Writings and observations

This report is a little frustration specifically because it lacks some of the most specific stuff: Statistics. Yet the case study details in it are more than compelling.

This is a just-out report called (in over-long title) “A Survey of Human Trafficking in the Spokane Region: Conducted by the Inland Northwest Task Force on Human Trafficking,” prepared by Debbie R. DuPey for the Western Regional Institute for Community Oriented Public Safety at Washington State University-Spokane.

How widespread is this activity? What are the numbers that could give some perspective to it? Those aren’t here, as the report’s introduction says: “The interview instrument and methodology were not quantitative in nature, and therefore a formal numerical estimate of trafficking victims in the Spokane region is not included in this report.”

Still: “The data obtained in the survey is subjective and based on the interpretation of the interviewees, reflecting how they extract meaning from the definition posed and apply it to their interactions with the individuals they serve. However, all of the interviewees were professionals trained in working with vulnerable populations. It is assumed that their subjective interpretations have merit for the purposes of this survey.”

And there is enough to put some parameters on the problem. It is broken down by type (gang-related, prostitution, “mail-order brides” and so on) and these are described with some detail.

Till more comes in, this is a report of value.

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There’s a commonplace in looking at election polls: They’re a snapshot in time, and changing conditions can and do change the numbers as time goes on. When, for example, you have two political parties, and one has a settled nominee while the other has candidates still fighting it out, you have a condition that will change with time. Once the party still fighting it out settles on a nominee, its numbers (reflecting in part the new-found unity) tend to go up.

You can take that as a commentary on the presidential campaign: The fact that Republican John McCain’s numbers, when matched against either of the battling Democrats Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, currently are close, is a long-term ominous sign for McCain.

But consider the local implications for the Oregon U.S. Senate race. The Rasmussen Reports polling just out shows Republican Gordon Smith winning 45%-42% against Democrat Jeff Merkley, and 47%-41% against Democrat Steve Novick. The season in Oregon has been dominated by the Merkley-Novick battling, and many Democrats in the state are as partisan in their choices between them as many Democrats nationally between Clinton and Obama. If they’re this close now, in the heat of the battle – indeed, as the battle has been heating up – what will happen a few months from now?

Add to that the trend lines. Since polling February, according to Rasmussen, Smith has shed three points of support while Merkley has gained 12; in the race with Novick, Smith is down one and Novick is up six.

Could this have something to do with the unusual sight, on Oregon television, of attack ads from the Smith campaign hitting before the Democratic primary is even over? An unusual kind of action for a front runner to take . . .

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Amid the mass of coverage and other materials (for those living in-state, e-mails on top of everything else) from the presidential visits today, we’ll draw some attention to a piece in the Corvallis Gazette Times which actually included transcript of a short interview with Barack Obama.

It’s a well-rounded piece of coverage from the stop at Albany (which is about 10 miles from Corvallis).

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Obama office

Obama office

Clinton office

Clinton office

The comedian Lewis Black has a great bit about how he discovered the end of the universe, and it came to mind today.

He said that the end of the universe has a specific location on this planet – in Houston, Texas, on a street corner in its downtown. There, one day, he paused on a walk and noticed that he was standing in front of a Starbucks. Then he looked up and saw that directly across the street, on the same block, directly facing the Starbucks, there was another Starbucks! [Pause to catch breath.] And that, he told the audience, is the end of the universe.

Prowling around the political websites today, we saw the startling news that the Barack Obama campaign was opening a campaign office in McMinnville, Oregon, one of 19 (at last count) offices around the state. This was actual news; presidential campaign offices often have appeared in Portland, but not in the smaller communities. McMinnville is a city of 30,000 people, and only 45 minutes from either Portland or Salem. So far as a number of long-time residents we’ve talked to know, McMinnville has never had a presidential campaign office. This assertion had to be verified.

A stroll downtown, on the city’s attractive Third Street, confirmed it. Hand-crafted Obama signage was out on the sidewalk and on the doorway, and on the stairway that led upstairs to an office suite where a clutch of Obama backers (most or all volunteers) were at work, and other volunteers came and went. The square footage there was generous, and the space was donated. It was not especially fancy, but it was quite functional, and more important, busy.

The Obama list of Oregon offices includes some unlikely places – St. Helens, Tillamook (a third the size of McMinnville), Pendleton, North Bend, Oregon City. (And, two in Portland, and Beaverton, Hood River, Corvallis, Salem, Roseburg, Forest Grove, Eugene, Medford, Astoria, Bend, Gresham.)

The Hillary Clinton Oregon office list is a roster that would be mind-boggling impressive under any other comparison: Portland, Asotoria, Beaverton, Corvallis, Bend, Gresham, Medford, Salem, Springfield. No McMinnville.

But on exiting the Obama office and glancing to the left, a familiar-looking sign appeared off the sidewalk. And there it was: Just down Third Street, barely 100 yards, just a block away, on the same side of the street – a Hillary Clinton headquarters, just being opened this very afternoon, boxes being unpacked and signs being posted.

We’ll not call this the end of the universe. But something significant is going on.

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One of the places where political contests traditionally have been influenced by individual judgments, community by community, has been the relatively low-key judicial race. If a contest – whether local or for a state supreme court – becomes a cause celebre, it tends to run on normal political tracks. But the low-key ones: How can most people realistically tell whether a judge is doing a good job or not, or whether a challenger might be better?

The traditional rule there is, a lot of people seek out or pay attention to what an attorney they know thinks about it.

That principle may just have gotten a big expansion. The Idaho State Bar has taken an unusual step into a judicial race, which judge may or may not like but which has some real public benefit: They polled attorneys to find out what they think about two contenders for the Idaho Supreme Court this year incumbent Joel Horton and challenger (and 2nd District Judge) John Bradbury.

That race has been quiet, though there are elements of interest: Bradbury, for example, would like to see a prohibition on judges who are appointed to the office – which is most of them – from running for a full term from the position of incumbency. (Bradbury’s web site includes a fine YouTube clip in which he simply explains his reasons for running.) But few voters probably know enough about either candidate to have a basis for judging.

The Bar survey, which is available on line, doesn’t come with analysis: The Bar (wisely) withheld an assessment. It did note that 4,130 surveys were sent and 437 came back from attorneys.

And what did they conclude? The difference between the two was not drastic, but Horton’s numbers were generally better, almost across all categories and regions of the state.

As the incumbent, he probably has an edge anyway. But the survey may give Idaho voters at least some basis for making a decision – some basis that has something to do with the work a judge does.

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We’re among those thinking the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination is strategically over – all that’s needed is for the next steps, over the next few weeks, to play out. (Actually, we’ve thought that for a couple of months; only the precise percentages in specific contests, not the overall structure and dynamic of the race, has been in doubt since early March.)

So what does May 20, Oregon primary election day, mean in that context?

Spokesmen for the Barack Obama campaign have said they see it as a big milestone. And it may be, to a point. The Democratic procedure for apportioning delegates, giving both major candidate similar numbers of delegates out of each state whether they win or lose (Pennsylvania did not massively wipe Obama in the delegate count, nor did North Carolina cost Hillary Clinton much margin). Rather, once one candidate early on was able to establish a majority of delegate votes, that majority would become almost impregnable thereafter if both candidates had comparable strength. And since early March, that scenario – no matter all the hoorah in the headlines – has been playing out smoothly. In the next few weeks it will play out again. At this point, Obama has collected enough pledged (elected) delegates that he needs just 38 more to have collected more than half of all pledged delegates – a major marker other delegates are watching closely.

After next Tuesday’s election in West Virginia (which Obama likely will lose decisively) he probably will gain another 10 or so delegates. Week after that comes Kentucky (which Clinton will probably win) and Oregon (probable for Obama), which between them should yield to Obama another 45 or so delegates. Which crosses the line.

This whole thing is psychological, though; Obama will need to continue trudging on after that. And getting the majority of pledged delegates will not translate to the nomination: He will need additional superdelegate votes for that.

But after May 20, those superdelegates may become easier to get. And that may be a mark the Obama forces will want to celebrate.

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Today’s recommendation toward more informed voting and citizen participation: Turn off your cable TV news – C-SPAN and some special events like debates excepted. Really. Put a block on those channels. You too can recover from past exposure to this trash masquerading as news: Your take on the world as it actually is will rapidly recover from the endless distortion those operators purvey.

The reasons for that rant are enough to fill several books (and several have been written). Today it is brought to you by one particularly trashy, idiotic and hateful stunt pulled by one of the worst offenders, Bill O’Reilly, one that has a distinct Northwest connection.

It starts [and see this post too from Firedoglake] with two men, business consultants, from the European Union who flew to Seattle to transact business. They’ve been described as appearing as if they might have some Middle Eastern background (to our eyes, based on the photos, they could’ve come from a whole bunch of countries round the globe, including this one). After their business wrapped in Seattle, they decided to have a look around, and hopped a ferry ride.

Their appearance was enough to draw the attention of another passenger, who in turn notified Washington State Ferries officials. Someone followed the two men around, snapped pictures of them (this should start to get a little spooky right about here), and someone apparently concluded they “showed an inordinate interest in the operation of the shipboard systems.” (Tip to ferry passengers: Avert your eyes from the machinery, not that this will be easy since it happens to be all around you.)

The men flew back to Europe, unaware they even been watched. But in the meantime, pictures of the two were printed, and an international manhunt was on. Bear in mind, as Joel Connelly writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today, that “No crime was committed. No illegal act by the two men was ever alleged or attributed. No effort to sabotage Washington’s marine highway was ever found.”

In that context, some news organizations were handed the photos and asked the publicize them because, well, these seemed like suspicious people, not that we have any idea what those suspicions are. Among those rejecting the request was the Post-Intelligencer. For all the paper knew, the two men – accused of nothing at all – might be in the area and might turn up after the wrong person saw the pictures, and decided to exact her or her own sense of justice. (We do know the Seattle Times and Fox News, likely among others, did run them.)

Such was the situation (minus the actual identity of the two men) put before O’Reilly, who handed it with just the kind of judgment and insight we’ve come to expect from cable TV news. He sent a producer to Seattle to ambush the P-I‘s publisher and ask, “Are you proud of that decision, sir? I mean, they still haven’t found those guys.” They were, he warned America, “still on the loose.”

O’Reilly’s concluding question: “Why is the far left putting the military and all Americans in danger?”

Word of the uproar crossed the pond and got back to the two men, who walked into an American embassy and – concerned they might be arrested (for no reason) the next time they flew to the United States – explained the details of their trip. The FBI concluded there wasn’t, and hadn’t been, a problem.

Connelly was in full lather in today’s column: “It may be Fox News’ goal to whip up hysteria: It’s good for ratings. Our town, by contrast, is a ‘Hate Free Zone.’ Fox News also has a record of broadcasting stuff that turns out to be untrue, such as the claim that Sen. Barack Obama attended a madrass (Muslim religious) school as a boy in Indonesia. CNN actually visited the school, checked out the rumor, and verified that it was false. Does Fox ever apologize for this stuff?”

It was a rhetorical question. Hence the rant at the top of this post. Once again: The best way to deal with this nonsense is to turn it off.

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The announcement by Areva corporation that it wants to build a uranium-enrichment plant, estimated to cost $2 billion, west of Idaho Falls, could be a good thing for eastern Idaho. The mere possibility that it might not seems not to have been discussed, pretty much at all. Idaho’s elected officials seem in a permanent come-hither mode as regards businesses moving in; often the news really does signify something good, but the blanket assumption can cover a range of problem areas.

Enthusiasm over the possible plant construction has been ongoing for months, even before the Idaho Legislature passed and dangled a major tax break – let’s be plain, that means a shift in taxes to other, already-present Idahoans – to lure it. The announcement press release went out under the cover of the governor and the region’s congressional delegation – all wanted to get a say in. “Phenomenal news,” “a natural fit,” and so on.

This may be a good thing. Some hundreds of jobs will be created, and they are likely to pay well, no small consideration.

But the public hasn’t seen a whole lot more than that; a lot of obvious questions haven’t been much asked. (Here’s one from the underground.) Areva will be engaging in uranium enrichment; what exactly will be entailed? Might more tasks be added, or changed? What are the implications of Areva’s ownership – which is, in an area not culturally thrilled with France in recent years, the French government? What are the environmental considerations; where will the waste go?

(A shorthand description from Wikipedia: “a French public multinational industrial conglomerate that deals in energy, especially nuclear power. It was created on 3 September, 2001, by the merger of Framatome and Cogema (now AREVA NC). Its main shareholder is the French owned company CEA, but the German company Siemens also retains 34% of the shares of AREVA’s subsidiary, AREVA NP, in charge of building the European Pressurized Reactor. The parent company is incorporated under French law as a société anonyme (SA – public corporation). The French State owns more than 90%.”) It does have close ties to the Bush Administration, which we know because its U.S. subsidiary is now led by former Bush Administrator Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. What implications all that may have, we don’t know.

Guess we’ll find out.

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Calling $2.26/gallon gasoline “cheap”, as the Walt Minnick campaign does, seems a little odd to those of us accustomed to filling our tanks for a lot less. But then, these things are relative.

Which means he’ll probably get plenty of takers. From a Minnick press release:

Tomorrow Bill Sali will sit down to a $1,000-per-plate fundraiser for his campaign, a fundraiser hosted by oil lobbyists.
While Bill is busy raking in money from the very people getting filthy rich off high prices, Idahoans are spending their hard-earned paychecks on high prices at the pump!
“Idahoans are being pummeled at the pump while their congressman ishobnobbing with the very people who are getting filthy rich from high gas prices,” Walt said in a press release today. “Sali should be taking a tough stance with the oil lobbyists, not looking to them for a handout.”
It’s an egregious example of what’s wrong in Washington. That’s why, while Sali is lunching and lounging in D.C. with “big oil,” Walt will be pumping gas in Boise.
Regular gasoline at the Cole Village Chevron is currently $3.59 per gallon. From 10 to 11 a.m. on Tuesday, the station will sell regular for $2.26 a gallon, the price it was when Sali first took office. The Minnick for Congress campaign will pay the difference.

One of the things you can do if you have, as Minnick does, an ample campaign treasury.

Sali is not one of the top recipients of oil and gas money, but he has received substantial funds from that sector. In addition to individuals in the field, he’s gotten money in the 2008 cycle from the American Gas Association ($1,000), Chevron Corp. ($2,000), Exxon Mobil ($2,000), Halliburton Co. ($1,000), Independent Petroleum Assn of America ($2,500), Koch Industries ($2,500), Marathon Oil ($1,000), Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association ($1,000), Occidental Petroleum ($2,000), Valero Energy ($2,000), Williams Companies ($1,000). In fact, opensecrets.org lists oil and gas as Sali’s top business sector for contributions.

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The brief Seattle Times editorial on executive compensation at Fisher Communications pretty much says it all, but we can’t help pointing it out here.

Call it a small, but encouraging, indicator. If others do in fact take enough notice.

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