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Posts published in November 2010

Policy by profitability

We've railed against the idea of privately-run prisons for years, and the evidence against them mounts. A significant chunk has come in the last year or so from the Idaho Corrections Center, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America.

The latest, in a report from the Associated Press, grows out of videos associated with a court case concerning violence at the facility (which has the nickname "Gladiator school"). (Watch the video.) From that report:

The videos show at least three guards watching as Elabed was stomped on a dozen times. At no time during the recorded sequence did anyone try to pull away James Haver, a short, slight man. About two minutes after Haver stopped the beating of his own accord, the metal cellblock door was unlocked. Haver was handcuffed and Elabed was examined for signs of life. He bled inside his skull and would spend three days in a coma.

CCA, the nation's largest private prison company, said it was "highly disappointed and deeply concerned" over AP's decision to release the videos.

You got that at the end, right? - that CCA was disappointed and concerned, not apparently so much that a man was nearly killed in violence that its employees could and should have stopped, but that AP released the video evidence of it.

Murray on campaign, again

There was a time after the 2008 election when some Democrats were looking ahead to the Senate mid-terms of 2010 with optimism. Lots of Republican targets up that year, fewer vulnerable Democrats - it looked like a good year for Democratic pickups.

So much for that. The other part of the thinking among those Democrats, by the way, was this: It had better be a good year, because 2012 and 2014, when more Democratic seats would be up for election, would be tougher years.

Based on the surface numbers - almost twice as many Democratic seats for Democrats to defend, as Republican seats for Republicans to defend - the job facing Senate Democrats trying to keep their now-thin majority margin, will be hard. The job now, evidently, will go to Washington Senator Patty Murray, herself just off her toughest election contest.

But she did win, by a small but decisive margin. And her influences in shaping the 2012 campaign likely will include Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who she's close to in the Senate majority and who seemed for most of last year headed to defeat, but ran what is widely described as the most brilliant campaign of the year. Suggesting that Murray's job, while hard, isn't hopeless.

Even more than in her own race this year, the new job is likely to be a major test of what Murray is capable of.

The danger of not joining a task force

On Twitter today, from Portland radio talk show host Lars Larsen:

"saw adams walking down the street ... told him to his face 'you've made this city a dangerous place to live', his response was to say hi lars'

Well, right. What else would have made any sense?

Adams was Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who has had his share of problems and issues. Since this encounter came shortly after the infamous attempted bombing in downtown Portland, that clearly was the subject. And how did Adams, presumably, make that attempted bombing more likely?

The answer would presumably (since the investigation and enforcement here was led and mostly undertaken by federal agencies) have something to do with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, in which federal terrorism-related enforcement officials coordinate with locals. In April 2005 the then-mayor, Tom Potter, got crosswise with federal officials, and in what became a cause celebre the city decided not to join. The exact reasons why Potter eventually chose to opt out, after apparently seriously considering joining, haven't ever since been totally clear.

As it happens the current mayor, Adams, and members of the council, have this year been exploring joining the task force. Whatever the merits of that, consider the question from this angle: When a terror investigation and incident actually did arise in Portland (a five-minute walk from City Hall), was the quashing of the incident impaired by Portland's non-participation in the task force?

On the federal side of it, where most of the work was done, clearly not at all. Portland police actually were involved in the effort, even though they did not inform the mayor and council of what was going on. Federal officials (according to news reports) got a tip about a prospective incident months ago, and followed it through in a way that endangered no one's safety and brought the case to a close.

How would participation in a task force have improved on that?

Pioneer Square: What happened, what didn’t

Courthouse Pioneer Square, the Sunday after/


After a couple of days of news reports, a lot of the central questions about the abortive bombing of Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square remain. We're beginning to know enough, though, to come to come conclusions and at least shape some of the relevant questions.

Some of those came out in this morning's coverage in the Oregonian, of a story with still-massive holes (not the paper's fault, of course - a lot hasn't been released or isn't available yet).

The choice of time and place was, as columnist Steve Duin notes, chosen well for effectiveness. It's been nicknamed "Portland's living room," and there's really nothing else like it among the larger Northwest cities - a genuine community gathering place in the middle of downtown, where street preachers may be shouting one hour, an arts display may be on the next, and a film or music event might be shown in the evening, while people all day come by and hang out. If Portland feels like a community, and has something of a neighborly feel (for large city), Pioneer Square is an important reason. You feel as if you're welcome to just drop by and sit a spell - and you are. The Christmas tree lighting there, for central Portlanders, is second only to the tree setup in their own homes. An attack on the square is an attack on the community, in a unique way.

Adopt the Transportation Security mindset about dealing with such a threat, and what do you get? Backscatter devices on all the sidewalks? Pat-downs en route to and around downtown? Talk about destroying any feeling of community, or mutual trust.

One conclusion we evidently can reach out of this is that such tactics weren't what foiled this bombing attempt: It was intelligence, information, patient undercover law enforcement work, the kind of effort that almost always is what stops incidents like this.

Saying much more specific than that remains difficult, though, because so many questions are still out there right now. (more…)

The highs and the lows

Interesting piece from the Tacoma News Tribune's political blog on "the apathy capital of Washington" - would you believe just north of Olympia?

Well, more or less. Among the notes: Voter turnout in the 8th congressional district, where there was a hot race, was high, as you might expect. But a large chunk of the 8th is in Pierce County, which is close-split between the parties, but which registered the third-lowest voter turnout of any of the state's 39 counties.

This’ll go over big

In the state whose officials seem to want never to be outdone in their castigation of government, you get something like this and wonder where the next shriek will come from ...

On Tuesday, the state Land Board, chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, approved an $85,000 public relations plan calling for plaques proclaiming Idaho’s ownership to be stuck on state-owned commercial properties, including office and retail buildings in downtown Boise, and a self-storage facility to the city’s southwest.

No doubt all the agencies and services facing severe budgetary cutbacks will be delighted about that spending choice ...

Not aware, BTW, of any comparable program in Oregon or Washington, those more governmentally-oriented states ...

The Geddes departure

Not a lot more to say about the word that Robert Geddes of Soda Springs, who has been president pro tem of the Idaho Senate for a decade (longer than anyone else), won't be running for that leadership job again next month. (To avoid redundancy: All the legislators referred to in this post are Republicans.)

His successor might be Brent Hill of Rexburg, and he seems to have Geddes' personal nod. Or maybe Russ Fulcher of Meridian; both of them seem to have substantial bases of support in the caucus. Could be another option as well.

Everyone involved in this is "conservative" in any usual sense. Probably Hill would be the choice more moderates would find relatively comfortable; over the years, he has seemed to be more detail-oriented and far-ranging and less strictly ideological in his thinking than most Idaho Republican legislators.

What's important to bear in mind is the overall shift of the Republican caucus, and the probability of challenges by more-ideological members to two other long-running members of leadership, Bart Davis and Joe Stegner (who was denounced as a "Democrat!" in the last Republican state convention). The caucus membership has changed.

How to define it? Probably like this: Starting with the next session, the Idaho Senate likely will be much closer to a mirror image of the Idaho House, and legislation passing the House is less likely to be stalled or stopped in the Senate (and vice versa). Bot chambers have been called "conservative" for many years, but that hasn't meant exactly the same thing in each. In 2011, it probably will.

OR Congressional: Suppose it’s 6 …

Six Oregon districts/Ridenbaugh Press revisions/map via PSU Population Center

More and more, in following the numbers, you get the sense that Oregon won't be getting that sixth U.S. House district when the census numbers are unveiled in near term. We got the latest feel for that a few days ago with the new stats out from the Portland State University Population Research Center. It estimates Oregon population at 3,844,195. Split that six ways and you get 640,699 - likely about 100,000 short of what would be ideally needed for a sixth district to add to the current five. (Washington state still looks closer for a tenth district.)

Still. Suppose Oregon did add a sixth district? What would be the political fallout?

Our sense that Republicans should cheer on that extra district, and Democrats should hope against it - another argument in the loose fallacy of districts added on to "red" or "blue" states. Oregon may be more blue than red, but it's purple enough that it matters how you slice it.

To get a handle on this, we carved the state (using the new PSU numbers) into six pieces. We avoided dividing counties (only Multnomah, which would have to be, and then only in two pieces) and tried to make the districts reasonably compact and logical. And we set an "ideal" district size at around 640,000. (Recognizing that in the real world, the district sizes probably would have to match a little more closely than they do here.)

Start with the east, what is essentially the current District 2. 17 of Orgon's 36 counties are east of the Cascades, with the western side running from Hood River County in the north to Klamath in the south. That vast terrain, even accounting for the recent growth around Bend, just gets us to 506,235. We could snake along the Columbia Gorge and raid eastern Multnomah County for the other 35,000 or so. But in the interests of avoiding county splitting, we would give up Hood River and Wasco counties and send them to a district to the west, and to the south bring in all of Jackson County. Call this District 1.

This sets up some easy collections of unsplit counties to the west. In southwest Oregon, you could unite Josephine, Curry, Coos, Douglas and Lane counties to come up with something close to a district. Call it district 2.

Similarly: Linn, Marion, Benton, Polk and Lincoln bring a good number for District 3.

Just to the north, Washington and Yamhill counties add up to a neat and compact District 4.

Then, you could add the three northwest shorefront counties (Tillamook, Clatsop, Columbia) together with about two-thirds of Multnomah County for District 5.

And the other third of Multnomah could unite with Hood River and Wasco counties, and all of Clackamas, for District 6.

It's a pretty neat fit, but a map that looks like this should make Oregon Democrats, who now hold four of the five districts, uneasy.

This outline would continue the Republican lock on the eastern Oregon-based district. It would likely continue Democratic dominance on the two Multnomah-based districts (5 and 6), though probably a little less solidly than now.

But what of the others? The current southwest district (the seat now held by Democrat Peter DeFazio) is semi-marginal as it is, and this prospective District 2 would probably make it more so (especially by eliminating the piece of Benton County). The other two districts would be truly iffy. Washington County these days leans Democratic, but not overwhelmingly in otherwise close races; pair it with Republican-leaning Yamhill (District 4) and you could make it unpredictable. The revised central Willamette district 3, with Marion as the largest county base and Linn the second largest, might lean Republican.

The larger reality is that Oregon is right now more Democratic than Republican, but more by yards than by miles. A congressional split of 4-1 is Democrats beating the odds. A split of 5-1 may be more than they could manage.

Business travelers weigh in

Readers and commenters of the Puget Sound Business Journal largely are business people, a significant number of them people who travel by air on business. So what do they think about the recent TSA uproar?

In an (unsientific) online poll, the Journal asked, "Do you support the TSA's use of body scanners at Sea-Tac Airport?"

Results at this writing: yes 37%, no 57%.