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Obama, bennies, trains and vets

Crapo's Obama Inauguration hub

Over here at the citydesk we were recently wondering how one might apply for press credentials for the Obama inauguration, when an e-mail from Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo popped in the inbox, reading: CRAPO: SWEARING-IN CEREMONY TICKET REQUESTS BEING TAKEN.

Yes, Crapo, soon-to-be Idaho's senior senator, has a clearinghouse for inauguration information on his Web site including ticket info, parade info, ball info, and even—you guessed it—press pass info.

Sen. Barack Obama becomes President Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009.

Crapo also has links for fun things for Idahoans to do while in Washington, D.C., for the swearing in, including a link to Crapo's Favorites (Arlington, the zoo, Great Falls National Park and the roof of the Hotel Washington).

Is this that spirit of bipartisan cooperation we are smelling or does Crapo just want in on the guest list for what is bound to be the baddest inaugural ball ever?

Either way, get your tickets at crapo.senate.gov (click on the Inauguration 2009 link).

Luna extends PLATO contract

Idaho schools' chief Tom Luna has negotiated a 90-day extension to the state's contract with Plato Learning, a Minnesota-based online and computerized education company that provides remediation services to many Idaho students who fail Idaho's graduation tests.

As reported in last week's BW, Luna recently discovered that the company's lessons do not adequately match up with Idaho schools' content standards, but the 90-day extension will allow for further review.

State workers protest

benefit changes

About 30 people—mostly state workers—took time off on Nov. 10, to attend a hearing on cuts to their benefit package that went into effect prior to legislative review.

Workers demanded the hearing after the state Division of Human Resources, in late August, implemented temporary rule changes that cut the amount of time allowed for short-term disability leave and eliminated paid time off for doctor visits, among dozens of smaller changes.

Selma Gearhardt, a pharmacy specialist at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Medicaid program, testified that she counsels people all day to go to their preventative medical and dental visits in order to catch disease early. And then the state takes away a benefit that encourages state workers to do the same, undermining her message.

"Restore effective health care policy that supports the benefit of prevention. Recognize what we have always known: 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,'" Gearhardt said in her written testimony.

DHR director Judie Wright arranged the hearing after more than 25 workers demanded it. (The state received petitions from more than 200 employees, according to testimony from the state workers' union.) Wright said the testimony will be reviewed and any changes will be reported in about a week and a half.

The Idaho Association of Government Employees, the state workers' union, protested the timing of the hearing—10 a.m. on a Monday morning—but Wright said that was the time that the court reporter was available.

"We didn't have very long to get it done," Wright said. "We're supposed to have our comments done by [Nov. 14]."

No one testified in favor of the rule changes at the Monday hearing. The Legislature will review the rules starting in January, and a bill to authorize paid leave for preventive doctor visits has already been discussed.

Loco for locomotives

A Boise locomotive manufacturer has bid on a project for Boston's T, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's commuter train, but is in competition with a Spanish subsidiary of a German company for the contract.

Yes, a Boise company makes locomotives, and has for years.

MotivePower, Inc.—now a subsidiary of Wabtec, which builds components for trains in the United States and at plants in Europe, Australia and South Africa—was once part of Boise-based Morrison Knudsen. The company makes locomotive engines and was the only U.S. firm to bid on the T project: 28 diesel-electric locomotives to replace its aging fleet, which the Boston Globe estimates will cost $186 million, the bulk of which is paid with federal grants. The agency could order an additional 28 locomotives as well.

Under the Federal Transit Administration's Buy America requirements—which require large projects paid with federal dollars to be made in the United States—MotivePower would be a shoe-in for the contract. But the MBTA, upon request of Vossloh Espana S.A., has applied for a waiver from the Buy America rules so that two prototype locomotives can be built in Europe.

MotivePower, along with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson, have protested the waiver.

"MotivePower is something most precious and increasingly rare: a highly successful, U.S.-based industrial manufacturing firm," Bieter wrote. "Over the past 35 years, the company has become a global leader in the design and manufacture of diesel-electric locomotives."

And Crapo and Simpson wrote: "At a time when our economy is in decline and American workers are losing their jobs in increasing numbers, we firmly believe the only way to protect the public interest in this case is to reject MBTA's request for a 'Buy America' waiver."

According to Wabtec spokesman Tim Wesley, the Boise company makes up about 10 percent of Wabtec's business with annual revenues between $150 million and $200 million.

A decision from the FTA is expected soon, after which the MBTA will award the contract.

Final election results

Though BW held last week's paper until almost 2 a.m., three squeaker races were too close to call until the following morning. So in case you have been in the woods for a week and are just getting back to town, here's the final tally on the First Congressional District race and the two Ada County Commission races.

Democrat Walt Minnick beat incumbent Republican Rep. Bill Sali, 175,567 votes to 171,324 votes, though Sali was slow to admit defeat. Minnick won Ada, Benewah, Bonner, Latah, Nez Perce, Shoshone and Valley counties.

And speaking of counties, two Democrats lost their bids for Ada County Commission. Sharon Ullman beat incumbent Democrat Paul Woods by 6,029 votes. And incumbent Republican Rick Yzaguirre beat Democratic challenger David Langhorst by 12,982 votes.

In Ada County's presidential contest, Sen. Barack Obama received 82,236 votes to Sen. John McCain's 93,328. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader came in just shy of 2,000 votes.

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: U.S. Department of Defense casualty reports were not updated this week, presumably due to Veterans Day.

U.S. VETERANS:

Veteran population: 23,442,000

Female veteran population: 1,802,000 (8%)

Number of living WWII veterans: 2,583,000

WWII veterans who die each day: 900

Veteran population, 65 or older: 39.4%

Number of OEF/OIF amputees: 842

Veterans compensated for PTSD: 342,624

Active VA Home Loan Participants: 2.1 M

VA National Cemeteries: 125

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 88,947 to 97,084.

Source: iraqbodycount.net

COST OF IRAQ WAR: $570,245,705,787

Source: costofwar.com

—Nathaniel Hoffman

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