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Posts published in June 2006

Papering Bend

Twas only a matter of time before someone decided to expand on the Bend newspaper scene, and now someone has, with the just-launched Bend Weekly. (Hat tip to Jack Bog's Blog for the pointer.) Its launch was June 1.

The tone is ambitious (the first editorial was headed, "Bend Weekly Gets to the Heart of Bend’s Local News"), and the paper's website is loaded with material. The web site at least seems to have a healthy pile of advertisers.

And the mission sounds logical. The editorial signed by Richard Burton II says, "This is precisely the vision of Bend Weekly - keeping journalism local. Who better to report on the topics that concern Bend Residents than the people who live within its neighborhoods?"

So who's behind it? And how local are they? (more…)

Dixie Chicks, Boise response

Hot topic on the Boise radio, music and concert scene: The Dixie Chicks. Or, how hot? And why the relative temperature?

Back a step: The Dixie Chicks country music has gone through hots spells and cold, but the current situation almost defies description.

The Idaho Radio News blog notes, "The Dixie Chicks new album “Taking the Long Way” is number one on both the country and Billboard 200 charts this week. 526,000 copies of the album flew off the shelves." And they're on tour.

But - the post goes on - "In Boise - none of the three major country stations are playing the album’s lead single, according to Yes.com data. It might have something to do with that lead single’s theme. 'Not Ready to Make Nice,' which addresses the pre-Iraq war controversy that surrounded the trio (”Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas” - said by singer Natalie Manes during a performance in the UK). But it’s not just KIZN, KQFC & KTMY. Counter-intuitively, the single isn’t well-rotated anywhere really."

That post drew a fat pile of reponses on the blog. One reader commented, "“KUDOS to the local country stations for standing by their priciples! You know who your audience is!”

Another responded, "what 'principles' are referring to? I thought the 'principle' of music radio was TO PLAY HITS in their format. Are they now supposed to support the Bush administration by NOT playing HITS recorded by artists who have been critical of it? Imagine for a moment that such a thing as a 'liberal country station' existed somewhere. Imagine further that the station refused to play music by an artist who supported George Bush. Look me in the eye with a straight face and tell me you wouldn’t be howling about that. Let me guess, you watch a LOT of the Fox News Channel, don’t you?"

Which in turn drew this: ". . . any Programmer with an ounce of brains ALSO knows that you play the HITS your AUDIENCE WANTS TO HEAR. Unfortunately for the SMALL number of NON conservatives who live in Idaho, this means a somewhat unspoken boycott of bands such as The Chicks. Do I agree with this? Well, somewhat. It’s important to keep your audience happy, whether they be liberal, conservative or, well, whatever else is left . . ."

Remember when radio stations - most of them, anyway - weren't really considered Republican, Democratic, liberal or conservative? Those days seem to be passing rapidly by.

Blogger to MSM

The ever-thinning line between the blogosphere and the "mainstream media" has thinned another bit: David Goldstein of Horse's Ass, probably the lead blogger on the left in the Seattle area, has landed a radio talk show.

The show is on Seattle's KIRO (710 AM) on Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. For Goldstein, it's just the gig he's wanted for quite some time. Based on his past experiences (as a frequent guest on Seattle talk radio, often on conservative talk shows like those hosted by John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur), his show should be lively.

Starrett and the rest of the party

We knew that Mary Starrett, candidate for governor of Oregon and nominee of the state Constitution Party, had extensive experience in Oregon television and radio (17 years on air at KATU-TV). We didn't know, that notwithstanding, how skillful a public speaker she is - as good as any candidate for major office in the Northwest this year.

Mary StarrettYou can see the evidence in her annoucement speech, posted on line - her presentation is crisp, poised, briskly on track yet just loose enough to come across as human. The outlines of her message are still coming together, but already cohering well.

Initial estimates in the punditry have suggested her receiving a likely vote in the 1-2% range. We think such estimates should be revised upward, considerably; and if so, that would put her to the point that she could certainly constitute a big obstacle for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton.

We don't yet know how she'll do at meet and greet, at campaign strategy, at fundraising (though she could be a great one), at organization or at other important candidate skills. But she starts out as a political consultant's ideal.

Or would be, under other circumstances. (more…)

Whole lotta Powerpoint

Can't remember the book in which it appeared, but an author writing about the officers of the modern U.S. military, noting their love of crisp presentations, once remarked that it's hard now to imagine the American military functioning if there were no Powerpoint.

It's much the same in many other places. Go to a budget meeting, or a planning and zoning meeting, or almost any kind of meeting of a jurisdiction of medium or larger size, and you'll probably be sitting through a Powerpoint presentation before long. (In case you just crawled out of a cave: Powerpoint is a Microsoft Corporation software that makes easy the production of a slide show presentation with text, graphs and images.)

There's a curious subtlety involved. These Powerpoint presentations to commissioners, councils, legislative panels and others are almost always staff presentations. In many of these cases, staff is making a recommendation, which may not be unanimous and might be opposed from one or more angles in the public. But those public angles usually come across as more amateur and less thought-through, because they usually lack the slick multimedia presentation.

Enter Frosty Hardison of Federal Way. Some time ago he started showing up at city hall, prepared to present to the council, and submitted Powerpoint files he wanted shown. And they were shown.

The Federal Way council considered the question of citizen Powerpointing at its Tuesday meeting, and decided with some limitations to allow it. (Reasonable: Scanning for viruses and relevance to the matter at hand.) Council member Jim Ferrell suggested, “We need to send a message to the community that we value their input. This is about freedom of speech.”

It may be, at least, about ensuring that the public's speech is absorbed the same way everyone else's is.

Framing the issue

Is there much doubt that had the Washington Legislature voted to allow same-sex marriage, and an initiative to overturn that law were attempted, that initiative would get on the ballot - easily?

Doesn't seem as if there's much doubt. Change the issue related to gays by a few degrees - make it a law that simply bans discrimination based on sexual orientation - and you've got a different matter. That created a political dynamic that Washington's premier initiative organizer, Tim Eyman, couldn't surmount. Late Tuesday afternoon he acknowledged that the effort to overturn by initiative a Washington Legislature bill establishing gay rights would not succeed.

These efforts seem to be reasonable markers of public sentiment, and of how the sentiment can change. Last year there was enough sentiment, at one point, to get the anti-gas tax initiative on the Washington ballot, but not enough to pass it. That suggests that, while there existed a serious base of criticism, that a significant majority in favor had come together. And some of that shift happened in between the petition stage and the voting stage. (A guess: The gay rights initiative would have made ballot status at least, 10 years ago.)

In the case of gay rights, the public sentiment seems to have coalesced earlier: If even a substantial base of critical sentiment had been there, Eyman should have been able to tap it. That suggests that had the measure got on the ballot, it would have gone down to huge defeat.

This initiative's advocates, in licking their wounds today, might count themselves lucky.

ADDENDUM: And there was this notable comment about Eyman from former state GOP Chair Chris Vance: "Now he's coming in and hijacking issues and shoving his way into an issue because it's become a business for him. It's how he gets paid. There will be no end to Tim Eyman as long as people are wiling to send him money ... I think it's hurting the legitimate perception of the initiative process. When you've got a clown out there in a Darth Vader suit lying to the press and things like that, it's not good for the initiative and referendum process."

To think that Eyman and the state Republicans were once so richly allied.

Duped again

It was one of the great lines of the year from a Northwest political figure, and on Monday morning it came from Tim Eyman:

"Feel like you've been duped this morning? Well, you have."

There were two levels to this.

One is the truly jokey side. Hisotircally prone to dressing up in costumes when delivering initiative petitions to the Secretary of State's office (is there some comment here on Eyman's psyche?), Eyman turned himself into Darth Vader as he walked up to the office. His organization had let out that he would be carrying petition signatures with him. He was - but he wasn't turning them in. The petitions he was carrying had to do with the $30 car tab issue, and the reporters who glommed on to him and gave him loads of air time and print space had been gulled into thinking (Eyman hadn't said so specifically) that he would be bringing petitions on an anti-gay rights initiative. No, they weren't (and evidently he doesn't yet know whether he'll be able to collect enough signatures for that effort).

No, it was all in the interest of getting himself and his cause another day's worth of free news media attention.

Fair enough, from his point of view.

So, on the second level: How many more times will the news media allow itself to be conned, and used, this way?

UPDATE: We wrote too soon on suggesting that Eyman's ploy was harmless. Consider this from David Postman's Seattle Times blog:

"The secretary of state's office had brought in two temporary workers in anticipation of processing petitions a day before the referendum deadline. Those workers were then sent home, though by state work rules, each were paid for two hours of work. A third worker was taken from other chores to stand by for the petitions that Eyman told the office he was bringing down." So much for the advocate of cutting government spending.

An important question

Of the three northwest states, concern about property taxes has hit hardest, though because sales prices on property are running so high in all three (and nationally), this is not a debate likely to remain there.

There's a deceptive element to this: Housing prices are not the only reason for the tax hikes. If local government spending levels increase only modestly at a time when housing prices are booming, then the actual tax amounts would not increase greatly because the tax rates assessed would drop. The taxes assessed are running hotter in parts of Idaho, though, not just because valuations are up, but also because of growth. In places like central and west Kootenai County, western Ada County and eastern Canyon County, growth has been so hyperbolic that costs - which as a matter of course, nationwide, tend to rise in times of fast growth - have been driven up along with housing prices.

This is painful, and you can understand the concern of the people who live in those areas (and it is those areas which have most been driving the property tax revolt in Idaho). Adjustment in that tax structure probably is needed, and may be gotten through a special legislative session. (Maybe.)

But as this course is pondered, public officials and taxpayers both would be well advised to bear in mind the consequences of an economy now held afloat largely on the basis of inflated, and likely unsustainable, housing prices. Which makes a question posed by state Senator Brad Little, R-Emmett, to his fellow senators, maybe the most pertinent question of the moment in Idaho and beyond:

"We must ask the question — what if the real-estate market slows or stops?"

Choice and responsibility

Two issues are prompted by the
Thursday proposal
by the Washington Board of Pharmacy which would allow local pharmacists to decide not to fill birth control or some other prescriptions.

One is this: What sort of business is a pharmacy: A retail store-type business, or a public service-type business?

The new rule proposal suggests the retail store analogy.

Consider a supermarket. Such a store carries thousands of items, a wide range of foods and other goods, but all of that is only a fraction of what it could in theory stock. It could, possibly, stock hundreds of additional foods, thousands of additional brands and companies. The choices are endless. But the store makes them, based largely, presumably, on what people want to buy, but maybe too on profit margins or bulk deals, or maybe in some cases even the biases of the owner or manager. It's up to the store. We can impact their choices as customers, but that's about it. You can extend the analogy to many other businesses, even to the newspaper which runs some stories and leaves others out.

That's one model for the pharmacy: A store in which the owner can decide what to stock and what not.

That seems to be the framework contemplated by the proposal offered by the board - but seems is as much as we can say, since the language in the actual proposed rule is so vague. The major and key section of the planned change reads this way: (more…)

The geography of protest

Port of Olympia bannerOn the matter of military, the Puget Sound area is a peculiarity. Parts of it are home to big military bases (at Fort Lewis, Bremerton and others) and are strongly pro-military. Other parts of it was strongly pacifist. (The split very much carries over into politics too.) The peculiarity is in how seldom the two have smashed up against each other.

The biggest reason, it seems, is geography: The two sides of the Puget occupy different, even if adjoining, pieces of turf. Which helps explain the emotional explosion at Olympia this week.

You don't see much by way of anti-war protests over at Bremerton, a major Nevy center. Nor much on the south side of Tacoma, where Fort Lewis is located - and a lot of troops have shipped out from Fort Lewis to Iraq. On the other hand, you don't see a lot of military presence in central Seattle, where a lot of anti-war feeling in the region is based. Or in Olympia, where Evergreen State College has been an anchor for anti-war passion in the area.

That is, until recently. A couple of years back, the commissioners setting policy for the Port of Olympia decided to accept military shipments - to and from the port - which they hadn't until then for about a decade. For most yers past, the military has relied on the Port of Tacoma for its shipping, and it still does, but volume going in and out of the area has increased. And from a scheduling standpoint, there's sense in having two ports available rather than one.

And so, when the military have shown up at the port in the last couple of weeks, so have Olympia's anti-war protesters. The emotional levels have gotten ratcheted up, and pepper spray has been deployed. The results aren't wonderful news for anyone involved.

But they do raise a question for the protesters. Why are shipments from the Port of Tacoma, 30 miles away, okay, but much smaller shipments at Olympia are not? Does one set of rules apply for one's hometown, and another for the city down the road?

Evidently, since that could explain why the Puget Sound hasn't experienced more collisions up to now.