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Posts published in February 2010

66% for the public option in WA 3

Possibly not what they expected when they asked the question.

Washington's 3rd congressional district, the one with an open seat this year (currently held by Democrat Brian Baird) is the one anchored by Vancouver to the south and Olympia to the north, but considered politically marginal and maybe bearing a slight Republican tilt. There is at least plenty of good evidence for thinking so.

Which makes this, from the Columbian political blog, worth note:

Voters were asked whether they favored or opposed the reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate in December -- a bill that lacked a public option. Just 39 percent of 3rd District residents said they favored the Senate bill, while 54 percent opposed it and 7 percent were undecided.

In a follow-up question, voters were asked whether they would favor or oppose "the national government offering everyone the choice of buying into a government-administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get -- that would compete with private health insurance plans." A whopping 66 percent favored the idea; 24 percent opposed it, and 10 percent were undecided.

Once again: If you're going to talk about the unpopularity of the current health care legislation, it's very important to talk about why that is.

The bloggers at Horse's Ass picked it up and delivered some useful comments on the point and benefits - or lack thereof - in being what is commonly considered a Democratic "moderate" today.

Health insurance monopoly, NW

The idea of a competitive health insurance marketplace sounds not too bad, but it's a long way from the reality.

A report from Health Care for America Now (dating from May 2009 but useful again in the current debate) has broken out the concentration of health insurers by state. How did the Northwest states rank?

Idaho had the 16th most concentrated - least competitive, most monopolized - health insurance markets among the 50 states. Blue Cross of Idaho (46% of the market) and Regence Blue Shield (29%) together take up 75% of the Idaho market.

The report: "For family health coverage in Idaho during that time [2000-07], the average annual combined premium for employers and employees rose from $5,160 to $11,432. . . . During that time, health insurance premiums for Idaho working families rose four times faster than median earnings."

Washington was somewhat better off, at 34th among the 50. There, Premera Blue Cross had 38% of the market and Regence Blue Shield 23%, for a total between the two of 61%.

Family coverage cost increases in Washington? On average, from $6,496 to $12,120, or 5.3 times faster than median earnings.

Of the three states, Oregon was actually best off, ranking 40th. Providence Health & Services had 25% of the market, and Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield 23%, for a total of 48% - not quite half.

Family coverage in Oregon rose in those years from $6,654 to $12,321, about 4.7 times faster than median earnings.

Of course, those skyrocketing figures are somewhat out of date; they're obviously larger by now.

10 militia reasons

Not to harp too much on the Pocatello Tea Party, but this one was not to be missed.

The headline was "Ten Reasons Why We Need a State Militia Now."

Here are the ten:

bullet Attacks by international “terrorists”

bullet Invasion by illegal immigrants

bullet Infusions of illicit drugs

bullet Depredations of criminal enterprises organized and operated on a global scale

bullet Rampant domestic “gangster government” at the National, State and Local levels

bullet The dragooning of America as a “global policeman” in the service of special-interest groups, both foreign and domestic

bullet Schemes aimed at overthrowing the Declaration of Independence

bullet Cultural subversion, corruption, and dissolution

bullet The inherent instability and corruption of America’s monetary and banking systems

bullet A staggering burden of governmental financial liabilities

Assuming you could figure out just how a state militia would solve all those problems, there's just one left:

What do you do with the current Idaho militia - that is, the Idaho National Guard?

Biting off one’s nose

There are plenty of people in this country who are here illegally, and one effective way to get a handle on that would be to block their employment. So how far should legislators go in that direction?

In Idaho, there's House Bill 497, backed by Representatives Phil Hart and Raul Labrador, and its statement of purpose says this: "If enacted, this legislation will allow for Idaho employers to have their state, county or city licenses suspended for knowingly employing illegal aliens. Professional licenses are excluded from the legislation. For a first offense, a license will be suspended until the employer signs an affidavit stating that the employer will not hire an unauthorized alien in the future. If the employer signs this affidavit within three (3) days of the court ruling, no suspension of the license will take place. For a second offense in a three (3) year period, the license will be suspended for up to ten (10) days. For a third offense in a three (3) year period, the license will be suspended for up to one year."

The bill died in the House State Affairs Committee, after a motion by Representative Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs. The was followed by a blog post by the Pocatello Tea Party headlined, "Tar & Feather Rep. Andrus." (It was a predecessor to the post, "Tar & Feather Rep. Elaine Smith; her sin had to do with the law on midwives.)

So what does Andrus have to say for himself? Well, this:

HB497 would require an employer’s license to be revoked for up to one year. I do not know the economic impact to the construction, motel and restaurant industries, but I have some experience and knowledge in agriculture. I have employed one or more foreign born workers, continuously, for more than 25 years. I have never illegally hired a worker. It is wrong. I do not condone hiring illegals – period.

Consider the consequence of an employer’s license being revoked for one year. Most agricultural employers operate under a partnership, corporation or LLC license. If the license is suddenly revoked, do the county commissioners or sheriff now come in and take over the farm or ranch and the owner (or former owner) take his family and go to a homeless shelter for sustenance? If a dairyman unexpectedly loses his license and is shut down, who now milks the cows (which may number more than a thousand on some dairies) – the humane society, to relieve pressure and pain in the udder and keep them from getting mastitis? These are realistic scenarios and no answer was given when I asked the question in the committee hearing.

It's called thinking through the effects.

Oregon’s fair & balanced?

Oregon has a new political news web site, the Oregon; we'll doubtless be checking in for news there.

Beyond that, a little note of perspective on it is warranted.

It presents itself as a straight-up news site, its listed staff includes a political reporter and an investigative reporter, and its mission statement says, "Oregon Politico is dedicated to reporting news from the state’s capitol and government bureaucracies in a fair and balanced manner whilst promoting an open and transparent government."

Maybe the "fair and balanced" reference there should be a clue. Dig a little deeper and check out the "copyright and legal" page, and there's this: "This Site and all of the information it contains (including, but not limited to, news articles, video, charts, graphs, graphics and photographs) is the property of Cascade Policy Institute, unless otherwise noted."

Cascade is not a politically or philosophically neutral organization; its front web page notes it is "Promoting public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon" - a more subtle version of "free market solutions", essentially libertarian in view, promoted by counterpart organizations in other states. (The most recent headline on its web site: "Unemployment Insurance Extensions Appeal to the Heart but Rob the Soul.") Such descriptions show up in the Oregon Catalyst.

This approach - of seemingly dispassionate news sources cloaking the machinery run in fact by highly ideological organizations (see also the Idaho, a project of the Idaho Freedom Foundation) seems to be a growing trend: Illusory neutrality in news production, a la Fox, spreading now to the state and maybe local level.

If there's a complaint here, it's not with the existence of the sites, or the independent reporting - we need all of that we can get. There are plenty of overtly partisan sites that do a good deal of digging and reporting, and a good deal of it has real value. But those sites (ranging, say, from Blue Oregon to Idaho Conservative Blogger) generally are forthright about their biases and preferences, and don't pretend they're something they're not.

There's news, and there's news. There are all kinds of filters for news. And if you're running your news through a filter, best to be up front with everyone about what it is.

The last of the experimentals?


The Oregon Legislature's special session is done as of mid-afternoon, a day later than most members had hoped but still three days ahead of the deadline. It was a special session not because it was called for emergency business - which ordinarily is supposed to be what even-year sessions, when they occur, are about - but as an experiment to see if even-year sessions can work reasonably well.

Evidently they can. The final hangup (and not one between parties but between House and Senate) had to do with how long the sessions in an annual-session scheme should run; those deadlines would be built into a constitutional amendment to set up annual sessions henceforth. On Wednesday (after Senate President Peter Courtney decided against giving up and adjourning), they resolved the impasse. As the Salem Statesman-Journal noted, "The total time of 195 days over a two-year cycle would be shorter than the 211 days that lawmakers have met on average over the past decade, counting the current session in its 25th day."

A call to cut session length might be an overall voter winner in November.

They can add that to a considerable batch of legislation approved in these last three and a half weeks. The list form the House speaker's office included these (and it's a partial list): (more…)

Dry times

Time to prepare for breaking out the D-word?

The northwest's snowpack seemed to be in pretty good shape two to three months ago. Less so now, and in places it could get pretty parched.

Only one spot in the Northwest has higher than normal accumulated precipitation: The Olympic peninsula (at about 151%). Other than that, it's a question how relatively dry are you?

Th driest river basins (compared with the percentage four months ago in parentheses):

Washington: Spokane 65% (was 94%), Lower Snake 67% (was 103%), Upper Yakima (was 74%)

Oregon: Klamath 71% (was 74%), Hood/Sandy/Lower Deschutes 72% (was 101%), Rogue/Umpqua 74% (was 85%), Willamette 74% (was 103%).

Idaho: Henry's Fork/Teton 60% (was 88%), Snake River above Palisades 61% (was ), Clearwater 62% (was ), Spokane 65% (was 94%), Salmon 68% (was 89%), Willow/Blackfoot/Portneuf 69% (was 73%).

Packin’ up

It was a Peter Courtney moment. Presiding over the Oregon Senate, just after absorbing news from across the Rotunda as the Legislature was preparing to adjourn:

"All right, I'll tell you what's happening," as if announcing social plans on a Saturday night. "The House is coming in at 2:45. They're gonna do some stuff. Then they're going to adjourn and come back in at 4:30. Then they'll do some more stuff." (Courtney's style, some combination of informal and driven, is all his own.) The Senate would return around 5, he said, hopefully with most of the House work complete.

The exact clock times, of course, didn't hold. But both chambers continued processing bills, and you could tell from the visitor's gallery that staffers at least were optimistic of an early-evening adjournment. And no late glitches seemed to be lying in wait.

The latest "experimental" even-year Oregon legislative session does seem nearly over, maybe later today. It has worked; substantial legislation moved through smoothly, and the session seems about to end ahead of deadline (which was February 28).

The major loss, as now appears: The proposed constitutional amendment to allow annual sessions. The House and Senate seem positioned to simply agree to disagree. Ironic, since this session seems to have been a good Exhibit A for the proposal.

Some Leverage

We just last night caught up with the most current (streamed) episode of Leverage, the TNT series about a group of con artists, set in the Boston area but shot in Portland. The show is well done on its own merits, but we have fun picking out specific scenes at Portland we know. PGE Park and the city hall were two good recent examples.

It's felt a little like an outlier, in that Vancouver B.C. tends to get a lot more TV and film work; it has been the leading film center on the west coast north of southern California. Among other things, shooting costs there may actually be a little lower than in Portland.

But Portland's clout in the biz is picking up. Leverage is one factor, and another is the area's intensive and cutting-edge digital video industry.

The Oregon House Sustainability and Economic Development Committee held a hearing on all this today, and the indications emerging suggest that more of this business may be coming: Not an explosive increase, but more. People working with Leverage were there, and show creator and runner Dean Devlin, who had planned to appear, delivered a statement.

One conclusion was that Oregon isn't notably attractive on the immediate upfront numbers; other states have juicier governmental giveaways. (Michigan evidently is notorious for this.) But Oregon, and Portland especially, has other good advantages: Widely varied and easily accessible scenery, good infrastructure, a solid base of actors and crew to work with. The various sorts of commercial shooting business, from commercials and corporate videos to full-out entertainment programming, seems to be picking up as word of the advantages picks up. (One motion picture, niche-described as "faith-based horror," was said to be in progress.)

The economic advantages were hyped too hard; no one spoke of it as an economic savior. But Representative Vic Gilliam, who played a bit part on Leverage, recalled Devlin telling him on set that about 140 people were working that day, nearly all Oregonians.

And if you're in Oregon, keep a lookout for $2 bills. On item that emerged at the hearing: Devlin apparently paid out much of the Leverage staff per diems with $2 bills. If you see one in circulation, odds are that's where it came from.