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Posts published in September 2009

On end of life

Check out the fine New York Times blog post by writer Timothy Egan, telling the story of Annabel and Albert Kitzhaber - parents of former and possibly future governor John - and how they chose to die: Peacefully at home, with family, rather than "the tubes and the needles, the meds and smells and the squawk of television" at a hospital.

Egan pauses in wonderment at how, "for reasons both cynical and clinical, the American political debate on health care treats end-of-life care like a contagion — an unspeakable one at that."

The article is a thoughtful read, but check out too the comments below (and a lot of them have accumulated). The very first tells a story somewhat like the Kitzhabers. The third suggests, "This is a touching story, but I fear that Kitzhaber’s battle is an uphill one. For some reason, we Americans seem utterly incapable of conducting rational, mature, and nuanced discussions about issues such as the right to die. The adults always seem to get crowded out by the red-faced moral absolutists and the carnival crowd."

NW . . .

Traffic fatalities in Washington lowest (in raw numbers) since 1955 . . . A driver-texting ban may happen in Idaho. From Kevin Richert's blog: "Boise Democratic state Sen. Les Bock is taking another run at the texting ban; a similar bill stalled earlier this year. He has some key allies: Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell; and House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. Wood's support, touted by Idaho Democrats last week, isn't just laudable. It's shocking. Her history on safe-driving legislation, frankly, has been awful." . . . From a Mount Vernon (WA) Herald newspaper editorial: Mayor Bud Norris, re his key to the city to be offered to cable talker Glenn Beck, "recently mused that it would bring some attention to Mount Vernon if he could bring the city’s famous (some say “infamous”) son here. Well, unfortunately, mission accomplished." . . . New Oregon legislator: "Oregon House Democrats welcome Val Hoyle to the House of Representatives after she was unanimously chosen by Lane County Commissioners to succeed former Rep. Chris Edwards in Lane County’s District 14 representing West Eugene, Santa Clara and Junction City. Edwards is now a State Senator who was recently chosen to replace former Senator Vicki Walker." (from emailed press release) . . . And another newbie: "Margaret Doherty as Oregon’s newest State Representative. Doherty was unanimously chosen by county commissioners in both Washington and Multnomah counties on Monday to replace Larry Galizio in Oregon’s House District 35." . . .

Replacing commercials

The tools for bypassing political TV commercials - the price hogs of campaigns - are in place on the web: Web video is inexpensive and easily goes viral. But wait, there's more: Now there are web videos that provide excellent rundowns for voters trying to decide what to do about candidates and ballot issues.

We're taken with a new project the Washington Secretary of State and TVW (Washington's C-SPAN) has started, with the useful example of an I-1033 point-counterpoint.

This one, running about 10 minutes, pits initiative backer Tim Eyman against Washington state AARP Director Doug Shadel; after a brief description of the measure - which seeks to cap government spending in the state - each has about four minutes to pitch the case for or against. Both of them get down to the heart of the matter, and you can imagine either of them delivering a somewhat similar argument if you bumped into them on the street.

But this is better: Both Eyman and Shadel know that their opposition will be seen right there, right next to them, so that anything they say that can be challenged, will be challenged. They have enough time to get into the details, to make a comprehensive argument rather than reel off a few soundbites - in fact, because of the time allowed, they effectively have to make comprehensive arguments. Both do a professional job. (As a matter of review, Eyman may come across better to a larger audience; he has a real everyman appeal on video.)

These kind of videos, which could be attached to state campaign guides like those Washington and Oregon issue, could be excellent helps for voters. They're all a candidate or an issue advocate need to make a personal appeal. And they may begin to make clear the limitations and flaws inherent in all those 30-second commercials we're accustomed to seeing.

The DUI ban

Great article in the Seattle Times about the combination of (a) Canada's strict (stricter than in the United States) enforcement of DUI laws, coupled with the use of shared US-Canada criminal databases at border crossings. You get this at the end of a ferry ride from Washington state to Vancouver Island:

"During the May-to-September peak tourist season, four to five passengers a week are turned back by Canadian border agents at the Victoria dock. . . . 'We have witnessed firsthand people who haven't told their partner that at some point in their life they had a DUI. The first the wife learned about it was when the husband was denied entry.'"

So you can only imagine what will happen when high season at the upcoming Vancouver Olympics arrives.

The word from Packwood

Every so often, someone wonders what Robert Packwood - the former Oregon senator who resigned in 1995 ahead of possible expulsion over sex harassment charges - is up to, and what he might think of politics today.

The question is worth asking, because among the other things he was, Packwood was a brilliant political strategist and (like the more often-noted Mark Hatfield) overall a centrist Republican in a day when the party would nominate them.

Willamette Week caught up with Packwood, who spends part of his time in a suburb south of Portland, and has up an interview with him. Recommended reading.

One quote. Asked about the condition now of the Oregon Republican Party, which hasn't won a statewide race since 2002: "The nice thing about political parties is that eventually they like to win. So, sooner or later, either the party changes so that it can win, or it disappears."

Nope, Smith’s not running for governor

There's been some chatter that Gordon Smith, who was the Republican senator from Oregon until he was defeated last year for re-election, might try a comeback in a run for governor.

Not gonna happen: He has just been named president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters.

You can figure, for one thing, that naming a former senator (who doesn't have any specific professional background in broadcasting) to that job has a lot to do with congressional action.

Thoughts after a DMV visit

From Linda Watkins, after a visit to the Division of Motor Vehicles . . .

I used to work for state government. I worked in a couple of departments as well as for one statewide elected official. I am not one of those people who believes that all government workers are stupid, lazy, or just putting in their time until they can retire and take advantage of the public retirement system. I also do believe that there are good reasons for some government regulations and requirements. I'm not one of these folks who thinks we're sinking into a socialist morass, nor that we need to "get government out of our lives."

In other words, when I walk into a government office, I enter with the assumption that these are nice people who are doing a necessary, if sometimes difficult job and in these days of economic shortage, doing it under a great deal of stress and pressure. Which makes my experience the last two days with the Oregon DMV all the more unnerving.

The whole thing started last Saturday when my purse was stolen from my closed, locked car in the middle of the day in a busy parking lot in a Northern California city park. Of course my driver's license and ATM cards were not recovered. I've spent the last six days reconstructing my life, to include police reports, bank account closings and openings, insurance claims, car repairs, and of course replacing that Rosetta Stone of modern day life: my driver's license. (more…)

A shout from the past

Three decades ago, when I was covering politics in eastern Idaho for the newspaper at Pocatello, the most conservative of the local Republicans (a few office holders, and a few additional candidates, and all or nearly all Mormon in faith - that being the other characteristic they had in common) were members of the John Birch Society and other groups toward the right edge, and cheerfully offered to share their favorite readings and authors. Probably no author was then in stronger circulation in this group, in the very conservative LDS community in the Intermountain area, than Cleon Skousen.

Skousen has been, for me, a true name from the past; I've not heard it for a long time, and since he died in January 2006, has seemed unlikely to resurface. But he has. The TV talker Glenn Beck (scheduled to appear at a rally in Seattle on Saturday) has led a Skousen resurgence, pushing hard on air and at appearances an old Skousen book (The 5,000 Year Leap, for which he wrote a foreword and which he called "divinely inspired") and a number of his ideas. Skousen may have been the biggest single influence on Beck; which, once you know something about Skousen, explains a great deal. The line from the most-conservative LDS group of the 60s and 70s (the church distanced itself from Skousne by the 80s) to Beck (an LDS church convert) looks direct and clear; know one, you know the other, except that Beck has a national megaphone.

Rather than run through the whole Skousen story, which includes a scattershot law enforcement meshing into more strident and conspiratorial outlooks, we'll suggest some reading of our own, a new piece in Salon by Alexander Zaitchik, "Meet the man who changed Glenn Beck's life." It'll give you most of the background you need to understand how the the strangest public figure with a real (if misguided) following got to where he is. Call it a cautionary tale.

A piece of Zaitchick's description: "'Leap,' first published in 1981, is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by the French and English philosophers. 'Leap' argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment."

Kitzhaber’s roster

The list of endorsers today for John Kitzhaber, in his bid for a third term as Oregon governor, was pretty long - a large slice of the Democratic legislative contingent, three other state officials, and some former major office holders - enough to provide some more real demonstration that he clearly is the front-runner.

His expected rival, former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (appointed to that position by Kitzhaber, and expected to announce for governor within days) did pick up one from former Governor Barbara Roberts. But the Kitzhaber collection is looking like a juggernaut. Already.