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Posts published in “Stapilus”

Not taking the bait

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

While such factors as immigration and Democratic crossover may have slightly padded the stunning Tuesday primary loss by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, some of the most careful analysis of the loss seems to point to something else: The feeling that Cantor had lost touch with his district.

There was the sense that he wasn't back home much, that he was always on the tube or in DC, and that when he did show up he was surrounded by a heavily armed security detail. How would an average citizen get a word with him?

Compare that to standard practice in, say, Oregon, where elected officials routinely visit back home and are quite accessible when they do.

But then, the idea of rising a little too high in Washington and losing that local connection is not a strange concept in the Northwest. Decades ago, Oregon Representative Al Ullman had risen to a position of real power in the House only to be taken out back home when people saw he wasn't getting back to the district very often. In 1994, people in eastern Washington had some of the same view - probably with less justification - about Tom Foley, then the House speaker. And he too lost.

As it happens, the current Republican representatives in each of those same districts, Cathy McMorris Rodgers in Washington and Greg Walden in Oregon, are in House leadership right now, albeit at a lower and less visible level than Foley - or Cantor. Either of them might be a plausible contender for Cantor's leadership post, from which he is planning to resign this summer.

Indications are that they aren't going for it. Walden hasn't had a lot to say about the situation, and McMorris Rodgers seems to have swept aside the idea of what's now looking like a crowded race for the number two job in the House.

They may be wise to take that attitude. Both have what look like secure seats at conditions stand. But sometimes the risk increases as you fly closer to the sun, and they may be well aware of that.

An Oregon top two

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

If James Kelly and Brett Wilcox succeed in getting their top-two primary proposal on to the ballot, I sure wouldn't bet against it passing. (See the Oregonian article out today on this.)

Part of the reason is that anyone who isn't a registered Republican or Democrat automatically would have a reason to vote for it: It would give them meaningful entre into a bunch of primary races they're now closed off from. And while 20 years ago the number of non-major party registered voters in Oregon was roughly about half the number of Republican or of Democrats, they're now more numerous than Republicans and not far off from Democrats.

(I'll admit to some bias here, being a longtime shut-out NAV registrant. I know I could register opportunistically to vote in either party's primary and then switch back, but that sort of thing just doesn't feel very honest to me.)

That's a huge voting block of about a third of the electorate.

Plenty of major party members likely would be in favor too, though. Both parties would have increased opportunities in legislative districts and in other venues where they currently have no realistic chance of winning; general elections have no real significance in most of the state. Moreover, a larger variety of people from both parties could wind up serving, expanding the tents on both sides.

You don't even get the sense that many of the top elected officials in place now necessarily would be much opposed to the idea.

And while the idea hasn't exactly wonderfully reformed politics in Washington and California, it hasn't hurt, either, and people seem happy enough with it.

This could happen.

Opening up

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

It's just one small step, and the putting into practice will be the real test. But this move by Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter to appoint a public records ombudsman for the state is a good idea, and one his counterparts in Washington and Oregon should consider.

Idaho recently wound up, with a small group of other states, at the bottom of a survey of openness in state governments. That may or may not have been a prompt for Otter's decision, but it underscored the need.

The problem, often enough, isn't always Idaho's law on public records (like many other states good in presumption but also larded with exemptions to sunshine) but in the follow-through: Agencies (certainly not all, but some) where the ingrained attitude is that the records are theirs, not the public's. Pulling those records may be doable, but costly; if you have to go to court, the effort may not come cheap. Larger news organizations historically have been willing to do that anyway, but the public records law is not supposed to be a news media-only proposition. It is supposed to allow any member of the public to examine public records.

The new ombudsman position, filled now by attorney Callie Younger, could turn out to be a fig leaf, offering little practical help. We'll see how it works in practice and assess accordingly. But for the moment, this looks like a show of good faith from Idaho's governor.

Now at Bookworks, too

Not Northwest in scope, but it seems appropriate to mention it here anyway:

I've been added as a contributing writer for a new organization called BookWorks, a group set up in association with Publishers Weekly and other national organizations, to help self-publishing and small-scale publishers in the new book publishing environment. I'll be one of three regular contributors to the group's blog, and my first post is up there this morning.

This one happens to be about the selection of chapter titles (something I've worked with several authors in developing), but the subjects will vary widely as we go ahead.

Talking guns: The gun divide

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

The Oregonian has been running a fine series - as of today, unfortunately, concluded - of interview pieces profiling the attitudes of various Oregonians about guns. Many of them have been enlightening and thoughtful, but a pairing of two of them shines a bright light on the most serious and distinctive gun divide we have.

Both are of young men, both proud gun owners and advocates for gun ownership. What's different is their perspective and viewpoint underlying their attitudes.

Today's interview was with Brian Jarvis of Dallas, 29, owner of a rifle and pistol. He grew up in a rural family where gun ownership was simply an understood part of life, and understood in a particular way: "I was raised that a person’s ownership of firearms is a provision of family for food, for security and basically to set an example for the next generation."

That much, about his take on his world, is easier for someone from a different perspective to take, probably, than Jarvis' view of them: "What I see is people who are afraid of guns because they were not raised to see them in the same light that I was. They see the gangster on TV shooting up a block, bullets flying everywhere. That scares the tar out of me, too, but I sense that people who don’t own guns don’t want to learn about guns, and instead of stepping out and accepting the responsibility of our world and learning about them, they would rather take the right to own a gun away."

A mixed reaction here to this part. Jarvis overstates the eagerness of non-gun enthusiasts to "take the right to own a gun away" - no more than a sliver of people are in favor of that. He is probably correct, though, that many non-gun owners fail to take the trouble to learn more about guns before issuing pronouncements about them.

Still, on balance, a large majority of Americans probably could nod their heads in general agreement with most of Jarvis' perspective, even if their experience and his are a little different. As far as it goes, at least, his viewpoint represents something most Americans could likely accept; it's a mainstream view.

Here's a second interview, of Trevor LeeJack Francois of Gresham, 18, who's about to enter the Army. Here's the key line from his interview:

"I feel powerful with my guns. My dad doesn’t like me keeping them in my room, but I can’t live without them. I feel lost when they are not with me. We live in a crazy world, and I guess the guns help me feel safe."

Credit Francois this: He has opened up, and taken us to the heart of his thoughts.

Were you to deny Jarvis his firearms, he would (based on the interview we see) protest, and as argument for keeping his weapons would speak of tradition, culture, the ability to hunt for food, and some additional ability to defend himself. These points would not be hard to understand and deal with, even for people who aren't positioned the same way he is.

Were you to do the same to Francois, you're denying him a sense of personal power (that, presumably, he doesn't get elsewhere), exposure in a world of life and death, real peril, and a sense of being utterly lost. Confront a person with that, and what sort of political reaction would you expect?

The divide between someone like Jarvis and someone like Francois is the really important chasm in the gun debate, It is not the line between gun owners vs. non-owners or between Second Amendment advocates vs. some supposed cadre of gun seizers. This is the proximate point at which the issue becomes hard to resolve - when it reaches not a point of disagreement over details, but a point of panic.

Redefining the entity

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

Here's one that sounds like a feel-good deal on the surface, and maybe will never be more than that ... but opens the door, just a crAck, to something much larger. As John Lennon exhorted, imagine ...

For-profit corporations set up under a legal framework in which they are required to operate not exclusively for the the purpose of enhancing shareholder value, but also with the requirement that recognition of the public interest and fair play with their business partners - customers, vendors, employees and others - also be a required, and demonstrable, part of the mix.

Do that - change the century-old (it isn't much more than that) requirement that for-profits operate solely for their stockholders' immediate financial benefit, and you could have a truly significant global game-changer.

The Oregon House Bill 2296a, which cleared the Senate 22-8 (and now goes to Governor John Kitzhaber for likely signature), doesn't go that far. It's a lot less ambitious, merely setting up a new kind of business structure:

Currently, legal designations for corporate and business organizations focus the duties of corporate officers on matters of financial stability and success. Businesses that wish to provide a larger community benefit under the current structure must validate these benefits in the context of the financial viability of the organization. Under HB 2296A, a company can add a social or environmental benefit as a key mission of the business in addition to profit.

“By establishing benefit companies, we can attract new businesses to Oregon that focus on serving the greater good while providing a real economic value to owners, employees, and communities,” said Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum. “Today’s vote is a step towards making Oregon a true leader in a new economy that encourages more businesses to pursue more than just profit.”

HB 2296A allows companies of varying size to adopt the benefit company designation, and requires these companies to compile an annual report about the social or environmental benefits provided by the organization.

It's a small step. But who knows where it might lead?

Compensatory details

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

On of the advantages of watching the whole Northwest region is the exposure to a range of arguments - and when it comes to Congress, exposure to not just what one side side, and one member, has to say about something, but counterpoints as well. People who stay in the news silos of their states often miss that: They hear their membetr of Congress but often get only a piece of the story.

With that in mind: H.R. 1406, the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, which on May 8 passed the house with a final vote of 223-204. Briefly, it restructures a piece of employment law allowing more flexibility for use of compensatory ("comp") time off in countering for overtime work, instead of simply requiring overtime pay, which most typically is paid at time-and-a-half.

I have some sympathy for the idea.

Years ago, working as a newspaper reporter, I worked erratic schedules covering news events, night meetings, traveling various places. Strictly, I should have been paid overtime on a number of occasions when I wasn't, but what happened in some cases - when the boss and I worked it out - was that my schedule was quietly adjusted and in effect I'd take comp time instead. It wasn't abuse; arrived at through joint agreement, it worked better for me and for my newspaper. On occasion, we'd hear about a regulator cracking down on such practices, and so have to avoid it for a time. But I long considered it unnecessary and counterproductive regulation of something my employer and I were, left alone, pretty well able to use to mutual benefit. Sometimes the comp time was a better answer for me, as well as for the newspaper, than the overtime. Of course, circumstances varied; sometimes I wanted the overtime. We worked it out.

So when 1406 emerged, I wasn't altogether unsympathetic. And as Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, who voted in favor, explained it, it sounds pretty good: “It can be very difficult to balance the needs of family and work. H.R. 1406 offers individuals an opportunity to meet family obligations by choosing paid time off as compensation rather than overtime hours. This is a decision that should be made between employers and employees; the federal government should not be an impediment to those who seek flexibility.”

(You can follo the link for an extended argument in favor of the bill.)

So what on earth could those 204 House members voting in opposition have been thinking?

One of the 204 was Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici, who called a it "more work, less pay" bill. Here's her argument:

“If this bill becomes law, a single mom living paycheck to paycheck could work more than 40 hours a week and receive no overtime pay in her paycheck. She still has to pay the babysitter for the extra hours on the job, and she has no guarantee that she’ll be able to take ’comp’ time off when she needs it. She would have to accept the days off her employer offers, or else wait up to a year to receive the pay that’s rightfully hers.”

Although the legislation provides employees with the option of choosing overtime pay instead of comp time, the bill lacks any provisions to accommodate a worker’s schedule. Bonamici and others also argued this would allow employers to offer overtime hours only to employees more likely to choose comp time, closing off an important income stream to working families.

Bonamici highlighted a flawed provision of the bill that allows employers to delay overtime pay for up to a year with no requirement that the pay be placed in an interest-bearing account. When the bill was considered by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Bonamici offered an amendment to require that pay be escrowed and later paid with interest, but her amendment was defeated.

Add all the pieces together, and you get a bill that in basic concept might have had some real merit, but was by the time it hit the floor a bill designed (the protestations of employmee protection, which seem thin, notwithstanding) to give employers considerably greater clout than they have already in this time of a horrendous job market.

Paying attention to the details means looking at more than one side of issues like this.

Perceptive legislating

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

A couple of thoughts about the Senator Rob Portman/gay marriage story, tangentially about the issue involved but mostly about the way Portman arrived at his reassessment.

The story is that the Ohio Republican senator, who until this week has been firmly opposed to allowing same-sex marriage, has changed his mind. He told CNN, "I've come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay." Learning about his son's orientation and life preferences, he indicated, was central in his thinking.

A lot of people have changed their minds over the years on this subject. 15 years ago, polling showed that just over a quarter of Americans thought same-sex marriage should be allowed; back then, I was among the majority who thought not. In the last decade especially, opinions have moved drastically, and now a majority around the country thinks it ought to be allowed; and once again, I'm in the majority having changed my mind too.

What changed, what caused that change, is something worth exploring. In my case, the evolution started with a general acceptance of a broadly understood norm, that marriage was between a man and a woman, period. Until not too many years ago, the subject wasn't much publicly debated, and - for many people - not deeply thought about.

It moved to the front burner partly, I suspect, in response to two things. One is that more people have tended to become more open about homosexuality, bringing more people into contact with the impact of policies including those concerning marriage. (The don't ask don't tell military debate was part of that too.) And, a then-pointless political opposition to same-sex marriage, pushed as a political wedge issue about a decade ago, wound up exposing the emptiness of the argument against: Simply, the case against seems awfully thin compared to the case in favor, in which actual people are demonstrated actual and easily corrected damage to their lives.

The shift of attitude among Americans probably relates, to some degree, to those two factors (much as they may overlap). Some people, and I would be one of them, considered the arguments pro and con over a period of years, and changed point of view after considering them. You could call this the legislative approach, since it involves weighing the pros and cons of a policy. (more…)

Packin’ nuclear? Why not?

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

Boise attorney John Runft has addressed a point that ought to be put to gun advocates coast to coast. But did he address it as they would - and has he thought through the implications?

Interviewed on KIVI-TV in Nampa, he was enthusiastic in his discussion of the Second Amendment, saying there was even an "anti-government" aspect built into it. (I'd love to find the specific validation for that argument.)

But he also acknowledged something that some gun advocates seem not to, that there are limits even to the Second Amendment: “Do you have the right to bear a bazooka? The right to bear an atomic bomb? Absolutely not.”

No argument on that here. But I would argue this: Bazookas (defined in Wikipedia: "a man-portable recoilless rocket antitank weapon, widely fielded by the US Army") and nuclear weapons clear are "arms". (Remember the nuclear arms race.) Not much question about that either.

So: By Runft, it is okay to ban some arms. Next question: If we can ban bazookas from private use, why not semi-automatic weapons? From where comes the private constitutional right to possess one but not the other?

A question, then, posed to any and all gun advocates: Should weaponry such as nuclear weapons and bazookas be allowed for private ownership in the United States? If not, why not, if your argument that a right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed?

So what are we going to do about it?

stapilus
Randy Stapilus
View from Here

And so as we end another year, another round of madman shootings - just this week three dead and one injured at Clackamas Mall in Oregon - where only luck kept the death toll from rising much higher - and at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where so many children were slaughtered.

How much longer, how many more insanity-driven shootings, before something meaningful is done? Not, to be sure, with the idea that there's such a thing as a perfect prevention, but with the idea that mass killings should be at least harder to accomplish, and diverted more often. And recognizing that it doesn't have to be this way: The United States really is an aberration among the more developed countries around the world, most of which see nowhere near as much of this sort of violence.

Drawing in part from a Jeffrey Goldberg piece in the Atlantic and a spate of other articles, here are a few thoughts.

• If someone is determined to kill, they will kill. But the impact can be lessened. If guns were not the hand weapon of choice, violence would not end, but fewer people probably would die. Last week in central China a man entered a school and attacked about two dozen people - but he did it with a knife, and while many of those people were slashed and stabbed, all of them lived. The attack was not prevented entirely, but the efficacy of weaponry made a difference.

• With something on the order of 300 million guns of various kinds in the United States, the idea of getting rid of them, or even very many of them, is futile. Leaving aside legal issues, there are many legitimate legal uses of many guns apart from those use by law enforcement and military, and self-defense is a legitimate use. But relatively few people really know how to properly, carefully and safely use a firearm. Anyone who thinks the Clackamas or Newtown events could have been stopped by a population of shoppers or educators who'd been packin' ought to stop to visualize what probably would have happened in fact: A frantic shootout by panicked people that would have doubled, tripled, quadrupled the death toll. A public of vigilantes ready to shoot first and ask questions later would be vastly more dangerous than what we have now.

• Do we really need, on the open market and available for any (prospectively crazed) person to buy, semiautomatic firearms that can kill dozens of people in minutes? Yes, other guns can kill, too, but not so many people, so quickly. Do we really need such easy access to 30-round magazines for AR-15 semiautomatics? Shouldn't it be at least harder to access such lethal firepower? (more…)