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Posts published in November 2013

Idaho man of mystery

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

We tend to demand to know a lot about the background of those people who would be president, somewhat less for prospective members of Congress. Down to the level of state legislature, we usually ask fewer questions.

But here we have Mark Patterson, a state representative from west Boise, Republican, for whom background has become a real issue, partly because of a dispute with the Ada County Sheriff over a denied concealed weapons permit. But there's more to it.

We know he heads a business called Rock N Roll Lubrication LLC, said to employ five people, which manufactures lubricant for bicycle chains, motorcycles, and sporting equipment. The product has gotten excellent reviews, with (apparently) some cache not only nationally but internationally. The first Idaho state paperwork for it dates to November 2007; Patterson's name is alone on papers filed in state business records for that firm. Before November 2007 … nothing.

Patterson's legislative bio describes him as a “businessman and manufacturer specializing in building manufacturing companies from the ground up that serve the national and international markets.” He uses the plural, but persistent searches turn up no second or third manufacturing companies.

Most legislative candidates tell you where they were born and grew up, and give you an idea of the contours of their life. Patterson mentions that as a child he was in the Boy Scouts and the Civil Air Patrol, and that he lost much of his hearing at age four. That's about all. Usually, if a candidate went to college, they say where and when; if they did something else, they usually say that. Patterson's different. An Idaho Statesman article about him – after the weapons permit issue hit – said he was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, “but declined to say where he has lived or list his occupations over the years.” His campaign in 2012 said he attended the University of Southern California and that he had worked as a petroleum engineer, but has since acknowledged neither was true. He said in 2012 he studied at “numerous colleges and universities,” but specifics are lacking.

Something we know: Patterson was 21 in the spring of 1974 when at a bar in Tampa, Florida, he offered a woman a ride home. Police records say she accused him of raping her. He pleaded guilty to the charge of assault with intent to commit rape, later receiving a withheld judgment. He has said since that he has no memory of that night, but later described it as “a bizarre encounter with a woman.” In 1977, in Cincinnati, he was again accused of rape. That case went to trial; he was acquitted.

Those are at least definitive times and places. Otherwise, Patterson's background seems almost invisible until 2007. At least from readily available public documents, including campaign materials, we know not where he was or what he did. Patterson's campaign web side offers his “background is in science and technology. Mark worked in oil, gas and geothermal exploration for 17 years.” Where? For whom? And what else did he do in the three decades between his court appearance in 1977 and his Idaho business filing in 2007? What brought him to Idaho, and when? Was he associated with any groups, professional or otherwise?

How did Rock N Roll Lubrication launch and go international with such lightning speed, with no apparent backing noted on the records other than one person? If this was a brilliant exercise of business management, that would be a great story to hear. (You'd expect he would share it.) If not that, then what?

This isn't a matter of tracking down every last detail about a relatively junior member of the Idaho House. I raise all this here because you likely cannot find a similar gap in the record for any other Idaho legislator, current or recent, or even not so recent. It's a gap unlike anything I can recall in four decades of watching the coming and goings of elected officials.

Who is this guy?

A Socialist – no, really?

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

A city council race in Seattle drawing national attention? Well, yeah, in this case. It involves the ouster of an incumbent, Richard Conlin, but that isn't the reason. Or the fact that the race was very close, coming into clear focus only well into last week.

Rather, it was that an avowed Socialist, Kshama Sawant, appears (narrowly, at a most-recent 1,148-vote lead) to have won.

Socialists have been getting the hard-core blast in national politics for the last couple of decades, demonized to the point that their actual stances have gotten obscured. Even a writer on the Seattle Horse's Ass blog, no stranger to liberalism, remarked, “It’s so rare that someone in government is to my left, it’ll be interesting to see what it actually looks like.”

Maybe not all that startling. Some decades ago, election of Socialists to local government offices was not especially rare. Small towns in places like Idaho used to do it with some regularity. Check out this list in Wikipedia of Socialist mayors around the country; it's a long list. Until not so long ago, socialists weren't that far out of the political mainstream.
(Quietly, to an extent, not so much even now: Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has described himself as a socialist, though generally he caucuses with the Senate Democrats and votes much as most of them do.)

So what is this exotic partisan have in mind for the council? What's the far-out agenda?

The list of issues on her campaign web site suggests: She likes the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage, taxpayer-funded election campaigns, labeling GMO foods, and opposition to the coal transport trains.

In other words, the kind of stuff most Seattle City Council members already pretty much support, rent control probably excepted.

The most distinctive element is the up-front quote: “Our campaign is not an isolated event, it's a bellwether for what's going to happen in the future.”

Activism and movement, in other words, at least as much as policy.

A promise that can’t be kept

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Modern U.S. presidents have a curious relationship with North America’s first residents, American Indians and Alaska Natives.

President Richard Nixon in July of 1970 sent a special message to Congress calling for a new era with the indigenous tribes because “on virtually every scale of measurement -- employment, income, education, health -- the condition of the Indian people ranks at the bottom.” Nixon called for a “new era in which the Indian future is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions.”

Not every president got the memo.

President Ronald Reagan, for example, found himself in Moscow confused by the entire premise of federal-Indian relations. “Let me tell you just a little something about the American Indian in our land,” he told a group of students in the former Soviet Union. “We have provided millions of acres of land for what are called preservations—or reservations, I should say. They, from the beginning, announced that they wanted to maintain their way of life, as they had always lived there in the desert and the plains and so forth. And we set up these reservations so they could, and have a Bureau of Indian Affairs to help take care of them. At the same time, we provide education for them—schools on the reservations. And they're free also to leave the reservations and be American citizens among the rest of us, and many do. Some still prefer, however, that way—that early way of life. And we've done everything we can to meet their demands as to how they want to live. Maybe we made a mistake. Maybe we should not have humored them in that wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said, no, come join us; be citizens along with the rest of us.”

Reagan’s idea was insulting to the five hundred tribal governments that existed before the United States. These tribal government survived conquest and exist today because the United States negotiated treaties with them for lands and other concessions. Those treaties promised doctors and hospitals, schools, and other basic governmental services.

That history sets the stage for Barack Obama.

As president he has announced no new sweeping policy initiatives -- how do you trump self-determination? Yet most of his policies have been generally supportive of tribal governments. At the 5th White House Tribal Nations Conference (held at the Interior Department because the largest room at the White House -- the East Room -- is too small for such a gathering) Obama promised to make his first “state” visit to Indian Country as president. (more…)

Farm bill politics

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

There’s an old joke most farmers have heard: How does a farmer double his income? Easy - he puts up another mail box!

The implication is that a farmer lives off of his government support payment, especially if weather destroys his crop and his insurance engages, or he participates in the Conservation Reserve Program where he is paid NOT to plant a crop.

The simple fact is every country subsidizes its agricultural sector. Meeting the increasing demands of a rapidly expanding world for basic sustenance is not easy as population continues to explode exponentially.

No large nation can let its food supply be totally dependent on imports.

Hence, policies are devised to keep certain products competitive in the mis-named “free market,” which is really a “semi-controlled market.”

Against this backdrop though there is fierce competition between wheat-
growing nations, such as the United States and Australia. Every penny makes a difference. Thus, most wheat farmers in Washington opposed Initiative 522, which would have required labeling of foods altered in anyway by genetic modification (gmo).

For them it was a cost issue as much as a truth in content matter. For the large domestic corporations who turn wheat into bread and other staples¸ it was worth spending millions to avoid more unnecessary cost.

Those voting against the measure surprisingly won, 54 to 46 per cent, on November 5th. Proponents implied public health could be endangered by allowing gmo elements into one’s pantry and played hard the card that one had a right to know. This was playing the fear card which many find ironic.

After all, it was genetic altered seeds that led to the “green revolution” and higher crops yields just in the nick of time to help meet the exploding world population. Where the next leap forward will come from no one knows for sure.

If one stops to think, most people in the United States have been genetically altered by advances in health care in some way whether it is artificial limbs, a pig valve in the heart or advanced forms of cancer treatment.

Scientists are investigating gene-splicing and other advances which will permit prospective parents to see a printout of likely diseases a child in the womb might face. The ethics of this form of selective breeding are very debatable, but consumers don’t seem to object to eating meat from selectively bred cattle. (more…)

They’re watching you – really

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Lots of folks have their shorts in a knot these days – mad because they’ve found out our own government is reading our emails and listening to our phone calls. Reading, watching and listening.

We don’t know exactly how this has been done or precisely how it started. And we don’t know what other sorts of officially sanctioned violations of our personal lives may yet be out there. But, with grudging thanks to Bradley – er – Chelsea Manning and Eric Snowden, we know more than we did. It ain’t good.

Well, get over it. If you’re fretting because you feel you’re being spied on, it’s because you are. If you’re worried about personal privacy, forget it! That horse left the barn years ago. Only thing different these days is we finally know about it for certain. You haven’t had a moment alone in years. Which may cause you to rethink some of the things you’ve been doing. Or saying. In what you thought was privacy.

Can this citizen surveillance by government be justified in a nation of guaranteed liberties? Depends whether you’re a hawk or a dove, I guess. I’ve heard seemingly solid justification and I’ve heard seemingly justified protests. But neither really matters. It’s going to continue and there’s nothing we on the local main streets of the country can do about it. Won’t matter who controls the White House or Congress. It’s here to stay.

A lot of us may never have stopped to think about how much we’re watched even without federal participation. Or how long it’s been going on. When was the last time you were in a bank without a camera overhead? What about your gas station or your favorite 24/7 convenience store? Been to an air or rail terminal lately? How about a major department store? If you live in a large city, when was the last time you got in an elevator and didn’t have a camera looking you over? Well, maybe that’s not a fair question because cameras may have been so well disguised you didn’t see them. What about the hallways and parking lots of your local hospital? Or courthouse? Or commercial storage shed?

A couple of decades ago, our favorite supermarket put up some cameras and a sign that told us it was “for your shopping convenience.” Or “your shopping security.” Major B.S.! It was for the store’s “convenience” and “security” and nothing more. Cameras over exits and checkout stands were to record robberies or see whether a clerk was skimming the receipts. The ones toward the back of the store were there to see if the lady who claimed she “slipped and injured herself” on aisle 12 was making a legitimate claim or working a scam. Cameras in stores are – from a corporate standpoint – a C-Y-A tool. Always have been. Your personal “convenience” and “security” have nothing to do with it.

About the same story for banks. Unless someone with a gun is in the act of holding it up, banks are one of the more secure places you can be in today’s hectic world. Quiet. Unhurried. Peaceful. It’s not your “security” the bankers are interested in.

Have you any idea how many cameras are watching every card – every slot – every table – in your nearest gambling den? I saw a documentary awhile back on a major Vegas casino. There were more than 200 eyes-in-the-ceiling. Just on the gaming floors! There were many more in the 30-story hotel. A lot more. (more…)

The Kootenai takeaway

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

If you're looking for larger takeaways from Tuesday's local elections, in Idaho at least, the best you might get come from Kootenai County.

Other things in other places happened too, of course.

Boise voters rejected two large bond issues on fire safety and parks – sort of. They pulled 64 percent and 62 percent yes votes, but that meant they fell short of the two-thirds needed. It's a high bar; the community overall approved of the plan, just not overwhelmingly. The city council members on the ballot won in landslides. That suggests general satisfaction with City Hall, though the point shouldn't be pressed too far.

Three-term Mayor Tom Dale was ousted in Nampa by council member Bob Henry, after a campaign debate centering on taxes (Henry was the lower-taxes side). But the differences between the two were not extreme, both were experienced at city hall and incumbents there, and the vote was close, decided by only 113, about half a percentage point.

In Pocatello, Mayor Brian Blad, who surprised many people in town four years ago when he defeated incumbent Roger Chase, beat him again to win a second term. That result was not a great shock.

Not a lot of roiling, at least among the voters who turned out.

A message of a different sort did come, however, from Kootenai County. Politics there has been distinctive, stirred up in recent years by several highly partisan and activist groups seeking to elect candidates generally in line with the Tea Party to not only state and federal offices but to non-partisan local offices too. (The full collection of Tea-type local organizations is too dizzying to recount here.)The dividing lines were clear in the mayoral and council races in Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls, which were by far the most entertaining campaigns in Idaho this season. Across the line from the ideologues was a looser-knit group called Balance North Idaho, which included a number of Democrats, independents and non-Tea Republicans. (more…)

In Curry

8. Pistol River Beach 2011

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The big result in the limited elections in Oregon on Tuesday - there weren't many of major consequence - came in the far southwest corner of the state, in Curry County.

Curry can too easily be forgotten in the rest of the state, located well away from any metro centers, out on a lightly-populated reach of the coast. Most of its people are more than an hour from the largest city, Coos Bay (which is not exactly enormous) and over a mountain range from the Medford and Grants Pass area. Curry has more or less had to manage its own affairs.

For quite a while it did that without much difficulty. A formula developed. Declines in the timber industry were countered for a time with federal payments, and other elements of the economy could draw from the rising number of seniors who had sold more expensive homes elsewhere and moved to live in Brookings or Gold Beach. Then the federal money dwindled and the seniors who had insistently kept the county's property tax rate second-lowest in the state (a quarter of that in many other counties) were simply resisting an increase. Period. Even if the county government shut down.

The seniors really do seem to be the key. A ballot issue on whether to build a new hospital did pass - that one seemed to catch senior attention. But a three-year operating levy to help support a local law enforcement structure that's become as much theory as fact was opposed by close to 60% of the voters.

They may get their tax increase anyway, courtesy of a new state law that, under such circumstances, allows the governor and the county commission to unilaterally impose taxes needed to pay for basic county services - taxes Curry isn't raising at present.

It would be a rough vote for those commissioners, and it would take some real fortitude. This would be a true case of voting against the will of the electorate. They've also been left with little choice if they want to protect the basic safety of their constituents, who seem less than concerned about it.

Some real drama is on the way in Curry County.

Health in Indian country

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

There has been much controversy about the Affordable Care Act, what some call Obamacare. The politics are beyond intense. And those computer glitches are making it virtually impossible for people to enroll.

But for American Indians and Alaska Natives there is a whole different story to tell about the Affordable Care Act. Native Americans have a right to health care. This is a deal the United States made, a promise that including sending doctors to the tribes that signed treaties in exchange for peace and for titles to lands.

Promise or not, treaty or not, the entire history of healthcare in Indian Country has been defined by shortages. There has never been enough money to carry out that sacred bargain.

The modern Indian Health Service was created in 1955. And over the following decades, more clinics were built, more doctors were hired, and health care for Native people improved. Still, the agency never had enough money.

In 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid were enacted into law there wasn’t even consideration about how these programs would impact American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Indian Health Service could not bill the agencies for serving eligible services. Native Americans were essentially left out of that health care reform effort.

That history of shortages is critical context to understanding the Affordable Care Act. Because from the very beginning of the legislative process, the Affordable Care Act included Indian Country. This happened because a decision was made by tribal leaders to roll the Indian Health Care Improvement Act into the larger legislation.

“Let me tell you why it was different this time,” said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. For nearly twenty years tribes urged Congress to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Then the discussion began about a health care reform.

“We were sitting at an NCAI board meeting, tribal leaders around the table, and said we really have to engage in this health care debate this time around. There were those that said, “no, let’s stay where we are,’” she said. But former NCAI President Jefferson Keel knew the health care industry and he agreed with the broader approach. “So we immediately started to look at the overall health care bill, working with the members of Congress, to be able to find all those other places that it was important to insert ‘and tribes.’ So not only did we get Indian Health Care (Improvement Act) reauthorized permanently. But we were able to get provisions into Medicaid, we were able to get the tax exemption (for tribes that purchase insurance for members), we were able to include a lot of places where tribes should have been considered but probably wouldn’t have been if we didn’t integrate those two pieces of legislation.”

But there still is a question of why? Why American Indians and Alaska Natives need insurance of any kind when there is a treaty right, a statutory call to healthcare, that transcends this latest national experiment? Then recall the long history of shortages. The Indian health system has never been adequately funded, probably less than half of the appropriation that would bring about some sort of parity with other federal health systems.

The main idea in the Affordable Care Act is to require health insurance for all Americans because that lowers the cost for everyone, the so-called “mandate.” But American Indians are exempt from that mandate (even if the Indian health system does not count as insurance). So the way that exemption works, this year at least, is that American Indians and Alaska Natives will have to fill out forms for an exemption (once granted, it’s a lifetime deal). The good news here is that the whole website mess does not apply.

Then insurance itself is a complicated idea for Indian Country. What is called “third party billing” has been a small, but growing part of the financial resources for the Indian health system.

You see there is this odd American idea that links health insurance to our jobs. That’s how most Americans now get their health care -- and will continue to do so even under the Affordable Care Act. But that one element is a big difference for Indian Country. Only 36 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have insurance purchased through work -- that’s half the rate for most Americans -- and 30 percent of us have no insurance at all. (more…)

Luxury tampons? Really?

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Well - yes and no. There’s still the regular, “low cost” version. But there’s also the new Tampon “Radiant” which costs 59 percent more per unit and comes in “designer packaging and wrappers.” Same product inside but a new look on the outside. As I said, “yes and no.”

Then there’s the new Bounty “Dura Towel” with thicker plastic packaging and embossed print resembling a dish cloth. Procter & Gamble says it’s “3X cleaner than a germy dish cloth - fresh and clean.” It’s also a nickel-a-square-foot more expensive - nearly double the cost of regular Bounty towels still made for the poor folk. Same paper. New design is all.

P&G has a new Cascade “Platinum” dishwasher soap on the market called “the ultimate clean for dishes” that “keeps the dishwasher sparkling.” Costs 12 percent more than the regular stuff. There are the new Tide Pods for “a great new way to wash clothes” for the rich and a new, lower-priced version of Tide called “Simply Clean” coming for the rest of us. Same basic stuff.

Yes, Virginia. There’s a point here. And it’s this. Major companies have been watching the spending patterns for the upper and middle classes. And those patterns are heading in starkly different directions. The U.S. Census Bureau figures our national “real median household income” in 2012 was $51,017. That figure is - wait for it - 8.3 percent lower than 2007 and 9.0 percent under the income peak in 1999.

Boiling down all the numbers, the middle class has less buying power - is buying less - and is buying cheaper. But the “upper class” is willing to pay more for what’s being hawked by manufacturers as “superior quality” or “top-of-the-line.” You know. Some guy buys a Lexus while the rest of us buy Toyotas. A lot of the same engineering but better packaging. (more…)

Washington through lines

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Do the Washington election results leave us with any particular through-lines?

You know, what with the ousting of a Seattle mayor, the rejection of a major statewide ballot issue, apparent narrow win of a Republican to take a Kitsap-area Senate seat, the seeming SeaTac adoption of a $15 minimum wage. And so on.

The major thread seems to be, for all that people are said to be riotously unhappy, a general willingness to stick with the status quo.
Could it be that after making national waves in 2012 on marijuana and gay marriage, the voters decided to more or less hang in there with what they already had this time?

That's not a perfect or absolute suggestion, but there's some reason to think it can fit much of what we saw.

It certainly fits I-522, the measure intended to require labeling of genetically modified food. The results in that issue weren't a slam dunk, but the rejection may have rested in part with an unease about the idea, a sense that not all the implications were fully thought through. The range of opponents was broad, and the subject a new one for many voters to deal with. Many may have decided, understandably, that they weren't going to back something they didn't think they fully understood.
And the ouster of a Seattle mayor? Well, it was the defeat – the second mayoral ouster in a row, remember – of Mayor Mike McGinn. But victor Ed Murray, a veteran legislator from Seattle, is hardly unknown locally, and the two have views on issues close enough that they struggled, without much success, to figure out how to differentiate themselves. Both are liberal Democrats; Murray may be a little closer to business and organized labor (and the gay community, of course), and McGinn closer to activist Democrats. But the difference is more in the area of personality and style. Seattle voters traditionally have liked strong personalities in their mayors, and Murray may fit that mold a little more closely. Remember: Seattle voters had their choice of many options in the primary, and these were the two guys they chose. They're shades of each other.

Incumbents did well in the Seattle council races, and, where they were challenged at all, on the King County Council. Republican Reagan Dunn was seriously challenged, but prevailed. Executive Dow Constantine had a substantial challenger, but seems never to have broken a sweat. (That race seemed hardly to generate even any headlines, unusual for a King executive race.)

The Senate rate, in which Republican Jan Angel seems (the qualifier needs to be thrown in for a bit, since the race is still close) to have won, is in part the case of a close district, sometimes Democratic leaning, but featuring a Republican candidate who runs in line with the tenor of the district and has deeper political roots and visibility than the Democrat. The upshot may make life harder for Democrats as they try to retake control of the state Senate, but the local dynamic was different from that.

You could break from the pattern a bit, probably, with SeaTac and its vote to support a $15 minimum wage. Despite the city's small size, the ballot issue drew national attention. (The airport's fame may have helped with that.) And maybe there's something of a leading indicator here for the future. But the SeaTac vote was something of an outlier.

Maybe it properly goes into the “watch for more of this in 2014” folder.