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Posts published in “Northwest”

Who said what

Politics wonks will spend hours of great fun on this site, Congress Speaks.

Some of what's here - based on detailed analysis of speech in Congress (I'm assuming here, from the Congressional Record) - is interesting from the point of view of regularity of speaking, and what topics they're speaking about. (Quick - in the last term, did Oregon's Ron Wyden or Gordon Smith speak more?) But it's also go some real entertainment value. Check it out.

The Indian health example

Medicare turns up regularly in discussions about federal involvement in health care, and how it should or shouldn't be done, but there's another model out there also deserving of examination right now: The U.S. Indian Health Service, described on its web site as "The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives." You'll look in vain for its role in the bit health care debate. It should be.

Mark Trahant, the former editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (and a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in eastern Idaho), has started writing about just that. He has become a fellow at Kaiser Media, which sponsors in-depth health reporting, and today posts an initial column on the subject which should be a must-read.

The health program has old roots, growing from a mission to sent physicians to work on a smallpox outbreak in 1834. It isn't a perfect system, and even new Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has called it a “historic failure”.

But Trahant argues there's a more solid core underneath the failure. Trahant:

As National Congress of American Indians Vice President Jefferson Keel testified to Congress recently, “The truth is that the IHS system is not so much broken as it is ‘starved.’ Indeed, Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the agency’s new director, said during her confirmation hearing that the funding shortage is her top concern because IHS has not been able to keep up with its obligations. The General Accountability Office reported last year that because of shortages in budget, personnel and facilities “the IHS rarely provides benefits comparable with complete insurance coverage for the eligible population.” It spends about one-third less per capita than Americans in general and half of what’s spent for the health care of a federal prisoner. Often that means a rationing of care, especially when it means contracting with doctors outside the IHS network.

The federal government accepts a double standard: Any discussion about rationing – or government care – is off the table unless you’re a member of an American Indian tribe or Alaskan Native community with a sort of pre-paid insurance program (many treaties, executive orders and laws were specific in making American Indian health care a United States’ obligation).

But the federal management of its health care network is full of inconsistencies, including the way the government pays itself. Medicare only reimburses IHS or tribal health facilities for 80 percent of the costs; so an already underfunded IHS essentially subsidizes Medicare. According to the National Congress of American Indians fixing this one problem would add $40 million a year to the budget.

This may sound odd, but I think with sufficient resources, the Indian Health Service could be the model for reform. The agency already knows how to control costs and the successful operation of a rural health care network. So much so that many rural non-Indian communities are looking for ways to tap into the system for the general population.

Lewis & Clark + 100, +

air trip

Lewis & Clark by air/airjourney

This would be a great trip for pilots of small planes . . . a flight along the path of the Lewis and Clark expedition, by the company Airjourney.

Yes, yes: Flying would hardly be any sort of equal to what they did.

And there'd be the stops in Lewiston, McMinnville, Astoria and Portland.

Writer James Fallows (hat tip for the pointer) suggests, "Perhaps it is a stretch to claim, as AirJourney does in promos like what's shown below, that this is a deeply historical commemoration. But I flew much of this route in a small plane nine years ago (start in Minnesota, then down to Nebraska, then west) and to this day recall many vivid scenes, which I also described in my book Free Flight."

CEO pay dropping

Maybe call it a lagging indicator - we're approaching a year when pay indicators for many classes of employees started to skid - but come now a report that pay for CEOs, in the Northwest at least, is dropping.

A Seattle Times study out today said that "Median pay for the chief executives of publicly traded companies in the Washington, Oregon and Idaho region dropped 6 percent to $1.18 million, reversing several straight years of steep increases."

Top pay for any CEO in the region in 2007 was $38 million (which by itself might have skewed things a bit that year), but this year peaked at $13 million.

Slowdown in Interior nominees

Not much noted amid the headlines about other Obama Administration nominees - some sliding through, some held up - is the story of David Hayes, formerly of the World Wildlife Fund and chairman of the board of American Rivers and once an Interior official in the Clinton Administration. Not an especially controversial guy, evidently, but not to the liking of certain interests. Turns out that Utah Senator Bob Bennett has put a hold in his nomination, which could freeze it in place for some time.

Ray Ring of the High Country News has posted a piece on this, including some review of what underlies Bennett's actions, that's well worth review. Ring concludes: "No doubt there are other Senate Republicans who think Hayes is OK ... but they're also gunshy of the rightwingers they would face in their primaries. Another reason the rightwingers fight this round so fiercely: They're gearing up for the upcoming battles over Obama's call for raising taxes on the oil and gas industry."

The key players aren't specifically Northwestern, but the impact surely is.

The biggest shifts

The presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 obviously had different partisan results, but they also registered distinctly different partisan numbers - a shift from Republicans to Democrats, nationwide, of about 10%. The only significant Republican percentage increases in the presidential were in Alaska (the biggest by far, at 26%), Arkansas, Louisiana and Tenneesee, plus sliver improvements in Oklahoma and West Virginia. The other 45 states, including those which voted Republican both times (such as Idaho), all moved in the Democratic direction.

The Center for American Progress has put together a map on this, showing in the Northwest that Democrats made the largest presidential-level gains in Idaho (13%), closely followed by Oregon (12%) and Washington (10%).

In Washington state, 18 counties (of 39) registered a Democratic shift of more than 10%. The largest shift was in one of the most Republican counties in the state, Chelan County just east of the Cascades, at 15%.

In Oregon, 24 counties of the 36 shifted 10% or more. The highest shift there was in Washington County, at 16% - seemingly a continuation of a general trend in that county.

In Idaho, 21 counties (of 44) shifted 10% or more. As in the other states, most were just above the 10% mark, but one of them - Teton County - registered the largest shift in the whole region, at 23%, as well as the second highest, Power County at 18%. Those are both small counties, but also of interest were the shifts in the two largest counties in the state - Ada (17%) and Canyon (16%).

None of the 119 counties in the Northwest shifted Republican in that pair of presidentials.

AIG in Yamhill County

Presidential advisor David Axelrod did some brilliant work in the presidential campaign, which is why he surprises with this quote: "People are not sitting around their kitchen tables thinking about AIG. They are thinking about their own jobs."

As a matter of fact - and this comes from the farm country of Oregon - people are talking about AIG around their kitchen tables. We bring up the point here because last Sunday, when the news of the mega-bonuses to those would-be masters of the universe first hit, the reaction locally was ferocious. New Senator Jeff Merkley happened to have scheduled a town hall in this mostly rural and Republican area, and he drew a crowd for which Topic A was clearly AIG - and what would be done about those bonuses. The point is symbolic to an extent (the bonuses are only a sliver of the trillions at stake, big-picture) but substantive too in reflecting how taxpayers will be treated as compared to the financiers.

Yes, it is a big subject out here, on the other side of the continent.

As an aside, our suggestion about how to handle this: Turn AIG, already mostly owned by the taxpayers, into a government-run corporation (along the lines of a state government worker compensation fund like those in Oregon and Idaho), and its employees into federal employees. No bonuses, and compensation for top executives capped at the salary level of the president of the United States. Megamoney breeds the attitude that rules are for other people; why should taxpayers underwrite that?

The paper watch

Now the Post-Intelligencer, the print version anyway, is gone, and the drumbeat goes on. Cuts at Boise, Olympia, Bellingham, elsewhere. (The norm now seems to be that the average newspaper in the region, probably in the country, employs about a third fewer people than it did a couple of years ago.)

Who's keeping track?

If you're looking for mainstream industry information, the place to watch is Editor & Publisher, the website of the long-running industry magazine. Beyond that, and beyond the official corporate sites, there's some interesting reading to be found.

Jim Hopkins' excellent Gannett Blog has attracted a good deal of attention, and it has some relevance to Northwest newspaper watchers - but less than it once did, because Gannett has only one daily left in the region (the Salem Statesman-Journal). The chains more dominant in the region's newspapering aren't be tracked so closely.

There is also, happily, the McClatchy Watch, about the newspaper company that now owns the dailies at Tacoma, Boise, Bellingham, Olympia and the Tri-Cities, is deeply in debt, and it cutting back all over.

Two other companies own a bunch of dailies in the region. Both Pioneer Newspapers (Klamath Falls, Nampa, Pocatello, Mount Vernon, Ellensburg) and Lee Enterprises (Twin Falls, Albany, Corvallis, Longview) collectively have substantial audiences in the region, and own a bunch of weeklies in addition to the dailies, but aren't really well-known as corporate entities. There doesn't seem to be a close external observer of Pioneer, which as a family business can and does manage itself quietly. There is a blog called Lee Watch, but it mainly posts employee-related matters.

Oregonians can check Oregon Media Insiders, which leans a bit toward the broadcast side but often has useful material on the area's newspapers too (like a recent post on more cutbacks at the Vancouver Columbian).

And, of course, right here . . .

A bull market in hate?

Hard times lead to hard feelings, and worse. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and related groups around the country, reports finding 926 such groups around the country, "up more than 4 percent from the 888 groups in 2007 and far above the 602 groups documented in 2000."

It goes on: "As in recent years, hate groups were animated by fears of Latino immigration. This rise in hate groups has coincided with a 40 percent growth in hate crimes against Latinos between 2003 and 2007, according to FBI statistics. Two new factors were introduced to the volatile hate movement in 2008: the faltering economy and the Obama campaign."

Some caution is called for, though, in evaluating all this. One of the newcomers to the list is the Eugene-based Pacifica Forum, which seems to fall into a gray area. Pacifica has given a platform to anti-semitic speakers in recent years, and the SPLC seems to have concluded that the relationship is closer than simply offering a soapbox. The Eugene Register Guard, which has watched it in action for years at close range, offers this interpretation:

"If the Pacifica Forum represents any kind of threat, it’s a small-bore threat indeed. The number of people who are actively involved can be counted on two hands, and among them are a high quotient of people guilty of nothing worse than being stubborn fools. Listing the forum as a hate group will serve mainly to pump up its sense of importance, and bolster its self-image as a martyred defender of free speech. The forum began, and functioned for years, as a platform for controversial political and historical analysis of every ideological stripe. Among its speakers were sharp critics of U.S. support for Israel, and some of these stepped over the line into outright anti-Semitism. When the forum was called out on this, its organizers mistook public criticism for intimidation. They remained blind to the difference between speakers who expressed strong views on matters of public policy and those who demonized entire groups of people. They confused their bad judgment with open-mindedness."

So some caution and acceptance of gray areas is called for. And numbers of a given category can rise and fall depending on how you define the category.

The SPLC points to 26 groups around the Northwest, 12 in Washington and seven each in Oregon and Idaho. In the national context, these aren't massive numbers. States in the south and border-south have many more per capita. It's a part of the landscape up here, certainly. But might this be an indicator that the Northwest is not a specific breeder of this kind of activity? (more…)