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Posts published in “Year: 2013”

Health reform ahead

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The healthcare.gov web site is working. I spent some time on it this weekend and it was easy to navigate, pages popped up when they should, and I quickly found answers.

All of this is good news because it will make it easier for folks to fill out the forms and see what’s possible under the Affordable Care Act. If you want insurance to begin on January 1, 2014, then you need to fill these forms out this month. The deadline is December 23.

But for American Indians and Alaska Natives this process is both confusing and damning. It’s confusing because it’s a form that requires financial information, a lot like a tax return, so it means rounding up some documents. The damning part? I’ll get to that shortly. First let’s explore the healthcare.gov process.

For American Indians and Alaska Natives: The most important form is “Appendix B.” This is the paperwork that secures a lifetime exemption from the insurance mandate. Lifetime is a pretty good deal. So paperwork or not, this is worth doing this month (or you can also file this with your tax returns in April).

There is help to fill out these forms. Go to the Indian Health Service or a local urban or tribal clinic. Find someone there who has been trained. You should get answers, because, as IHS acting director Yvette Roubideaux wrote recently, “I don’t know is not an acceptable answer.”

One of the best things I read this weekend was an item in Montana’s Char-Koosta News with a schedule of community meetings on the Affordable Care Act. Yes! This should be happening across Indian Country.

There needs to be information, not just cheerleading, about what this law means and how it might change the Indian health system. (This is the main reason for my five-part video series with Vision Maker Media .) The law will shake up the Indian health system dramatically, opening up new funding sources, as well as presenting new challenges.

The problem is that so much of the discourse has been cast in absolute terms. Democrats need to recognize that this law, like the web site, is not perfect. It’s just one step -- and a complicated one at that. And Republicans would better serve the country if they would stop crying repeal and look for constructive additions or subtractions. (more…)

Thank you, Senator Fulcher

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Majority Caucus chair, State Senator Russell Fulcher, is doing a favor for the voting public as well as the media by challenging incumbent Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter in a contest for the Republican nomination. He could also be doing Otter a favor.

For 104,000 Idahoans who would be eligible for an expanded Medicaid program, however, Fulcher is ensuring their needs will not be met. Real suffering even unnecessary deaths, will occur.

By challenging his party’s sitting governor what looked like a dull run-up to a third almost uncontested term suddenly has created the magic “buzz” candidates and their campaigns like to generate, but few do.

The Meridian senator has already generated extensive coverage by a media desperate for the good copy a hotly contested race between Tea Party conservatives and status quo regular Republicans will provide.

The media loves intra-party fights.

Now the perception (whether true or not) is a real horse race is shaping up. The result should be more scrutiny of the candidates, their issues and stances. An attentive voter can be the beneficiary if this translates into a more informed vote.

Many political pundits were surprised by the Otter campaign’s bland response to Fulcher’s announcement which more or less said “we’ll see you down the road.” If ever there is a good time for an incumbent to start defining his challenger its right at the get-go when they announce.

Governor Otter’s campaign manager, the normally competent Jayson Ronk, missed one of the best opportunities to frame what the race will be all about.

Fulcher will sound a familiar theme borrowed from Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential race: “a choice, not an echo!”

Like Tea Party candidate Bryan Smith, an Idaho Falls attorney challenging Rep. Mike Simpson in the second congressional district, he will claim he is the true conservative, not the incumbent.

The glib five-term State Senator from District 22 is counting on true blue Republicans (Only those previously registered as R’s will be able to vote in the May primary) responding to his message that the Governor sold the state down the river by registering Idaho’s insurance exchange with the hated ObamaCare program.

The real victims of Fulcher’s challenge, however, will be the estimated 104,000 Idahoans eligible for Medicaid under new rules being promulgated. In addition this expansion would greatly relieve most every county’s indigent fund that pays a large share of the cost for medical treatment that the poor cannot afford. For Fiscal Years 2014, 2015 and 2016 the Federal government would pay 100% of this expansion cost estimated to be $750 million each year. (more…)

Stressful oceanside living

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Most of us move many times in our lives. For whatever reason exists at the moment. Life’s exigencies as it were. In the process, we’re deluged with changes in nearly everything. New environment – new and different shopping – new geography and place names to learn – sometimes different local customs or practices – new driver’s licenses or passports. Leaving friends. Meeting new people. The whole moving experience is often change top to bottom. We get used to it.

I’ve moved many times. Many and often. Across town, state-to-state, coast-to-coast and border-to-border. Life’s adjustments caused by relocating have been regular and varied. So often, in fact, I thought our most recent was just another “pack-‘em-up-and-move-‘em-out.” Wrong.

The first time we moved to the edge of the Pacific was a decade ago. We did it because we’d never lived there. Simple as that. Lots of exciting new things to experience and a very different living environment. My flat land artist wife has been ocean-smitten for years. So when the moving bug hit this time, like Brigham Young, she pointed westward and the family wagons moved. And we learned all over again.

Coastal living – Oregon coastal living – is a whole new deal. Take shopping, for instance. Most communities are small with limited store selection. If you want a Costco or Mode or Best Buy, you have to drive more than 50-75 miles inland. Then back. There may be an occasional Safeway or Fred Meyer but most grocery outlets are small, regional types like IGA or Ray’s or Grocery Outlet or Mom & Pop’s.

Prices for everything – everything – are higher. It’s a lifestyle premium you pay for rainfall that can exceed 90 inches a year. Yes, Virginia, 90! And there’s the fog and cold and other things that aggravate your arthritis and rheumatism. Lots of seniors try living near the ocean but find some of the frailties of age can make it a painful experience. So they either develop a tolerance or move inland again.

You can’t just go to a store near the ocean and buy anything you want or need at any time. One June, I was looking for a long-sleeved shirt at the largest chain store in Brookings and was told they only carried long-sleeved shirts between September and April. If I really wanted one in June, it would be a 180 mile drive. Until September, of course.

Medical care is most often sketchy. Hospitals – where they exist at all – are small and specialists are few. So major medical needs result in 100-200 mile drives inland or, in the case of a real emergency, air ambulance. Cost for that? Don’t even think about it. (more…)

Shaping the campaigns

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Thanksgivings abound on the part of those who write about Idaho politics – directed at the political figure of the moment, Russ Fulcher. With his decision to run for governor against incumbent C.L “Butch” Otter, politics in Idaho took on some new coloration.

Maybe the challenges of the activist outsiders like Fulcher and (for the second district congressional seat) Bryan Smith will collapse by primary day. But as of late 2013, the raw materials are there for a really competitive showdown that could send Idaho politics, post-2014, sailing off in some new directions.

Caveats must be noted. Otter, who has won every primary and general election contest he has entered with one exception (for governor, in 1978) over four decades, is a strong campaigner. Fulcher is not nearly so experienced and may not be as strong on the stump (though we'll find out more about that). Otter will have a well-organized and well-funded campaign, likely better than Fulcher's on both counts. In 2012 organized cadres of activist candidates ran against incumbents for a number of legislative seats, and in Idaho's second U.S. House district, and they most failed, often without coming close to a win. There's a fair argument that 2014 could do the same.

And you can make the point that there's not much real policy difference between the two sides here. Fulcher is campaigning as a libertarian, small-budget critic of the federal government and President Obama; that is different from Otter, who has campaigned in the same essential ways (allowing for changes in the presidency) for 40 years, exactly how? (more…)

Right wing amoeba splitting

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A basic tenet of folks on the right in this country is they can’t abide unity. It’s what they preach. It’s on their signs in the streets and is the major theme of their boisterous and usually crazy gatherings. But unity is a concept they can’t grasp. It happens again and again. And it always will.

The Achilles’ Heel of the extreme right is distrust coupled with anger. Why? Because the prime motivational forces of those most drawn to the lunatic fringe are – wait for it – distrust and anger. The passions that bring them together are most often distrust of – or anger with – government. Or some element of thereof. Read their literature. Listen to their preferred media. Hear their spokesmen. No words of peace. No talk of love. No promise of better times. No plans offered. Just the ever-present distrust and anger. Of someone or something. Always.

But, while these two traits draw them together, sooner or later they’re the same forces that create divisions of loyalty, splits in “philosophy” or give birth to factions which break off from the original group to form one or more new cells of the distrustful and the angered. This basic truth is what’s likely to make the Republican Party a minor national influence for years to come. And many elections to come. Evidence is everywhere.

Take the now-discredited Texan Dick Armey – around whom tea baggies gathered so faithfully a couple years back – that same Dick Armey had a “philosophical” falling-out with the big money guys in their faux “grassroots” club. He walked out the door with a “severance package” of $8 million plus. Stage far right of course. Seems he was seeing things differently from the billionaires who’ve been putting the big money in his pockets all this time. He was angry and distrustful. “Grass roots movement?” Oh, sure. Yeah. You betcha!

Then consider Jim DeMint quitting the U.S. Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, which began long ago as a respected conservative “think tank” but which has become a bastion of all things far, far to the right. His stated reason? He can “be more effective.” Sure. If you’d been reading his clippings recently you’d have known he was angry his far right minority views weren’t being adopted by the majority of his GOP colleagues – that he was feeling “stifled” and couldn’t carry out his “agenda.” He even put hundreds of thousands of dollars into 2012 primary campaigns against sitting senators. In his own party! Anger. Distrust. He also more than tripled is income!

Rep. Shelley Capito of West Virginia, says she’ll run for the U..S. Senate in 2014. Years of GOP membership and service. The ink wasn’t dry on the press release before three – count ‘em – three “republican” groups (small r) denounced her, saying they’d support someone else in the primary. Their joint “reasoning?” She occasionally voted for things they didn’t like and all said “she couldn’t be trusted.” Oh, yes. They were angry, too.

The Koch boys tried to take over the Cato Institute this year – another fortress of GOP “conservatism.” Not far enough right for the Koch’s and their phony “Americans For Prosperity” front. They lost in court. They were angry. From Pine Street in Meridian, Idaho, to “K” Street in Washington, DC, the far right is constantly in a state of amoeba-like throes of joining – then splitting. It was ever thus. It will ever be.

Faux news chief Roger Ailes was very angry when he took Karl Rove and political whore Dick Morris off the payroll this year. Temporarily for Rove. “Unprofessional behavior,” he said. “Angry and distrusted,” sez I.

Even John Boehner had to “fire” four members of his caucus from important committee spots so he could assure passage of whatever budget deal he and the White House might agree to. And they will. Naysayers who opposed him from within did so because he wasn’t “pure” enough – because he appeared willing to compromise. Purity rejects compromise.

Basic, child-like reasoning would say “put all your similarly inclined, disaffected into one organization – one club – one party – and you’d be a force to be reckoned with. Your numbers would be sizeable and your affect on elections could be greater.” It won’t happen. (more…)

A courageous president?

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Dear Dr. Staben:

As a strong supporter of the University of Idaho and its flagship, land grant, national research status within the state, allow me to give you a conditional welcome to the great state.

Why “conditional” you may ask? Because you must understand you have been hired by an impotent board that has not for years served as the advocate for higher education it should. It is a board that has stood by idly as the budget for higher education has been eviscerated by a governor and a legislature that by their actions demonstrate they just don’t get nor appreciate the proper role education plays in securing a decent future for Idaho’s children as the driver of a thriving economy.

Oh, they will claim they do, but the facts conclusively demonstrate otherwise. So you will be working for a board and a governor that report to a legislature that with a few notable exceptions frankly is full of hypocrites.

Truth be told, many would admit if they thought it were politically palatable that all education, public and higher, ought to be privatized. You’ve come to a state that is not just suspicious but is downright contemptuous of teachers and public employees.

Right now there is a statewide radio campaign funded by the Joe and Kathryn Albertson Foundation called “Don’t Fail Idaho.” The foundation is run by Joe Scott, who by no stretch of the imagination could be considered a flaming liberal. He is in fact conservative but he understands education is critical to a good future for Idaho’s children.

The facts are damning: only 4 out of 10 Idaho high school graduates start college and only 1 out of 10 get a degree in an economy that needs twice as many college graduates to meet demands.

You will also find one of many reasons students don’t finish college is the cost. Again, the numbers are damning: in 1980 a student at Moscow and his family paid 7% of the cost in tuition and fees; in 1990 it was 13%; in 2000 it was 20%; and today it is 47%. Much of the increase in student fees and tuition can be directly correlated to legislative evisceration of public support.

If you have real courage, Dr. Staben, you will be an advocate for restoring more state support and reducing utilization on student fees. It is bad enough that predatory banks have swooped down on college campuses offering ever more expansive federally guaranteed student loans. For many middle class and poorer class students these loans have become a modern form of indentured servitude. (more…)

Filibusters and Indian country

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The United States Senate is a curious institution. It's not democratic. It's not representative. And it's the ultimate millionaire's sandbox.

So in the U.S. constitutional scheme: The 38 million people living in California get two votes out of 100, the same as the 576,000 folks who are residents of Wyoming.

One person's vote is worth more if they live in a tiny state, but at least it's a vote. Because some four million American Indians and Alaska Natives -- citizens of tribal governments -- aren’t counted as a unique constituency. By land mass, Indian Country's 50-plus million acres are bigger than almost half the states. Even breaking that number up into population counts, Cherokee’s 819,000 people or Navajo's 350,000 is in the same ballpark as one of those small states.

But that’s the deal. And the Constitution is sacred script (roll the organ-heavy musical theme now). So get over it, right?

But the thing is the U.S. Senate, this undemocratic institution, is made worse by the filibuster. Especially now that the filibuster has become a routine, invoked on every nominee or every bill. Instead of fifty votes, a supermajority of 60 votes, was required to get anything done. That changed last week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, used another rule (one requiring just 50 votes) to overrule the filibuster on judicial and executive nominees. Only now that that procedure has been invoked, it’s only a matter of time before the filibuster is gone forever. (The filibuster is only a tradition, not a constitutional procedure. It’s only been used for about a century. And in the past decade it’s use has increased significantly.)

Let’s be clear: The super-majority has not been good for Indian Country. One of the reasons it took so long to pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was that 60-vote hurdle. Or reach a final settlement on the Cobell lawsuit. Or we’ve been reading all about the complications with the Affordable Care Act. One of the key appointments, Donald Berwick, was never confirmed as the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and took the job with a limited timeframe as a recess appointment. (more…)

After Heinz, what now for Pocatello?

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

A few years ago, the Heinz frozen food plant in Pocatello employed more than 800 who worked its packaging lines, eclipsing Union Pacific Railroad, the J.R. Simplot Co. and ON Semiconductor as the Gate City’s largest private employer.

Heinz’ recent announcement that it would close its imposing factory on Pocatello’s north end near the Quinn Road overpass and terminate its remaining 410 employees within five to eight months stunned the community, sending shock waves throughout Bannock County.

That bad news came on heels of the shutdown of the $700 million Hoku polysilicon plant in Pocatello. A bankruptcy judge recently blocked that plant’s sale to JH Kelly Inc., the plant’s Longview, Wash.-based general contractor, which bid $5.27 million for the abandoned complex and says it is still owed $25 million for its work on the project.

The entire Hoku plant will be re-auctioned onsite on Dec. 17. Its fair market value has been set at between $6.25 million and $35 million. The plant’s owner has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and owes an estimated $1 billion to creditors. Once operating, the plant was to initially employ 200 and eventually boost its payroll to 400 -- or equivalent to the number now employed at the Heinz plant on the opposite side of town.

That Pocatello plant is one of three Heinz plants to be closed by the summer of 2014. The others are at Ontario, Canada, where 740 work, and Florence, S.C., where 200 are employed. Heinz plans to add 470 employees at existing plants in California, Iowa, Ohio and Canada, bringing its total work force in the U.S. and Canada to 6,800 hourly and salaried workers.

While displaced Pocatello Heinz employees will get severance benefits, outplacement services and other support, that’s little comfort to some who have worked at the plant for decades, stemming back to when it was owned by Kraft and Ore-Ida Foods. The unexpected shutdown is devastating for many of them and a major blow to Pocatello’s economy.

Kraft Foods built its first Pocatello cheese factory and warehouse along the Portneuf River in 1924, well east of Simplot’s existing phosphate fertilizer plant. By 1955, production at Kraft’s three-story structure on Kraft Road began to wind down, not far from Great Western Malting’s existing plant, which is east of the Hoku plant.

In 1967, Kraft Inc. started constructing its 450,000-square-foot plant where Heinz now operates and abandoned its old site along Kraft Road. In April 1989, 500 were working at the processed cheese plant when Kraft announced it would move operations to Tulare, Calif., after operating in the Gate City for some 65 years. Kraft had hoped 80 percent of its Pocatello workers would move to California, but only about 10 percent opted to do so, preferring Southeast Idaho’s much lower cost of living and other amenities.

By May 1989, only a month after Kraft’s bombshell announcement, it was disclosed that Boise-based Ore-Ida Foods Inc. had taken an option to buy the Kraft property to process low-calorie entrees and frozen potato products.

To their credit, Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus and Commerce Director Jim Hawkins hustled to dispatch a rapid response team to Pocatello to help soften Kraft’s gut punch to the greater Pocatello area and quickly fill the food factory.

By the end of March 1990, 150 Kraft workers were terminated after 50 laborers had been idled the previous February, leaving fewer than 50 distribution personnel before Ore-Ida took over the plant. Weight Watchers low calorie meals were among the main products churned out after Ore-Ida took over the plant.

Famous for its Tater Tots, the Ore-Ida brand was acquired by the H.J. Heinz Co. in 1965. Its division headquarters was in Boise until 1998-99 when a new frozen foods division was created in Pittsburgh, Pa. At that time, 235 of the 320 employees of Ore-Ida's Boise HQ lost their jobs and 150 Weight Watchers plant workers in Pocatello were cut.

There have been telltale signs in recent years that production at the Pocatello Heinz plant has not been kept at full capacity as a steady drumbeat of layoffs sliced and diced employment by 50 percent.

In September 2009, 65 Heinz employees were let go. Last February, 80 workers were terminated as Heinz ended its TGI Fridays frozen meals line. The number of employees has plummeted from an 800 peak to its 400 level now. It’s been estimated that the Heinz plant shutdown will adversely impact another 200 people indirectly, worsening Pocatello’s unemployment rate.

In August, the city’s jobless rate stood at 7.8 percent, the highest of Idaho’s 11 largest cities. The Idaho Department of Labor on Friday, Nov. 22, disclosed that the Gate City’s unemployment rate declined from 7.7 percent in September to 6.9 percent in October. (more…)

The third judge

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

There's not much ideological content to this, so Representative Mike Simpson may not get a lot of attention for his proposal of last week, which my be the most specifically useful to Idaho any of the delegation offers this term. And a repeat from 2010, at that.

But Idaho does need a third federal district judge. An act of Congress literally is required to create a new slot, as Simpson has again proposed. He said that “I recently met with Idaho’s federal judges and heard directly from them about the serious impact budget cuts, sequester, and the lack of an additional judge are having on the federal courts in Idaho. While I am fully cognizant of the budget crisis facing our country, I share the judges’ concerns about delays in the administration of justice and the impact that has on the Constitutional role of the courts.”

He has specifics: “As Idaho’s population has grown, so has the number of court cases.  Between 2007 and 2013 the District of Idaho has experienced a 26% increase in total filings and pending caseloads have increased 30%.  Idaho has a heavier caseload than other rural states that already have three federal district judges (Alaska, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming).”

If anything, Simpson understates. Idaho's current senior federal judge, Lynn Winmill, has been pitching the case for a third judge for years. The situation in Idaho – which is one of the most understaffed states – has been reviewed repeatedly in recent years, and independent review panels such as the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit (earlier this year) have specifically endorsed an additional judge for Idaho.

The understaffing has led to inefficiencies and, ironically, extra costs. Winmill said in one letter on the proposal that “the District of Idaho has made great use of visiting judges to assist with the District Judge caseload. In reviewing the visiting judge statistics for calendar year 2011, we estimate that our visiting judge in-court time will increase by 57% (from 169 hours to 266 hours) in calendar year 2012, which doesn’t include their own preparation hours.” (more…)

The move from hell

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

We – Barb and I – have just finished “the move from Hell.”

With a quick curtsey to the folks still living back there under the trees in the old forest in far Southwest Oregon, I don’t mean you’re still in Hell. It’s just, well, politically warmer there.

No, I mean by “Hell” one of life’s little experiences that really tests the limits of one’s patience, strength, durability and causes you to think you really are in Hell. Of course, all of those things are magnified when you both reach your 70′s and still try to do the things you did in your 40′s. You may look younger than your years. You may feel younger. You still may be living a lifestyle that belies those 70 years. But inside, when push comes to shove – or rather when push comes to lift and carry again and again and again – there’s no fooling about the rings on your trunk. Those higher numbers kick in with the accompanying pain.

From the off-the-beaten-path ‘50′s approach to life and seclusion of the forest, we’ve resettled beside the sea. The Pacific Ocean as it were. We’ve traded about 40 inches of rainfall per year for something like 70. Also more fog – more wind – more gray skies. And a chill in the bones that angers the old arthritis.

But, when the sun shines – and it does often here – and the ocean appears as blue as the skies – it’s a marvelous place to be. We’ve lived on the coast before – Curry County actually. Rainfall in Curry routinely tops 90 inches. But temperatures are so balmy year-round that growers plant lily bulbs and harvest the grown flowers all twelve months. Periods of heavy rain – very heavy rain- are punctuated by several days of beautiful skies. And it’s not unusual to hit 70 degrees in Brookings in December while the rest of Oregon shivers.

Now we’re enjoying the welcome and comfort of Lincoln County which – like much of the rest of Oregon – is a two-party neighborhood. Everything we own resides in four large storage units and we’re sharing a 30-foot motorhome with Rat Terrier Winston and Calico Clementine. Unusual names, yes. It’s a Churchillian thing. We’ve changed our driver’s licenses, the vehicle registrations and have become registered voters. Independent, of course. A different life awaits.

But – recovering from “the-move-from-Hell” is taking longer than before. The sore muscles and sprains are going to be felt for more weeks than previously. Going from living in 2,000 square feet to about 180 is not as easy to adjust to as in previous relocations. Even an older Winston is grouchier than he used to get. (more…)