Writings and observations

cascades RANDY
STAPILUS
 
West of
the Cascades

Among the many lessons of the Portland flouride vote concluding Tuesday was, as the Oregonian pointed out, this: Money does not always win elections; it more often follows a likey winner than dictates who one will be.

The movement in favor – led by a city council that decided to bring flouride to a city that repeatedly had rejected it – spent more than three times as much as the scattered opposition, which seemed to have a disorganized message (ranging from conspiracy theorists to people who simply like their relatively pure water the way it is) and disorganization as well. It surely did not break on any conventional ideological line; in this election, liberals battled liberals.

But people wanted what they wanted, and that was more or less what they wated before – and by comparable margins: The rejection vote was borderline landslide, so there was no mistaking it.

On the other hand was the expression-of-opinion vote in Clackamas County on the Tri-Met light rail development into that county – periodically dubbed Clackistan – where a good many resident fiercely dislike any intrusion from the big city to the north and like to maintain their independence from it, such as they can. The light rail project, which is good to go and set for completion in another couple of years, wasn’t going to be stopped however the vote went.

The takeaway from the vote was this: A middle. There were two ballot issues, and they actually cut differently. On one of them, about 57% of voters said they did not want county resources to be used on the project. (The county split geographically; areas to the north were strongly in favor.) But a second measure to allow property transfers involved with the project passed.

Parse carefully.

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Oregon West of the Cascades

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

What’s it like to live in Idaho on the minimum wage?

The people who actually have to do that don’t get a lot of media attention; they don’t heavily populate the ranks of broadcast spokesmen and interview subjects. We don’t hear from them much.

Should be the job of news reporters to fill some of that gap, though that too seldom happens.

It has, however, in the case of a series of reports by the NPR-affiliated group State Impact, which has released online a series of stories under the heading, “Bottom Rung: Living On Low Wages In Idaho.”

The cover page lead: “The share of Idaho workers earning minimum wage has grown from 5 percent in 2011 to 7.7 percent in 2012. The growth has put Idaho in the top spot for the largest share of minimum wage workers in the country.”

That should give a taste of why this is important. Read the rest to get a fuller sense of it.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

“Where have you gone. . . .?

Hum these lines to the tune of the Simon & Garfunkel song that became the theme music to that 60’s classic movie, The Graduate:

“Where have you gone Junketing Jim?/

Idaho turns its needy eyes to you?/

What’s that you say, Junketing Jim?/

Hard workers have up and gone away/

So those that stay might as well play?

Heh, heh, heh; heh, heh heh.

That, my friends, is essentially what Idaho’s junior senator, Jim Risch, told Idaho Statesman political reporter Dan Popkey in a story that appeared May 6: nothing gets done in the nation’s capital, and everything is stalemated, a senator may as well sit back, not work hard, enjoy international travel, and coast along.

And, oh, by the way, that seven months he was governor, now that was hard work, especially shifting more tax burden to those that pay the sales tax but providing additional property tax relief to his big corporate supporters. I’ll grant you that Risch did do more in seven months than Dirk Kempthorne did in seven years, but apparently being a U.S. senator is so much easier it makes you wonder why he didn’t skip being Lt. Governor or Governor and run for the Senate years ago.

Most senators and congressman catch “Potomac fever” eventually. As Oregon Senator Richard Neuberger wrote in an article in the Saturday Evening Post in the late 50s, “they never go back to Pocatello.” Most get captured by that “inside the beltway” mentality which falsely believes they live in the center of the universe and everything that is important takes place inside the beltway that surrounds the nation capital.

Even after they leave office, many do not return home but stay and become lobbyists or join prestigious law firms or ideological think tanks for which they are paid handsomely. Truth be told, two of the five highest per capita income counties in the nation are just outside Washington, D.C. It’s the money that captures many, but it is also the money that serves to create the huge disconnect between those within the beltway and those outside.

Money, however, is not the reason Senator Risch and wife Vickie have so quickly been captured, and so quickly lost touch. Senator Risch is already one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth that may be as much as $50 million.

No, in Senator Risch’s case he has fallen for the siren song of foreign travel, paid for either by the taxpayer or by special interests. Rather than travel home to Idaho for most of a congressional recess he is off to places all over the globe.

Sometimes he travels with Vickie, sometimes with chief of staff, John Sandy, who also appears to travel overseas by himself as well.

Senator Risch, though, you see, is the second ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and it’s important that he get around the world. And he is an important man in a city that does nothing but still try and get an appointment to see him either when on the rare occasion he’s actually in the state or when he is D.C. It is nigh on impossible I’m told.

Curious as to just what all his foreign travel entailed I pulled at random a trip the Senator and Vickie took to Israel in 2011 and one his chief of staff took to Erbil, the capital city of the semi-autonomous province of Kurdistan in northern Iraq in 2012.

Granted the trip may have tangentially had something to do with the subcommittee he chairs on near eastern affairs but the itinerary had plenty of nice meals and time for sightseeing. The expenses appear to have been paid for by the American Israeli Education Foundation, an off-shoot of AIPAC, one of the most influential lobbying groups in the city.

Total cost for the five day trip was $8,000 for the two of them, so obviously first class all the way. More troubling was the sponsor certifying that there was no relation between them and any registered lobbyist or any agent of a foreign government. If Senator Risch believes AIEF is not a wholly controlled subsidiary of AIPAC and that the Mossad was not monitoring his trip every step of the way, he doesn’t belong in Congress. Why the Senate Ethics committee insists on this fiction is beyond me.

As to John Sandy’s trip to Erbil, let’s just say the fact that it was sponsored by something called the Humpty Dumpty Institute (seriously) and some company called Aspect Energy says it all. One really does have to ask just what is in these trips for the citizens of Idaho.

Given the Senator’s arrogant attitude I doubt he’ll bother to answer. One can only hope the Democrats come up with a credible alternative in 2014 for he and Vickie might just discover even in solidly Republican Idaho one cannot so take for granted an office bestowed by the people. They that give can taketh away.

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weatherby JAMES
WEATHERBY
 

Idaho is one of only two states that taxes Girl Scout cookies. How could a heartless legislature turn its back on a tax relief request from this very worthy organization? And how could they deny a tax exemption on goods purchased by homeless shelters?

In 1988, the Governor’s Tax Study Committee expressed its concern about the growth of exemptions whether they were serving a public interest or just providing “favors to various special interest groups”. In 2003, that “concern” was again addressed by a legislative task force that scrutinized exemptions. Despite the optimism expressed in several editorials around the state, substantive action did not follow. Though there seemed to be significant support for reform, there was little appetite for taking on entrenched interests who benefited from the tax breaks.

Fast forward to 2013. Both sales tax exemption bills were strongly endorsed in the House committee and easily passed on the House floor. Even with opposition from some members of Senate leadership, it was widely believed that at least the Girl Scout cookies bill would pass on the floor of the Senate and become law. But both bills died without even a Senate hearing.

In a few months we’ll have another legislative session and no doubt the Girl Scouts will be back. Will the cookie crumble in the Senate – in an election year? Maybe. But how long can some Senate leaders assert their opposition to what seems to be reasonable bills? Virtually every legislative session in modern memory has considered one or more bills granting sales tax exemptions, so how can lawmakers deny exemptions to the Girl Scouts and to homeless shelters when the law is riddled with tax breaks to possibly less worthy organizations but ones who have far more political muscle? They may be coming late to the party, but the senators position is that until the sales tax is reformed or a well developed criteria for exemptions is established, more exemptions should not be granted.

Enacted in the 1960s, the sales tax is outdated. It was designed for a manufacturing based economy, not the service based economy we have today. Extending the sales tax to services has been a much debated policy option for about 30 years, but to enact an extension to services would involve a tax increase for many current tax-break beneficiaries. Tax reform bills are often supported in concept but shredded beyond recognition in the messy process of lawmaking.

Tax reform that is more likely, is to apply the sales tax to Internet purchases. Nationally, this approach is gaining momentum in Congress. The United States Senate just passed an Internet sales tax bill allowing states to force Internet retailers to collect and remit taxes to state and local governments. Meanwhile, back in Idaho, a majority of House tax writers expressed their opposition to the federal Internet sales tax legislation. They even opposed joining the 24 state consortium that is working on an implementation measure to simplify tax structures and clarify tax definitions if the federal legislation is enacted. They not only opposed broadening the base, they wanted to further narrow it.

What’s their argument? They claim that an Internet sales tax would be a tax increase. Bogus. Under the Idaho Sales and Use Tax legislation adopted in 1965, taxes on Internet purchases are due and payable. (On our honor, we’re supposed to compute sales tax on our Internet purchases and file such on our state income tax returns.) Influential Idaho business and local government groups are in support of enforcing the Use Tax. Many brick and mortar businesses oppose the current system that requires them to collect taxes on their Main Street sales while online providers enjoy the competitive advantage of tax-free transactions. It’s the fairness issue: treat Internet retailers the same way we treat Main Street. If congressional action succeeds and corresponding state implementation steps are taken, additional annual revenues for Idaho are anticipated to be approximately $60 million.

Enacting an Internet sales tax would be a significant step forward, but it is not the complete answer. Increased erosion of the sales tax base by way of the arbitrary pick-and-choose-approach to tax exemptions calls for in-depth analysis of the long-term effects on the state’s revenue stream. A comprehensive overhaul of the state sales tax is badly needed. It will require of our elected officials careful evaluation and courageous implementation to redesign a tax code that is equitable and effective for all of Idaho.

Jim Weatherby is a political analyst, emeritus professor and former lobbyist who lives in Boise, Idaho.

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Weatherby

red algae
 
ALGAE BLOOM: This is a red-orange algae bloom spotted at Edmonds on May 16. (Photo/submitted to the Department of Ecology by Jeri Cusimano)
 

In Washington and Oregon both (most notably in Oregon), state tax revenue reported as rising, and unemployment dropping – one of the best weeks of economic news in more than half a decade. Not bad in Idaho, either.

If the mood in Olympia seems still a bit sour, that has more to do with political battling than anything else: The core news is not so bad, though legislators are likely to keep up their conflicts for some weeks to come. How about special session?

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Digests

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

My Fox Friends:

Because I know you operate with limited “fact” checking folk – relying instead on GOP in-house “research” and the Heritage Foundation for that – I’d like to pass along some old fashioned, shoe leather research Ben Cesca of Huffington Post recently did. All from the public record. Because of the nature of his findings – pre-Benghazi – I’m certain none of you were allowed to read it. Forbidden, actually. So, here goes.

Jan. 22, 2002: Calcutta, India – Harakat-ul-Jihad as-Islami attack U.S. Consulate – five employees killed.

Jun. 14, 2002: Karachi, Pakistan – al Qaeda suicide bomber hits U.S. Consulate – 12 employees killed – 51 injured.

Oct. 12, 2002: Denpasar, Inbdonesia – Diplomatic offices bombed.

Feb. 28, 2003: Islamabad, Palistan – Gunmen fire on Embassy – two killed.

May 12, 2003: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: al Qaeda stormed U.S. diplomatic compound – 36 killed including nine Americans.

Jul. 30, 2004: Tashkent, Uzbekistan: U.S. Embassy bombed – two dead.

Dec. 6, 2004: Jeddah Saudi Arabia – al Qaeda stormed U.S. Consulate – nine dead.

Mar. 2, 2006: Karachi, Pakistan – For the third time in four years, U.S. Consulate bombed – four dead including Ambassador David Foy.

Sep. 12, 2006: Damascus, Syria: Gunmen storm U.S. Embassy killing four.

Jan. 12, 2007: Athens, Greece – Rocket attack on U.S. Embassy. Bad shots.

Mar. 18, 2008: Sana’a, Yemen – Islamic Jihad of Yemen fire mortar at U.S. Embassy. Missed. Hit school next door killing two.

Jul. 9, 2008: Istanbul, Turkey – Terrorists attack U.S. Embassy killing six employees.

Sep. 17, 2008: Sana’a, Yemen – Terrorists with car bombs and RPGs kill 16 including an American student. Second attack there in seven months.

That’s 13 American embassy and consulate attacks during the two-term tenure of G-W-B. Two terms during which you were just not as worked up as you are today.

I realize Hillary Clinton was not Secretary of State during the time frame of Reporter Cesca’s outstanding work. And Barack Obama was still a U.S. Senator and not President. So none of the above information is likely to be important for you. Especially to those GOP “research” folks in-house.

And now, you must be even more dispirited. The co-chair of the Accountability and Review Board – Thomas Pickering – says the most comprehensive – and honest – review of the Benghazi attack yet has absolved the former Secretary of State of any wrong-doing.

Thomas Pickering – a four decade diplomatic professional – said the Review Board “knows where the responsibility rested.” Addressing the political witch hunt by Republicans, Pickering said “They’ve tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found those decisions were made.” He’s even offered to testify at an open hearing of Mr. Issa’s witch hunt.

The Review Board’s report was scathing in uncovering and identifying “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels.” But not – repeat not – in the Secretary’s office or even near it at the top of the State Department. Period.

There you have it, Fox Folk. Excellent reportorial research and first-person testimony from the co-chair of the most unbiased and official, in-depth review yet of Benghazi. I know none of this helps your all-out effort to make – as one of your right wing minions said – “a cover-up worse than Watergate.” But it’s all true!

Now, don’t get used to this little professional assist from the Oregon woods. This is a one-time deal. I can’t afford to do this all the time. For that – given your proclivity for relying on that in-house GOP “research,” – I’d have to put on a much larger staff. Just can’t now. Sequestration and all that.

Yours for accuracy in reporting:

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Rainey

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Indian Country has already been hit hard by the sequester.

Lacey Horn, treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, recently told National Public Radio that the tribe had been planning for the impact for some time with cost-cutting measures, a hiring freeze for all non-essential positions, and canceled training and travel. “We’re delaying or foregoing any capital acquisitions, both large and small. And we’re looking at our encumbrances to see if there’s any changes in scope or quantity that we can make and strictly enforce the employee overtime.”

Horn’s goal is to try and absorb the sequester “to the greatest extent possible before we start making reductions in jobs and services.”

This is exactly what a tribal government should be doing. Looking for ways to “absorb” the cuts with as little impact as possible on direct services or jobs.

But can tribes do that over and over for the next decade? The Budget Control Act, the law that governs the sequester, is a ten-year austerity effort. As the Bipartisan Policy Center describes the law: “Sequestration’s effect will be akin to that of a slow motion train wreck … the ramifications will steadily worsen as time passes.”

The Congressional Budget Office reported that the president’s budget would “lower the caps for 2017 through 2021 on discretionary spending that were originally set by the Budget Control Act and extend those caps through 2023. However, much of that lower spending would be offset by eliminating the automatic spending reductions that have occurred or are scheduled to occur under current law from 2013 through 2021. In total, those changes would lead to discretionary outlays that are 6 percent lower in 2016 than they were in 2012 but that would grow later in the decade; as a percentage of GDP, such outlays would fall from 8.3 percent in 2012 to 5.0 percent in 2023, 0.5 percentage points lower than the amount in CBO’s baseline and the lowest level in at least the past 50 years.”

Think about the last part of that sentence. The president’s budget would lift some of the hard spending caps under the Budget Control Act, but even then federal spending for domestic programs would be at the lowest level since President Kennedy’s time. And, as I have written before, the president’s budget represents a decent outcome. The president’s budget, according to CBO, would trim federal deficits by $1.1 trillion over the coming decade. Not a bad outcome. But the president’s budget would require a “yes” vote from both the House and the Senate. That’s not going to happen.

In the weeks to come, the House Appropriations Committee will move next year’s spending bills through that body. Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, supports an increase in Defense spending — at the expense of domestic programs, such as those that benefit Indian Country. The Hill newspaper said: “The House Appropriations Committee outline — known in budget parlance as 302b allocations — makes clear that the heaviest cuts will fall on health, education, jobs programs, foreign aid and environmental programs.”

Under Rogers’ plan the Interior Department, for example, would get hit with cuts at 16 percent below the current sequester. (That budget line includes both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.)

If the president’s budget doesn’t stand a chance of becoming law, then neither does Rogers’ budget. But it does show how deep the divide in Congress is and why it’s getting wider. It will be impossible without an election or two to restore budgets beyond austerity (despite the growing evidence of the economic damage caused by spending cuts).
What this means for Indian Country is that the most likely outcome of the budget fight is another temporary budget, or a Continuing Resolution, along the lines of the current sequester. The bottom line is a budget outcome that steadily worsens as time passes.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A Facebook page is open at:
https://www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity

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ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From testimony prepared for delivery by Sal Peralta, secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon, about a bill amending Oregon’s public meeting law.

I am here today to testify on behalf of the Independent Party of Oregon in opposition to HB 3513.

Before addressing the substantive provisions of the bill, I would like to point out that Oregon ranks among the worst states in the nation with regard to “Public Access to Information”, according to the State Integrity Investigation, a project of Public Radio International and the Center for Public Integrity.

This bill would take a bad system and make it far worse. Short of an outright repeal, it is difficult to imagine a bill that would more effectively dismantle Oregon’s public meetings law.

The impetus behind this legislation appears to be a case that was settled in 2011, in which the Lane County Commission, and most particularly Commissioners Pete Sorenson and Rob Handy, were convicted of violating the state’s public meetings law for engaging a series of meetings and communications in 2009 that culminated in what Judge Michael Gillespie called a “sham vote” to approve a supplemental budget that hired part time assistants for the Lane County Commission.

I have attached a copy of the judge’s ruling in that case, as well as copies of numerous editorials and news stories that were published around the time that decision was reached that affirm the need for maintaining strong open meetings laws in Oregon.

Given the importance of the state’s public records law, I suspect that this
legislation will draw intense scrutiny from the press should this legislation move forward in this committee.

With regard to the bill itself…

HB 3513 constitutes a radical departure from current law.

Under Oregon Statute, all meetings of governing bodies that involve “deciding on or deliberating toward a decision” must be held in public unless the content of the meeting is specifically exempted in ORS 192.610 – ORS 192.690.

This legislation limits the scope of matters relating to decisions by governing bodies only to those relating to “budget, fiscal, or policy” matters.

None of these terms “budget, fiscal, and policy” are defined in the bill or in any part of ORS 192.610 to 192.690, so presumably it would be left to the governing body seeking to circumvent the public meetings law to determine whether decisions made in private meetings relate to any of those categories.

Second, the bill effectively neuters Oregon’s Public meetings law by exempting the following topics from the definition of “deciding on or deliberating toward a decision.”

(A) Communication that is wholly unrelated to the conduct of the public’s business;

(B) Fact gathering activities; or

(C) On-site inspections of property or facilities at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the governing body.

The latter two of these exemptions are especially troubling.

Fact gathering missions must currently be held in public, pursuant to Oregonian Publishing Co. v. Oregon State Board of Parole, 99 Or App 501 (1989).

Fact gathering is often the most crucial stage at which decisions are made by government. It would be unimaginable that a judge in a court of law should accept facts outside of the context of a public hearing open to all parties. Given that the role of governing bodies such as county commissions or city councils is often “quasi-judicial”, as in the case of land use decisions or other variances from local ordinances, what is the rationale for adopting a lower standard for Oregon’s governing bodies?

Similarly, the bill exempts from the definition of “deciding on or deliberating toward a decision.” “Onsite inspections of property or facilities at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the governing body.”

The plain ordinary language of that subsection makes it clear that anything can be discussed in private, so long as the meeting occurs at a location other than the regularly scheduled meeting room of the

ORS 192.620 states that: “The Oregon form of government requires an informed public aware of the deliberations and decisions of governing bodies and the information upon which such decisions were made. It is the intent of ORS 192.610 to 192.690 that decisions of governing bodies be arrived at openly.”

I would respectfully submit that no part of this bill serves that public purpose and recommend against moving this bill forward.

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idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The norm in campaign finance, traditionally at least, goes like this: The candidate files and sets up an account for campaign spending, receives funds for campaign purposes, then spends it, presumably to around zero by election day, on such as ads, printing and mailing, salaries, office space, polling, depending on the size of the campaign. Traditionally, campaigns are like the Snake River at Milner Dam, which is dewatered at the end of one stretch, then refills in the next one.

That still often happens when candidates are in competitive races, when they collect whatever they can and spend it down, because they can’t politically afford to leave resources on the table.

Nowadays, however, fewer congressional races are really competitive. If you’re one of those nearly impregnable incumbents – say, a Republican in Idaho (or, a Democrat in some other states) – you really don’t need but a fraction of the funds you take in. Most of your contributors aren’t donating because they think you need it to win; they have other agendas in mind. You wind up with excess cash.

The handling of that excess money has come up in the case of Senator Mike Crapo’s campaign treasury. Here’s some background.

In the cycle leading up to his last election in 2010, Crapo raised $5.1 million, which was added on to some cash he already had on hand. In the campaign he spent about $3.4 million, only a portion of what he had available but still far more than he needed, since that was about 34 times as much as his Democratic opponent, Tom Sullivan, spent. Crapo ended the 2010 cycle with about $3 million cash on hand, and has continued to raise money since, though he’s not up for re-election until 2016. As of the end of March, he had $3.4 million on hand. This is not an unusual situation; quite a few successful congressional candidates of both parties also are well padded.

What to do with the money just sitting there? Candidates aren’t supposed to use it for personal purposes, though some occasionally dip in for semi-official uses. Sometimes flush candidates donate heavily to other candidates from their party (this happens on the legislative level too), generating political chits to be cashed later. Or the money can sit in a bank, drawing interest. But rules governing its use are not notably tight.

Bringing us to last week’s headline about $250,000 in Crapo campaign money, an expenditure that required Crapo to amend his campaign filings reports. Former campaign manager Jake Ball says that he got from Crapo permission to increase the financial returns on the money (exactly what Crapo knew or didn’t, remains unclear), and that in September 2008 he handed a quarter million of donor money to a friend, Gavin McCaleb, who (operating as Blueberry guru LLC) in turn poured it into Pyramid Global Resources of Las Vegas, which was expected to return a tidy profit in a couple of months. Instead, the quarter million disappeared, and Pyramid no longer has even a Nevada business filing. Poof!

Which has led to some comment about the financial management for which Crapo – an attorney and a member of the Senate banking committee – is directly responsible.

But there’s a broader question, and part of it goes to anyone who contributes to a congressional campaign. The next time you get a campaign donation request, you might want to ask in reply just how much they’ve already got, how much they really need – and what exactly they need your money for.

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Idaho Idaho column

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Nearly all our lives, we adults take great pains setting ourselves apart from each other – our individualism, if you will. Whether in appearance, style of dress, cars we drive or books we read, we spend our lives expressing our differences rather than our shared sameness. Then a commonality sneaks up on us – the shared experience of all – because we were once six or seven years old. Each of us. All of us.

That one genealogical thread of age may be the largest single reason why the Newtown massacre struck our consciousness so deeply. Months after a school meant for learning became a chamber of mass murder, we’re not letting this one fade from memory as quickly as we have so many others. All of us have been six or seven. We’e all been in classrooms.

A few miles up the road from my own little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods, we had our own indiscriminate killings in a shopping mall a few months ago. ut I’ve days and weeks in that time without thinking about Clackamas Mall. Not so Newtown, Connecticut. Despite other distractions of daily living, the Newtown horror still intrudes from time to time.

Several years of my life were spent as a hospice volunteer, ministering to the dying one-on-one. Death – impending death – certain death. You learn not only how to provide comfort to the “client” – you learn to deal with death after death after death of people you come to know as friends. Even if for only a brief time. You learn how to do that. Or you fail.

But most of my life has been spent in journalism – passing along the daily events of our lives. You used to learn how to do that in much the same clinical way – observing but not getting personally involved. Not anymore.

Maybe it’s the collision of experiences in those two backgrounds that makes my disgust with so much of the media so overwhelming in these months following the Newtown killing. Most of my anger is caused by the so-called broadcast “professionals.”

All of us experience a period of grief following the death of someone close. It permeates our entire being. Some survivors or onlookers handle it better than others. But it’s always there. When the death is that of someone we don’t know or aren’t particularly close to, there may be feelings of sadness but usually not disabling grief. But what happened in Newtown – though involving complete strangers for most of us – what happened in Newton has – in many ways – shown up in a sort of national grief.

The anger I feel so deeply is directed at a national media and started just hours after the December tragedy. Almost immediately, the talking heads were going far, far beyond a professional charge to report – to inform – putting cameras and microphones in the faces of people who were grieving. Especially confused children who survived that day. Because most of the dead were so young and the means so violent and unexpected, my guess is the grief being felt overwhelmed. Some parents and other family may take years to deal with it. Some may never spend a day without it.

It makes no difference if some people deliberately make themselves available – or even volunteer – for interviews. Not one of them is doing so with clear intent or full thought. None. While it’s not uncommon for someone grieving wanting to share a photo or a story about a loved one, CNN, FOX, MSNBC and all the rest should not be the platforms. Death is personal. So is grieving. Photos – those so-personal stories – are often shared with hospice workers or other health professionals. But the media has no place there. In the future, some will deeply regret what they did. And, ultimately, the experience can cause even more extended grief and suffering.

Cops, medical professionals, community leaders – these are the people where the story is – where the known facts are. Where the media belongs. Where we in the audience belong. A weeping mother – being interviewed in a living room decorated for Christmas -may be good for ratings. But it can also be a dangerous, personally destructive experience when time passes – the lights and cameras and reporters are gone – and the ever-present struggle with grief continues. In silence. In absolute loneliness.

We are a voyeuristic nation – for better or worse. Most of the time, it’s no big deal. But now, electronic media as incapable of dealing with the realities of Newtown as the rest of us, are the voyeurs – probing into areas that are none of their damned business. Exposing people in their most vulnerable and helpless moments.

Facts. Details. Explanations, if possible. Those are the requirements of a good journalist’s work. But interviewing stunned, grieving parents and confused children?

Explanation, yes. Exploitation, no.

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Rainey