Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in July 2012

Endorsements, WA

Most entertaining endorsement sheet of the day, from the Seattle Stranger (and its blog the Slog).

Considering who they are, there's not much surprising here. (You didn't think they'd endorse McKenna over Inslee?) But an entertaining read, even by alt standards.

The sanctimonious media

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Having been in and around the news media for over 40 years as a reporter, political columnist, Washington D.C. correspondent, press secretary, a cabinet agency director of a public affairs office; and, a consultant on communications strategy (critics call it spinmeistering), one would think I might be more tolerant of the media’s shortcomings.

But I’m not.

The critical role the media should play in public discourse is increasingly absent. There are fewer and fewer reporters who really do their homework, read voraciously, or even read their own publications. Objectivity is being lost in a sea of subjectivity and the Republic is suffering mightily.

Despite claims to the contrary, journalism is a craft and an art form. It is not a science and profession subject to professional guidelines and scientific criteria. I once was invited to speak to the Jay Rockey Public Relations Society at Washington State University. (Full disclosure: I once had the privilege and pleasure of working for Jay Rockey in Seattle. A pioneer in the public relations business and a true gentleman, my criticism is not directed at him.)

I started my presentation by saying all those there were making a mistake to major as undergraduates in areas like journalism, public relations, television and radio communications, marketing, etc. These are professional endeavors, or claim to be, and in my view belong in graduate school.

Rather, they should be majoring in a liberal art like history or English literature where they could get grounded in the humanities necessary to help make some sense out of the world’s chaos; that a liberal art could teach them how to think, analyze and communicate critically. The sense of history and literature would provide a needed and necessary perspective.

Needless to say, I wasn’t invited back. (more…)

News sources

Back in the 19th century, most political journalism was overtly partisan - newspapers specifically called themselves Republican or Democratic (less often, independent), aligning themselves with one of the parties in news coverage as well as editorial comment. In the 20th century, as the number of newspapers shrank and the business model called for reaching most of the population - to pull in broad-based advertising - political reporting changed, recast in ways that would (or at least was intended to) more fairly represent the news and views of both parties. "Objective" would not be the right word for it, but done well, it could be a generally fair and neutral reportage.

Are we moving back away from that, toward more overtly partisan coverage - two sets of coverage, two sets of reality, one each to match your inclinations?

A new article on AlterNet highlights the Idaho Reporter, a web-based news organization tightly linked to conservative groups (and specifically a subsidiary of one Idaho lobbying group). The article, by Joe Strupp, goes into the background and associations of the site and the way it is part of a growing development of ideologically-based news coverage. Such groups are a growing force in statehouses around the country; conservative news agencies associated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity have been expanding rapidly around the country.

Meanwhile, as the article noted, "A 2009 American Journalism Review study found that 355 newspaper reporters and editors were covering state capitols full time, a 30 percent decrease at the time from 524 in 2003." The decrease may be even larger than that in the Northwest's statehouses. Will ideological coverage reach a point where it starts to drown out conventional nonpartisan coverage?

The Idaho Reporter (and its parent, the Idaho Freedom Foundation) may take issue with the description of its product as ideologically-driven, but its website describes it specifically as "your source for uniquely watchdog and free-market oriented coverage." That's a fair enough indicator for what they're about. But what do the benefactors of this widespread, national effort expect will be the result? And what other ideological perspectives will get the money to launch effort to promote any other ideas - or does it matter if, down the road, the only one we get is this one?

“Good guy” or “bad guy”

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

The other day, someone said to me “The 2012 national election is going to see a housecleaning in Washington. We’re going to put a bunch of those freeloaders and nuts out of work!” I nodded and changed the subject. That was preferable to starting an argument.
Ain’t gonna happen. Not now. Not ever. Under our current system of voting, it’s just flat not gonna happen!

Sometime ago, I used this space to describe the “good guy-bad guy” syndrome and the effect it has keeping incumbents – no matter how looney or undeserving – in our national congress. Now, the Gallup polling organization has reaffirmed that theory in spades! Again.

The latest finding is the anti-incumbent attitude among likely voters is the highest it’s been in 19 years. That time period is important for purposes of comparison because, 19 years ago, there was a Republican wave that put the GOP in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years and sat ol’ Newt in the Speaker’s chair. From which he was subsequently forced to resign by his own party for numerous ethical and legal violations. But that’s several other stories for several another times.

Gallup’s latest sampling of voters found 76% – 76% – believe most members of congress deserve to be fired. Posthaste. That’s the highest point of dissatisfaction since – wait for it – 19 years ago. As for the 20% who’d keep the same bunch, that’s the lowest percentage since – you know.

Among Republicans, a surprising 75% believe a clean sweep is due. Democrats agree by 68%. But Independents want to clean house by more than 80%! All those are new highs.

Now, back to the “good guy-bad guy” thing. Most of us have a target or two in congress we call “bad guys” and we’d like to see them gone. My list starts with two-thirds of the Texas delegation and expands nationally from there. (more…)

Where to spend money to make money?

Sayer
Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer, left, listens to a Rotarian express himself following a luncheon presentation at the Red Lion in Pocatello. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

 

mendiola
Mark Mendiola
On Eastern Idaho

A column from Pocatello writer Mark Mendiola.

Idaho Department of Commerce officials who attended the Idaho Economic Advisory Council’s first meeting in Pocatello in about five years updated council members on economic development initiatives throughout the state and gave input on how the council might best allocate more than $6 million in Community Development Block Grants.

The flexible CDBG program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide communities with resources needed to address a wide range of respective needs. The Idaho Economic Advisory Council makes recommendations to Gov. Butch Otter on block grant funding applications and reviews Industrial Revenue Bond dispersals.

At their July 11-12 meetings, council members unanimously endorsed providing $399,000 to Bonneville County for a Melaleuca lift station to develop 6,600 acres of prime commercial land and $400,000 to Burley, leaving about $4.7 million for future allocations. They opted for the time being not to fund Kimberly’s request for downtown improvement funding.

Noting the state is only two weeks into its new fiscal year, Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer cautioned the council members not to prematurely approve large sums of allocations in the event prospective new projects in Idaho need start-up financing. Council members agreed to lower typical grant allocations from a maximum allowable $500,000 to an average $350,000, depending on circumstances.

Sayer said the council, in a sense, manages an investment portfolio and shoulders a fiduciary responsibility. Significant projects in their own right are coming to Idaho, he said. “It’s important for the council to step cautiously into the perspective of only funding things in front of you. … We’re in a transition period. … We can’t afford to give $500,000 to everyone. Please help us make this money stretch. There are a lot of cool things coming.”

Enhancing downtown developments throughout the state is one of the most viable means of moving Idaho forward, he said.

Gynii Gilliam, Commerce’s chief economic development officer, noted that Burley boasts larger sewer capacity than Twin Falls or Jerome to accommodate potentially large employers. She mentioned there’s a possibility a large business may announce in mid-August that it is locating in Burley. “It would add value to the entire ag industry,” she told the council, adding it could be included in a grant application if it materializes.

Gossner Foods Inc. runs the Magic Valley swiss cheese plant in Heyburn, and Gem State Processing operates a large dehydrated potato flake plant in Burley. Two to three dairies feed Gossner’s California operation. Its Logan, Utah, cheese plant is at full capacity.

There are an estimated 65,000 head of dairy cattle in the greater Burley area, said Kelly Anderson, an advisory council member who is regional president for Zions Bank in Burley. Idaho dairy farms produce an estimated 34 million pounds of milk a day.

Anderson was elected the council’s new vice chairman at the Pocatello meeting. Corey Smith, Idaho Falls founder of PharmEase, a long-term care pharmacy, was elected its new chairman, succeeding Janice McMillian, a Moscow agriculture professional whose term expires.

Anderson noted the dairy industry continues to struggle after doing really well until 10 years ago when it was “dropped to its knees.” Chobani’s location of a yogurt plant that will employ about 400 on 190 acres near Twin Falls, plus the opening of cheese plants, have helped restore viability to the industry, he said. “If the industry fails, it will hurt the economy dramatically.”

Gilliam said nine new business enterprises employing 10 to 100 are ready to launch at various Idaho sites, and nine other companies are engaged in negotiations for property worth between $2 million and $100 million. The businesses entail manufacturing, agriculture, mining and finance. Annual wages for Idaho mining jobs average $66,000.

About 60,000 Idahoans remain unemployed with a higher percentage of those in the 25-30 age range without jobs, Gilliam said, stressing she hopes Commerce’s economic development efforts will find them work.

Despite Hoku’s recent layoff of 100 workers at its solar polysilicon plant in Pocatello, its stock value dropping to 10 cents a share and its Nasdaq delisting, its owners and managers are optimistic they can resolve their issues, Gilliam said.

Sayer said tourism in Idaho is up 7 percent over last year and the state’s exports have surged. Emerging sectors include aerospace, “rec tech,” ammunition, arms and outdoor clothing. The government sector is a driving economic force in the state with the Idaho National Laboratory, universities and hospitals major employers, he said, emphasizing the state enjoys some of the lowest energy and labor costs in the nation.

When Otter became governor, Idaho’s annual budget totaled $3.2 billion, but it is now at $2.2 billion, a 32 percent decrease, Sayer pointed out.

John Regetz, Gilliam’s successor as Bannock Development Corporation executive director, praised ATCO for recently opening a modular housing operation inside the Gateway West Industrial Center in Pocatello. Its units are destined for Canada, North Dakota and Wyoming. There were 900 applications for its 190 jobs. Ninety percent of its materials will be bought locally.

Union Pacific’s 150th anniversary punctuates the fact Pocatello remains the “Gate City” where freight converges via rail, airlines and intersecting interstate highways. Pocatello also has the potential of being designated an inland port.

Regetz cited the $200 million Portneuf Medical Center, Allstate’s new call center, a $650,000 I-Gem grant to the Idaho Accelerator Center, Herberger’s new store in the Pine Ridge Mall, the Pocatello Heinz food processing plant’s designation as the corporation’s top factory and Verizon’s plan to bring 4G service by the end of the year as advances in the area.

Dan Cravens, Idaho Department of Labor regional economist, told the advisory council that Bannock County’s 7.3 percent unemployment rate is slowly tracking downward and is below the state rate of 7.8 percent and the national 8.2 percent rate. Manufacturing related to agriculture has been a major stabilizing factor in the region. The county’s job postings are up in 2012.

The labor department anticipates health care, transportation, educational, scientific, technical and financial services, utilities, real estate and hospitality professions will be growth sectors through 2018, Cravens said. “However, we are not out of the woods, and it’s going to be a slow climb.”

Democrats campaigning on

idahocolumnn

Since their summer convention in Boise, Idaho Democrats have spread out across the state to start campaigning.
Campaigning saying what?

What they said at their convention is in part a reflection of Republican electoral success: A good deal of the platform is a refutation of 2010 Idaho Republican convention positions. There’s this, for example, from the party’s platform preamble – actually, this is almost half of it:

“We reject closed, private elections and voter intimidation. We demand that we continue direct election of US Senators. We reject unwanted government intrusion into medical decisions. We recognize the need for a modern federal banking system, and reject a return to the gold standard as inconsistent with a 21st century economy. We reject the position that state governments have an arbitrary right to nullify federal laws, a position that was settled nearly 150 years ago through bloody conflict.”

Probably a majority of Idahoans would agree to that point. But as for clearly saying what Idaho Democrats are for, as distinct from Republican expressions of broader policy, that’s an old problem. The Republicans have honed a short-form mantra (One, two: Lower taxes, less gov – hey, you live in Idaho, you know the drill); the Democrats have not. It’s not that the Democrats have no ideas or principles, it’s that they’re less easily compressed.

John Rusche, the Lewiston Democrat who is House minority leader and informally centerpoint for Democratic legislative candidates around the state, acknowledged: “It’s a hard thing to encapsulate on a bumper sticker.”

One highly important issue for candidates, he said, is support for education, in a traditional sense - “The need for improved performance doesn’t mean depriving students of teachers; it requires investment.” Another is economic development, which takes “more than just tax cuts: You have have to have healthy community, education, and capital available. You have to be able to train and retrain the work force. ... There is a public good, and government has a role.”

While Democrats generally, he suggested, are talking about these things, though their overall messages will be influenced by who they are and what their district is like. Another candidate remarked of the convention, “there wasn’t a lot of comparing notes.”

But after talking to a few Democratic candidates (a larger than usual number of Democrats are running for the legislature this year), a couple of philosophical themes are woven through these policy themes.

One is pragmatism, often expressed as a willingness to work with the other party (an obvious necessity in a legislature dominated by the other guys). Senate candidate Betty Richardson at Boise, for example, running in a traditionally Republican district (something like it has only elected one Democrat to the legislature for one term, ever), spoke of intent to cross the aisle and work with Republican legislators. Hard-core baiting is not on her agenda.

The other philosophical is a sense of “the common good.” This tends not be pushed as far as it might, but a sense of some degree of community, which was once a larger part of conservatism than it is now, seems to be working its way into Democratic arguments, even in more conservative and Republican areas. A decade or two ago, that might not have made for much difference from many Republican candidates; now, it could.

As to what messages gain some traction, we may have to wait till fall, or so, to see.

Chilling (on) anonymity?

The Spokane Spokesman-Review has become a national symbol - in journalistic and web circles anyway - in the discussion on anonymity on the web ... a subject a lot of journalists feel some real angst about.

On one hand, there's little doubt that anonymous sources can be highly useful, not just to reporters but to readers and to the public. I've seen several such cases at fairly close range (though I've never had to rely much on them myself).

Supplying data on the q.t., as a whistle-blowing maneuver, is one thing. But the kind of crud that infests so many comment sections of so many web sites surely are something else. Have you read the garbage people wrote about Andy Griffith after his death on news sites? Andy Griffith?

So we were coming here: An anonymous commenter on the (excellent) Huckleberries blog, run by the Spokesman-Review, made unsubstantiated allegations of illegality against a Kootenai County Republican official, and the office sued the paper for the names of three anonymous commenters involved. A judge ruled that there was no need to release two of them, since what they said clearly wasn't libelous, but that one statement may in fact have been - and the name has to be released. The paper hasn't yet responded. The case has the potential to become something of a landmark.

Standing up for the anonymity of participants in news discussions has long been a firm tenet among news people. But there's clearly angst.

It's worth quoting this blog post from Shawn Vestal, of the Spokesman, who notes first the journalistic tradition, then:

But what has emerged in the era of online commenting is, about three-quarters of the time, a sewer of stupidity and insults and shallowness. The visions of a digital public square, with less gatekeeping and more democratic forums for discourse, seem quaint and comical in the light of what has actually come to pass.

I have mostly stopped reading the comment threads on the newspaper’s website, because it is almost always infuriating and pointless. It is especially so when I have persuaded someone to share their story – only to see them mocked for their painful experiences or physical appearance. Which is common.

The idea that the newspaper has to spend time and treasure defending this nonsense – not protecting a whistleblower; not battling the government for access to public records – is repulsive.

He makes a strong point.

When I worked on daily newspaper editorial pages, one absolute requirement of letters to the editor was that they be signed, and that those signatures be verified. (I know this: I often had to make those phone calls to verify identity.) That rule generally still applies, at many papers. Why then should comments be so anonymous?

(Don't talk to me about unsigned editorials, either; the people in charge at the paper, most usually and principally the publisher, can reasonably be attached to those.)

This site, by the way, still allows anonymous commenting. For now. But that could change, as many other sites have, in recent years, changed. It's just that the anonymity hasn't been a big problem for us. Yet.

This may be something newspapers, and a lot of other organizations, soon have to confront.

Carlson: Idiocy

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

I saw the other day where Idaho’s illustrious Superintendent for Public Instruction, the Honorable Tom Luna, said it did not bother him in the least that Idaho ranked 48th or 49th in state support for public education.

That statement alone makes him a certifiable idiot. That his PR flacks try to portray his rationalizations for Idaho’s pecuniary as cutting edge innovation is laughable. That he is supposedly a key advisor on educational policy to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney is appalling.

Luna, along with every state legislator and every member of Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter’s administration ought to read an article in the latest Atlantic Monthly by Chrystia Freeland entitled "The Triumph of the Family Farm."

The article describes the transformation of farming due to technological innovation and global integration which, along with the growth of a middle class that has become an increasingly demanding market for better food, has led to impressive financial success for family farms.

Yup, despite what you might read about their demise and the rise of corporate farms the fact is in 2010, of all the farms with at least $1 million in revenues, 88 percent were family farms.

Buried within the article though is an absolute diamond.

Calling it one of the great forgotten triumphs of American society and government she points out how smoothly farmers negotiated the creative destruction (the loss of farm jobs due to modernization) of the early 20th century. She quotes esteemed labor economist and Harvard professor Lawrence Katz regarding how the farming community adapted.

Luna will be stunned by this, but the key according to Katz, was heavy investment in education. “Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, California - those were the leaders in the high school movement,” Katz stated. It was a deliberate response to rapid technological change in both farming and manufacturing.

They built more schools and invested more money as a deliberate strategic response so that their children would be better equipped to deal with and adapt to rapid change. The strategy worked. It made for better farmers for those who stayed on the farm and more adaptive workers for those that migrated to urban areas.

Today’s challenge is the same, only a high school education is no longer sufficient. Students today know they need a college education with an emphasis on analytic skills. Katz, though, points out the obvious: the Luna’s of the world are not making an equivalent investment in the future by even adequately funding basic and higher education today.

Instead they hide behind a mantra about not throwing more money at the challenge, trying to sell bilge-water to the public that Idaho can do more with less. Instead of being ashamed regarding the declining support for public education they try to make a virtue out of disgraceful conduct. What’s that saying about putting lip stick on a pig? (more…)

Not yet foreclosed

An example of how life can change depending on what the laws in your area are. Here's one about to start in Oregon (notification from the attorney general's office):

With Senate Bill 1552 taking effect tomorrow, homeowners threatened with foreclosure now have the right to meet with their mortgage servicer face-to-face in mediation before final foreclosure decisions are made. The new law also addresses a common complaint known as “dual-tracking.” Mortgage servicers will no longer be permitted to foreclose while negotiations are ongoing for loan modifications or other foreclosure avoidance measures. ...

Beginning on July 11, homeowners who receive a notice of default will receive information on free foreclosure counseling and low-cost mediation services. Mediation services will be provided to homeowners at a subsidized rate of no more than $200. Funding for the program comes from mortgage servicers and from funds allocated by the Legislature from a national settlement with five large banks. Homeowners who are at-risk of foreclosure, but not in default, can also schedule mediation. During mediation sessions homeowners will be able to explore alternatives to foreclosure including loan modifications, refinancing, short sales and other options ...

Which seems like a logical way to go, compared to the counterproductive foreclosures that too often happen. (Don't get us started: A neighbor who had lived with his family in a house next to ours for more than 15 years lost work for a couple of months due to an injury, got behind on the mortgage but then caught up, but too late - the bank foreclosed before they had time even to respond, and kicked the family out. And really don't get us started on what's happened to the property since then.)

Not all states have such a system in place. But now, Oregon does.

Idaho, now and at birth

idahocolumnn

Imagine an Idaho with no government at all.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine – we’re coming up on its anniversary. 2013 marks 150 years since Idaho Territory was established, and the date will be celebrated – efforts are already underway – as the Idaho Territorial Sesquicentennial (century-and-a-half). The centennial was celebrated in 1963; a special “territorial centennial edition” Idaho almanac sits on my bookshelf.

The key celebration date probably will be March 4, when Abraham Lincoln signed the organic act formally setting up the territory. But as a practical matter, there was no territory until a governor was sworn in, and that happened the following July 10, which was 149 years ago this week.

In between, and for a while afterward, government in Idaho was more theoretical than real. The first towns – Lewiston, Orofino, Franklin – were only a year or two old, a little more primitive than the first season of the TV program “Deadwood.” Idaho was split from Washington Territory partly because officials at Olympia realized they could not practically administer the newly-developing mining communities. The job proved, at first, about as difficult from the new territorial capital of Lewiston.

The first governor was a friend of Lincoln’s, former Illinois attorney William Wallace, then Washington territorial delegate to Congress. Figuring he might lose the next territorial election, he accepted the Idaho governorship. But that was even more problematic. When he got to the territory in July and declared Lewiston as the capital (as he had authority to do), he immediately enraged southern Idaho, whose population in the Idaho City and Boise area already was outnumbering the north. Not only that, Idaho Territory was then heavily Democratic, populated with ex-southerners: Not fans of Lincoln.

A judge, John R. McBride, declared that because the territory’s organic act hadn’t specified what laws would go into effect in Idaho, that it had no laws at all, until the territorial legislature (which hadn’t been elected yet) adopted some. When southern Idaho Democrats tried to elect county officials, Wallace declared those elections were illegal, and appointed all-new Republicans to the posts.

You think we’ve got partisan rancor today? The centennial Idaho courts history Justice for the Times told of “a territorial judge who tried to hold a term of court in Florence (a now-vanished mining town) in 1862. The grand jury which convened promptly indicted Lincoln, his Cabinet, various Union Army officers and the judge himself – all for high treason. Whereupon the judge promptly adjourned court and left town. When he reached Walla Walla he resigned.”

Wallace himself promptly stood for election as Idaho’s first territorial delegate to Congress and, in one of the most bitter and fraudulent elections Idaho has had, won. The territory had no government to speak of until two governors later.

What was Idaho like then? Dangerous, above all – dominated by the most violent, with little help for anyone else. Property was what you could defend with a gun or a knife. Good and services were what you could get if you could arrive at terms of exchange. Few women were interested in moving there.

Later, Idaho settled down. Communities were build, laws crafted and enforced, society structured. But in these days when the utility of government is so much at question, a harder look at Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial might have more than usual usefulness.