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Posts published in July 2010

Death panels again?

Question - Might it be possible now, a year later, to have a sane discussion about end of life care and possible help in planning for it, without degenerating into "death panels" lunacy?

That stuff was actually believed by a lot of people. At a congressional town hall meeting last year, we stood next in line next to an elderly couple genuinely terrified to the point of tears that one of them might be swept up by a federal death squad that had ruled them unworthy of living. Exposed to some actual legitimate information over the next couple of hours, they seemed to feel a lot better by the time they left - no thanks to the lying politicians and cable news geeks who so frightened them in the first place.

In any event, Representative Earl Blumenauer is trying again.

Blumenauer reports the "introduction of bipartisan legislation that would provide a Medicare and Medicaid benefit for voluntary patient-physician consultations regarding advance care planning. These consultations will ensure that individuals’ values and goals for care are identified, understood, and respected." Yes, it was bipartisan, before demonization of the proposal became a widespread Republican talking point.

And, yes, we'll answer that opening question right here. At the Willamette Week report on the measure, scroll down into the comment section - got yer death panel discussion right here!

Rebuilding scale-up capacity

Not strictly a Northwest item, but connected in some ways, and important generally . . .

Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel - which is Oregon's largest private employer - has some tough words about what serious economic rebuilding in America will take. Writing in Bloomberg, he writes about why the traditional American approach of simply growing new, small, innovative businesses is hitting a wall as a serious economic re-igniter.

Startups are still starting up, he said, and that's fine. The glitch is in what happens after that: "Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter. The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs."

What happened? "American companies discovered they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done cheaper overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering. Today, manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is about 166,000 - lower than it was before the first personal computer, the MITS Altair 2800, was assembled in 1975. Meanwhile, a very effective computer-manufacturing industry has emerged in Asia, employing about 1.5 million workers - factory employees, engineers and managers."

Leading to: "You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work - and much of the profits - remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work - and masses of unemployed?"

What to do now? Groves offer one idea: "The first task is to rebuild our industrial commons. We should develop a system of financial incentives: Levy an extra tax on the product of offshored labor. (If the result is a trade war, treat it like other wars -- fight to win.) Keep that money separate. Deposit it in the coffers of what we might call the Scaling Bank of the U.S. and make these sums available to companies that will scale their American operations." There may be other approaches too.

As an Oregonian blog post on this notes, Groves' comments have generated a lot of commentary pro and con. But from here, they seem sound, something our political people ought to be addressing. Sooner rather than later.

This week in the Digests

digest
weekly Digest

Some hot political activities hitting around the Northwest, as ballot issue deadlines arrive at the Oregon and Washington secretary of state's offices, and a committee of the Idaho House begins and inquiry and discussion of a fellow member who has gotten crosswise with the taxman.

There was plenty of discussion of state budgets too, and the probably that Congress won't be sending much more money in the direction of the states - though reports about the effects of stimulus funds continued to circulate too. And Idaho reported a small decline in unemployment.

As a reminder: We're now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests - for Idaho, Washington and Oregon - moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what's happening. And we're taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That's $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 - in printed book form - and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you'd like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here's a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you'd like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

What will it take?

The polling, for whatever it may be worth, in the Oregon gubernatorial race has shown a close contest between Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley. If that feels a little suspect, and it does, part of the reason is the regional breakdown: We're seeing Dudley getting competitive poll numbers, in the 40-percent range and above, in places like Multnomah County - which has been super-solid Democratic - and Lane County - which has been landslide territory for Democrats too. (Multnomah results in 2008 for Barack Obama 76.7%, 2008 for Jeff Merkley 68.9%, in 2006 for Ted Kulongoski 68.4%.)

A massive sea change making Multnomah somewhere near competitive isn't beyond imaging, but has to seem unlikely.

That's part of the backdrop for an Oregon Catalyst post called, "Can a Republican win in Oregon?" The end of the post asks two questions, one on whether - in the opinion of commenters on the Republican-oriented site - Dudley's campaign has been substantive enough, and the other: "What's it going to take to get the votes needed in Lane County and Multnomah County?"

The discussion following is well worth the review.

One commenter: "72% of the registered voters in Lane and Multnomah Counties are Democrat. Dudley must surely know his message must resonate here but I've heard nothing that's likely to swing these counties his way. I'm not even sure what the message to blue counties should be. I don't think fiscal prudence alone is going to cut it. Emphasis on jobs may work if the unemployment rate is high enough. Specificity and believability of any message will be critical."

Mortgage stats

mortgage delinquent
Mortgage delinquency rates/Fed of NY

The yellow counties on this map are uncounted: They are among the smallest 10% of counties in the country, and trying to reasonably gauge how they fit into the rates for delinquent mortgages is too difficult, since a single case or two could drastically throw off the percentages.

Still, the map, developed by the Federal Reserve of New York, has a lot of useful stories to tell. Note how the rates run highest among many of the highest-growth counties in the last decade. In Oregon, the Bend area accounts for many of the highest rates. In Idaho, Canyon, Teton and Valley were among them. In Washington, Snohomish, Pierce and Clark (but not so much King).

But what's Bear Lake County doing here? Or maybe there's something going on in Bear Lake . . .

Huzzah!

We need to hear a lot more like this; in this case, the word came from an editorial column by Ryan Blethen in the Seattle Times:

"The poisonous political atmosphere and the terrible economy has exposed our nation's lack of civic understanding. Nowhere is that more apparent than in endorsement meetings with candidates for the primary. There are a lot of angry people showing up who really do not understand our system. I have been shocked by how unprepared some candidates have been and the shallowness of their answers to our questions. Couple this perverting of our forefathers' intent with the sad state of civic knowledge and the future of the United States is bleak."

Not least, you assume from the structure of the column, among those who most routinely invoke the Founders: "I am not going to try and extrapolate how the Founders would feel about their intent being used to prop up modern-day arguments. I can't because I have no clue what they would think. Not as a group, and not as individuals. The world is a different place than it was in the later half of the 18th century. What might have made sense then could look very different in 2010. I will only venture to guess that their opinions would be as diverse as ours are today. When I hear the Founders' argument, I roll my eyes and wonder how much those people really know about our nation's history."

Blethen's column was basically a call for better civics education, and we need that - badly. Consider this a call for others, too, to take up the cause.

PI endorsements

It's uncommon for web-only politically-interested outlets to do political endorsements. Some are party-leaning or -oriented enough that explicit endorsements would seem to be beside the point. Others try to maintain some distance from the parties, and endorsements wouldn't help much there.

The online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer, though, said today it does plan to make endorsements in the November general election. (Not, it says, in the primary election.) That will mark something of a change for the P-I, since so far as we can tell, it doesn't run editorials, though it runs no lack of columnists, letters and the David Horsey cartoons.

The Code of Deseret Media, and KTTH

Under orders from Deseret Media chief executive Mark Willes, Deseret Media Companies of Salt Lake City has adopted a mission statement which, from word circulating, is intended to be not put in a back cabinet but actually lived up to. Its provisions include this: "I promote integrity, civility, morality, and respect for all people."

Why is this significant? Lots of companies and other organizations would (and many do) include statements that say much the same. But this is a company that owns talk radio stations, those bastions of fierce incivility and disrespect for so many people.

Desert, strictly, operates just one radio station in Salt Lake City (KSL), and a few other properties. But it is effectively owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as is the for-profit Deseret Management Corporation, which in turn owns Bonneville International Corporation. And Bonneville owns 26 radio staitons in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, St. Louis, and Cincinnati markets - and in Seattle, where it owns the talk stations KTTH and the two KIRO stations.

Strictly, Willes' order doesn't apply to Bonneville, though he's highly unlikely to have given it in contravention of church leadership. That suggests it may spill over to Bonneville too.

What might it mean? Salt Lake Tribune blogger Glen Warchol says it likely will mean that the conservative lineup of talkers at KSL might be in for a paring: "Deseret Media chief executive Mark Willes' new mission statement, some might call it a creed, includes pledges like: "I seek to lift, inspire, and help others find enduring happiness" and "I promote integrity, civility, morality, and respect for all people," and "I seek to instill light and knowledge in my work." As you can imagine, Sean Hannity, who is beloved by his listeners for saying things like, "I'll tell you who should be tortured and killed at Guantanamo - every filthy Democrat in the U.S. Congress," has a large problem in the civility-respect area."

So, what about KTTH and KIRO? Well, the Blatherwatch blog in writing about this, speculates "It may be why Michael Savage was quietly dumped from KTTH a few months ago."

KTTH also currently airs a hard-conservative lineup including Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh; their civility and respect meter rankings wouldn't rate much higher than Savage's. Could they - strong ratings draws though they are - be bounced next?

Blatherwatch is skeptical of that, and reasonably. Still, as it adds from Warchol's post, “However the Hannity issue comes out, it will be an acid test of values-over-profit for church-owned media.”