Midday Scan: Geezers rule, initiatives lie, salmon ail, and Rooney rants

Warning: the following survey contains material not suitable for the elderly.

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Washington state ballot (2010).

Warning: the following survey contains material not suitable for the elderly.

There is a reason why Social Security is the so-called third rail in American politics. Mature voters (colloquially known as "geezers" or "the geriatric rabble") vote en masse. As the Everett Herald's Jerry Cornfield writes, while aggregate voter turnout is underwhelming, steadfast older voters remain the deciding segment in county elections. "Low turnout isn't shocking news. Elections in almost any year without a presidential contest are parties attended by fewer and fewer voters," Cornfield writes.  "Moreover, those who show up are not evenly distributed among the voting age population. If history is an indication, older voters will largely determine Snohomish County's next executive and whether Costco can sell hard liquor."

The data are compelling. Cornfield writes, "In the 2007 general election in Snohomish County — the last time the county exec job appeared on the ballot — voters 55 and older accounted for roughly 47 percent of the ballots returned. Of 170,160 ballots cast, those older voters accounted for 80,758, compared with only 18,957 votes cast by people 18 to 34. Statewide, the imbalance was even more pronounced. Older voters cast 53.7 percent of the ballots, versus only 10 percent by those 18 to 34." How does this demographic translate politically, beyond campaign mailers featuring smiling (or just as often, grim-faced) blue hairs? For one thing, raising the Social Security retirement age from 65 to 67 is a brainstorm that dare not speak its name. In addition, seniors are less inclined to support local school levies. The golden-ager kowtowing will persist unrelenting until a counter mobilization emerges or lawmakers become willing to speak truth to elder power. (Or make voting mandatory, as in some European countries.) Make no mistake: Younger voters will need to re-engage lest places like Snohomish County become child-free, golf-cart-only Leisure Worlds writ large.

Before Lyndon Johnson's Great Society of the 1960s, it was easy to identify the poor in a community — just track down those senior citizens. Thanks to Medicare, postwar savings, and other programs, the poverty trend has been reversed. Today children are poor and the elderly are relatively well-to-do. The AP's Hope Yen writes, "The wealth gap between younger and older Americans has stretched to the widest on record, worsened by a prolonged economic downturn that has wiped out job opportunities for young adults and saddled them with housing and college debt. The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35." 

For a visceral sense of what the poverty reversal means in practice, the Seattlepi.com's Vanessa Ho offers a sober analysis on the burgeoning number of homeless children in Seattle. "With the state facing a $2 billion deficit, advocates say the number of homeless families will likely balloon," Ho writes. "In February, when the state imposed for the first time a lifetime limit on a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, 5,480 families statewide — including 11,400 kids — were cut off from the payments." Joe Dyer's photo gallery, documenting the homeless kids of Nickelsville, has a Walker Evans-like effect. Color these photos in sepia tones, and they might as well have been pulled from a Great Depression archive.  

The Tacoma News Tribune's Peter Callaghan floats a political axiom, the Callaghan rule, based on empirical observation. It goes like this: The lies of an initiative campaign are directly proportional to its budget. "As far as truth is concerned, this is the worst election since the last election," Callaghan writes. "I have no doubt it will hold that distinction until the next election. Leading the way, if being at the forefront of deception can be considered 'leading,' are the campaigns for and against Initiative 1183."  

There is a qualitative difference between lies and "spin," mind you. "There’s nothing inherently wrong with spin," Callaghan writes. "Spin is simply emphasizing that which helps your point of view and de-emphasizing that which does not. There are, however, unwritten rules, especially that you can’t lie and then claim you were only spinning." So, more campaign loot underwriting initiative campaigns translates into, if not more lies, then louder ones. If these campaigns had less moolah would it make a difference? The lies would continue, we just wouldn't have to watch them on TV every three minutes.  

The Seattlepi.com's Joel Connelly has become the Bob Woodward of Infectious Salmon Anemia (and perhaps by extension, Maria Cantwell is attempting the role of Sam Ervin). This presupposes that the Cassandra-like warnings about the salmon virus have merit, however. In fact, it seems awfully real. "Infectious salmon anemia poses no danger to human health," Connelly writes. "Once salmon populations are infected, however, the disease quickly reaches a 'tipping point' where it can't be stopped.  A total of 9.6 million farmed salmon had to be destroyed in New Brunswick to halt one outbreak."  

How devastating would an epidemic be to the regional economy? "Salmon are not only an iconic presence in the Northwest, but remain a big deal economically — despite decimation of runs by dam construction, overfishing, and shoddy logging practices," Connelly reports. "A recent study of Pacific salmon estimated the wholesale value of the annual sport and commercial catch comes to at least $2.2 billion, and supports 35,000 jobs in harvesting and processing." 

Lastly, as the nation mourns Andy Rooney, it seems like a good time to revisit one of his more entertaining rants against Bill Gates featured in John Cook's GeekWire. Regarding Rooney's 1994 takedown of Kurt Cobain: That one was not so funny.  

Link Summary

Everett Herald, "Older voters decide elections"

Seattlepi.com, "Sign of grim times: Kids in Nickelsville"

Tacoma News Tribune, "Initiative campaigns don't just spin; they tell lies"

Seattlepi.com, "Infectious salmon anemia: Getting the jump on a disease of 'devastating quickness'

GeekWire "RIP Andy Rooney: A look back at his classic Bill Gates rant"


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson