Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in January 2017

A heartfelt thank-you

carlson

From time to time when out in public I’ll bump into a reader of the column or an old friend who inevitably asks how am I doing in dealing with my major health challenges. As they and a few others know, I have been combating a rare form of Stage IV neuroendocrine cancer which was diagnosed in November of 2005. I was given the proverbial six months left to live.

This, coupled with an earlier (1999) diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, as well as a few other maladies, makes me somewhat of a medical marvel to my team of doctors.

In responding I always thank them for their interest, and also thank them as a taxpayer for their assistance with ensuring my welfare because Medicare has paid a small fortune to my physician team aad to hospitals that have helped me fight so far with success. Costs have far exceeded what I paid in over the years.

This is my way of segueing to the current national political debate over the issue of ObamaCare, its alleged failures and the prospects for reform of our overly costly system of health care. Indeed, most folks who follow this debate will do so from the same place and ask the same question: How does this impact my family and me?

The unvarnished truth is there are features of ObamaCare that have been implemented which enjoy broad support and one can rest assured the Republican Congress will not touch these. The public now sees them as entitlements, and as such, they have become institutionalized.

These features include no denial of coverage for a pre-existing condition and no caps on the cost an individual may incur. I am and continue to be the beneficiary of these features. My critics may find it disconcerting to learn that through their paid taxes, especially Medicare, they are indirectly paying a part of the cost that keeps me on the sunny side of the earth.

Allow me to explain. After the initial diagnosis I sought a second opinion like everyone should The number of tumors on my liver, as well as the deterioration of the tri-cuspid valve, led doctors at M. D. Anderson in Houston to decline to even see me - the CT’s, MRI’s and blood work made it look hopeless. Administrative personnel at M.D. Anderson have since apologized and also have reviewed their entrance criteria.

I ended up at The new Huntsman Cancer Center attached to the University of Utah in Salt Lake. During the course of 2006 and early into 2007 I underwent five chemoembolization procedures where they enter a major artery and with an incredibly small wand are able to place the emolsion directly on the tumors to literally shatter them.

The last procedure at Huntsman involved placing radioactive pellets, Y-90, on the tumor remnants to ensure they are indeed killed. The pellets were flown in from Australia the day of the procedure. All of these procedures were of course expensive.

Mercifully, I stabilized and slowly began to regain weight and recover. There is no cure for this cancer, but we certainly knocked it back and have held it in check ever since.

During all the intervening years I monthly receive the maximum allowable amount of a sandostatin called Octreotide. I call it my “golden rear” shot because I receive half the dose in my left butt cheek and half in my right butt cheek. It is an expensive drug, one which I could not begin to afford did I have to pay the cost myself.

Fortunately for me, I am covered by Medicare and from the beginning I purchased the best supplemental insurance plan one could. Much as an insurance company might have wanted to deny me coverage they could not because ObamaCare prohibits denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

If Congress makes the mistake of repealing the act first without having put in place the replacement bill guaranteeing continued access and coverage, I’ll be at Raul Labrador’s door along with a thousand others.

One last note: I polled 12 of the doctors I have utilized over my 11 year battle as to whether they would not have preferred Congress to have expanded Medicare into a single payer system that cut insurance companies out altogether. To my surprise all 12 said yes, that it was the devil they knew and it was working. Like me, all Americans, especially those covered by Medicare should be watching carefully.

Health care now

jorgensen

A few hundred people braved freezing winter weather Friday, January 6 to hear former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley discuss the future of health care policy under the Trump administration.

The early morning breakfast forum was held at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland. It was billed as an overview of how the incoming Republican president-elect’s policies will affect the health care reforms that have been initiated in “blue states” such as Oregon and Maryland.

O’Malley, who served two terms as that state’s 61st governor, ran for president in last year’s Democratic primary election. He was also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association from 2011 to 2013. Under his leadership, Maryland became the first state to adopt an all-payer system that included all of the hospitals within its borders.

Kitzhaber said that in the 30 years since the creation of the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), millions of the state’s residents have benefited from expanded insurance coverage. Access was expanded to 400,000 Oregonians, Kitzhaber said, with subsidies provided to 95,000 of them.

However, he added that the program did not connect with outcomes or address costs within the health care system.

O’Malley said that many states, including Washington and Maryland, had commissions as far back as 1978 that set insurance rates. But many of those states abandoned that approach over time.

Health insurance reforms implemented in Maryland saved the federal Medicare program $116 million in their first year, O’Malley said. Those reforms involved a process that begins with rate setting and utilizes a global budgeting system.

Rates are set for hospitals by the rate commission, O’Malley said. Those entities agree on a budget and prices. Volumes are monitored, prices are adjusted and hospitals get to keep the savings that result from improved patient wellness, he said.

O’Malley said that hospital revenues are estimated in advance and an emphasis is placed on preventing unnecessary patient admissions. Some Maryland hospitals began changing their inpatient centers into wellness centers to achieve those aims.

“I believe we have found a better way to move forward in Maryland,” O’Malley said.

Following his presentation, entitled “Paying for Wellness—Maryland’s Story,” O’Malley took a seat besides Kitzhaber and a few others for a panel discussion.

Kitzhaber said that prior to the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, insurance premiums went up 75 percent between the years 2001 and 2008. Out-of-pocket expenses went up over 100 percent, Kitzhaber added, and 44 million Americans lacked coverage.

Like previous efforts, Kitzhaber said the ACA was insurance reform, but did not address the underlying inflation in the system.

O’Malley and Kitzhaber both said they felt that progress on health care reform has been made in their respective states, and it is worth fighting to protect. They agreed that states like Oregon and Maryland can reframe the debate on the issue.

“I think we should step into this thing boldly,” Kitzhaber said.

Kitzhaber did caution, though, that trying to obstruct the incoming Trump administration will not help Oregonians. He concluded that “blue state” leaders like himself and O’Malley need to offer rational solutions as part of the process.

Nightmare of a dream

rainey

I’ve been having a recurring dream.

Nell is tied to the tracks. A large locomotive bears down on her with Snidely Whiplash driving. I’m not immediaately concerned because I know Mountie Dudley Do-Right will appear, rescue Nell and derail Ol’ Snidely once again.

Except - a voice off-screen quietly whispers “Dudley resigned from the Mounties last year and is now head of security at a Calgary Safeway.” Damn! The screen goes blank. But, just before I wake up - I hear “HELP” and SQUISH.

I contacted a gypsy “dream reader” in our little coastal community. Here’s how she explained it. Dudley is really President Obama who’s now gone. Trump - I mean President-Elect Trump - Trump is actually Whiplash in the engine. And Nell? Well, she tells me Nell - tied helplessly to the tracks - is US! ALL of US! “SQUISH!”

There’s more truth than comic fantasy to my little “dream.” Snidely - er, Trump - hasn’t even been given the keys to the White House yet and he’s already tearing up the place.

Following our November election, many of us thought him to be the most unqualified President in our 250+ year history, but there would be traditional “checks-and-balances” to keep him from inflicting severe damage on the body politic. Now, in just nine weeks - all of that’s out the proverbial window. From entire departments of government, down to and including each employee in many of them, he and his “transition team” have begun treating our national structure like a field of stubble that needs burning.

A new Congress is brimming with zealots and willing sycophants already taking their own axes to the “body.” They’ve started swinging away on everything from health care to minimum wage to Planned Parenthood to God-knows-what.

All of this has been duly “reported” by a media, breathless from running from one disaster scene to the next or reading the latest “tweet.” But, none I’ve heard, read or seen has dealt seriously with one subject that really could threaten our national future - an exodus of professionals with the institutional memory and developed skills necessary for federal continuity and effectiveness..

Some cretins in the House have dug up an old government rule allowing Congress to single out an entire department for elimination or a specific employee and reduce that person’s salary to a dollar. Yep, a buck. That way, you can get rid of each one you don’t like for no reason at all and not be sued for wrongful termination. It’s called “The Holman Rule.” It’s been on the books since 1876. It was approved in the House last week and shoved into the Obamacare repealer. It could be used to wipe out entire programs. Think food stamps. Medicare. Housing.

Except - it was declared unconstitutional in the ‘40's. But, that was a different time and a different Supreme Court. Who knows now?

Trump has selected some totally unqualified but wealthy minions to go into these departments, handing each a copy of “The Holman Rule” and expects them to use it. Liberally, if you’ll pardon the word. Rick Perry at EPA or Sessions at Attorney General. Or the rest of the equally in-over-their-heads major donors to his campaign. With a genuine lack of knowledge of their jobs - and this Rule - federal government could be crippled for several generations.

Take it one step further. Suppose you’re mayor of Washington D.C., or governor of Virginia or Maryland where most federal workers live. Can you say “unemployment?” Can you say “exodus?” Can you see a significant eroding of your tax base? Your talent base?

I’m not trying to defend every government employee as one worthy of continued employment. The point is, if allowed to run its course, with unqualified people at the top backed by a Congress full of crazies and a self-important President lacking any skills of governance, we could be watching our nation put at risk on many fronts. Defense, HHS, Agriculture, Treasury, Education, EPA, Attorney General and more.

Trump scares the Hell out of me. For many reasons. He’s not someone who knows boundaries or self-limitations. His head is full of ego-driven ignorance because - like that Palin woman and so many of his ilk - he doesn’t-know-what-he-doesn’t-know and has no desire to learn. He’s a perfect setup for anyone with a crackpot idea like the Holman Rule which could become government policy. His ignorance is a breeding ground in which Putin and other dangerous souls can plant false sincerities, ego-scratching, self-serving relationships and cause Trump to make dangerous - if not world-ending - decisions.

We got lucky once when public outrage forced Congress to back up in that ethics oversight mess. Bottom line, House leadership didn’t want and used the public outcry as support. Pressure like that won’t work every time. They’re working to federally defund Planned Parenthood right now. Where’s the huge public outrage on that?

Little by little, they’re going to keep chipping away. Without sizeable public interference. And, like Nell’s predicament tied to the tracks, Dudley Do-Right won’t be there to “save the day.”

Ah, to sleep. Perchance to dream.” Those words don’t sound as inviting as they used to.

Asking the right questions

rainey

For years, pollsters have found a majority of Americans have little trust in their national media. In many instances, the positive percentages of those questioned about fairness, accuracy and impartiality have hovered below 30-percent or so. I’m not willing to accept those numbers at face value.

One reason for my skepticism is pollsters often don’t define the word “media” before asking their questions. I’ve looked at some of the larger outfits in that business - Gallup, Pew, etc. Most of their queries are about media in general which leaves responses open to interpretation. On occasion, if they specify which media, further questioning often avoids other sources - mass media - radio, TV, print or “social media.”

And therein lies one reason for my distrust of most such surveys. What about “social” media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like? Given the high percentages of folks - especially those age 40 or under - who get most of their information from such, are those sources broken out from print and broadcast media in polling? Seldom.

Four important factors to consider here. First, nearly none of what appears in “social” media is edited for accuracy, sourcing or even truth. There are no checks on whether the information is reliable. Given the huge number of people who have no idea how businesses operate - or even how their own government functions - you’re on your own when it comes to whether you believe what’s been read or told. That will, in turn, affect how a person sees all media.

Second, if pollsters don’t specifically break out which media is being asked about - which, in my checking is all too often the case - responses will be skewed. Comparing a Facebook post to The Washington Post makes responses invalid. One is checked, cross-checked and heavily edited. The other is totally unedited, unchecked and, too often, a bogus source.

Third, many of us tend to gravitate to media that agree with our viewpoints because they reinforce what we already believe. We routinely avoid the ones that don’t. (Fox, for me.) For those doing that consistently, they’re not exposed to new or different facts and, thus, cling to information that may be comfortable but also old or wrong. People who rely on Fox, for example, are fed a steady diet of information edited to skew things to false “facts.”

Finally, another factor skewing polling is the issue of what the word “news” means to both the pollster and the “pollee.” Unless there’s some major disaster or important world event at the moment, CNN, MSNBC and Fox have little to no news after 4pm MST. It’s mostly opinion mixed with a few facts. Much of it reporters talking to reporters or others favorable to the networks point-of-view. It’s not “news.” But, pollsters don’t always differentiate news from opinion in their questions. So, if the responder doesn’t like a certain news source, is that person conflating opinion with news?

I’m certainly not opposed to polling. Far from it. But, before taking results at face value, one needs to know how the question is asked and if the questioner and the responder are clear on the meaning of terms they’re using.

I think most of us have a higher trust of national media than a lot of polls indicate. But that’s just my opinion. Certainly not news. Just so we’re clear.
 

The petition

stapiluslogo1

A new ballot petition being circulated around Idaho would put directly a question many people uneasily dance around:

Is abortion murder?

It comes from a group called Abolish Abortion Idaho (website http://www.abolishabortionid.com), based at Hayden. It calls for not repealing the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, but defying it. There’s the possibility coming changes at the court could lead to a repeal anyway, but the effort here is no gray-area endeavor. It’s a frontal challenge based around the group’s core principles and, it has to be said, those of a lot of Idaho’s elected officials.

The web site argues: “Idaho Code already says that abortion is murder but that it may not be prosecuted. [This appears to be accurate.] This petition will establish equal justice for the preborn by prosecuting all who would murder them. The initiative is about equal protection under the law for preborn babies, and it eliminates the ability of a special class of people to commit a serious crime without the fear of prosecution.”

To that end the proposal would set state policy that abortion, any abortion at any stage of development, be prosecuted the same as any heinous serial killer murder you can recall. The proponents add, “There will be no exceptions for rape and incest, since the baby should never pay for the crimes of the fathers. The traditional exceptions for abortion when the life or health of the mother are threatened have been eliminated as well.”

AAI is rigorously consistent here. If you do believe abortion is murder, as so many Idaho political figures have said so clearly for so many years, then why should each provable case not be prosecuted as such? No crime, after all, is ordinarily more rigorously prosecuted than murder.

To be clear: I’m not, in this column, arguing the merits of that determination of abortion as murder. But in Idaho and around the country many politicians who have made the “abortion is murder” argument, have spent decades tinkering with the laws (to make abortion more difficult, inconvenient and expensive), while knowing that Roe v. Wade means their beliefs will never be put to the test.

The nature of the test is alluded to by AAI, but in a way you might generously call over-optimistic: “The goal of the initiative is not to punish mothers, but it is to abolish abortion. Once abortion is illegal with a severe associated penalty, we expect that very few women will ever be prosecuted under this new law.”

There are two ways to take this. If the group means to suggest little prosecution because prosecutors would rarely bring the cases, that suggests the change in law would have no teeth, and be pointless.

But if they’re suggesting the law’s intended punishment – ranging from a very long prison sentence to the death penalty – would be an effective deterrent, they’re fooling themselves. Murders of the type prosecuted now haven’t stopped, and won’t, because deep penalties are attached to them. Neither do many other heavily-punished crimes.

And if the goal “is not to punish mothers,” why not, if they’ve committed murder? You could go after doctors and nurses too (as some anti-abortion activists have in other ways). But if the law drove abortion activity away from doctors’ offices and toward other means, including self-performed abortions, how can you be rigorously in favor of legally stopping abortion without going after mothers?

This ballot issue would put the core of the question right out there. If it gets on the ballot we’ll get a chance to see what Idahoans really think about abortion – and about the consequences of following through on what has been to now mostly rhetoric.

Loyalty in excess

schmidt

Loyalty is a fine quality, but in excess it fills political graveyards. - Neil Kinnock

It has been encouraging to get all the emails, texts, condolence cards, and even phone calls after my election loss. There have been many hands on my shoulder as I'm out at holiday events, "So sorry you lost." I'm sure my opponent got as many congratulatory ones, at least I hope he did. It was also something to ponder that I got so many messages (email, texts, letters and phone calls) from majority party legislators, active and retired, expressing disappointment in my loss. But at the same time the majority party spent so much effort to unseat me. Indeed, my Senate colleagues contributed significantly to my opponent.

I was not surprised; they always have, though not always as much. It didn't hurt so much before because I won, though honestly, I never won by much. My margin has never been more than 800 votes, close to one percent. This is a swing district (There are only three of the 35 legislative districts in this state with a delegation that isn’t all one party.) and that's where the parties in this unbalanced state play the game. I am trying to understand the meaning of party loyalty for those of us who have been elected as opposed to our supposed goal of working for the common good. Let me know if this is whining; I hate whining.

The above donation is just from my Senate Republican colleagues. All told, the Republican party  and seated legislators directly contributed over 20% of my opponents fundraising, not including the independent money (?$10,000) they spent. That's no small effort. One retired Republican legislator told me, "Dan, they just have so much money and there are so few contested races, and so few swing districts, they have to spend it somewhere." Such doesn’t seem a conservative value, does it?

I can remember a neighbor down on Wildhorse River that told me “the only good coyote was a dead coyote”. He raised sheep, so I understood his sentiment. I imagine the Republican Party in Idaho might say the same about Idaho Democrats. And indeed, Idaho Democrats may have the reciprocal view. Does this partisanship serve our state?

One could discount the public and private sentiments expressed by my colleagues as just polite condolence, not heart felt. One North Idaho legislator actually argued with me when I said the legislature will do just fine without me. He said he respectfully disagreed; he thought my contribution was going to be sorely missed. I politely did not confront him with this, from his local Republican committee:

So I'm wondering, maybe they did not really consider me worth keeping around, despite their words. Instead the value of having a Republican, any Republican (no matter the character or skills or politics) was worth getting rid of me. That makes me feel pretty special, like Wile E Coyote was special to the Roadrunner. But it sure brings out the cynicism.

If I were to go this route, that is, to decide their words were not genuine, just polite pandering like cocktail party compliments, then the work I did for six years to build relationships and integrity in the legislature is not worth dry spit. And such effort isn't worth any time for those involved in the legislative process. I find such a bitter conclusion abhorrent, but possible, given the reality of our current political landscape, both in the state Capitol, and maybe in the populace in general. Should we all just play the partisan game, winning and losing? I am guilty of wanting more from all of us.

We could cynically say: it's just politics. And the party brand is how politics is played: my guy wins, your guy loses. Even more insidious, my Republican colleagues could be trying to distance themselves from the actions of their party. That is, their party makes decisions they would not on their own. So then why are we affiliated? If you look carefully at the beautiful Idaho Capitol, you will find Majority Party and Minority Party caucus rooms build into the structure on opposite sides of the chambers. Was this just a reflection of an historical assumption? Or does this partisan duality serve our state?

I’m working on these answers. Let me know what you think.

(photo/Debra Schmidt)

Worth your time

carlson

The end of one year and the beginning of another is often a good time for reflection, introspection, and the reading of a book or two providing one with new information, insights and perspective.

Besides the fine memoir written by the 90-year-old former Idaho Second District Congressman, Orval Hansen, the subject of last week’s column, there are two other fine books published recently that should command attention.

The first is a fascinating compilation of anecdotes, stories, experiences, observations and reflections by Jim and Holly Akenson who spent a total of 7003 days in the Idaho backcountry serving as the caretakers of the University of Idaho’s Taylor Ranch on Big Creek a few miles upstream from its confluence with the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

This is deep in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. It takes a special kind of person to live and thrive off the grid and deep in a wilderness area. Jim and Holly, however, have what it takes, as do a few others who belong to the fraternity or sorority of wilderness thrivers.

What it takes is an ability to appreciate solitude, to treasure the wind soughing through the trees, to listen for the yip of the coyote, the howl of the wolf or the hoot of the owl. It takes appreciation for the isolation, and ability to sit quietly by a campfire watching the coals while a yarn is spun.

The book’s intrepid couple are both trained biologists so little escapes their eye, from discussing their use of pack mules, to staving off approaching fires, to talking with visiting dignitaries. And of course they hold Maurice Hornacher and his seminal studies on cougars in the Big Creek drainage in high regard.

Backcountry residents also form a special bond with the pilot who despite troublesome weather almost always gets their mail to them. For the Akenson’s it was most often Ray Arnold at the controls. In earlier times it was Sid Hinkle.

Once in a while one will stumble across these wilderness reincarnations of the elusive “RidgeRunner,” all of whom will describe the magic of the time they have spent in the backcountry. The chief editor of the Ridenbaugh Press, Linda Watkins, spent the better part of eight years as a cook and a ranch hand in the back country, for example.

Marty Smith, who owns Three Rivers Rafting, a firm that runs rafts and kayaks on the Selway and Lochsa, would spend every day of the year in the wilderness. Guests on his trips are always surprised when about half way through a trip he’ll casually mention that he graduated from Yale with a degree in history and played for Yale’s football team.

The book, 7003 Days, is published by Caxton Press of Caldwell.

Another book, A Little Dam Problem, published by Caxton, is worth one’s time even if they aren’t into the complexities of Idaho water law. Retiring Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court Jim Jones has done the public a favor by writing in clear, lucid language about the bitter dispute surrounding the re-licensing of the Swan Falls/Guffey dam.

Jones, who early in his career worked on the staff of Senator Len B. Jordan, it can safely be said, revered Senator Jordan. One can tell part of his mission was to hold Idaho Power to the commitment the company made in 1952 to subordinate their water rights to the upstream irrigation companies in exchange for Jordan’s suppport to build three smaller dams in Hells Canyon rather than one huge (larger than Grand Coulee) federal or privately built dam.

Idaho Power spends the next 40 years trying to renege on the agreement, but Jones, as Idaho’s then Attorney General, with the support of then Governor John Evans, won’t let Idaho Power squirm off the hook. It is an interesting tale well told by Jones.

Unfortunately, the book, while avoiding some legalese nonetheless is repetitive at times because the former AG merely slaps press releases and talking points he wrote together at various times rather than summarize and produce new narrative.

What is most entertaining is Jones’ description of matching wits with and out maneuvering Idaho Power’s salty, in-your-face chief lobbyist, Logan Lanham, and “Lanham Lite,” Greg Panter.

Jones also errs when he claims that while serving as President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of the Interior, former Governor Cecil Andrus entered the fray on the company’s side. This is simply not so. Anyone who has followed Andrus’ career knows Idaho Power never supported him, especially after his Public Utility Commission vetoed the proposed Pioneer coal-fired generation plant.

Nonetheless, Jones has written a fair account of one of those issues, had it gone the other way, could have been catastrophic for the state.

Taking the oath

jorgensen

The Oregon State Capitol building is largely empty these days, aside from the facilities staff moving legislative offices around prior to the start of the 2017 session. But a notable recent exception was Friday, December 30, when former longtime state representative Dennis Richardson was sworn in as Oregon’s 26th Secretary of State.

Members of various Republican Women’s clubs started arriving in Salem in the hours immediately before the ceremony. The Senate chambers began filling with guests, well-wishers, elected officials and conservative activists from all over the state.

Richardson’s inauguration was a collective triumph for Oregon Republicans, who had long struggled to elect candidates to statewide offices. The ceremony represented a hard-fought success after years of frustration as the countless volunteer phone calls and door knocks finally paid off.

In a way, Richardson’s November general election victory over Democrat and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian showed Republicans in this blue state that there is, indeed, a path out of the political wilderness.

Former Secretary of State Phil Kiesling, a Democrat who held the position from 1991 to 1999, served as master of ceremonies. He gave a brief history lesson about the office and its past duties.

One of Richardson’s many grandchildren lead the packed crowd in the pledge of allegiance before Congressman Greg Walden (R-Oregon) began his remarks.

Walden, the sole Republican member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation, reminded the audience that it had been 40 years since Norma Paulus was sworn in as Secretary of State.

Paulus, a former legislator, was Oregon’s first female Secretary of State and the first woman ever elected to one of its statewide public offices. She was also the last Republican to hold that position, which she did from 1977 to 1985.

Walden characterized the position as being “immensely important” to the state and its people. He noted Richardson’s “sharp eye” for budgets and numbers and “sharper pencil.”

“All Oregonians can take pride in our new Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson,” Walden said.

Richardson took the oath and gave some remarks. He began by recognizing current employees of the Secretary of State’s office, who were welcomed with warm applause.

A former helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Richardson told an anecdote about doing a landing in a combat zone. The helicopter was filled with villagers that he had to transport, Richardson said, and he had to do a corkscrew landing to avoid enemy fire.

Richardson said the experience taught him that it’s one thing to have authority and another to take responsibility for those that you have authority over. He vowed to take his new responsibilities seriously.

“As Secretary of State, I will represent all of you,” he said.

Richardson’s first day in office is Tuesday, January 3.

Us by the numbers

rainey

Well, here we are. 2017. All 324,310,011 of us ready to start another calendar turnover. That’s the most recent guess - er, pardon me - estimate of our nation’s headcount by the U.S. Census Bureau folk.

In the next 12 months, we’re expected to have one birth every eight seconds and one death every 11. Net migration to our shores is expected to be one new face every 33 seconds. Adding those three categories together means we’ll increase our population by one new person every 17 seconds.

Also worth noting, as we begin crossing off the days of 2017, the Bureau folk are putting world population at 7,362,350,168. Up about one percent from the start of 2016.

Pardon me for digging in the statistics bin again but it keeps me from thinking about the political Armageddon we’re facing about three weeks from now. Besides, it’s important, now and then, to take stock of how many of us there are, who we are and where we are.

The Census counters have come up with a rather surprising state in the “fastest growing” category. Utah. Yep, Beehive state residents increased their number a full two percent to 3.1 million in the last year. Coming in second was Nevada. Then Idaho, (1.8 percent), Florida and Washington (1.8 percent). All gainers.

And there was this. Rural areas cover about 97 percent of our land but contain only 19.3 percent of the total population. About 60 million people.

All this comes from the Bureau’s American Community Survey of our 3,142 counties conducted every five years. No one else has such a comprehensive data set so these numbers are important since many government and private agencies use them for all sorts of things. Many assistance programs determine eligibility factors right down to the smallest communities in all states. Companies make expansion plans using this solitary base. Construction, utility growth, highways, recreation development - these and more - all use this data bank.

The median income figure from large county to small was a real stretch. Highest in the so-called “rural” counties were in Connecticut ($93,382) and New Jersey ($92,972). You can guess where the smallest median incomes showed up - Mississippi ($40,200). Rural area poverty rates varied from a low in Connecticut (4.6 percent) to a high in New Mexico (21.9 percent).

A number of other interesting facts come from this source. For one, those of us who live in rural areas are more likely to own our own homes “free and clear” (44-percent) while, in the city, it’s closer to 33-percent). More of us still live in our state of birth. And more of us have been in the military than those from urban areas.

We also tend to be older with a median age of 51 whereas folks in the cities have a median age of about 45. Folks in smaller areas have lower poverty rates but more of our kids are uninsured. Probably some of that old rural “self-sufficiency” there. “We take care of our own.”

I learned a new word from the Bureau folks - “rurality.” Take that, Spell Check. Best I can tell, it means small counties with no major city. Like Moro in Oregon or Lewis in Idaho. Rurality. Keep that around for your next word game.

As we embark on this new year, a lot of us do so with a large sense of political dread - uncertain where we’re headed and what affects there will certainly be on our lives. We’re in a time of national flux in political, social and economic conditions. A record high percentage of us has little to no respect for government and private institutions that have been our bedrock since the nation’s founding. We’re distrustful, suspicious and anxious. All in all, we’re suffering national angst.

In such times, it can be comforting to linger over some statistics that show we’re still this big, lumbering democracy we’ve always been. Folks in our cities continue to operate in their own rushed environment, seeming to ignore those out in the “hinterlands” who march to a different cadence. Out in those “hinterlands,” the pace is slower, security seems easier to attain - and keep - lives seem to rest on the same bedrock our forebearers knew.

I’m as filled with angst as the next guy. But, knowing we’re still growing and that other peoples of the world still seek us out as a better place for them and their families than where they were, gives me hope we’ll survive the coming trials. All 324,310,011 of us.