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Posts published in August 2008

20 questions and Jim Risch

Liveblogging - through comments, or through site plugins that have gotten pretty nifty these days - would have been better than the simple one-on-one Q&A: More wide open is better.

But you take what you can get, and the 20 questions the Spokane Spokesman-Review's Dave Oliveria put to Idaho Lieutenant Governor (and Senate candidate) Jim Risch worked pretty well. if you've been seeing lots of material about the Idaho Senate race, and noting that the large majority of it has come from the camp of Democratic candidate Larry LaRocco, you might be interested in seeing something from the other side. (The LaRocco forces no doubt took plenty of interest.) The interview is in four pieces (here, here, here and

Suffers in a few place from lack of followup. The first question was about why, though Risch has agreed to four debates, he has passed on the most institutionalized, backed by the League of Women Voters. Risch's reply: "We're working on a fifth one. The debates we've agreed to - first of all you can't do all the debates. You get lots of invitations. You pick the ones that get most coverage around the state. We look for the ones with the best format for getting out our message. And it has nothing to do with whether or not Betsy Russell [a Spokesman-Review reporter] is on the panel." An interesting reply, but did it address the question?

There were noteworthy replies all over the place, though; we were especially drawn by the remark that Risch (or at least his campaign) may start blogging next month. (If he does, we'll be watching.) Risch's reputation as sharp, articulate and witty (which he's long had among Statehouse types) would gain considerably if he were more visible and outspoken on the campaign. The questions and their replies are well worth a review.

Quick note of this one. The LaRocco campaign has been saying that Risch, if elected, would likely be the most junior, or nearly so, senator in the minority party, putting him near the bottom in influence. Oliveria's question, essentially, was seeking a reply to that. Risch's response was to point out that if LaRocco were in the Senate along with conservative Republican Mike Crapo, "We'd have offsetting votes on all major issues to the point that Idaho wouldn't have representation in the U.S. Senate." Followup question: Would he and Oregon Senator Gordon Smith like to have a discussion on that topic? (Secondary followup: If LaRocco were to be elected this year, would that mean Idahoans ought to elect a Democrat to the Crapo seat in 2010 so they're voting the same way?)

From where you don’t expect

Delia Lopez

Delia Lopez

Get ready for a couple of reversals, as we check out a congressional candidate and the source of their concern - a piece of federal legislation.

The candidate is Delia Lopez, who has taken on the exceptionally difficult job of running as a Republican in Oregon's 3rd congressional district - most consists mostly of Portland and immediate areas, is everwhelmingly Democratic and is represented by a Democrat (Earl Blumenauer) who routinely wins re-elects in the high 60s or higher. Lopez has another problem, her residence: Oakland, a small town near Roseburg, and about three hours' drive time south of the 3rd district. (Her candidacy is quite legal: To run for the U.S. House, you have to live in the same state as the district but not necessarily within the district itself.)

All of which makes her an unusual candidate, but one more thing got our attention the other day, an e-mail noting her endorsement by the Oregon Consumer and Farmers Association. It describes itself as "an Oregon group leading the fight against NAIS, the National Animal Identification System." (In an e-mail to us, Lopez confirmed the endorsement.)

The NAIS is proposal of some import which probably has passed by a good many Americans. It is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and at its core has to do with tracking food and some other animals, especially those that may carry disease. From Wikipedia: "The National Animal Identification System covers most livestock species, including cattle, bison, deer, elk, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys, mules, goats, sheep, swine, all poultry species, and even some fish species, under the heading of aquaculture. Locations, or premises, where these animals are housed or otherwise handled will thus need to be identified, as this is the first component of NAIS. Afterward, the animals themselves will be identified, and, finally, they are to be tracked in their movements between the various premises. Once these three parts of NAIS are fully implemented, the ultimate goal of the program, traceback within 48 hours of a diseased animal's movements, will be possible. This traceback would enable animal health officials to identify all the animals and locations that have had direct contact with the animal and take appropriate measures to prevent the further spread of disease." The technology used for the tracking probably would involve microchips.

Support and opposition to the idea split along sometimes unexpected lines. A coalition of the largest agribusiness companies in the country (Monsanto and Cargill, for two good examples) are strong in favor and have been pushing it; the alliance there with the Bush Administration is clear. On the basis of ties and alliances, you'd expect a lot of national Republicans to go along with it. But there's also a substantial and apparently growing opposition, nationally well organized, and tied around a number of ideas ranging from big brotherism to concern about property rights, imposing bureaucracy on very small operators (even, some note, families that have just one animal in residence - say, a single pet chicken). There are even religious concerns.

The Oregon 3rd district is the second most urban district in the Northwest; not but a limited number of farms there. It would seem to be an unusual place for a discussion about NAIS. But maybe not. Farm issues properly concern urban people too, as any Oregonian who visits a farmer's market well knows. This could be an unexpected but appropriate venue for the discussion.

Supply, demand and manipulation

Maria Cantwell

Maria Cantwell at a gas station - 2006 (note the prices)

Most of us know that gas prices logically are going to go up over time, as supply is limited (even if more oil is pumped) and demand grows. But that's a matter separate from the issue of what gas prices shot up so very high in less than the last year. Nothing about either supply or demand changed all that drastically during that time, so why would prices change so much?

If you're thinking there's some cause for suspicion, you have good reason. If you're wondering whether there's some actual legal recourse potentially available, well, yes, there might be - if the powers that be were willing to use it.

The national spearhead on that might be Washington Senator Maria Cantwell:

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Robert McCullough of McCullough Research, a former investigator who exposed Enron’s market manipulation, released a new statistical analysis research report of oil futures and spot market prices. This report shows that the dramatic rise in oil prices in June, and the subsequent fall in price in July, can't be explained by any of the fundamentals of supply and demand. Instead, it could be a result of the trading strategies of major market players. Cantwell and McCullough said new data collection tools are needed so that federal agencies can identify the culprits and stop any market manipulation.

Cantwell plans to introduce legislation when Congress returns in September requiring the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Energy Information Administration (EIA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to implement new data collection tools.

"Mr. McCullough’s research clearly shows that oil prices are no longer tied to supply and demand,” said Cantwell. “Statistically, this research shows that prices are spiking absent of a crisis like a natural disaster or supply disruption. However, prices then fell when Congress began serious debate on how to crack down on those who may be trying to manipulate the markets. Research shows that traders may well be in control of the market, not supply and demand, and consumers have been left paying the price."

“There is evidence of a troubling concentration of ownership in the oil markets,” said McCullough. “This allows a few players to have undue influence on setting prices. However, the regulators are driving blind through this crisis since they are collecting such little information that reveals who is doing what in the market."

Tax dynamic changer

The detailed complaint by Idaho Tax Commission auditor Stan Howland has till now been a statement by one whistleblower against the agency at large - with refutations coming from the commission, others in it employ, and partial disses from other places (an attorney general's report indicating there was no illegality on the commission's part).

Now Howland has some support. Betsy Russell's blog is posting a letter from five Idaho multistate tax auditors (Paul R. Chugg, CPA; Terry Harvey, CPA; Steve Fields; Steve McCollum; Joanne Quinno). They land solidly on Howland's side, saying "only very superficial and biased reviews have been conducted. It is alarming and disturbing that the elected and appointed officials who serve the taxpayers of Idaho have not taken seriously Mr. Howland’s complaints. For these reason we respectfully request that the Governor and the Legislature immediately launch a thorough independent investigation."

This could change the dynamic.

After the paper

After a community's newspaper is shut down, what's the community to do? Here, another effort to set up a community web site - a blog, mainly - to help take the place.

We wrote a while back about the effort in Orting, Washington, after the weekly newspaper there was shuttered - the on-line Orting News, which includes a mix of hard news, features, business reports and more, with a fair number of ads in support.

After our post about the shutdown of a number of papers (four weeklies among them) recently in Idaho's Magic Valley, a reader advised us to take "a look at what Marsha Hiatt took upon herself to do after the Journal was closed down" in the small community of Shoshone. We'll pass along the advice.

The Lincoln County Chatter blog - it is mainly blog - is so far less ad-developed than the Orting site, but its sense of purpose is just as solid: A mix of news (a substantial story on the county budget, for example), features, light community discussion and more, ith several ads cropping up. Hiatt was the editor of the Lincoln County Journal when it was closed, and since then, she told us, she has continued much of the work of a weekly paper onto the new site.

Hiatt said she'd still like to see a local (print) paper at Shoshone, and has some optimism that, managed right, it might work. In any event, she's carrying on the effort now on line. We'll be checking in there, as we have at Orting, to see how it progresses. All those communities out there left behind by newspapers are going to need journalism coming from somewhere, and these examples are worth a close look as we all search for answers.

The Kempthorne papers

The governors of Idaho have long been prompt about making their gubernatorial papers available for the historical record. Idaho's most recent ex-governor, Jim Risch, turned over his papers right away - no fussing and no excuses for delay. But his predecessor, Dirk Kempthorne, has yet to do that, and for a while was talking about keeping them sealed for 25 years before the public (for whom he worked, which paid for the development of those records) could see them.

What could be in them to justify all that?

Maybe we'll start to get some answers this fall. News today is that Kempthorne now is working out arrangement for transfer of the records to the Idaho Historical Society, which would be a good custodian.

Some assessment and organization time will be needed before they're all released. Here's hoping that's a lot less than 25 years, and hopefully less time than since Kempthorne left office (about two years ago).

The importance of Pierce

From time to time, we've suggested that Pierce County, because of the relatively close partisan split there and the substantial number of swing voters, is one of the political keys to Washington (much as Washington County is in Oregon).

There's a useful piece on just this today in the Tacoma News Tribune, pointing out how both main gubernatorial candidates have been visiting Pierce with a vengeance:

"In the span of a few days in July, [Democratic Governor Chris] Gregoire launched a Puget Sound boat tour in Tacoma, greeted Washington National Guard soldiers returning from Iraq, addressed teachers at a Tacoma convention and broke ground on a pedestrian overpass at Chambers Creek Properties in University Place. [Republican challenger Dino] Rossi visited the area four times in June, then returned for a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Puyallup last month. He kicked off August with a Lakewood fundraiser on Friday."

ID: Papers going away

The city of Burley, which has had a daily newspaper for somewhere around a century and at least one local paper longer than that, will not for much longer. The South Idaho Press will publish for the last time on August 16.

In Jerome, the North Side News, the latest in a series of Jerome paper stretching way back, will publish its last edition on August 14. The Gooding County Leader, with a similarly long history, will come to an end on the same day.

We make a point here of putting it this way specifically because the Twin Falls Times News leads its story on the changes this way: "South-central Idaho will have a new, expanded newspaper consolidating all features of the Times-News, the South Idaho Press and weekly newspapers in the region . . ." The point of view, in other words, of a corporation trying to pitch the sale to subscribers.

Not that an argument against what Lee Enterprises, which owns all of these papers (at Twin Falls, Burley, Gooding and Jerome - and previously the papers at Rupert and Shoshone shut down earlier this year), is doing would be especially easy to make. At least from a business standpoint. These are tough newspaper times. The circulation at Jerome and Gooding, according to the Times News, was only about 600 each - very difficult to sustain. Is there a reasonable journalistic argument for folding what was a year ago two daily and four weekly newspapers into just one daily? In terms of resource allocation, sure, you can make the case. It may be that, as a practical business matter, it was unavoidable.

The abrupt loss of so many editorial voices, which not so many years ago were operated by various owners who liked to say all sorts of different things, is nonetheless a tragedy. No matter how new, expanded and consolidated, or even improved, the Times News may turn out to be.

The legitimate, and the hatemongers

The ever-shifting field if political communications could give the fits to a student of advanced geometry, but one comment about it this week calls out for a little review.

The comment grew out of reaction to a video posted on 43rd State Blues, a Democratic-supporting group blog; it showed Lieutenant Governor (and Republican Senate nominee) Jim Risch speaking, with his voice speeded up to a whine, and with a dunce hat added. (We don't note it on every Senate-related post but will here: Your scribe worked on the 2002 campaign of a candidate who ran against Risch.)

We couldn't find Risch's personal comments, but his son Jason (who works on the Senate campaign) offered this by way of explanation to Idaho Statesman blogger Kevin Richert: "(Jim Risch) draws a very distinct line between legitimate media and the bloggers that are left-wing hatemongers . . . The blogging done by legitimate media sources are not in the same category as the left-wing hatemongers. He considers the legitimate media, legitimate — regardless of the medium used to convey news."

What we'll note here is the dichotomy: Legitimate media and "left-wing hatemongers" with "a very distinct line between." That distinct line suggests that you're on one side of the divide or on the other. Trying to work out who falls where could make for quite a parlor game. We consider Ridenbaugh Press, for example, entirely legitimate and not in the business of hatemongering. Is the legitimate media legitimized by operating in a pre-Internet medium? By large-scale corporate ownership, as most newspapers and television and radio stations now are? Or something else? Or do some blogs (other than those under the aegis of "legitimate media sources") qualify?

What would the Risches make of Adam Graham, a conservative Republican who has been a counterpart to 43rd State Blues and its allies? He is a partisan on the right much as those others are on the left; using the Risch standards, would a Democrat have grounds for calling Graham a hatemonger? (And no, we would not call that reasonable, for the same reasons we think the term is ill-applied to all but a very few places on the left.)

The problem with such simple dichotomies, when you talk about political communications these days, is that it's not an either-or, not jut this or that, but a whole range, a spectrum. Even among the liberal or conservative blogs - those explicitly so - you'll find a wide range of efforts, some focused to a degree on news and breaking information, others focusing on putting ideas and opinion into the mix. And others heading into altogether different directions.

It's getting complex out there.

CLARIFICATION Received this from one of the bloggers that started the whole discussion: "The voice wasn't speeded up, it was pitched up. Also, it's not a dunce hat, it's a gnome's cap. As in, Angry Gnome Risch."