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Posts published in December 2009

What was news

As we look back on the last decade (and year for that matter) on the diminishment of the news, we might see some opportunity ahead for redefinition of what news is. That thought arrives via the AP report out today about the top news stories of the year in Washington state.

These are, in other words, the biggest news, the most newsworthy, stories of the year across the state. (Every state, or nearly all at least, compile similar lists annually.)

Number one was the November shooting of four Lakewood police officers. This was a powerful, dramatic, wrenching story without doubt; it was properly big news. It was somewhat unusual in that the incident was an ambush of police who were not at the time even interacting with the public.

But did the world, or Washington state, or some big portion of it, change as a result? Did we learn anything very new? In this case, a psycho decided to kill police officers; most of us probably know that this is (sadly, certainly) a part of the world as it is.

Story 2 was voter approval of the "everything but marriage statute." That was a major change in the state, and marked a significant change in the cultural outlook nationally. Story 3 was the state's 9%+ unemployment - a huge new fact of life facing and affecting (directly or indirectly) all Washingtonians. Story 4 was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's closure as a print operation - a major turning point in communications, news reporting, politics and economics in the state. Story 5 was the Boeing decision to go to South Carolina for its new 787 production line, a development with large-scale implications for the Puget Sound.

So what is news? What are the priorities? Maybe, in this time of turmoil, we may want to pause a bit to consider.

Christmas for the dogs of Harney County


The dogs shipped/Linda Watkins

Crossposted from the Dog Rescue blog and written by Linda Watkins.

I've spent most of the last three days working on this project -- ironic as I'd planned to do no more than help with a little networking and "let someone else take the dogs." But such is the nature of rescue that instead I've been helping Harney County Save a Stray with networking contacts; spent most of one day drafting a press release and researching and gathering the names and contact addresses for the relevant newspapers and television stations; and even found some foster spaces for some of the dogs. What else could I do?

Melanie was single handedly trying to find placements for over 60 dogs - and the frustrating part was that most people thought everything was already taken care of so we were having a hard time finding the help. The problem stemmed from the great news coverage the Oregon Humane Society got when they pulled over 80 of the dogs when the case first broke. We're all grateful that OHS took so many dogs, but unfortunately in the course of publicizing their work, the impression was left with the public that all of the dogs were taken care of. Instead there are scores of dogs still at the site and if we can't get them moved soon, they will probably be shot. (more…)


Noting here a new Northwest public affairs site, Idaho Reporter, which we'll keep on our regular-check list. It says that it will be following Idaho government and politics, and has posted a number of news stories already.

So who is doing this? Its about page says this: "We provide non-partisan, non-biased, un-opinionated news and information about government actions and proposals for use by the general public, elected officials and the news media. does not endorse or voice support candidates or policies. is a product of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan education and policy research organization based in Boise, Idaho."

The key phrase here is, Idaho Freedom Foundation: Its base is not dispassionately neutral. Its main public face and prime writer (and one of its board members), Wayne Hoffman, is a former spokesman for conservative Republican Representative Bill Sali. Its board also includes Dan Symms of Caldwell - and of the same Symms family that produced former Senator Steve Symms - so you should be getting an idea of where the financing and impetus is coming from. You may consider the "non-partisan, non-biased, un-opinionated" aspects to be in the eye of the beholder.

Not to be dismissive, though. The foundation also has been developing a substantial database site called which tracks the details of government spending, and is turning into an excellent information resource. And the columns by Hoffman (who has been working on the database) frequently have been doing in fact something conservatives should be doing a lot more of (instead of the generic and tiresome moan about how awful government is): He's been mining into the details of government spending, writing seriously about the nuts and bolts, and going after the specifics of what doesn't make sense. (A recent favorite: The column "Salaries of many state department heads outpace inflation.")

This material is not politically neutral. It has an agenda. But it is facts-based, quite useful and worth the read. If Idaho Reporter matches those standards, we'll be reading it regularly for some time to come.

Beyond sleaze

Most of us don't begrudge banks making a profit - they're in business, that's what you do. But on day, if practices like this continue, there will be infuriated revolt against them:

The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions issued an emergency rule yesterday, providing stronger protection for consumers taking small loans. The rule went into effect immediately upon filing, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009.

“This rule is a result of our learning a consumer had been charged a $1,950 participation fee for a $600 loan,” DFI Director of Consumer Services Deb Bortner explained. “That’s the equivalent of more than 4,000 percent interest – it’s simply unconscionable to charge such outrageous fees.”

This emergency rule was made effective immediately in an effort to protect consumers and prevent lenders from circumventing the will of the legislature. DFI does, however, intend to begin a notice and negotiated rulemaking within 120 days from the filing of this emergency rulemaking. DFI may also seek a statutory remedy to this situation.

Qualifications for governor

When employers fill job positions, they ordinarily look for people who already have some relevant experience and education - who have in some respect qualifications for the job. That became a big subject of discussion in the race for president last year. It may become a big subject of discussion in the contests for governor in the two Northwest states where that office is up for election next year, since in both major party nominees may appear without the usual kind of resume items.

What are the normal credentials for a major candidate for governor? Often, service in a statewide office or in Congress. (That fits both incumbents, Idaho's C.L. "Butch" Otter, who had been in Congress and had been lieutenant governor, and Oregon's Ted Kulongoski, who had been attorney general and a Supreme Court justice.) Or a mayor of one of the largest cities in the state. Or, maybe, a prominent state legislator. Most major candidates - and most major party nominees - for governor have at least served in some elective office before, and that has a point: There are skills and dynamics unique to that kind of work that are central to the tougher work that a governor does. In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger came into the job with massive celebrity and popularity but was nearly swept out before he frantically shifted course dramatically.

In Idaho, the Democratic nominee appears (as matters now sit) to be avowed independent and first-time candidate Keith Allred.

For a first-time candidate, he has more advantages than most. Early reports on his announcement speeches suggest he has some genuine campaign skills. He appears to be well informed at least within certain areas (his advocacy non-profit, the Common Interest, has been able to choose its subject areas), but he seems to have the capacity to learn quickly and absorb conflicting arguments effectively, which would be a strong plus. He also has demonstrated, for half a decade and more, real interest and concern about Idaho public affairs, spending a good deal of time and energy and probably some money developing alternative approaches to issues. You'd have to be greatly surprised if it turned out (and some reporter ought to check it out) he had missed many votes in elections since his return to Idaho in 2003. (The point will doubtless be made that Allred lived the first 20 years of his adult life, after his graduation from Twin Falls High School in 1983, far from Idaho, mostly in Ivy League colleges and universities. How Idahoans will assess that may be up for grabs.)

He does, though, have a long-running interest in mediation and resolution of policy issues - that was the mainline of his academic-related work.

His semi-counterpart in Oregon, former NBA (Trail Blazers) basketball player Chris Dudley, a Republican who has already picked up support from a number of Republican elected officials, has a maybe a tougher case to make.

The prompt for this is a Jeff Mapes story in the Oregonian today noting that "Elections officials in Clackamas County, where he is registered to vote, said that Dudley has missed seven of the last 13 elections. County Clerk Sherry Hall said she did not have on hand complete records before 2004. But the 44-year-old Dudley admitted that he had a "terrible" record of voting during his 16-year career as a player in the National Basketball Association. He could not say whether he had ever voted during his playing years from 1987 until 2003."

Sound like someone with a long, deep commitment to public affairs?

There is more in Willamette Week, saying that while in the NBA he lived (in contrast to most Blazers) as a "tax refugee" north of the Columbia in Washington state (which has no income tax), but moved south when he built a $2.9 million home at Lake Oswego, and only registered to vote in 2004. His work experience, up to the last three years, has been almost exclusively in the sphere of basketball playing. And the diabetes foundation he is known for helping found (and which is widely praised for doing good work for kids with the disease) has had some tax reporting issues too.

On the liberal Blue Oregon blog, Kari Chisholm asks, "Having displayed very little interest in politics and public service, what makes Chris Dudley suddenly think he should be Governor? And what evidence is there that Oregonians can trust him to think deeply about the serious public policy questions that face our state?" That question can be expected to recur.

The white horse and the cherry tree

There's often some degree of religious tribalism in politics - the identification of some voters with some candidates because of a shared religious view; to some extent, that's just a normal part of elective politics. There are limits, even in places where the identification is very strong, to how far it can be pushed. In the 1994 gubernatorial race in Idaho, Democrat Larry EchoHawk (Mormon by faith) was thought to be damaged somewhat when links between his campaign and support out of Salt Lake City. The damage was not least among fellow Mormons who disliked having their church so overtly identified with a partisan political campaign.

But that was nothing to what an Idaho gubernatorial candidate this year has in mind. At least according to a news report in the Rexburg Standard Journal - there being no apparent reference to it on the candidate's own web site. . .

The candidate is independent Rex Rammell, who has made highly overt mention of his LDS faith before, and next month plans to kick it into a new gear. According to the Standard-Journal: "In January, Rammell will kick off a series of special meetings targeted specifically at 'faithful priesthood-holders of the LDS Church' to discuss the so-called 'White Horse' prophecy."

Meaning the meetings - though apparently campaign events held by a man seeking to be elected governor of all Idahoans - will be open only to men active in the church, because "it's just the sacred nature of the things we will be talking about." Starting January 19, meetings are planned for Idaho Falls first, then Rexburg, Blackfoot, Pocatello, Twin Falls and Boise.

This is something new, at least in recent times: A political campaign explicitly aimed at one religious group.

But this isn't just marketing segmentation; it's much more than that. The newspaper report indicates that a good share of the talk will relate to the "white horse prophecy," and that should raise some wider concerns.

You may have heard reference to it before, in the context of a prediction that the constitution one day would "hang by a thread." Here's the generally neutral Beliefnet description:

The White Horse prophecy is the name for a largely oral tradition that says Joseph Smith predicted that a day will come when the Constitution will hang by a thread (or “be on the brink of ruin”) and the elders of Israel (or “the Latter-day Saints,” never an individual) will step forward to save it from destruction. Although no definitive version of the “white horse prophecy” has been traced to Smith, a number of sources recorded him as saying something to that effect. The denunciation of the prophecy as false and ridiculous by a few Mormon leaders is probably a reflection of the prophecy’s non-canonical status, and their wish to rule out melodramatic interpretations of what may have been a largely metaphorical prediction.

Put that in the context of Rammell's gubernatorial campaign, its projected audience, the influence of Glenn Beck and the superheated rhetoric aimed at the Obama Administration. This ought to be watched closely.

The churched and the unchurched

One of the great dividing lines between the regions west and east of the Cascades is attitudes toward church and religion. Oregon and Washington have (largely on account of their west-of-Cascades population bases) for years been rated among the "least-churched" states in the country, and Idaho toward the other end.

A just-out Pew study suggests that both are moderating in those regards, albeit gently.

Among people who say that religion is very important in their lives, Idaho (at 58%) ranks 19th-highest among the states - not especially far above the median - while Washington (46%) ranks 36th and Oregon (48%) 40th. (Number 1 is Mississippi, at 82%, and the least is New Hampshire/Vermont at 36%. California is almost identical to Washington.)

There are some interesting variations. Utah ranks only 12th on the most-important scale (which seems low), but second in worship attendance. Idaho is 19th on imporance but 15th of regular worship attendance.

H/t to Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian for the alert on this.

No runaways

No one is running away with the campaign contributions in Oregon's race for governor. Beyond that, how you assess it depends on how you count the dollars. By number of contributions? In a fund also listed as in support of ballot issues? Or?

Here's how it stacks up as of the most recent reports at Orestar:

bullet John Kitzhaber (D) - raised $389,670, spent $93,571

bullet Chris Dudley (R) - raised $391,467, spent $75,609 (note that Dudley's committee, unlike the others, also has been specifically marked as opposing Referenda 66 and 67)

bullet Allen Alley (R) - raised $248,505, spent $199,808

bullet Bill Bradbury (D) - raised $178,803, spent $157,284

bullet Jerry Wilson (Progressive) - raised $4,500, spent $1,750

John Lim (Republican), who has said he is running, is not listed. Steve Shields (Democrat), who has opted out, is.

County fracture

Jackson County - the Medford area - says it is planning to quit the Association of Oregon Counties, which for many, many years has had as members all 36 in the state. (If recollection serves, its counterparts in Washington and Idaho have all counties as members.) Its annual dues are about $31,000.

Why is apt to be a complicated story and it will probably sound different in the telling by different people. The view from Medford turns up in an intriguing article in today's Mail Tribune, which suggests that a large part of it has to do with differences over legislative proposals.

More coming on this, probably.