Monday, August 31, 2009

Media Odds and Ends

Mark Trahant: Health Care Discussion too Narrow Thoughtful commentary from Fort Hall, Idaho native Mark Trahant on the current health care debate. Trahant writes in Indian Country Today. Trahant, the former editorial page editor of the Seattle P-I, is serving a stint as a Kaiser Media Fellow assessing the Indian Health Service and what it can tell us about the current controversy. Tribune Soft on Cubs? Has the Chicago Tribune, long the owner of the city's National League baseball club, always taken it easy on the Cubs? is merely perception according to a piece on the Tribune sports page. Right. Still, the Cubbies' new ownership removes the stigma that baseball coverage of the northsiders always slighted the White Sox on the Second City's southside. Favorable coverage or not, the Cubs are still wallowing in a 100-plus year World Series drought and the 2009 post-season is looking more and more, well, doubtful. As they say: "Anyone can have a bad century." There is even a website. Times Picks on J.C. Penney My blood runs cold this time of year as I remember the dread I would feel as my mother hustled me off to J.C. Penney to acquire a new season of "school clothes." I hated the whole experience, not least because mom's ideas about "new" fashion never seemed to be on the same page with mine. When I was growing up, however, it was pretty much a trip to Penney's or ordering from the Montgomery Ward catalog. The New York Times found out that the James Cash Penney's stores - the first was in Kemmerer, Wyoming - still enjoys some brand loyalty. The Times "reviewed" the new store in Manhattan and got lots of push back for a pretty snarky piece by a fashion reviewer. Executive Editor Bill Keller even saying, as reported by the Times' Public Editor, that he wished the story hadn't run. His mother shopped at Penney's, too. Do you think all this will serve to re-enforce the notion that the Times is out of touch with middle America? And, finally... I was pleased to be asked recently by the Idaho Press Club to pen a piece for the venerable organization's newsletter. The experience certainly dated me, however. I served as president of the Club in 1978. We hardly had color TV in those days.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Talking on Lincoln

Idaho Humanities Council Features Lincoln Scholars Yours truly will have the pleasure of speaking twice in Boise in the next few weeks on two aspects of Abraham Lincoln's remarkable presidency. The talks will take place at the Main Boise Public Library at 7 pm on September 10th and at the outstanding new library at Cole and Ustick at 7 pm on October 15th. Here is a link to the Boise Library's site with more information about the events. The talks, helping to commemorate the bicentennial of the birth of the 16th American president, were developed as part of the Idaho Humanities Council's Speakers Bureau. On September 10th, the subject will be Re-electing Lincoln focusing on the pivotal election of 1864. I will make the case that it was the most significant presidential election in the country's history with literally the future of the nation depending on the outcome of the voting. On October 15th, I'll delve into Lincoln as War Leader. Lincoln had no real military experience and found that he had to invent the role of "commander in chief." Ultimately he became a better military strategist than most of his generals. If you find Lincoln as endless fascinating as I do, come on down to the Library!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reading Baseball

"You win a few, you lose a few. Some get rained out. But you got to dress for all of them." - Satchel Paige

Labor Day approaches and a baseball fan's thoughts turn to, well - baseball.

One of the best new baseball books is Satchel: The Life and Times of An American Legend by Larry Tye.

David Davis reviewed the book a while back in the Los Angeles Times and point out that there has long been mystery about Paige's age. Tye settles on the great pitcher's birthday most likely being in 1906 making him 42 when he made his major league debut!

A good book about a great baseball player and an even greater character. Good stuff also at the "official" Satchel Paige site, including this quote: "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter."

The Great Ichiro

Last Sunday's New York Times had a fine piece on the Seattle Mariner's remarkable right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki, who has missed a few starts this week due to an injury.

Sometime after Labor Day, Ichiro will ring up his ninth consecutive season with 200 or more base hits. It is a remarkable achievement. The last player to have eight straight 200 hit seasons was Wee Willie Keeler - yes, he has a website - who quit playing in 1901, a century before Ichiro showed up to begin owning records.

Here is a great statistic from the Sports Network: "Suzuki hasn't gone hitless in consecutive games since August 13-15, 2008, a span of 157 straight games without going hitless in back-to-back contests. The streak is the longest in the majors since Stan Musial (174 games) in 1943-44 and the longest AL streak since Doc Cramer (191 games) in 1934-35."

Amazing. The guy is a hitting machine.

Now, Go Giants! If only those damnable Dodgers would falter...

Friday, August 28, 2009

What I Did On The Summer Vacation

A Guest Blog - The August Recess A Guest Writer today - Shea Andersen - freelance writer and former newspaper editor.
Time and again, August proves to be the best month for political junkies to hit the road. With Congress in recess and the Obama family gadding about Martha’s Vineyard, there’s no better time to decamp from daily life and poke around a bit. Just ask Tim Egan, the New York Times writer, whose unsuccessful attempt to escape the news was documented in this essay. This year, my family took a massive van we purchased in Ketchum and pointed it west, to Oregon and California. Instead of the minivan that new parents are supposed to pilot, we found ourselves a megavan, a towering, jacked-up behemoth with a bed, sink, stove and even a shower tucked inside. So much for roughing it. For Congress, August is for seeing the district a little bit more than usual. When I was a journalist in the Ketchum area, this might mean we’d see U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson arriving for a backpack trip into the Boulder-White Cloud mountains, dragging along a few reporters or aides. At the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum, we received a greeting card from Simpson, the cover of which was a drawing he’d done of the mountain ranges while on one of his trips. His bill to establish wilderness in that area, the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, or CIEDRA, may not be advancing much in Congress, but he still made the trip, a staffer told me. “He wouldn’t miss it,” said John Revier, a Simpson spokesman. “I don’t think we’ll ever have an August recess without him making that trip.” For U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, the recess period looks a little rougher. His appearance on the News Hour With Jim Lehrer had its high points, but also a few toe-curling awkward moments. Witness Minnick, trying to press the flesh at the Caldwell Night Rodeo, getting caught on camera not recognizing a major donor, who later told the reporter he was having a tough time supporting Minnick after watching his votes on the economy, the environment, and now health care reform. Back on the road, then. Minnick’s sprawling district offers lots of opportunities to make new friends. He’ll need them when he faces the Republican challengers hoping to make his first term an anomaly in Idaho political history, as the Spokane Spokesman-Review notes. Ultimately, I feel a longing for the fall and the pickup of news traffic. I respect Egan’s news blackout attempt, even if I didn’t try as hard. Cold turkey is a dish best left to more dangerous addicts. I say, bring on the fall. (Shea Andersen is the former editor of the Idaho Mountain Express and the Boise Weekly. He lives in Boise.)

What is Obama Reading...

The L.A. Times - Top of the Ticket Andrew Malcolm looks like a writer doesn't he? Andy does a lot of the writing for the L.A. Times' blog called Top of the Ticket. It's a good daily take on politics spiced with a little of Malcolm's ready display of good humor. The post on the president's Martha's Vineyard reading list is worth a look. Andy, by the way, once served a brief stint as Laura Bush's press secretary and a longer stint in the same position with former Montana Governor Marc Racicot. Andy is a Canadian by birth, a hockey fan by choice, and author of 10 books, including The Canadians and Huddle: Fathers, Sons and Football.

Good guy, good writer, good blog.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Famous Five

When the Senate Selected the Greatest Senators The U.S. Senate has been graced over more than 220 years by many greats. The passing of Ted Kennedy - a great senator of the last fifty years - seems an appropriate moment to recall some of those senators of history who deserve remembering.

The Pacific Northwest has been blessed by many great ones. Jackson and Magnuson from Washington. McNary, Hatfield and Morse from Oregon. Borah, Church and McClure from Idaho. Walsh, Wheeler and Mansfield from Montana, to name but a few. Every student of the Senate has a candidate for greatness, which makes it even more impressive (or curious) that more than fifty years ago, the Senate undertook it own effort to honor the greatest who had ever served.

The Senate Reception Room is one of the spectacular spaces in the U.S. Capitol. Visit if you ever have the opportunity. In 1955, the Senate authorized an effort to select five outstanding former members whose portraits would adorn the magnificent room. Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio (pictured here) was one of the five chosen, as were Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin. Young Sen. John F. Kennedy, 38 years old and fresh off winning a Pulitzer for Profiles in Courage (the book profiled eight courageous Senators) lead the committee to select the "famous five." The other committee members were Mike Mansfield of Montana, Richard Russell of Georgia (both great Senators), Styles Bridges of New Hampshire and John Bricker of Ohio. In a forward to a book about the famous five, Kennedy wrote: "The life of each of these Senators is a drama in itself. Each made a distinct historic impression during the period of his public service, and each has become a part of America's broad constitutional heritage. Clay, Webster, Calhoun, La Follette, Taft were all men who knew the value and limits of constructive partisanship, yet each also made solitary pilgrimages at times when they differed with the prevailing mood of opinion in Congress and the country." The selections of Kennedy's committee were not without controversy. A panel of 160 historians recommended the inclusion of Nebraska's great progressive George Norris, the father of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the inventor of Nebraska's unicameral legislature. Kennedy had included Norris in Profiles in Courage. But Bridges, a tough, New England conservative, had often clashed with the liberal Norris and he, along with Nebraska's two Senators at the time, blackballed the Nebraskan. Petty, personal politics, to be sure, is nothing new in the U.S. Senate, even when it comes to identifying greatness. In 2000, another Senate committee recommended the addition of Reception Room portraits of two other greats - Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan and Robert Wagner of New York. One suspects the U.S. Senate will soon be finding a place for Edward Moore Kennedy's portrait. The rich and fascinating history of the "world's greatest deliberative body" is extremely well presented at the Senate history website. Among other things, you'll find a page for everyone who ever served in the Senate - all the scoundrels, as well as the heroes. The book about the original greatest Senators, by the way, is by Holmes Alexander and is called The Famous Five. There are few institutions more American than the U.S. Senate - ennobling, frustrating, essential, constant. The next time you get frustrated with the pace of the place or the petty politics, just remember that giants have walked there and will again.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remembering Kennedy

My One (Brief) Encounter With Teddy I have Bethine Church, the wife and political partner of the late Idaho senator, to thank for my one brush with the senator from Massachusetts who died last night. It was the summer of 1979, and President Jimmy Carter had just returned from Vienna and the signing of the controversial SALT II nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The President was reporting to a joint session of the Congress and this wide-eyed, young TV reporter from Idaho was going to the speech as the guest of the wife of the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I remember sitting in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives with Bethine to one side and Helen Jackson, the wife of the great Washington Senator Henry Jackson, to the other. (Church supported SALT II, Jackson did not and the powerful Senate wives mirrored those positions.) After Carter's speech, of which I confess I don't remember much, Bethine said matter of factly, "We'll go up to the radio/TV gallery and listen into the reaction." OK, I thought, that is a good idea. As we entered the very cramped gallery, high up in the U.S. Capitol, it was immediately obvious that everyone - everyone - knew and liked Bethine. She graciously introduced me, "as a friend from Idaho," to John Tower of Texas, John Glenn of Ohio and then to Kennedy. I'll never forget the introduction. "Ted, you know Marc Johnson from Idaho?" Of course, he didn't know me from a bale of fresh hay, but we stood in the noise and confusion of the Senate radio/TV gallery and talked about Sun Valley, Senator Church, the president's speech and the treaty, which Kennedy praised as an important opening to the Soviet Union. The next year, Kennedy challenged Carter for the Democratic nomination and lost badly even though he, somewhat surprisingly, enjoyed a good deal of support in Idaho. That support existed even though being labeled "a Kennedy-style liberal" is always a liability for any Idaho Democrat. President Obama today praised Kennedy as "one of the greatest senators of our time." There seems little debate about that. Tomorrow, the story of how the Senate - lead by then-Sen. John Kennedy - selected the "famous five" - the greatest senators (up to 1957) who had ever graced the "world's greatest deliberative body."

Feasting on Hemingway

The New Edition of A Moveable Feast - A Guest Post I've asked Martin L. Peterson, a member of the board of the Hemingway Society and a scholar of all things Hemingway, to guest post today regarding the controversial new edition of A Moveable Feast - The Restored Edition. The original Feast was published 1964 after Hemingway's death. Here's Marty's very interesting take:
Hemingway: Still Creating A Lot of Buzz
By Martin L. Peterson
It is the kind of thing that most authors can only dream about. A new edition of one of your earlier books comes out. Christopher Hitchens writes an extensive review in The Atlantic. Other publications, such as the Kansas City Star, do the same. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, a friend blasts the new edition, stating that the original edition is much preferable. And the son of your publisher writes a letter-to-the-editor of the Times also supporting the original edition. But even these negative pieces help publicize that the new edition has been published. Few authors have such experiences. And even fewer have them nearly 50 years after they die. But that is much the way with the posthumous life of Ernest Hemingway. Even though he won both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes and was a bestselling author in his lifetime, he has sold more books since his death in 1961 than in life. In fact, the new edition of his memoir A Moveable Feast lists him as the author of 26 books, with 12 of them published posthumously. A Moveable Feast was first published in 1964. It was subjected to considerable editing by Harry Brague of Scribners and Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary. Among other things, Mary cobbled together a preface from various manuscript fragments and signed Ernest’s name to it. But, even with the edits, the book has always regarded as being Hemingway’s work, just as A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition, must also be recognized as Hemingway’s work. The new edition was edited by Hemingway’s grandson, Sean. Sean’s uncle, Patrick, provided an enthusiastic foreword to the work. The Hemingway archives at the John F. Kennedy Library are probably the most extensive archives of any prominent author. If it was on paper, Hemingway filed it away. He wrote before the days of word processing, so his notes, drafts with deletes and edits, and correspondence are generally available to anyone with an interest in Hemingway. Because of the existence of all of this material, there have been arguments among scholars since the initial publication of A Moveable Feast as to what Hemingway did or did not intend to have included in the book. About the only thing they fully agree on is that the title for the book was never one of the titles that Hemingway considered. It came from a conversation that A.E. Hotchner said he had with Hemingway in Paris in the 1950s. Hotchner, a friend of Hemingway’s during his later years, wrote a scathing op-ed piece in the New York Times concerning the new edition of the book. He states, among other things, that he had delivered the original manuscript of Scribners in 1960 in exactly the format that Hemingway wanted it published. An interesting claim when you consider that Hemingway was still making changes to the manuscript as late as April 1961 and had only come up with titles for three of the book’s original twenty chapters at the time of his death. Hotchner also states that he thinks that much of the driving force behind this new edition is to make Pauline Hemingway, Ernest’s second wife, appear in a better light than in the original edition. Pauline was Patrick’s mother and Sean’s grandmother. She may appear in a slightly better light due to the addition of some materials left out of the original addition. But the classic line about his love for his first wife, Hadley, remains – “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” It should come as no surprise that the publication of this new edition would be anything less than controversial. But, unlike the edition that Mary Hemingway edited, Sean Hemingway makes considerable effort to explain the justifications behind his editing decisions. He has reordered some pieces into a more chronological fashion than in the original edition. He has also relegated some chapters to a section in the rear of the book titled “Additional Paris Sketches.” And there are also several new pieces that apparently Hemingway had kept from the original edition in hopes of eventually publishing a second volume of memoirs. Regardless of the content, I would have bought this new edition just for the cover. The original edition’s cover with a painting of Pont Neuf in Paris has been replaced by a classic Hemingway photo. There are an estimated 10,000 photographs of Hemingway at the Kennedy Library. My favorite of the lot is his 1923 passport photo, taken prior to his move to Paris. It disproves the old adage that there is no such thing as a good passport photo. In my mind, it is the best photo ever taken of him and having it on the cover of the new edition makes it worth the price of purchase. The end result is yet another great Hemingway book. Scholars, friends and family members may squabble over the differences between the two editions, but The Restored Edition is 100% Hemingway at his best and a treat to read. (Martin L. Peterson is Special Assistant to the President of the University of Idaho.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lessons From Obama Online

"Propelled by Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency" - Wired, November 4, 2009 A fascinating new report from two environmentally oriented foundations - Brainerd and Wilberforce - slices and dices the Obama For America online campaign of last year and offers some interesting conclusions not entirely in keeping with the media hype. You can access the report - Online Tactics & Success - An examination of the Obama For America New Media Campaign - here. The 42-page analysis concludes that, while the Obama team did a remarkable job utilizing email and the web in the 2008 campaign, the online success had more to do with the candidate than the technology. "The energy and enthusiasm of Obama supporters was unprecedented in modern elections," the report says, allowing the new media team the daily - or hourly - ability to push a great "product." The foundations commissioned the analysis in order to learn what lessons non-profits should take away from the Obama campaign, but there is something here for everyone interested in how the Internet is remaking communication. Like much of the rest of Obama's historic march to the White House, the brilliance of the online campaign was in the quality of its execution. The report's authors highlight seven key findings.
  1. Discipline: Develop best practices and stick with them. "ONLY send content that you know your supports will value." And, have the discipline "to stay ON message."
  2. The Right People: Obama campaign manager David Plouffe saw to it that the new media effort wasn't organized as part of communications or finance, but as a stand alone part of the campaign. He then recruited top people from CNN, Google and Madison Avenue to staff what became an 81 person unit.
  3. Spotlight on Supporters: "The campaign made a concerted and deliberate effort to keep the spotlight on the people who supported Obama, and not just on the candidate."
  4. Nimbleness: "The campaign was able to turn on a dime and launch a fundraising email within hours of [Sarah] Palin's speech" criticizing "community organizers." The email generated $11 million in contributions in a single day.
  5. Authenticity: "OFA managed to do something unique - share real, inside campaign information with its supporters, while making that information accessible and meaningful. Plouffe said: "Nothing is more important than authenticity. People have very sensitive bullshit-o-meters."
  6. Content Matters: "From top notch emails, to 1,800 videos, to amazing graphic design, the new media team demonstrated a serious focus on content."
  7. Data-Driven Culture: "More than any campaign in history, OFA was a data-driven operation." The campaign created a six-person analytics team and tested and measured every aspect of the online program. "Entire projects were scrapped because the data showed they were not effective."

The Brainerd/Wilberforce report offers this observation underscoring the essential requirement of any successful campaign - skillful execution:

"Fundamentally, the most successful elements of OFA's new media program were not new. OFA's new media team simply executed the same core strategies than many nonprofits have used for years - but they did so flawlessly."

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Johnson Treatment

What Would Lyndon Do... Before Vietnam defined his as "a failed presidency," Lyndon Johnson assembled an historic record of legislative accomplishment. He got civil rights and voting rights legislation passed, created Medicare, federally guaranteed student loans and the national endowments for arts and the humanities. And that is certainly a partial list. Of course, the bigger than life Texan - the flawed giant in biographer Robert Dallek's words - had lots of help with all that legislation, but Johnson was the catalyst, the cajoler in chief. History records him as the nation's greatest legislative politician. In a great piece on the Daily Beast website, LBJ aide Tom Johnson, writes about how his old boss would have gotten a health care reform bill through the current congress. It's worth reading to understand the full impact of the "Johnson treatment" and how effective LBJ could be in winning votes for his legislation. Like every good politician, Johnson kept lists and he settled scores. The great Idaho Senator Frank Church was victim of Johnson's attempt to make sure that the press and other Vietnam critics knew that the president can always have the last word. As American involvement in Vietnam continued to divide the country with dimming prospects that the conflict could be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, Church became more and more outspoken in his opposition to the war. It was a principled and courageous stand at odds with many of his Idaho constituents and certainly at odds with President Johnson. After a White House dinner, LBJ cornered Church to work him over for his stand on the war. According to the story, recounted in LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer's fine biography of Church, the senator allegedly told the president that he had come more and more to agree with the celebrated Washington columnist Walter Lippman, who had turned sharply against LBJ's Southeast Asia policy. Only later did Church come to believe that Johnson himself was the source of a story making the rounds among reporters and cocktail party goers in Washington that LBJ had responded by telling the Idahoan, "Next time you need a dam out in Idaho - go talk to Walter Lippman." Makes you wonder what LBJ would be saying to Max Baucus or Chuck Grassley about health care reform right now. Only two presidents in the past 50 years - Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan - have been able to consistently and effectively work the levers of presidential power to fundamentally reshape the American political landscape. We know Barack Obama is a student of history. The next few weeks may tell whether he can begin to work the levers as well as Lyndon and Ronnie did.

Books worth considering:

  • Ashby and Gramer's Church biography is Fighting the Odds. It is the complete life and offers great insight into Idaho politics in from the 1950's to the 1980's.

  • Among the newest LBJ biographies is a fine book by Randall Woods called LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Not exactly a favorable treatment of LBJ, but a fully nuanced take on his remarkable accomplishments and equally remarkable failures.

  • Bob Dallek's two volume bio of LBJ - Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant - helped redeem, to a degree, Johnson's reputation as a great legislative tactician.

  • Robert Caro's monumental four-volume Johnson biography is still in progress. Give Caro his due - he knows more about LBJ and had written more than anyone - but he lacks either Woods' or Dallek's sense of nuance or balance. Anything Caro produces is a must read for political junkies and his emphasis is always on the exercise of power, but count on heavy emphasis of the darkest of the dark side of Lyndon Johnson.

  • Finally, when it came out in 2005, William E. Leuchtenburg's The White House Looks South received less - much less - attention than it deserved. Leuchtenburg focuses on FDR, Harry Truman and LBJ as he weaves a great narrative about how those three Democratic presidents had "one foot below the Mason-Dixon Line, one foot above." His treatment of Johnson's presidency is particularly good reading.

What would Lyndon do with a Congress coming back from an August recess all spun up about what to do with health care reform? You can bet LBJ would have had an aggressive plan and he would have worked himself into a lather trying to make it succeed.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Giant of Western Storytelling

"Every story is the story of a man or a woman or a small group of people." - A.B. Guthrie, Jr. - A Field Guide to Writing Fiction A.B. "Bud" Guthrie, Jr. deserves a place in the front ranks of American writers. A new biography of Guthrie, published earlier this year, should help cement the Pulitzer Prize winners place among the best who have ever written about the West. I hope, as well, that it might renew an interest in Guthrie's amazing body of work. The book - Under the Big Sky - A Biography of A.B. Guthrie, Jr. - by Jackson J. Benson was published by the University of Nebraska Press. Benson has also written fine biographies of Wallace Stegner and John Steinbeck. Guthrie was a successful newspaper editor in Kentucky when he was awarded a Neiman Fellowship at Harvard and while studying there he finished his first novel - The Big Sky - published in 1947. He followed with The Way West and was awarded the Pulitzer in 1950. There followed many other works of fiction, including some great mystery stories, two memorable screenplays - Shane in 1953 and the Kentuckian in 1955 - as well as magazine pieces and non-fiction. After moving permanently to Montana in 1956, Guthrie became a more outspoken conservationist and, to some, a bit of a crank. I think his personality was in keeping with the western characters he created - independent, pithy and always in touch with the land. If you are in the market for a great late summer read, go search out Benson's fine new biography or one of the Guthrie titles. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Hewitt and the Prince of Darkness

What Does This Tell Us?

Perhaps more than anyone, Don Hewitt, the CBS News executive who died this week, invented the idea of television news. Hewitt staged the Kennedy-Nixon debates, produced the early years of Walter Cronkite's expanded 30 minute nightly broadcast, and invented "60 Minutes."

I happened to be home nursing a nasty summer cold the day the TV news pioneer's death was announced. I couldn't help thinking as I watched (which I rarely do) the continuous loop of nasty health care hearings, celebrity gossip and talking head wisdom that passes for news on cable television that little of that content has much to do with the kind of television Don Hewitt pioneered at CBS.

The irony was palpable when a cable anchor, more at home presiding over a verbal slugfest than a eulogy for a television pioneer, waxed eloquently about Hewitt's role in the development of the medium.

More irony in the nearly simultaneous passing of columnist Robert "The Prince of Darkness" Novak. With his long-time partner Roland Evans, Novak carved out an early reputation as a tough, well-sourced Washington reporter who broke big stories and stepped on big toes. The rise of cable talking head shows, the type of "news" program that places a premium on opinion (most of it blindly partisan) as opposed to real reporting, gave Novak a new audience. He seemed to relish being cast in the role of the gloomy disher of usually outraged opinion.

Still, with all his years of Washington experience, I often found myself wishing for a just little nuance, a bit of dispassionate insight from one with obviously so much depth. But, that's hoping for too much from cable and from those who play a role on cable.

We all know the news business, and television news included, continues in a steep, deep decline. The reasons are many, no doubt, including the unbelievable rise of the "new media" thanks to the Internet. I'm from the old school, however, and still want to believe real content - not just overheated opinion in the guise of entertainment - still matters.

Don Hewitt knew something about news and also something about entertainment. With "60 Minutes" he skillfully and very lucratively combined the two. Bob Novak was a good reporter who adapted skillfully and lucratively to the strictures of cable talking head shows, but what he mostly did on the tube had little to do with news.

Both these old news hands had a role, I think, in the continuing evolution of they way we gain information, particularly political information. Stay tuned for the next chapter. I am not an optimist.

I am confident someone will become the next Novak. The "expert," opinionated talking heads are a dime a dozen these days. I do wonder if there will ever be another Hewitt or worse, perhaps, if anyone really cares any longer about his kind of television.

Wheeler Center Plans Montana Media Conference

By the way, the good folks at the Burton K. Wheeler Center at Montana State University is planning a conference on Montana media issues this fall. "Failure to Inform:" Is There a Looming Media Crisis in Montana? is scheduled for Missoula September 30 and October 1. Sounds like a very timely gathering.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Big Burn

Tim Egan Has Another Winner
Ninety-nine years ago today - August 20, 1910 - the worst forest fire in modern times reached a climax in northern Idaho, western Montana and eastern Washington. By the time the great fire of 1910 had burned itself out, three million acres of timberland had given way to the relentless force of wildfire and 125 people had died.
Tim Egan's new book - The Big Burn - Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America - won't be out until October, but a read of the advanced copy has me convinced the Spokane native and long-time New York Times writer has another major winner on his hands. Egan's book is gripping history intercut with fascinating narratives about characters like President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot (the first chief of the Forest Service) Senators Weldon B. Heyburn of Idaho and William A. Clark of Montana, and Ed Pulaski, an Idaho forest ranger who is the hero of the fire story.
Egan makes a convincing case that the great fire saved both Roosevelt's dream of the still new U.S. Forest Service (Heyburn was a sworn enemy of the federal agency) and gave the Forest Service a mission - controlling fire - that remains controversial to this day.
Egan's last book - The Worst Hard Time - a story of the dust bowl, was a best seller and won the National Book Award for history. The new book is every bit as good.
Egan also writes a weekly column - Outposts - for the New York Times on-line and frequently pinch hits on the Times Op-Ed pages.
Tim Egan will headline the Idaho Humanities Council's Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities in Couer d'Alene on October 8th and you can be sure he will make a great talk.
Here is a brief except from the Prologue of The Big Burn:
"By 10 P.M., the streets of Wallace, Idaho - where President Roosevelt had walked seven years earlier - were overwhelmed by flames, and the forests he had set aside for future generations was in ruins. Hundreds of firefighters were lost, and thought to be dead."
Near midnight on August 20, 1910, a telegraph operator in Wallace sent this message:
"Every hill around town is a mass of flames and the whole place looks like a death trap. No connections can be had with outside towns. Men, women and children are hysterical in streets and leave by every possible conveyance and route."
The Big Burn is a great story told by a terrific writer. Look for it in book stores in mid- October.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Remembering Bruce Sweeney

In the best tradition... This is the way I'll remember long-time Idaho state legislator Bruce Sweeney - smiling, never meeting a stranger, always trying to find a way to move the political ball down the field. Sweeney, who represented Nez Perce County in the Idaho House and Senate for 20 years, died yesterday after a long battle with bone cancer. Following his senate career, Sweeney served on the Idaho Transportation Board for more than 10 years. I will also remember Sweeney as one of a trio of Nez Perce County state senators who helped define the Idaho Democratic Party for more than 30 years. Bruce replaced Mike Mitchell in the state senate in 1982 and Mike replaced Cecil D. Andrus when he won the governorship in 1970. Bruce Sweeney was also a tremendous track and field athlete. The University of Idaho proudly notes on Sweeney's web page that the Vandal sprinter/hurdler was "never beaten by a Washington State" hurdler. Sweeney was a finalist in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1956. Bruce was a good pilot, too. During many years of observing and participating in Idaho politics, you accumulate a great many memories. I have a sharp memory of flying into the small airport at Caldwell in 1986, Bruce Sweeney in the left hand seat, Cece Andrus in the right. The Andrus campaign road show had missed a connection necessary to get us to the next political event, so the senator from Nez Perce loaded up the candidate and the press secretary and off we went into a dramatic Idaho summer morning. That story is a good summary of Bruce Sweeney - do what is necessary to get the job done. His political and public service career is in the finest tradition of Idaho citizen-lawmakers. He will be missed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Where the Stimulus Dollars Flow

A Stimulus Round-Up Is the stimulus working? Seems everyone has an opinion. The Portland Oregonian editorialized recently and answered "yes." The positive impacts of the stimulus are being felt, for example, at Portland State University where a serious backlog of maintenance is being tackled. Dave Broder in The Washington Post weighs in that it is simply too early to tell for sure whether the first round of stimulus dollars are having the intended impact. Elsewhere, Nevada's embattled Governor Jim Gibbons (pictured above) - he's in the middle of a messy divorce, staff defections and has approval ratings in the teens - picked a battle with the Silver State's legislature over who is going to make stimulus spending decisions. The Las Vegas Sun said the battle has the makings of "a constitutional crisis." Gibbons intends to hire a stimulus coordinator to oversee spending despite opposition for an interim legislative committee that told him not to make the hires. USA Today had a nifty series of graphics last week showing, so the paper says, a very uneven picture across the country of how the stimulus dollars are rolling out in the states. California, where the economy is truly in a mess, leads the nation in the percentage (about 60%) of allocated stimulus dollars that have actually been received by the state. Idaho is a 29%, Montana at 20% and Washington and Oregon are at about 42%. Alaska (are you surprised) leads the nation in total per capita stimulus spending at $1,094 for even citizen of the Last Frontier. Idaho is at $515 per person, Oregon at $543 and Montana at $621. Meanwhile, a new report on "transparency" - how well the states are doing reporting and disclosing stimulus projects - was released by Good Jobs First. Of the Northwest states, Washington ranked best in this particular assessment. The Oregonian's Harry Esteve reported on the survey. Idaho's Governor Butch Otter highlighted some stimulus spending recently in eastern Idaho, making the point that the projects were needed and were not just a case of spending money for the sake of spending money. This Has Happened Before A bit of historical perspective may be instructive. The only other time in recent American history that compares to the current round of stimulus spending would be The Great Depression. The late, great Montana historian Mike Malone wrote of the situation in Idaho in 1933 in his fine book on the career of Idaho's three-term, New Deal-era Governor C. Ben Ross. (Malone's book is C. Ben Ross and The New Deal in Idaho.) Ross was a fairly conservative Democrat and he initially supported "stimulus" spending from the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Agriculture Department. Still, Ross became very frustrated with the bureaucratic delay of getting the "stimulus" money in circulation and the jobs on line. The Idaho Governor complained about the bureaucratic delays to Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace and to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Ickes - you might think of him as the Rahm Emmanuel of his day (son was Bill Clinton's deputy chief of staff) - wasn't going to sit by and allow a "western governor" to criticize the New Deal relief effort. "I had a letter from a governor," Ickes said in 1933 in a radio speech clearly referring to Idaho's Ross, "raising hell about red tape and delay...there is a lot of political whizbanging and sharpshooting. There are a lot of persons trying to make a record for assiduity. They want to be in a position, in case the [relief] programs fails, to say 'I told you so.'" Assiduity, by the way, is defined as "persistent personal attention." Ross became quite skeptical of the relief spending later in his term suggesting that administration of the federal dollars had been politicized. Still, tough old Harold Ickes pointed out to the Idaho governor in 1933 that Idaho would get more relief dollars - the stimulus of The Great Depression - if Ross would only make certain Idaho had enough qualified engineers to manage all the construction projects that had been funded. In the early 1930's, spending to stimulate the economy was, as it is today, an "art" not a "science" and effectiveness depended on many factors, including the ability of an aggressive governor to make a state bureaucracy work efficiently, in order to maximize the stimulus impact. In another few months, I'm betting, we will have a better take on which governors have not "cut the red tape lengthwise" and been able to maximize the use of stimulus dollars. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, wrote recently that we "aren't going to have a second Great Depression after all." The recovery, Krugman wrote, will be slow and difficult, but "the economy has backed up several paces from the edge of the abyss." Is the stimulus working? Stay tuned.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Good Food for Political Junkies

The Definitive Book on the '08 Election? Political junkies, regardless of partisan leanings, may find the new Dan Balz/Haynes Johnson tome on the 2008 election must reading. The book features sharp insights into GOP and Democratic grand strategy -including why Obama focused unprecedented attention on Idaho. The grand mistakes are aired, as well, including a dissection of the devastating infighting in the Clinton and McCain campaigns and McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Balz, the Washington Post's top political writer, and Johnson, a Pulitzer winner and widely published author, have written the first really detailed account of the historic election. The Battle for America 2008 doesn't offer a lot of groundbreaking new material, but even a lot of the story we know is engagingly packaged. As a political tale it is no less interesting now than it was during the course of the long, long 2008 campaign. One particularly interesting section centers on the Obama campaign's focus on caucus states - including Idaho. Idaho - a Key to Obama's Caucus Strategy "Idaho became the textbook study of the Obama [caucus] strategy," Balz and Johnson write. "Only a few thousand people had participated in the caucuses in 2004. Obama's advisers realized that with a relatively modest investment, they could probably win. What made Idaho even more attractive was the volunteer cadre already at work." Obama's national field director is quoted as saying: "By the time our first staffer landed in Idaho at the beginning of October, the Idahoans for Obama had organized themselves....they had an office ready to rent, had the phone lines already on order....and they had figured out the caucus rules and typed them up and put them together in sort of an easy-to-use here's how to caucus in Idaho." Balz and Johnson go on to compare what happened to the Democratic campaigns in New Jersey and Idaho as a result of the attention by the Obama strategists on the opportunity they saw in ruby red Idaho. "New Jersey had 107 delegates at stake on Super Tuesday, Idaho had just eighteen. [Hillary] Clinton won New Jersey by ten points (54 percent to 44 percent) and won eleven more delegates than Obama. But Obama's investment in tiny Idaho neutralized the impact of New Jersey, as he won there by an astounding sixty-two points, more than 79 percent to Clinton's 17. With that margin, he gained twelve more delegates than Clinton." (The fellow who gets a lot of credit for creating the Idaho organization, TJ Thomson, is now a candidate for Boise City Council.) Not surprisingly, some of the juiciest material in The Battle for America involves the role Bill Clinton played in Hillary's campaign. Balz and Johnson do offer up some curious passages, usually when they attempt to draw larger political lessons from the 2008 campaign. They discuss, for example, changing demographics, particularly in the west and southwest, that helped drive Obama's wins in places like Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Then there is this passage: "Through the 1970s and 1980s, Republicans had counted on California, the Rocky Mountain West, the South and the Great Plains to produce a virtual lock in presidential races. This was the springboard for the election of every Republican president from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan." Say what? The "virtual lock" observation is true enough, but the only Republican president between Nixon and Reagan was Gerald Ford who lost in 1976 when Jimmy Carter won the White House on his way to losing every state west of the Mississippi with the exception of Texas. Perhaps a better point would be to acknowledge that two Republican presidents - Nixon and Reagan - were each twice elected (and you can throw in George W. Bush, as well) by employing a Western/Midwestern/Southern strategy. Still, a few nitpicks aside, if you love politics and find that you still cannot get enough of the last great campaign, The Battle for America 2008 is an engaging read. The new book will fit nicely on the political bookshelf with Teddy White's Making of the President series, Jack Germond's and Jules Witcover's fine books about the 1980, '84 and '88 elections and Richard Ben Cramer's classic What it Takes about the 1988 candidates for president.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New Leaders at NEH and NEA

Leach Confirmed to Head NEH, Landesman Will Run NEA The Senate recently confirmed the new leadership at the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts and they are interesting and unconventional choices.

Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach (above), a Republican who endorsed Barack Obama, is the former head of the House Banking Committee and a committed fan of the humanities. Leach helped organize the humanities caucus in the House and will be a politically savvy choice to run the NEH.

Rocco Landesman is a big-time Broadway producer and will head the NEA. Mel Brook's The Producers is among his credits.

The two endowments, dating back to the administration of Lyndon Johnson, serve an incredibly important national role. The Idaho Humanities Council is the state-based affiliate of the NEH. The Idaho Commission on the Arts has a similar relationship to the NEA.

Among many wonderful benefits, the two national endowments provide grant funding for local arts programs, library reading programs, small museums and teacher institutes.

The endowments have survived an immense amount of political scrutiny since Newt Gingrich tried to eliminate federal funding back in the mid-1990's. The extremely modest budgets for the two principle national cultural organizations that reach into every corner of the United States are still below where they were when Newt swung his meat ax nearly 15 years ago.

Leach and Landesman appear to have the prestige and smarts to keep rebuilding the endowments. America culture, art, history, literature, and our pleasure will all benefit.

Friday, August 14, 2009

This is Work?

Idaho Judge Pinch Hits in Yosemite Interesting story in the New York Times earlier this week about Idaho federal Magistrate Judge Larry Boyle. Who'd a thunk it, but the majestic national park at Yosemite in northern California has a federal courthouse. When the previous federal judge, who typically hears misdemeanor cases - guns, drugs and alcohol in the park - was forced to resign for health reasons, Judge Boyle offered to sub until a permanent replacement could be named. The judge and Beverly Boyle recently finished a two-week stint dispensing justice in what His Honor calls "the Garden of Eden" Boyle was an eastern Idaho District Judge and a member of the Idaho Supreme Court before his appointment as a federal magistrate in 1992.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Great Killebrew

"As far as I’m concerned, Hank Aaron is the all-time home run champ, and Roger Maris should still have the [single-season] record at 61, but Barry Bonds is the name you see in the record book." - Harmon Killebrew When Idaho's best ever baseball player retired in 1975, he stood at fifth all-time on the home run list with 573 dingers. Now Harmon Killebrew is tied for ninth on the list having been passed by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, confirmed or suspected steroid abusers all, and Ken Griffey, Jr., who is not a suspect - at least not yet. Alex Rodriquiz, another steroid suspect, hit a 15th innning walk off homer Friday against Boston to tie Killebrew on the all-time list. Here's the current homer leader line-up. Harmon - here are his career numbers - was signed out of Payette, Idaho by the Washington Senators in 1954 at age 17. The usually soft spoken and non-controversial Killebrew recently let go with his thoughts about how drugs have tainted - forever perhaps - the great game. He told reporters during the Hall of Fame ceremony recently that the steroid cheaters have "hurt the integrity" of the game. Of course he's right. A friend remarked recently that he had stumbled on an ESPN Classic re-broadcast of a 1985 World Series game between the Kansas City Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals and was stunned to see all the normal sized ballplayers. Trim, even skinny guys, used to play major league baseball. (Remember Willie McGee?) Now days most of the biggest stars look like they sleep on a cot in the weight room. The Great Killebrew has it right. Release all the names from the 2003 drug tests - the names are going to continue to dribble out - and make a decision on whether records will count or never will. Where is a commissioner like Bart Giamatti or Fay Vincent when baseball needs them the most?

Friday, August 7, 2009

August in Wisconsin

The Land of Cheese...and Other Things Random notes from the north of Wisconsin. The signs of the dog days of summer are everywhere you look in Wisconsin right now. The Wisconsin State Fair - one of the big ones in the Midwest - is going on this week in Milwaukee. Chocolate covered bacon is the new food sensation this year. More on that later. The lovely, sweet cherries are just about perfect in Door County in the north of the state hard by Lake Michigan. And, of course, the Packer training camp is up and running. (I buried the lead, based upon what really dominates the news here.) The general manager of the storied Green Bay franchise caused a bit of a stir among the green and gold faithful by suggesting that the dog fighter Michael Vick might, just might, be a suitable heir to Brett Farve or Bart Starr. A Rich Political History Wisconsin politics, like its food and football, have never been dull and are frequently fascinating. The state's colorful political history boasts many characters. Going way back, the State Fair proudly notes that a prospective candidate for president visited in 1859. Abraham Lincoln knew a battle ground state when he saw one. More recently, the Congressman representing northern Wisconsin, Rep. Steve Kagen a Democrat from Appleton, had two of his town hall meetings on health care reform disrupted this week by very noisy protesters. Apparently this type of engagement is now standard, part of a national effort to make life miserable for members of Congress on August recess. Kagen seemed to handle the hubbub pretty well. At least he used the right analogy in talking to the press. "There was a significant amount of anger there," he told the Green Bay Press-Gazette, "as if the referee made the wrong call in a Packer game." This alleged "battle ground state" - maybe in name only - hasn't gone for a Republican since Ronald Reagan's second term. Barack Obama rolled up 56% of the vote in Wisconsin in 2008, exactly the margin for that other untested Illinois politician in 1860. Arguably the greatest political figure Wisconsin has produced - and one the most independent -was Fighting Bob La Follette, a early progressive of the western type, who served as governor and then as one of the most influential United States Senators. La Follette was once hung in effigy for opposing U.S. involvement in World War I, but still managed to spawn a Midwestern political dynasty. La Follette, a nominal Republican, bolted his party in 1924 - he wasn't a Coolidge fan - and gathered in more than 16% of the popular vote running as an independent presidential candidate. His running mate on the Progressive Party ticket was another "radical" and a nominal Democrat from Butte, Montana - Senator Burton K. Wheeler. The La Follette-Wheeler ticket carried only Wisconsin in 1924, but the Progressives - anti-monopoly, anti-interventionist in foreign affairs and anti-Ku Klux Klan - ran far ahead of the Democratic ticket most everywhere in the Northwest, including Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Over many years, Wisconsin's has had its share of "radicals" of both the left and the right. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day and made common cause over his Senate career with Frank Church of Idaho on many environmental issues, including the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act. Both Nelson and Church lost re-election in the Reagan landslide of 1980. One other Northwest-Wisconsin connection of particular note was the close friendship between Senator Herman Welker, a one-term Payette, Idaho Republican, and Joe McCarthy, a favorite son of Appleton, Wisconsin. Often described as McCarthy's "best friend in the Senate" or "little Joe from Idaho," Welker never abandoned his Wisconsin Republican colleague even when being McCarthy's friend became a liability. Welker served as McCarthy's chief defender when the Wisconsin senator was censured in 1954 for his increasingly reckless behavior in attacking those he suspected of Communist sympathies. Cheese and brats...a growing issue Wisconsinites, by all appearances, are not making the mistake of spending too many lovely August days worrying about health care reform or cash for clunkers. These are days for cheese, beer, brats and cream puffs, after all, the four main food groups. As a result the expanding Wisconsin waste line seems to be - sorry - a growing issue. A columnist in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel set aside the usual polite Midwestern reserve this week to challenge fellow cheeseheads to admit the obvious: "Half of us are fat; a quarter, really fat. If bands don't play 'Too Fat Polka' at weddings around the state anymore, they should. Make it our song until we can tie shoes without gasping for air between the left and the right." To sum this up: one more political connection. Another of Wisconsin's true political radicals was Senator William Proxmire, a gadfly, skinflint and physical fitness nut who served 32 years in the U.S. Senate. Proxmie replaced McCarthy in the Senate and never spent more than a few hundred buck on a re-election. He also created the Golden Fleece Award to spotlight wasteful government spending and was known to run to work in the Senate - ten miles a day. As the New York Times noted after his death in 2005, "Tall, thin and bald as a young man, Mr. Proxmire was unusually vain about his looks. He had a series of hair transplants and a face lift, and in 1973, he published a book about staying in shape: 'You Can Do It: Senator Proxmire's Exercise, Diet and Relaxation Plan.'" I'm betting the State Fair's new chocolate covered bacon would never have caught on with ol' Bill Proxmire.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Now That Was Quick

The Fastest Confirmation...
George Sutherland is the only person from the state of Utah to ever serve on the United States Supreme Court. Nominated by President Warren Harding in 1922, Sutherland still holds the record for the fastest confirmation in court history. The entire process - nomination, no hearings and Senate confirmation - took one day. After being defeated in his bid for a third term in the United States Senate, Sutherland established a Washington, D.C. law practice and developed a friendship with Harding. That close relationship lead to his court appointment. Sutherland spent 16 years on the high court faithfully opposing almost all expansion of government power. He became the intellectual leader of the "four horsemen," the conservative bloc on the court that before 1937 rejected much of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. Sutherland retired in 1938. Supreme Court confirmations have certainly changed since 1922. New justice Sonia Sotomayor's nomination was announced by President Obama on May 26. She was confirmed today. By my count her confirmation process lasted 72 days. By the standards of the modern Senate confirmation ordeal the Sotomayor process was speedy, but no threat to George Sutherland's record. Like Joe DiMaggio's record of hitting safely in 56 consecutive major league baseball games, the Utahan's record will never be broken.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Survival of the Republic

FDR and "the Jew Deal" and Obama "the Kenyan" "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that ain't so." - Mark Twain OK, I admit it. I don't need more evidence that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961, two years after Aloha land became the 50th state. I am convinced the president is native born and therefore qualified to exercise the executive power of the government under the Constitution. It is a closed case for me, but apparently not for many so called "birthers" and even, at last count, eleven members of Congress who are sponsoring legislation requiring presidential candidates to produce their birth certificates. All of this talk of birth certificates comes hard on the heels of the persistent rumor that Obama is a secret Muslim. What's going on here? A Constitutional crisis? An updated version of UFO sitings? None of that. The Obama "stories" are, I submit, in league with a long, colorful and frequently disquieting chapter in American presidential history. It is the chapter where some Americans never quite get to the point of accepting the person in the White House. Presidential history is full of "facts" from the fringe that, if true, would surely "disqualify" the offender in the Oval Office. The president in modern times most aggressively vilified in this way was surely Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As George Wolfskill and John A. Hudson document in their book - All but the People - Franklin D. Roosevelt and His Critics - FDR was - pick your poison - mentally ill, unable to handle the strain of office due to his polio, a shadow Communist (or Fascist), a warmonger and a Jew. A contemptible collection of crackpots, including the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin who commanded an audience that Glenn Beck would envy, and a southern demagogue by the name of Gerald L.K. Smith, rumor mongered the anti-FDR lies constantly. As Wolfskill and Hudson note, Smith's Christian Nationalist Crusade mailed out thousands of copies of a phony Roosevelt genealogy, purporting to "prove" FDR's Jewish ancestry, during the presidential campaign of 1936. A footnote read: "Every sensible Christian and loyal American will fight the campaign of Leftist, Communists, Jews and Internationalists to return the Roosevelt dynasty to power." Roosevelt won that 1936 election, by the way, in an historic landslide that only convinced his critics that he was determined in a second term to advance not the "New Deal," but the "Jew Deal." In earlier times, the detractors of President John Adams contended he harbored secret ambitions to declare himself King and, despite Adams role in the American Revolution, as president he was determined to tighten bonds with England. Andrew Jackson came to believe that the death of his beloved wife, Rachel, was a direct result of the vicious attacks directed at him, but aimed at her. One charge - the Jacksons were bigamists. More recently, John F. Kennedy had to counter the widespread belief, advanced effectively by his political opponents, that his election as the first Catholic president was sure to install the Bishop of Rome - the Pope - as White House chief of staff. George W. Bush had to contend with conspiracy theorists in the wake of September 11th and some Americans will never get over his "illegitimate election" by a 5-4 vote of the United States Supreme Court. "Politics ain't bean bag," as they say, and for sure the game has always been played as a full contact sport. Good advice to any politician: Don't climb in the ring if you can't take a punch and a low blow has always been part of our politics. You want fair play - go to a cricket match Still, the speed and viral nature of today's rumor spreading, fueled by the Internet, 24 hour cable news, and bloviators like Lou Dobbs and Beck is nearly impossible to fathom or refute. Spreading rumors in the age of instant communication makes "old media" reporting, the kind that actually seeks out the facts, even more important as an antidote to the nonsense. But, there is another old adage - the truth never catches up with the allegation - that keeps theses stories alive for days, weeks and beyond. Considering all the rascals who have occupied the White House - from a secret Jew to a secret non-citizen - it is a real wonder the Republic has survived at all.

Monday, August 3, 2009

An International Star...

This Guy is Good... One of the most talented and nicest guys I have ever known, Curtis Stigers, has been nominated for an Emmy Award for the lyrics he wrote for the main title theme of the FX Network show - Sons of Anarchy. The nomination is in the category for Outstanding Main Title themes. While Curtis played the famed Oak Room of New York's Algonquin Hotel earlier this summer, his great popularity in Europe tends to find him touring there extensively. This summer and fall, he has many dates in Germany, Denmark and England. He played the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London for the summer BBC Proms on August 1st. Those of us lucky enough to see Curtis when he's home in Idaho, may have a tendancy to take the guy's international reputation a little bit for granted. After all, he's the hometown boy who turns up regularly to headline a benefit concert for a good cause. His show earlier this year at the Boise Contemporary Theatre was as good an evening as any music fan could ever hope to enjoy. He'll have a new album out in the fall. A really accomplished singer, songwriter and mutli-instrument musician, Curtis Stigers is - even better - also a solid citizen and a caring guy blessed with a terrific wife and daughter. He is a great ambassador for Idaho and the country. Congratulations Curtis...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

How the West Was Saved

Conservation Visionaries... Douglas Brinkley's fine new book - The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America - tells the great story of how Roosevelt, the New Yorker born of privilege who became a westerner by choice, came to preserve during his presidency vast amounts - 230 million acres total - of national forest land, monuments, wildlife refuges and parks. Roosevelt's remarkable foresight keeps on giving. More than 100 years after TR's aggressive use of Executive Orders and the Antiquities Act marked him as the nation's foremost conservationist, we are still debating what to do with all he set aside. Thank the 26th president for not foreclosing our options all those years ago. When some westerners speak dismissively of the unique American legacy of public ownership of vast amounts of beautiful, rugged, economically valuable, and often largely untouched land they tend to refer to the acreage as "federal land." But that is inaccurate. The land belongs to all of us just as TR envisioned and every generation since Roosevelt has faced the task of reconcilining its stewardship responsibilities with the unrelenting pressure - and unrelenting need - to harvest timber, extract minerals, generate energy and generally support a modern society. The debate over that stewardship of public land has often been shrill and polarizing, but that may be changing at least a little. In a thoughtful piece in The Atlantic Jonathan Weber, publisher of, an on line magazine covering the west, extolled what may be a gathering trend - attempting to resolve age old disputes about western land management using collaboration and compromise right here in the west rather than resorting to bombast and lawyers. Weber points to the approach pioneered in Idaho by Rick Johnson, the Executive Director of the Idaho Conservation League (ICL), that has helped engineer recent new wilderness protection for the magnificant Owyhee Canyonlands in extreme southwestern Idaho and will soon, we can hope, finally see through the Congress the long sought, often delayed protection of the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in central Idaho. Johnson - no relation, but a friend - has learned what some in the conservation community, and the national media, have yet to see: pragmatic, common sense conservation must be built from the ground up and it will always involve compromise. ICL has made common cause with two pretty conservative Idaho Republicans - Senator Mike Crapo and Congressman Mike Simpson - in the interest of moving the ball on wilderness protection, while also acknowledging the local need for economic stablity and jobs. Montana's new Democratic Senator John Tester is working the same trapline and I"ll be surprised if we don't see more use of the model across the vast American west. It seems to be working. I marvel at Teddy Roosevelt's vision that encompassed creation of the remarkable system of national forests that provide us raw materials, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation and solitude. At the same time the man who hunted every type of African game and proudly saw to it that mounted heads graced the walls of his home and many musuems was also the bird loving creator of Deer Flat and Minidoka Wildlife Refuges in Idaho. When I spent last Christmas at the picturesque old El Tovar lodge on the south rim of the Grand Canyon - the park was saved by Roosevelt from the designs of early Arizona miners - and walked in the snow along the trial overlooking what may be the most spectacular site in the country, I couldn't help but feel immense gratitude for the old Rough Rider's certainty that this marvelous place must be conserved for all of us and forever. Thankfully TR had the vision to act as he did; mostly unilaterally and often in the face of powerful opposition. But, thanks as well for a new generation of westerners, of many political stripes, who realize a different time demands a different approach. The great writer Wallace Stegner often made the point that westerners live with many myths, including the myth that the west was built by the hands of rugged individuals acting on their own. Not true, Stegner said. The west has been built through cooperation and government action including reclamation projects created 100 years ago and 2009 stimulus spending on everything from renewable energy to road and transit projects. The west's story has always involved much hard give and take. The west's true rugged individuals realize that fact and are willing to summon the courage and sustain the energy to work and worry over the compromises that continue to make the west a place of hope, opportunity and awe. As Roosevelt once said: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." Good advice and not a bad slogan for the future of the American west.