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Posts published in August 2015

First take

The most surprising thing about the Republican presidential debate was the questions, and how tough many of them were. Most especially the questions aimed at Donald Trump. Those were so fierce - not least the calling-out on an independent candidacy at the beginning, which ostensibly wasn't aimed at a single candidate (though it really was) - that a clear goal on the part of Fox of seriously damaging Trump was evident. If Trump's constituency were of a different kind, it might have worked, too. The questions hit home on such matters as party loyalty, violation of core party stands and more, matters that would kill off most candidates. But while the questions highlighted, they did not unearth. Trump's threat to run a third-party candidacy has been in the news, as had nearly everything else the Fox questioners brought up. Was Trump damaged by the debate? We'll find out more soon in the after-party polling, but I'd guess not. I think it's more likely Fox drove a wedge between itself and some of Trump's constituency, which may be led by the candidate to now view Fox as just another part of the establishment. And did other candidates gain? Maybe Marco Rubio, a little, since he came cross as polished at least and got some easy questions. In the kids' table debate, Carly Fiorina was described as projecting a strong presence, but she's way back in the pack to start. Jeb Bush did himself little good - he didn't crash, but he came across like a dull corporate attorney. Did the debate change the contours of the race? Probably not much. And on to round two.

In our household when we turn to "the news" on television, that has for many years meant Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert - no other regular "news" TV programming need apply, so poor has most of the quality gotten. (CSPAN is welcome, and scattered individual programming, but nothing else on a nightly basis.) So this has been a significant year: First Colbert and now Stewart, as of last night, have departed. The news won't be the same. But the future beckons. Larry Wilmore, while not yet the equal of either of those two, has been gaining some strength. And while we as yet have no idea of what job Stewart's successor will do, we do know that others can do the job well: A year ago, John Oliver did a terrific job filling in for three months, and he was promptly grabbed away to do his own program elsewhere. So good luck to the new order.

Curing cancer?

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In a legislative body it is called asking for suspension of the day’s business in order to make a personal point. Today, I rise in like manner and ask a reader’s indulgence to hear me out.

The “Big C,” as some call cancer, can strike any one any time in one’s life cycle and just about any part of one’s body. Because actual cause is hard to pinpoint, for many it is seen as a “death sentence,” a disease without a cure. Many fear hearing the word ever cross their doctor’s lips. The same cancer can effect people differently, and move aggressively in one while slowly in another. Only God knows why.

Because of research advances and various techniques involved with early intervention, one’s cancer can often be stalled. Some call it “remission,” but one doesn’t hear the word “cured” too often anymore. Used to be if one went five years without a recurrence they were pronounced “cured.”

Too many instances of the “cured patient” being struck again have occurred, however. Used to be also that when one contracted cancer, after a battery of tests, most doctors, if asked, would give one an estimate on how long they had before all the sand is through the top half of their hour glass. That just doesn’t happen anymore.

For example, in November of 2005 when I was diagnosed with Stage IV (meaning “almost gone”) of a rare form of a neuroendocrine cancer, I was told I had six months left. I’m obviously still here ten years later.

Like most folks, once one gets over the initial shock, my wife and I did our research. We discovered the world’s best hospital for treating this type of cancer was M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas. I bundled up all my CT’s, all my MRI’s, my blood tests, my colonoscopies, shipped them off to this world-renowned hospital and asked for them to see me and to provide a second opinion.

A few weeks later I received their answer---“no.” I was bluntly told I was too far gone, that it was hopeless, and I should go home to prepare to die. I was stunned. I’d never heard of one being denied a second opinion.

I called the managing partner of a large, prestigious Houston law firm---Bracewell & Patterson. One of his major clients was the Texas Medical Association. Thus, a call went to the director of M.D. Anderson from the head of the major medical association in Texas. The director refused to over-rule his doctors.

Things happen for a reason, however. On the advice of two friends I turned to a relative new Cancer Center, The Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah. I met with their team of doctors and we drew up an aggressive attack strategy which so far has worked for almost ten years.

I confess though I’ll never feel that M.D. Anderson is as good as they claim to be. Nor will I ever recommend them to anyone. When asked, I’ll suggest folks look into the Mayo Clinic or Huntsman.

This lament is prompted by a spate of ads currently running on major news channels like CNN in which MDA comes awfully close to claiming they can cure cancer. How else is one to interpret the last scene in which they strike through the word cancer following a succession of “talking heads” the last couple which say cancer has lost..

The field of cancer care is becoming increasingly competitive simply because there are vast profits to be made. This is no justification, however, for strongly implying that they have or will beat cancer.

I’ve had almost ten years of successively holding my always fatal form of cancer at bay. I’ve never claimed to have been cured nor in a state of remission, because I’m not. Like many others, it is a day to day, 24/7 battle. Some of us are lucky enough to keep fighting for a long time.

My experience suggests that unless and until doctors can alter one’s DNA before birth there will never be a cure for cancer. Why? Because I think all cancers are part and parcel of the natural dying process we all undergoe. We can stall, stymie, hold at bay for a long time in some cases, but in the end the Grim Reaper claims us all. In all candor people should understand cancer in that context. Acceptence of our mortality, strangely enough is one of the keys to enduring longer than predictions.

The folks at M.D. Anderson should be honest enough to say that.

First take

For 20 years, the top sector of the Oregon agricultural economy was nurseries - not something most people would have guessed, but there it is. This week, the state Department of Agriculture is reporting that order of finish has been upended, as cattle/livestock has moved into first place. This comes at a moment when a number of the state's larger cattle operations want to expand the head of cattle they can have. (The largest examples are in the Tillamook area, which is already is the state's biggest dairy center.) Here's some material from state Ag's statement on the economic order:

For the first time in 20 years, there’s a new leader among Oregon’s diverse agricultural commodities in terms of production value. Cattle and calves has regained the top spot with a record breaking year in 2014, overtaking greenhouse and nursery products. It was 1994 when greenhouse and nursery supplanted cattle and calves as number one.

Newly released statistics from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) provides a preliminary picture of last year’s crop and livestock value of production. The numbers indicate that Oregon agriculture continues to be a major economic contributor to the state. The overall estimate for total production value in 2014 is about $5.4 billion, which is roughly unchanged from the past couple of years. Some commodities have shown tremendous increases while others have declined. The successful ones rely on a formula of good production and high prices for what was sold.

With Oregon producing more than 220 commodities as part of its agriculture, there will always be some winners and some losers any given year. In general, the results of 2014 show more pluses than minuses. The value of agricultural production in Oregon last year includes a top ten list that reflects the new leader, but most of the names are familiar. ...

In addition to cattle and calves swapping places with greenhouse and nursery products from the previous year’s list, wine grapes cracked the top ten while onions dropped out. All top ten commodities showed an increase in production value from 2013 with the exception of wheat and potatoes. For the first time in history, Oregon had two commodities above the $800 million mark in production value and four commodities valued at more than a half billion dollars. Onions, Christmas trees, and blueberries just missed the top ten list yet still eclipsed $100 million in production value.

“It was generally a great year for Oregon’s farmers and ranchers,” says Kathryn Walker, special assistant to the director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “When you have so many commodities with a production value above $500 million, that’s impressive.”

By far, the most dramatic rise in production value in Oregon comes from cattle country– a nearly 38 percent increase from 2013 to 2014.

“That industry hasn’t been number one since the early 90s, so I’m sure it’s exciting to them to be a leader once again,” says Walker. “There have been some very strong cattle prices the last couple of years and that is reflected in the value of production for cattle and calves.”

The cattle and calves category is also approaching a status enjoyed only once by an Oregon agricultural commodity– the billion dollar club. Greenhouse and nursery products reached $1.039 billion in 2007. A year later, the economic recession took its toll specifically on nursery products and grass seed. Nonetheless, greenhouse and nursery is making its way back and recorded an increase of 11 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Commodities with other increases in production value in 2014 include milk (+23 percent), pears (+14 percent), hay (+11 percent), wine grapes (+10 percent), grass seed (+9 percent), and hazelnuts (+7 percent). Wheat (-22 percent) and potatoes (-3 percent) were the only commodities on the negative side of the ledger.

Some commodities outside the top ten recorded large increases in production value, including sweet corn (+29 percent) and blackberries (+18 percent). Blueberries, which occasionally reaches the top ten, saw a healthy increase (+8 percent) and continues to show strong gains each year.

Off the info grid

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We've been off the information grid for nearly a month now. Oh, we've still got electricity, the internet, the gas and water and sewer connexions, but a month ago the satellite went away at our command, so no more government and corporate news at 6 p.m. or the Sunday morning food-fights.

I do miss Charles Osgood and Gwen Eifel but that's about it. These are offset by the welcome losses of Judy Woodruff, Brian Williams, and all of Fox News and all of the Spokane happy news. We don't like being barked at by news purveyors who've never been in a street fight or spent a night in jail, whose only claim to the august positions they hold is based on race, sex, or a tawdry journalism degree from some tawdry college.

Can't much stand our local Shruggles News-Press, either. It seems content to republish police reports and how the local cheerleaders are doing. The new paradigm. Newspapering is now a stenographer's job.

For news in the morning, it's a quick surf through Drudge, who is the premiere old-school news editor, then a deep read through the Washington Post's op-ed page, which seems to be the only surviving newspaper willing to air a variety of actual thinking on topics of import. I read Will, Gerson and Krauthammer on the right, and Dione, the robotic Robinson, and Milbank on the left, then maybe some Samuelson for balance. (For $10 a year the WaPo is the best real newspaper left on the web.)

Back to the central point. We're not missing anything. The dish, with all of its channels advertising faux diamonds and Vego-O-Matic gadgetry and hatred-spewing from Fox and MSNBC, just wasn't worth $80 a month. I don't really give a crap who the next president is going to be, because nothing's going to change. They're welcome to duke it out, but not on my dime, nor my time.

Television is entertainment. Regrettably, the news model has fit itself into the entertainment game and these sissified boys and girls at the anchor desks have capably adapted.

So I turned them off and haven't missed a bloody thing. The sun still rises and sets. The dog, cat, Better Half and me are still healthy. Blood pressure has dropped by many points.

What the Dow does to-day has no impact on our real lives. It's a handful of speculators, mostly banks, trying electronically to out-guess each other. Who really should care? Does caring about it pay my rent? But it's front-page news – a bloody distraction.

The Mid-East burns. Let it. They've been doing this to each other for 6,000 years. What gives us the hubris to think we can fix that? And if you think the U.S. is without guilt there, visit what Kermit Roosevelt did in Iran when he organized the toppling of a duly elected president to install the Shah of Iran in the early 1950s, all to protect British oil interests. Thirty-some years later, we got the blow-back.

Good books and good movies are the way to go. In fiction, nobody lies.

First take

Something seemed likely to happen this year on the Boulder-White Clouds area, because of the pressure on for a presidential declaration of a national monument in the area if no congressional action happened. And, though not much mentioned this week, that prospect seems to have lit a fire under certain people associated with (or in opposition to) the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill long pushed by Representative Mike Simpson. That doesn't, of course, diminish the proper credit Simpson should get for the bill; it just helps explain why it slipped through the House and Senate this year when it failed in years previous, during times when it seemed to be forever stuck. Part of good legislating is persistence, and Simpson demonstrated that, keeping after the bill through good times and back, and skillfully striking when the opportunity arose. It was a demonstration of pure legislative skill and on a topic important to Idaho. A question: Has there been a congressional action specific to Idaho of greater significance since the designation of the River of No Return Wilderness (since renamed to include Frank Church) more than three decades ago? Passage of this bill may give Simpson the clear edge as the most consequential member of Congress for Idaho in the last generation. - rs (photo/"Alice Lake" by Fredlyfish4)"Alice Lake" by Fredlyfish4)

Bombast vs knowledge

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As the national media herd runs from one embarrassing Trump affront to our national dignity to another, there’s an interesting story all are missing. In they rush to pick up another specious, ego-filled, churlish sound bite, a smarter, far more effective race is being run showing positive campaigning on just the issues is far more effective.

Though the foot-in-mouth New Yorker is drawing some civilian attendees to his traveling road show of put-downs, gaffes, insults and ego-massaging, it appears many are there because they want to see a “celebrity” rather than be swayed by his “statements” about anything. I doubt significant numbers of them go home with the thought “You know, there’s a guy who ought to be our next President.”

Now - leave the fawning media behind and walk over to the campaign of one Bernie Sanders. You won’t have problems finding him. Just look for the larger crowds - much larger gatherings than Trumps. Crowds Trump and his Cretin campaign team would kill for. Crowds they couldn’t get even if they paid people to turn out. Crowds listening intently to Sander’s views on national debt, immigration reform, Social Security, health care, voting rights, infrastructure repair and other important issues going begging for Republican - not to mention Trump’s - attention. Sanders speaks to those issues because - unlike a majority of other “candidates” - he know the issues.

Note also, at these Sanders sessions, people are respectful, attentive, boisterous when responding to statements they agree with but - above all - listening. They want to hear his message - they want to know more about this New England independent who speaks with a New York accent.

And, here’s the kicker - what the national media is just plain missing. Sanders is campaigning with entirely positive messages on the important issues that need to be dealt with. He castigates no one. He speaks without name-calling. He sticks to the subject. He’s enthusiastic but not bombastic. He knows what he’s talking about. He can communicate it! I’d guess many who hear Sanders in those large crowds - even in those red states - go home with the thought, “That guy could be our next President.”

Both national parties are losing registered membership because they’re anachronistic, money-grubbing ghosts of “politics past.” Neither stands for much of anything. Dem’s are so far from the middle nationally that many former members no longer relate. The GOP has dived into a hole with positions so narrow and irrelevant only a few diehards remember the “glory days.” For both, billionaires have replaced wide-spread voter appeal and money - lots and lots of money - has become the party purpose for existing.

To me, Trump’s “candidacy” is the most dangerous threat to our political system since the Kochs built themselves a “Tea party.” Look how far to the right - to near national irrelevance - the Republican party has gone in the last 15-20 years. Look at the absolute stalemate the elections of Ted Cruze, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, Raul Labrador and about 50 others have caused. None of them - not one - has been effective with new legislation, problem-solving, healing our national political wounds, standing for anything while doing nothing but cashing a paycheck. They’ve made a eunuch out of Congress, extended misery for the poor and homeless, played almost exclusively to the rich and ignored finding solutions to national ills that are the exclusive province of Congress.

Now, Trump is attracting audiences of the same disaffected, unthinking, scared and mostly white, elderly people. In poll after poll after poll, results show far too many people don’t have any idea how their government operates, how legislation becomes law, what our system of checks and balances is. And they have no idea what the role of government is as defined by the Constitution many of them swear by but are ignorant of both content and meaning.

People like Trump - and to some extent nearly all the Republican presidential candidates - are offering simple answers to complex problems they can’t solve. Trump - with his trashy name-calling, jingoistic, belittling statements - is capitalizing on the ignorance of those people looking for someone who talks like they do - feels like they do - about whatever’s bothering them at the moment. He’s dispensing verbal snake oil.

If some of these people who look to Trump for political salvation would set aside their fears and their loathing of a government they don’t understand - and in too many cases fear - and spend some time at a Sanders’ rally, they might be both enlightened and educated by a far different experience.

Please don’t take this as an endorsement of Sen. Sanders. It is NOT. But it IS an endorsement of the politics of any candidate of any party who understands the issues and who speaks to them with educated, informed ideas and temperate words while appealing to the best in us.

Take your choice. In a field of some 20 candidates of both parties, fill in your own choice of someone else who’s doing that. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

First take

Bert Marley seems to be on the surface a rational choice for chair of the Idaho Democratic Party, and a good choice for some less obvious reasons. He has plenty of personal political experience, going back to when his dad (also named Bert) was in the legislature. This Bert was in the legislature too, serving from an area where Democrats could win but could not take a win for granted. He also has run statewide, last year for lieutenant governor. Like his father he was an educator by profession, and he worked for the Idaho Education Association, and his experience there may have provided a useful lesson for the Democratic Party in Idaho. While Marley certainly should focus a good deal of attention on pure party-building (filling those precinct spots, strengthening the county organizations), it could also start to use ballot issues as a way to organize and draw distinctions with the Republicans. That happened in 2012 when educators, in three ballot issues, turned back a series of major education changes proposed by then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. There hasn't been much ballot issue followup since, but Marley's experience with the IEA just might bring a few ideas to mind. - rs

First take

Seeking to escape the high-90s heat on the east side of the Coast Range, we took an afternoon-early evening drive to the oceanside, running around and checking out the Neskowin-Pacific City-Netarts area, places which were busy but less likely to be jammed than, say, the Newport-Lincoln City parking lot. And it worked. The temperatures were at 92 when we left the Willamette Valley and down to 67 at the coast. One data point we picked up was the spot at which temperature dropped, headed west, and where it rose again, headed east. The latter, just before sunset, tracked predictably as we headed back over the mountains. But on the road west, from Forest Grove to Tillamook, we found that the 90s stubbornly held in there over the mountains and down to the feet on the other side; only as we approached a dozen miles to Tillamook did the heat wave break and suddenly drop by about 15 degrees. So much for the mountains being the only dividing line in the area.

Tom Boyd

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In 1986, Idaho politics was not frozen in ice as it is today. It was fluid, and no better case for that could be made than Tom Boyd’s election that year to the speakership of the Idaho House.

It was still the Reagan Era in Idaho, but late Reagan Era, and the results of the 1986 election were all over the place. Democrat Cecil Andrus was returned to the governorship, but just barely, and Republicans did well among the rest of the statewide offices. Republicans won a serious U.S. Senate race, but not by a lot, and a Democrat won in the 2nd district U.S. House seat. The election was a true mixed bag: The overall tilt was Republican, but nothing and no one could be taken for granted.

Especially the party thought to be dominant in Idaho, the Republicans. As majority Republican legislators prepared that year to choose their leaders, they had some decisions to make, especially in the House.

There, the speaker for the previous two terms had been Tom Stivers, a conservative with some rough edges – the kind of guy who often generated what we now call “viral” quotes and anecdotes, like the time he replied to an Idaho teacher planning to leave the state over complaints about state funding and treatment of teachers, with the single word: “Goodbye!”

Stivers had been buoyed to some extent by the 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide but he opted out in 1986, possibly sensing a shift in moods. Many of the Republican legislators of the incoming 1986 group sensed that change too, not any massive shift to the left but some dissatisfaction with what voters were seeing and hearing from the legislature. And – this part was important – many of them felt a need to respond to that.

Candidates emerged to replace Stivers, all with an easy-going style that contrasted with the outgoing speaker. The two main vote getters were Robert Geddes of Preston, who as assistant majority leader had been a part of Stivers’ leadership team, and Tom Boyd of Genesee, who was considered more moderate, part of a group calling itself the Steelheads, centrists who in the Idaho House could readily compare themselves to the fish that swims upstream.

The contest was a near-tie, and a break from the norm in the Idaho House where the more conservative candidate typically wins the race. Boyd emerged as speaker, and was re-elected twice to the post. Along the way he would turn back a challenge from now-U.S. Representative Mike Simpson.

Tom Boyd, who died July 28, was not a hard-charging politico, and never considered a run for higher office; he was a friendly, sociable, low-key farmer whose run for speaker surprised many people who knew him then, as uncharacteristically ambitious. He proved well up to the job, developing an unexpected toughness but also changing the face of the Idaho House.

He changed it in the direction most of his fellow legislators had wanted, as more open and welcoming to larger groups of people. He by no means shut out conservatives in key House spots; Geddes for one got a key seat on the budget committee (which he later would co-chair), but he expanded the dialogue in a number of ways.

Tom was missed when he left the legislature and will be missed now, as will be the kind of politics he thrived in.

First take

As the debate continues (and of course will this next week with the Republican presidential debate) about the Affordable Care Act, ah, Obamacare, some actual review of results so far would seem to be in prder. A good one has just been released, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking results year by year and with special depth in California, which is where the new report is situated. California is just one marketplace, but since it includes a fifth of the national population, it's a pretty good marker. Here is some of what it says:

After two rounds of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, 68 percent of Californians who were uninsured prior to the first open enrollment period now report that they have health insurance, referred to in this report as the “recently insured.” This share is up from 58 percent after the first open enrollment period in the spring of 2014. The largest share of California’s previously uninsured, a third (34 percent), say they have coverage thought the state’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, up from 25 percent after the first open enrollment period. In addition, 14 percent say they are insured through an employer, 12 percent say they have a plan through Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace where people can shop for and compare health insurance plans and access federal subsidies for coverage, and another 7 percent say they have other non-group coverage or insurance through some other source. About a third (32 percent) report being currently uninsured, referred to in this report as the “remaining uninsured.” Because the same group of previously uninsured people has been followed over time, the survey is also able to explore the dynamics of health insurance and track how many people have moved in to or back out of coverage since the baseline survey in 2013.

Shorter: It's working, it's making improvements, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. Which is more or less what a lot of people have been thinking.