Writings and observations

Maybe it had to be an interim president of Idaho State University to bring up the idea of creating a full-fledged medical school at Idaho State University. The last president, Richard Bowen, never broached the idea – publicly at least – and if anyone ever has, it’s gone unremarked. Which would seem unlikely.

Idaho State UniversityInterim President Michael Gallagher has nothing to lose by floating the idea, which on the surface and over the long haul seems not unreasonable. Of Idaho’s higher ed institutions, ISU is the one most closely allied with medical training.

Gallagher’s specific language was a little more diplomatic than that: “ISU is charged as the lead institution in health and support sciences,” he said. “We are willing to work with the board and the Idaho Medical Association, plus other institutions including the Legislature, to help define what the future of health and medical education should look like in Idaho.” But his meaning was clear enough.

There is a little glitch: Idaho has been funding its colleges and universities thinner and thinner in recent years, and the colleges and universities have been in general paying more attention to what programs might go away, than to massive new expansions. (State Senator Gary Schroeder, whose district includes the University of Idaho, estimated more than a decade ago that if the decline in share of state funding going to higher education continues, it will reach zero in the 2030s – and the state is still on that track.) .

You can also take apart the argument about Idaho’s relative lack of physicians. Idahoans who want medical training can currently get it through a state program, an alliance with Washington, Alaska and Montana called WAMI, which sets aside seats from the smaller states at the medical school at the University of Washington. The program has worked pretty well and has delivered new physicians over the years back to Idaho.

In Idaho, Boise and the other larger population centers do not notably lack for medical practitioners; the gaps are in the smaller communities and rural areas, owing to the economics of rural areas. A new medical school will not fix that.

Leaving that aside, the idea of an Idaho medical school sounds like something the state should pursue at some point. Pocatello does have two hospitals, and one of them (probably the one located next to the ISU campus) could probably be developed into a teaching hospital.

But be warned: It ain’t cheap. Solid medical training these days is astoundingly specialized – no such things as just training a corps of gp’s – and that means a lot of staff, expensive teachers and even more expensive equipment.

How expensive? Let’s pull a few numbers out from other institutions.

Consider the Brown Medical School in Rhode Island (which has a population comparable to Idaho’s). It’s not entirely a fair comparison, since Brown is Ivy League. But the total medical school enrollment of 326 doesn’t seem stratospheric: You can’t run a medical school for a couple of dozen students. Now, how many faculty members are needed to teach them? The Brown number – 2,105 in grand total – is probably misleading, because most of them are volunteer or adjunct or work in the hospital. But do you need more teachers than students? Apparently.

The Brown med school budget is $54.3 million. It does have a $167 million endowment fund (not currently present in Idaho) to help out, but clearly the school is not an inexpensive proposition.

Idaho’s – when the day eventually comes, as it may, that the state does set up its own med school – probably won’t be on an Ivy League level. But the cost is apt to run into the tens of millions anyway (especially since it would include startup costs). The bottom line is that Idaho is probably going to have to grow a lot more before this dream becomes a reality.

No harm though, in someone like Gallagher starting to dream, and triggering others to do it too.

How many

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Peter Callaghan’s ever-fun Q&A column has pungent bit today on the idea of taxpayers picking up $166 million of the tab for a NASCAR speedway near Bremerton.

We here have never backed the idea of public funding of private sports facilities, these being among those cases where the free market should operate (if a business proposition doesn’t make economic sense without artifical public help, then it probably doesn’t have enough merit anyway). Callaghan raises a noteworthy political issue in this case, though …

Q: You raise an interesting point, and I’m glad I could be here to witness such a rare event. What’s the difference between giving tax money for a NASCAR track and giving tax money for professional baseball and football?

A: There’s a big difference that can be summarized in two words: Bremerton and Seattle. The sports stadiums are in Seattle and were lobbied by the state’s most powerful business, political and social leaders. These people enjoy team sports, as long as they can watch them in suites that keep them a safe distance from the people known as “fans.” Auto racing seems awfully red-state to them. And most didn’t realize Bremerton was an actual place. They thought it was a ferry.

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Seattle is no doubt happy to bask in its latest ranking as the most literate major city in the country, out of 69 top centers. (Portland did well too, ranking at 11. Boise and Spokane were not among the cities ranked.) And it says something.

literacy studyThese kind of ratings are usually of limited value, and there’s no intent here to puff this one up beyond what it should be. But this study, “America’s Most Literate Cities,” by Central Connecticut State University President John Miller, does perform the useful service of pointing out some of the factors that lead to a literate community.

The basics are about what you might expect: “Previous editions of this study focused on five key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, and educational attainment. The 2005 study introduces a new factor—the Internet—to gauge the expansion of literacy to online media.” But the interplay among these factors is what’s especially interesting.

Miller notes, for example, a number of sometimes odd connections and dislocations among these factors.

The presence of retail book stores is positively associated with quality of libraries. So, it is not a question of whether people buy books or check them out: they do both or neither.

Newspaper circulation variables correlate with nothing other than themselves. There is virtually no relationship between number of papers circulated per person and any of the other literacy factors including reading a newspaper on the internet.

The number of public library staff per capita, number of retail bookstores per capita, and magazines published per capita are significantly related to more other literary factors than any of the other variables.

There are strong relationships between three of the four internet literacy variables including wireless internet access, purchasing books on the internet, and reading newspapers on the internet, but availability of wireless terminals in public libraries is not related to any of these three variables.

Portlanders would have a hard time believing it, but Seattle ranks second (behind San Francisco) in number of book store per 100,000 people, while Portland shares a seventh-place ranking. (Doesn’t account for the massive traffic drawn by the Powell’s mother ship; in fairness, that alone should boost Portland a few notches.) Match that up against newspaper penetration, where Seattle ranks 16 and Portland 20.

Interesting study, worth some attention.

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The old adage has it that the toughest budgets – in public organizations, if not private – are those where expected revenues exceed expected expenses. That extra money is just so tempting.

The northwest states are facing some of this. Oregon has no legislative session next year, so the pressure is less immediate in the Beaver State. But already the talk has arisen about eliminating the corporate kicker. What’s notable about this talk, as showed up in the Oregonian today, is that even the corporate lobby isn’t trying to defend it. The fact that two-thirds of the rebate would head directly out of state provides a real shift to the argument.

Washington appears headed, this next session, for a $1.4 billion surplus, which takes any discussion of tax increases off the table. Democrats in the legislature (or some of them) will see this as an invitation to spend a little extra, and Republicans (some of them) will similarly agitate for a tax cut.

Governor Christine Gregoire shows indications of trumping both views by emphasizing the temporary nature of the surplus. Talking with a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, she said that by the time the 2007 budget cycle rolls around, there will be no surplus – in fact, she said, “There’s no scenario after we fund the mandates that doesn’t result in us having a deficit going into the next [2007] biennial budget.” Sounds like a line in the sand for a rainy-day fund, which could be the logical centrist approach. Her challenge will be holding the center together.

Idaho is looking at a similarly substantial surplus, and its Republican legislators will be tempted to go the same route they did when a big surplus appeared in 2001, and they sliced state income tax rates. That earlier cut came back to bite them, hard, in 2003 when the state’s economy took a dip, and a – horrors – tax increase was required (by Governor Dirk Kempthorne) in response. Will that lesson have been learned? There will be pressure too for doing something about increasing property taxes. Will the state surplus provide a handy, albeit tricky, solution for some of them?

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She really ought to appeal. It’s expensive, yes, and it would mean she’s carrying the load for the benefit of a lot of other people more than for herself.

Still.

The case concerns a coffee shop owned and operated in Astoria by Samantha Buck, specifically what she chose to call it. One of the matters of business regulation in this country is that you can’t call your business absolutely anything you want; if it is highly misleading, or if it confuses customers and others with another business, then some limitations do come into play. Most of us find these generally reasonable.

Sambucks CoffeeOne of the usual principles of long standing at play, though, is that – as long as you make reasonable effort to avoid impinging on someone else – you can use your own name in the business. Hence, in this case, a coffee shop called “Sambuck’s.” Ooperated, on site, by one Sam Buck.

You see where this is headed: Starbuck’s, notwithstanding that it has no coffee shop of its own in Astoria, took umbrage and went to court. Sam Buck’s use of her own name was dilution of the corporate image-building, it contended. (They obviously couldn’t have used the confusion argument: Look at the logo.) Whether it prevailed in federal court because it had the larger share of the law or the larger portion of paid legal counsel on its side, the result was as you might expect: By court order, Sam Buck can no longer use her own name for her business.

She should start a legal defense fund, with controbutions sought from all the other small business owners who may well one day run similarly afoul of a behemoth.

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We will try to keep track here of campaigns which use blogging (regular, daily, consistent blogging, not just a dead page posted week after week) as part of their campaign efforts.

To that end, attention is directed to Grassroots for Grant, a blog from the campaign of the Democrat running in Idaho’s 1st congressional district. Say this: There’s already plenty of material on it.

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Spokane Mayor Jim West probablywould like to swap places with David Young right about now.

Young has been the target of a planned recall, but yesterday the Canyon County residents who were behind it acknowledged they were falling short, failed to get the required number of petition signatures by their November 30 deadline, and settled for saying that, well, at least they got a discussion of Young’s record out there. But there were less labor-intensive ways to do that.

The collapse of that effort comes as no surprise. Young has been central to the occasional legal storm – a substantial one now in federal court finds the survivors of a murder victim are suing Young for his office’s role in the release from jail of a violent man later convicted of killing his ex-wife. That case was a key point in the recall effort.

Young has acknowledged it wasn’t perfectly handled, but also pointed out that the criminal justice system is a complicated thing. he could also point out that errors could be found through hindsight in any prosecutor’s office (or most any other kind of office, for that matter).

The recall proponents had framed their gripe with Young as a criticism of the way he managed the office – of how well it was being run. That issue is legitimate for a regular election (we make no assessment here whether their contentions are valid), but to recall an official, you should need much more. For purposes of a recall, you should ask such questions as: Is the offense so great that the person cannot be trusted with the office even another week? Is the problem so great that this person can no longer do the job – or is the damage to the community so great it just cant be allowed to continue through the rest of the term? The Young recallers obviously came nowhere near that kind of standard.

A day’s drive to the north puts that in perspective. There, recall activists did put Spokane Mayor West on a recall election ballot, and voters are finishing their balloting now; the deadline, and the counting, occurs on Tuesday. Almost certainly, West will be recalled.

The Spokesman-Review reports today that a new opinion survey shows West has gained a little ground from previous polls; evidently, the previously undecided are breaking mostly for West. (There weren’t many undecideds, and the pro-recallers still lead 58% to 38%.) You can understand that. There’s been a kind of piling on (the Spokesman has run more than 150 stories on the West scandal) and West seems a tragic figure, much more than a doer of bad deeds. On one level, his offenses are not massive. While his case has been a spectacle because of the outing of a conservative Republican as gay or bisexual, his offenses – which at most concern the use of a city computer and appointment of people with whom he was socially involved – are not especially horrific.

But there is another consideration. West was elected in 2003, and if not recalled (he has made abundantly clear he will not resign) he will stay in office into early 2008. As long as he is mayor, West and the city cannot escape the cloud over them both. However many good things West has done (and in many respects he has been a good mayor) or would do, he will be forever handicapped by the scandal. The city will not really have a mayor who can do what a mayor needs to do – which includes representing the city in a positive light. In fundamental ways, however unfair it may be, West realistically can’t do the job any more. And so the election: Can Spokane do with only a half-mayor more the next two-plus years?

It probably can’t, not easily. And so while the late surge of sympathy for the embattled mayor is understandable, so too will be the vote on Tuesday ousting him from office.

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Not too often does the Arabic news agency al-Jazeerah take note of Northwest figures. It did in this passage from an opinion piece posted today:

The strategy to militarize the country is moving forward as planned despite apparent setbacks in Iraq. As the Washington Post reported on Nov. 27 the Dept of Defense is expanding its domestic surveillance activity to allow Pentagon spies to track down and “investigate crimes within the United States”.

An alarmed Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore) said, “We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without a congressional hearing”.

Is this the first time that the naïve Wyden realized that the war on terror is actually directed at the American people?

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On the senator’s part, he’s just doing what senators usually do by way of passing along information. The question is, why is Senator Larry Craig – and no doubt he isn’t the only 0ne in this position – being used by federal agencies as bearers of bad tidings?

Larry Scott of VA Watchdog, who lives in Washington and is heard on Portland radio, has a peculiar story to tell. Here’s an excerpt from his post on Op-Ed News.com:

Earlier this year, veterans were surprised by the VA’s “second signature required” (SSR) policy. SSR applied to approved claims for many “high-dollar” disabilities and stipulated that the claim be re-approved by another VA staffer. However, if the claim was denied by the first staffer, there was no second review.

Veterans’ groups claimed that a SSR policy should apply to all claims for any condition whether they were approved or denied. The fact that the VA chose to apply SSR to disabilities with “high-dollar” compensation was proof to many veterans that the agency was just trying to save money by denying benefits.

The SSR policy was NOT announced by the VA. Only some very good investigative work by Cheryl Reed of the Chicago Sun-Times brought the story to light. This is just one of many instances where the VA has instituted policies detrimental to veterans without making the actions public.

The latest “unannounced” move by the VA is a new review of PTSD diagnosis, treatment and compensation. The VA’s plans came to light on November 16, just six days after they had canceled a review of 72,000 PTSD claims awarded at 100 per cent disability. Pressure from veterans’ groups and Democrat members of Congress forced the cancellation.

The VA’s new PTSD review was not announced by the VA. There was no VA press release. There was no VA press conference. The information was not posted on the VA web site.

Information about the new PTSD review was made public in a press release by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The release, in part, said, “The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that it has contracted with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) on a two-pronged approach to the examination of PTSD.”

Except, the VA hadn’t announced anything. They were using Senator Craig as their conduit to hand out the bad news. Since Craig’s press releases don’t have a high readership, this information has gone virtually unnoticed.

Upon reading Senator Craig’s press release I called the Public Affairs Office at the VA. They had no knowledge of the review. I then called the Institute of Medicine. They had no knowledge of the review.

Senator Craig’s office was more helpful. They forwarded the two documents the VA had sent to them. One document is a Fact Sheet detailing the contract between the VA and the IOM. The other is a Question and Answer sheet.

One wonders: What’s the take within Craig’s office on all this?

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The traditional take on the p0litics of campaign finances is that most people don’t care where the money for their candidates is coming from, and that it will not likely affect their vote.

If that is beginning to change – this being a debatable proposition – blogs could be one of the key reasons why.

Jim FeldkampBroadcast news media seldom mention campaign finances at all, as a matter of specifics about specific candidates. Newspapers sometimes note the totals, and occasionally list a major donor or two, but that’s generally as far as it goes.

Some of the political blogs, however, have been digging deeper. Now, today, we’re seeing specific impact affecting a substantial candidacy.

The candidacy is that of Republican Jim Feldkamp, who is rerunning his 2004 matchup against long-time Democratic incumbent Peter DeFazio. Feldkamp is an underdog, but he has started early and apparently has been working hard. And fundraising hard; and maybe a bit incautiously.

Last week, the Eugene Register-Guard published a story about local Democrats calling on Feldkamp to return $10,000 his campaign had received from indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. That drew on a response that DeLay, though indicted, had not yet been convicted and so was not yet guilty.

Then bloggers at the Democratic blog Blue Oregon added meat to the bones. Blogger Jon Perr noted, as the paper hadn’t, that “in May 2005, the Jim Feldkamp for Congress campaign was fined $1,000 [see page 11] for failing to acknowledge all relevant contributions in the required 48-hour reports, including $5,000 from Delay’s ARMPAC the previous year.”

Monday, Blue Oregon blogger Kari Chisholm wrote that finance records also show Feldkamp received $1,000 from American Prosperity PAC – the political action committee set up by disgraced, resigned and guilty-pleading former California Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

That may have struck a nerve. This morning, though the contribution apparently was unreported elsewhere, Feldkamp’s campaign said in a press release it was getting rid of the money:

I was saddened to learn U.S. Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) has resigned from the U.S. Congress upon admission of pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax charges.

Congressman Cunningham’s service to our nation as a Vietnam flying ace is legendary – he proudly fought for our country and for that we shall always be grateful for his service.

In light of the current events, I feel it is necessary that I donate the $1,000 contribution Congressman Cunningham gave to my 2004 congressional campaign to Food For Lane County.

It’s possible Feldkamp’s campaign decided to get ahead of the story and planned the dispersal before the blog item spread. But the timing is interesting at least.

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