiatrist (page 12). A legally blind prisoner, robbed in July 2012, was robbed again in January and April this year (page 36). It cites guard abuses of prisoners in late 2012 and this year (pages 46-48). And more. (more…)

Living with contradiction

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Here’s the truth of it. Hard and quick.

The Census Bureau has determined Oregon is the third fastest growing state in the nation. Third! But, here in the southwest part of the Oregon woods, the Oregon Department of Employment says half of all residents – 16 years and older – are unemployed and not looking for work. In two neighboring counties, it’s even worse.

How about that for a total contradiction in one state?

The growth is coming from manufacturing – especially in the computer and electronics world. Intel, for example, has six campuses west of Portland and employs about 17,000 people there – Oregon’s largest employer. The largest contributor on the downside – all that unemployment and staying that way – is a whole other industry – trees. Not cutting as many. Not milling as many. Not shipping as much lumber. It’s been that way for several years.

But the contradictions continue. In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney carried our whole neighborhood by a large margin. Not unusual, speaking politically. You could carve an “R” on a Douglas fir around here, run it for the Oregon Legislature and it might even wind up in leadership. Our backyard is that Republican.

“The contradiction,” you ask?

By any social or economic measure, this part of Oregon is firmly in that “47%” of people Romney said were reliant on government and “would never vote for a Republican anyway.” But here, they do. In very large numbers. Out-of-work, government-dependent Republican voters. Douglas, Curry and Josephine Counties just don’t recognize a second political party on the ballot.

Now, let’s look at that 50%+ of people over the age of 16 around here not working and not looking. You can subtract the disabled who can’t and seniors at an age they can’t or don’t want to work anymore and aren’t looking. Suppose all those folks totaled half of the 50%. That still leaves thousands who’re unemployed and not looking to go back into the labor force. Their income is lower and they’re likely to be on one or more government programs or retirement savings. Or nothing. We’ve got a lot of ‘em.

Still, Romney proclaimed those folks were a lost cause at the polls for him and the Republican Party. And the Party pro’s seem to accept his faulty premise. Seems they think if you ain’t working, you’re a Democrat. But around here, these folks turn out for the GOP. And they did for Romney.

Some months ago, we were told of a $12-million turn-around project to be undertaken by the National Republican Party. New technology. New staff. New message. “Kinder-gentler-softer.” “More welcoming.” “More inclusive.” So far, pure B.S.

While continuing their overwrought anti-abortion excesses at all levels and working harder to exclude minority voters, the GOP has changed absolutely nothing. At the moment, the right and far-right in Congress are fighting each other and the Republican Party seems Hellbent on going down the tubes on immigration reform, too. Pick a subject that was supposed to be a target of “change” and you’ll find nothing has. Changed. In fact, on abortion, curtailing voter rights and immigration reform, the Party has – or is about to – doubled-down on what’s cost ‘em recent elections while narrowing the party base.

Congress has become a zoo – failing us on virtually every issue. What significant economic progress achieved recently has come from a private sector laboring against an intransigent government more often creating roadblocks than making the job easier. We’ve become a nation attempting to right itself economically in the face of elected federal opposition. (more…)

Developing Bannock

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

An Idaho State University vice president recently submitted proposals to Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer to remove constitutional barriers impeding research and economic development at the state’s universities, which he says put them and the Gem State at a competitive disadvantage.

When he addressed the Bannock Development Corp.’s June 18 annual investor reception at Allstate’s new customer service center in Chubbuck, Dr. Howard Grimes, ISU vice president of research and economic development, mentioned he had given Sayer the proposals.

Grimes has overseen ISU’s new 250,000-square-foot Research and Innovation in Science and Engineering (RISE) Complex on Alvin Ricken Drive since November. He leads initiatives in biomedical and renewable energy research, and nano-material development for innovative sensor design, as well as environmental and geoscience networks.

He predicted the RISE Complex will dramatically change Southeast Idaho the next 15 to 20 years. “My vision is it will remain somewhat empty during its entire life span,” Grimes said, explaining new businesses will need space to operate. He expects it will be up to 80 percent full.

Grimes said he is talking with two startup companies now, and an established company is at the point it will need to do advanced manufacturing on a commercial scale. He mentioned he also is negotiating with a “very, very well-known multinational global company” whose annual net revenue exceeds $2 million.

“Six months into it, we’ve got multiple things on the burner,” he said, adding he recently was notified the National Science Foundation was awarding ISU a $5 million grant. “That is not easy to accomplish.” He expects another large grant to be announced in a matter of weeks.

The NSF also has awarded a five-year $20 million grant to Idaho universities, including ISU, to study how society and landscapes are interconnected.

Virtually every state within the past 10 years has radically altered constitutional statutes and changed policies to “incentivize” universities so they can do innovative research and economic development. “We have not done that in Idaho,” Grimes said. “Significant things need to change.”

States like Texas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah are making major advancements in developing research universities, he noted, citing Utah State University’s 30 business startups as an example. States up and down the East and West Coasts also are well ahead of Idaho in this regard.

“Paradigm shifts need to happen in the state of Idaho for all of it to be successful,” Grimes said, emphasizing there has been a fundamental shift in the federal government’s approach to funding research. “The private sector is going to have to lead the brigade forward.”

A former Washington State University graduate school dean and research vice president, Grimes championed WSU’s largest grant funding growth in the university’s history -- 85 percent since Fiscal 2008. He also directed WSU’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach.

Grimes said universities started morphing into research and economic development five to six years ago. They have been forming teams of scientists to advance their work with private sector partners and secure grants, adopting an entirely different strategy of accelerating “lab bench to market” innovations, which previously took 20 years to complete. (more…)

The importance of compromise

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

Ronald Reagan was a staunch conservative and Tip O’Neill was an equally staunch liberal. But both were old school and also believed in the art of political compromise. As a result, Reagan and O’Neill worked together on a series of successful compromises that included revisions in Social Security, working with Margaret Thatcher on establishing the Anglo-Irish Accord for peace in North Ireland, and beginning the thaw in the Cold War after O’Neill delivered a message to Mikhail Gorbachev from Reagan.

Unfortunately, in recent years there have been few major national issues that have been successfully addressed through political compromise. The end game today is playing for media sound bites and maneuvering for imagined political advantage in the next election cycle.

Now the U.S. Senate has taken a page from the playbook used earlier times when bipartisan coalitions were the norm for dealing with major issues. The issue is immigration reform and it now appears that as many as 70 Senators from both sides of the aisle may be prepared to support the bill developed by the bipartisan Gang of Eight, although the coalition probably won’t include either of Idaho’s senators.

Earlier this week I was moderator for a Boise City Club forum featuring Grover Norquist, arguably the most influential conservative voice in Washington, D.C. His subject was “Why Conservatives Should Support Immigration Reform.” He is supportive of the Senate bill for a number of reasons, but primarily because he believes that it will benefit the nation’s economy.

He is also a political pragmatist who sees the handwriting on the wall for the Republican party if they continue to offend the growing number of Hispanic voters by opposing immigration reform.

The national issue that eclipses immigration is federal deficit reduction. It is another issue that will only be successfully dealt with by forming bipartisan coalitions willing to make some compromises on issues such as entitlements, taxes and defense spending.

One of the biggest obstacles to bi-partisan compromise solutions on deficit reduction is none other than Grover Norquist, the champion of bi-partisan compromises on immigration reform. Norquist, through his organization Americans for Tax Reform, has gotten nearly every Republican in Congress to sign his pledge to not raise taxes of any sort. If a member has signed and continues to honor the pledge, he or she will only support deficit reduction efforts that focus on spending cuts. (more…)

Sunsetting the council

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Sent a letter off to Governor C/L. “Butch” Otter this week asking him to take the lead among northwest governors and abolish the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The request is a formal follow up to the case I made about the irrelevancy of the Council in today’s energy environment in my recent book, Medimont Reflections.

Copies were sent to Governor Otter’s other northwest colleagues - Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Additional copies were sent to Washington’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, to Steve Crow - the Council’s executive director, and to Idaho’s two members on the Council, Bill Booth, from Hayden Lake, and Jim Yost, from Boise.

Fact is, the Council has been a colossal failure, especially in its stated mission to enhance and protect dwindling wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake River basins. Fact is the Council has overseen the wastage of billions of ratepayer dollars in a futile effort to come up, along with other Federal agencies, a biologically protective dam operations plan (called “Bi-ops”) that will meet the test of Federal District Court approval.

Fact is the Council has spent in excess of $221 million to operate during its 32 years of existence but has virtually nothing to show for the ratepayer’s investment. In late March Bonneville produced a summary sheet of the amount of dollars spent, and the amount of revenue lost, trying to enhance wild fish runs during the first 11 years of this new century.

The total sum was a stunning, staggering $7.35 billion. Incredible. And what do they have to show the ratepayers for this outlay? Virtually nothing. By any standard, they have failed in their mission and should be abolished.

The 1980 Act that established the Council also provided a formula for funding the Council - a percentage of the anticipated annual firm power sales. It roughly was the equivalent of about $2 million a year.

Full disclosure on my part: as the first Idaho appointee to the Council I played a significant role in making sure the first budget had enough to set up offices in Montana and Idaho for those states Council members so as to be able to match the downriver states Council offices which were supported by much larger state energy offices.

Thus, the first budget came in at three times the limit, a number slightly in excess of $6 million. This was enough to cover set up costs and required a waiver from the Bonneville Power Administration’s new chief executive and administrator, Peter Johnson, himself an Idahoan and the former chairman of Idaho-based Trus-Joist Corporation. I never dreamed that subsequent annual budgets would remain in the range of annually expending between $6 and $8 million dollars. (more…)

Back to square one

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

While the U.S. Supreme Court gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) can probably be strictly legally supported, minorities in this country have even more to fear. The decision – questionable or not – throws their future access to the polls into the hands of the most do-nothing, divided, regressive and inoperable congress in recent history. And that ain’t good.

The challenge to the VRA was based primarily on Section 5 – that portion requiring certain states and other government entities holding elections to get U.S. Justice Department approval of their election rules if they appeared on a list of locales where previous election discrimination had been proven. In the 1960′s. The plaintiff’s argument was basically “We’ve changed and what we intentionally did wrong before we don’t do now so we shouldn’t be forced to comply with decisions based on 50-year-old data.”

While the Justices bought that claim 5-4 – apparently believing previous discriminatory practices had likely ended – the question is: have they? Some new serious statistical evidence suggests – they haven’t.

In May, law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer (University of California Cal-Davis and University of Connecticut) published a study arguing “the list of states required to obtain federal approval under VRA ‘remarkably mirrors the geography of anti-black prejudice’ in the United States today.”

“What we generated,” Elmendorf said, “is an answer to the question (whether racial voting conditions in specific states had really changed) asked by the chief justice during oral arguments. Defendant was unable to answer.”

Using a 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey, the professors asked non-blacks to rank their own racial group against blacks regarding intelligence, trustworthiness and work ethic. Respondents ranked their racial group above blacks by an average of 15 points in each category.

The results were striking. Their mathematical model suggests, of the states with the highest percentage of people biased against blacks, six are Southern: Lousiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. All have been previously required to seek fed approval for election law changes under the VRA based on past bad practices. But no longer.

Two other states – Arizona and Alaska – also were required to get government approval of voting changes. But Elmendorf and Spencer note, while those two ranked much lower in black bias, their data indicates Arizona’s bias is against Hispanics and Alaska’s is anti-Native American. (more…)

Walking into deflation

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

You would think that the broader economy would be part of any discussion about austerity. If the economy is getting stronger, well, then government budget cuts are more easily absorbed. On the other hand, if the economy is fragile, then budget cuts make it worse because the government itself is such an important part of the economy.

So government as an engine of growth -- something that is absolutely a fact in Indian Country -- is rarely considered by conservatives in the political context. Unless it’s about Defense-related jobs.

A study last month, for example, said the Pentagon could manage the sequester far more effectively if it permanently cut its civilian workforce by tens of thousands of jobs. But Congress doesn’t like that idea and is hostile to closing more bases as a way to save money. One Virginia Republican is proposing legislation that, according to Government Executive magazine, would “prohibit the department from proposing, planning or initiating another round of Base Realignment and Closure.”

But when it comes to the economy, especially long term, the choices of where government invests money is important to growth. Just think what it would mean if education spending had the same sort of passion from Congress as the military with specific legislation that prohibited the closing of a school or university. (Or even better: laws requiring full funding.)

One power the government does have to invest in economy, save an economy, or just meddle in an economy (depending on your point of view). But it is that role that the government last week hinted that it is backing away from. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has been using extraordinary tools to do what it could to prop up the economy without support from Congress. As Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times yesterday: “For the most part, Ben Bernanke and his colleagues at the Federal Reserve have been good guys in these troubled economic times. They have tried to boost the economy even as most of Washington seemingly either forgot about the jobless, or decided that the best way to cure unemployment was to intensify the suffering of the unemployed.” Krugman’s conclusion is that it’s the “wrong signal to be sending given the state of the economy. We’re still very much living through what amounts to a low-grade depression — and the Fed’s bad messaging reduces the chances that we’re going to exit that depression any time soon.”

Other economic observers fear an even bigger problem, deflation. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, a European columnist in The Telegraph wrote: “I hope the Fed knows what it is doing.” He points out that a tighter monetary policy makes less sense when the core inflation metric is lower now than when the Fed began using its powers. “America is one shock away from a slide into outright deflation, and the eurozone is half a shock away.”

We live inflation. We go to the store and it costs more for our basic supplies, food, gas, even sending children to college. Then the deal was we would get a bigger pay check to make up for these increasing costs.

But that has not been happening. And if you look at the larger economy, inflation itself has been extraordinary low. For its part, the Fed says it is still watching this trend. One Federal Reserve Bank president told Bloomberg News that if inflation remains low, despite what Bernanke said, the Fed might need to find a way to “provide more accommodation.” (more…)

Best of the lot?

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The Idaho Board of Correction said last week it would not routinely roll over its contract with the Corrections Corporation of America for managing the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise, and instead would put it up for bid among the various private prison companies out there – but would not consider a proposal from the state Department of Corrections.

What they appear not to have indicated is why they think another private provider would do better.

The need to improve on the track record of CCA, which runs the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise, is obvious enough. It has admitted to understaffing and overbilling the state – I'll leave it to you to process what that means – and it has been accused of much more, up to and including running a “gladiator school” in which discipline and control are maintained in considerable part by criminal gangs.

Here's the catch: Within the private prison industry sector, CCA may actually be the best there is.

It is the largest private prison company in the country, and much the most experienced, starting with its first prison contract in Tennessee in 1984. For all the bad headlines CCA has gotten over the years – (Idaho is no aberration: There have been many concerning facilities around the country) – the other firms in the field have gotten their share too.

The second-largest such company, and roughly in CCA's ballpark in terms of size and clout, is the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut), which also operates in many states. Try Googling it and you'll come back with a stunning track record. There was the 2001 inmate murder in Texas after which the firm was sued not just over the death, but also over destruction of evidence. There were eight deaths at a Delaware County, Pennsylvania, facility between 2005 and 2009 (after which Geo withdrew from its management). An insider report on a Pompano Beach, Florida facility reported "substandard or callous medical care, including a woman taken for ovarian surgery and returned the same day, still bleeding, to her cell, and a man who urinated blood for days but wasn't taken to see a doctor." (That one led to a congressional and federal agency inquiry.)

After CCA and Geo the companies get smaller, but Management & Training Corporation (MTC) is considered one of the comers in the business. On May 30, news reports surfaced about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at its East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, alleging “barbaric” conditions and denial of health and other basic care.

So it goes. (more…)

Something’s burning

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The absolutely most hated thing in the “Republican Book of Hates” is when someone up the political food chain tries to give orders to someone further down the chain – tries to tell ‘em how to live – what to do – what not to do – what to pay for. When any of those happen, it sets Republican hair on fire!

So saying, consider one of the dumbest moves the Idaho Republican Party could make when such philosophy is threatened – by Idaho Republicans.

The State Central Committee has decided the Goofy Old Party must step in to save local governments from themselves. Those down the ladder. To wit – no city or county in Idaho should be able to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance to protect all its citizens. And – should that sentiment be ignored – the legislature should make sure those passed are unenforceable.

Am I alone in seeing a “do-what-I-say-not-as-I-do” situation here? Shouldn’t there be a smell of burning hair in the air?

Two immutable facts. First, all citizens – ALL citizens everywhere – deserve equal protection of our laws. Protection assured and provided in the most even-handed of ways. Just Basic Citizenship Guarantees #101.

Second, to all intents, Idaho is a one-political-party state. GOP. Total control of all state offices and overwhelming numbers in the legislature. Further, nearly all legislative leaders (the tails) come from small communities and they’ve wagged their big city cousins (the dogs) for a long, long time.

Over the past year, half a dozen Idaho cities put anti-discrimination ordinances on the books. A couple more are considering it. In fact, a quarter of the state’s population already lives under such rules.

Now to be fair, the closed-minded Republican cretin types that make up the State Central Committee aren’t saying there should be NO protections. No, Sir! They just don’t want to offer equal protections for different “sexual orientations.” Just that one group of citizens. Just “them.”

One of the excuses – pardon me – “reasons” for this GOP attempt to exempt some of us from the protections assured for all of us is that such local ordinances could interfere with the “free exercise of religion.”

Say what? (more…)

A great newspaper’s lousy spin

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

The news of what the Oregonian will be doing, and not doing, by and on October 1, was bad enough. But do they have to insult our intelligence, and do a really bad job of dodging the facts in a hail or corporate bafflegab, at the same time?

Here's how the Oregonian story on the new developments begins: " A new, digitally focused media company, Oregonian Media Group, will launch this fall to expand news and information products in Oregon and Southwest Washington. The new company, which will launch October 1, will operate OregonLive.com and publish The Oregonian and its related print products. A separate company, Advance Central Services Oregon, will provide support services for Oregonian Media Group and other companies. Oregonian Media Group will introduce new and improved digital products, including enhancements to Oregon's largest news website, OregonLive.com. The company will provide up-to-the-minute news and information, when and where readers want it - on their desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets. At the same time, it will continue to publish Oregon's oldest, largest and leading newspaper."

Sounds fine, doesn't it? Doesn't sound very significant to the average reader, does it?

Of course, what's really happening, and what's not even really hinted at in those opening sentences, is this: The paper is cutting back home delivery from seven to three times a week (there's a fig leaf about a "Saturday edition," but evidently it will be delivered with the Sunday paper). There will be layoffs - no specific word on how many, but word circulating is that they will be large. The paper will move out of its long-time building gently uphill from Portland's downtown, to some smaller digs, no longer needing the space. And so on.

You can find an actual comprehensible news report about what's happening and what its significance is, at Willamette Week.

What it comes to is this: The Oregonian will no longer be a true daily newspaper (at least not in any sense that distinguishes it from every weekly newspaper that also runs a 24/7 website, as most of them do). It will have a far smaller reporting and editing staff and so - the limitless capacity of the web notwithstanding - there will be less local and regional news coverage. News consumers in Oregon will be taking a major hit.

So, long term, I suspect, will the Oregonian, and its parent Advance Publications, based out of New York; Advance (not in Portland) was where the cutback decisions got made. (They are similar to the approach which gouged the papers in Cleveland and New Orleans, which Advance also owns).

Not long ago I talked with a veteran and successful newspaper publisher outside Oregon curious what I'd heard about what was going on at the Oregonian. I said there was talk about the three-day-a-week model and major cutbacks, but also hearing about blowback in Ohio and Louisiana, with the possibility of some rethinking about at the approach at Advance. He and I agreed the big cut approach would be disastrous, and hoped it would be reconsidered.

But evidently not.