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Posts published in August 2009

Facing Facebook

Got an inquiry from a friend (in the conventional sense) about becoming a friend (in the specialized sense) with someone on Facebook. He and the other person have had political differences, but he got the invitation to be "friended." What to do?

Each to their own tastes. But - and yes, we here are on Facebook, and Twitter too among other things - the basic take here is that being someone's "friend" on Facebook is a little different than the traditional type. A friend on Facebook is someone you choose to keep in touch with, and may or may not be more than that. The question: But would I throttle back on my opinions if I know that so-and-so might see them? Response: If they're on line anywhere, they may be seen. A whole generation of politicians, among others, is about to learn that the hard way. (The rule here: Write nothing, post nothing, anywhere, that isn't essentially open to the world at large. You'll find your desire to keep it private is in inverse proportion to the likelihood of its emergence into unwanted hands.)

Facebook and Twitter do raise a variety of questions for certain categories of people. A question for bloggers and other writers (journalists included): To what extent is a Facebook post or a Twitter tweet "on the record" - quotable elsewhere? A point not yet really resolved.

The next blog post here will make use of Tweets someone else has posted. Probably, those tweets were intended to shared with the world at large. If not, we'll probably find out soon enough.

Via a Facebook post, a link to a pair of essays by two Idaho journalists, Kevin Richert and Marcia Franklin, on the ethical and journalistic issues of social communications. The main takeaway: There's a lot yet to be worked out.

Otter runs again

Not at all unexpected, in that there's a presumption that first-term governors will run again, and in that Otter has been raising money, campaign staff has been designated, people around him have been suggesting for a while now that he's going to run. All the indicators have pointed that way all along.

Still, after what he's been through the last three years, you have to wonder: Why?

Toward town halls

There hadn't been any certainty about it beforehand, but Oregon Representative David Wu has been getting generally good marks for his town hall performances (in McMinnville, much noted here, and comparably in Portland). And so are others.

Washington Representative Rick Larsen drew a very favorable editorial in the Seattle Times for his Everett event, before a crowd of 3,000: "So there is Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, gently, cautiously guiding his crowd through hours of discussion. The size of the audience, the decision to proceed, took fortitude. Larsen did what he had to do in a high-minded manner. The event at Memorial Stadium in Everett began with the singing of the national anthem. Get it? We are all Americans who love this country. Common ground. From there, Larsen deftly led the crowd, acknowledging arguments on all sides. By conceding all sides have a point, he neutralized some heat in the stadium."

Representative Brian Baird, who had bagged out on live events in favor of telephonic, has changed course and scheduled some live events.

These things help. The craziness can be defused. Sanity can prevail. And maybe will.

Trooper per capita

Just a few years ago one of the big issues in Oregon was the low number of state police on the roads - a number considered low per capita, and too spread out to provide realistic 24-hour service around the state. The concerns were real, and the legislature and governor have, in the last three years or so, increased the numbers of troopers. They are stiller lower than a level most Oregonians would like, but better than they were.

In Idaho, the number of state police hasn't been so big an issue. But maybe it will. From Betsy Russell's Spokesman-Review blog:

"Col. Jerry Russell, chief of the Idaho State Police, just presented stats to lawmakers in response to questions last month about the ISP’s staffing. When compared to the six surrounding states - Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Oregon - Idaho ranks dead last for its number of troopers per citizen, with 11,288 citizens for every state trooper. Washington’s at 8,874. When compared to states of similar size - New Mexico, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Nebraska and Maine - Idaho again ranks dead last, by a huge margin."

Palin presence

Seems worthy of comment when an Idaho congressional candidate is bringing in, in support, the father and father in law of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Difficult to say, though, exactly what.

The candidate is Vaughn Ward, who was the first Republican in the field for the 1st House seat now held by Democrat Walt Minnick. Is a Palin connection really an asset? If so, how much? And why?

The generic-sounding quote on Ward's site from the Alaska duo (Heath Palin did live in Idaho for a time back in the 50s and early 60s) raises an immediate question. The quote is, "Vaughn is a proven leader that will stand up for the people of Idaho," Palin and Heath said. "We are proud to stand behind Vaughn Ward's incredible record of public service." Ward's resume is certainly respectable, as an aide and a staffer and service in the military; but so far as his own web site indicates, this campaign is the first thing he's ever led. That no bar to running for office, but "proven leader" doesn't seem an applicable description.

We'll watch and see what comes next.

A few more town hall words

signs

At the Wu town hall

The man directly behind us in line at yesterday's McMinnville town hall meeting, held by Representative David Wu, was an 84-year-old retiree, attending with his wife. He was mad as hell (he'd surely agree with that description) and he knew what he planned to ask Wu if he got the chance. He told me, partly in rehearsal: "Is your federal death squad going to gas us, or shoot us in the head?"

He was totally serious. And deeply worried, which makes sense if you think that scenario is just around the bend. His wife, next to him, was using a walker: Would they be coming for her?

I told him that scenario was not true. It is a widely-disseminated lie based on a radical twisting of a relatively minor bill amendment proposed by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, having to do with payment for doctor consults. Death squads are not in the bill. No one is proposing them. And the Medicare he and his wife have been relying on would not change much at all.

Where he got his information originally was unclear, but as he absorbed some of the details, the tension and the anger drained away. Inside at the meeting, he turned out to be among those called on to ask a question. When he did, the basic subject was the same, but his question was calm and dispassionate: I've been hearing about seniors not getting care under this plan, or worse. What can you tell about that? Wu's response, in different words, was about the same as much. The man nodded, and sat down. He looked as if he felt a lot better.

There's an impulse to ask some of the people who talk about death squads and such: How is this even credible to you? Why is it even believable? But cable TV is powerful, and the widespread spread of lies is readily managed - is being managed. The path out from this morass comes not to isolation but from open conversation. The energy level of the relatively few un-civil people at the Wu meeting seemed to flag as the meeting went on and more people, and Wu, had their say.

In the context, the banner headline in today's Oregonian, "Hostile questions fill Wu's town hall," seems a little off-point. Not that there weren't hostile questions, statements, mumbles and grunts; there were. But by no means all the questions were hostile, many of the pro-Wu people didn't pick up ticket numbers to ask questions (many of those were there to listen, or maybe deny a seat to an anti-), and most of the people in the room (you could tell from the timing of applause and other factors) were in the reform group. Outside, there was a protest of sorts, but the crowd there too was mixed. There was no violence, and no one was blocked out.

Jeff Mapes' Oregonian story - keyed around the lead's "mostly hostile questions at a packed town hall Monday evening that brought a political circus" - was accurate but feels incomplete.

Incomplete in part because the context of the meeting, and standards for assessing it, are a little unusual.

By the norms of most town hall meetings, yes, this was highly unusual, and the level of criticism and hostility far higher than most. We've attended a bunch of town halls by members of Congress over the years, and seldom seen anything like this.

But that's not a realistic standard for comparison. Compare instead this one to the town hall explosions around the country, experienced by some legislators, who were shouted down, saw their meetings disrupted, people unable to talk other than in a yell - in other words, other recent town halls this year where the subject was health care and organizers got busy trying to raise the temperature. The McMinnville event, by comparison, was civil, and the points of view widely varied. (Did anyone make any note of the people inside and out carrying signs advocating for single-payer?)

Another comparison comes to mind: A Vancouver (WA) town hall meeting held a couple of years ago by Representative Brian Baird. That one was in a school auditorium, attended by more than 500 people, and the people there were almost entirely opposed to Baird's revised stay-awhile Iraq policy. You could tell from applause and other indicators that no more than a handful of people there were supportive of Baird (or the Bush Administration); the anger in the room was almost visible. Baird was much more on the hot seat, hearing his constituents saying their piece for about three hours, taking far more consistently furious questions in that Vancouver auditorium, than Wu in McMinnville.

There's an irony here. Baird, who has done more than 300 town halls in his district during his decade-plus in Congress, isn't doing them now because (he's quoted as saying) "there's a lynch mob mentality out there."

Maybe there is, to a degree. But Wu's McMinnville event demonstrated, more significantly, that the extreme aspects of the atmosphere can be controlled to the point that civility can be had. And it also showed, in the face of an 84-year-old constituent and many others besides him, the real value and usefulness of trying.

The Mac not-quite attack

wu in mac

Outside the Wu town hall, McMinnville/Stapilus

As the McMinnville town meeting by Representative David Wu broke up, one man in the front row flipped open his cell phone and delivered a call, apparently to his wife - it was a call of reassurance: "Well, it's over. No automatic weapons."

Not a bad summation, as these things go. After reports about disruptive congressional town halls around the country, with anti-health reform protesters shouting down congressmen and anyone else who disagreed with them, you can understand why so many nerves and such trepidation accompanied this one. Some congressmen have bagged out on public events, and some (Representative Brian Baird for one) have resorted to telephone-only halls. This event was Wu's first town hall of the break back in district (several more are scheduled to follow), and both sides in the health care debate were primed for action.

That may have helped defuse it.

The pro-reform side was alerted to the prospect of being swamps by the anti's, so they moved quickly. We were told both sides (a local Democratic group on one side, and a protest group led by a former county Republican chair on the other) wit with police and Wu officials, and ground rules set. An escalating set of pre-town hall events was loosely planned, but the situation developed this way: A line formed about four hours before the event outside the meeting room, and most of the early arrivals were pro-reform people.

From there, over four hours, the line and participation swelled to somewhere upwards of 700 people, certainly one of the larger political gatherings ever in Yamhill County. (A typical town hall by Senator Ron Wyden, by comparison, typically might draw 100 people, which under normal conditions is considered pretty good turnout.) The crowd appeared well split between sides, the pro-reform people probably in a majority but likely not by a lot. (more…)

A Utah prescription

utah

Utah Health Care Initiative

Several readers of the recent post here on health care and costs have pointed to a just-delivered speech at the Boise City Club by Utah physician Joe Jarvis, of the Utah Health Care Initiative. The speech is available online.

The speech is called "Too much market, not enough care," and Jarvis' points overlap greatly with those that have been made here. Have a listen. There's a lot of useful material here: "Medicine has once again become a business opportunity. Our body politics has become paralyzed by a market oriented health policy."

From the initiative's web site: "The conventional wisdom about health care is that we should fear socialized medicine (the name offered by those with a proprietary interest in the status quo health system for anything that might threaten their business model) and instead embrace market-based medicine (the notion that health care is a commodity and that unfettered market forces can improve health care delivery). The conventional framing of the health reform debate is bogus. The pretense of a market makes wasteful spending due to a combination of inefficient financing and poor quality care inevitable. What should be feared is not the 'socialization' of American health care. No one, not even the most liberal advocate, is proposing government owned and operated hospitals and clinics in the US. Instead, fear the effects of poor quality health care. The fifth leading cause of death in the US is preventable hospital associated injury. Fear the loss of needed revenues through corporate welfare paid by the taxpayer into the coffers of for-profit insurers and pharmaceutical firms. It is time to change the debate about American health system reform. Rather than worry about coverage, we need to focus on waste. Waste elimination is politically difficult, but essential if sustainable health system reform is ever to happen."

We're en route, just now, to a congressional town hall where the topic do jour is expected to be health care.

After effects

The triple homicide in the small eastern Oregon town Elgin, apparently a spinoff effect of the trade in methamphetamines, has brought a temporary spotlight back to the meth trade and what Oregon has been doing, or trying to do, about it. A couple of points of that light merit a little more attention.

In 2005 Oregon took a highly-publicized step in restricting purchases of many cold medicines, at least those that use pseudoephedrine, because it has been a key ingredient in meth production. The new law appears to have had a significant effect: The number of arrests for meth production in Oregon have dropped drastically (95 percent by one estimate). That would be the good news.

The bad news is that usage doesn't seem to have dropped. And beyond that, aspects of the trade are getting deadlier. From today's Oregonian perspective on the Elgin situation:

"The downside is addicts switched from locally made meth powder to an even more addictive and potent form from Mexico, Roberts said. And that process may have funneled more of the trade to the Hermiston 'pound' dealers. 'Are they making more money now?' Gibson, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking program director, asked rhetorically. 'Obviously there is a lot of money in the drug trade. The price is up.'"