Guest Commentary

June 30, 2011 |

(Michael Gartner: We don't know what we won't know) ... click here to read commentary


By Kent Carlson


Rock your world


Mike is the kind of guy who can't sit still. Though he's retired, Mike loves working around his large acreage and enjoys the bass tournaments he is in charge of at nearby Lake of the Ozarks. He always has a project. In March, Mike had knee replacement surgery. About this time his doctor gave him a CT scan after Mike complained of a sore neck. The scan revealed he had major issues with the discs in his neck. Doctors said the problem was so severe he needed surgery as soon as possible. They warned him to be very careful for the next 30 days until they could do the surgery. There was a high risk of paralysis with even a minor injury. The prognosis came as a shock since he was functioning just fine. But Mike listened to the doctors and took it easy… as easy as Mike knows how. A few weeks later, Mike decided to do some yard work. He started a fire to burn some tall grass around the pond. While tending the fire, he somehow tripped over a small rock and fell directly in the blazing grassfire. When Mike regained consciousness, he was in water at the edge of the pond. He was severely burned, bleeding, and his left side was paralyzed. He was also alone. Mike's wife and daughter had left to go shopping earlier. Mike has no idea how long he spent in the pond. But when his family discovered him, the paramedics and a helicopter were immediately summoned.

Mike's face was cut so badly that doctors had to reattach his nose. He had severe burns to his right hand and side and his left shoulder. After shaving his head, they grafted skin from his scalp to the most severely burned areas. Two weeks later, doctors operated on his neck with hopes he could regain use of his left side. Mike has a brace on his partially-paralyzed left arm and a glove on his right hand that he will have to wear for a year as the burns heal. He wears a soft neck brace and has been warned if he were to take a hard fall, he could become a quadriplegic. Mike developed a blood infection from the pond water he landed in and receives antibiotics three times a day. His hospital stay was seven weeks, not including continual physical therapy. He still faces a second surgery to repair his eyelid that doesn't fully open or close.

To say Mike is tough is a pathetic understatement. I can't begin to grasp what he has gone through. But his story demonstrates just how quickly and dramatically circumstances can change our lives.

Americans have experienced a lot in the last couple decades. We witnessed a meteoric rise in the stock market and a crash. We witnessed a meteoric rise in home values, and a crash. We've witnessed a meteoric rise in oil, food and precious metals prices, and no crash… yet. We've seen the economy shrink, personal and national debt explode and politicians daudle. Though Osama Bin Laden is swimming with the fishes, his intended legacy of crippling the West's economy was quite successful. When George Bush took office, the economy was teetering, Nasdaq crashed and the economy was starting to make people nervous. After Sept. 11, 2001, people were frightened, exactly what Osama Bin Laden intended. For the rest of his term, Bush and his economic advisors tried to keep a precarious economy shored up. At the same time they were trying to avoid more terrorist attacks. It worked for a while, but backroom schemes between political bedfellows (actually, literal bedfellows) in congress and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, along with Clinton's repeal of parts of the Glass–Steagall Act, helped create a perfect storm. The artificially-low interest rates of the Bush years, combined with insane mortgage lending practices of Freddie and Fannie, and bankers playing roulette in derivative markets, were an economic disaster in the making. A host of other circumstances only fueled the meltdown.

World economies are fragile. In the past few years, we have all seen reversals of fortunes in real time. And it was real fast. Yet those in control of our government continue to emulate the planet's worst-run economies. It's beyond any logical explanation why Obama and his congressional cohorts would double down on debt and an unsustainable healthcare program that only accelerates an economic crash. This isn't the time for political brinksmanship. This isn't a time for political payola. It's time for sober, serious leaders who understand that our economy is far more than just a pain in the neck. In fact, just one small rock in our path can take us to places we can only imagine in our worst nightmares. CV

Kent Carlson is a native Iowa artist interested in the preserving Iowa's architectural heritage and the common sense of its leaders. And he writes a few columns for Cityview, too.



By Michael Gartner


We don't know what we won't know


The latest round of lay-offs at The Des Moines Register is devastating.

The layoffs are devastating for those involved, of course — for those whose lives have been jolted by sudden joblessness, for those who survived but now have new uncertainties about their own futures, and for those who had to make the excruciating decisions about who would stay and who would go.

But they are devastating, or at least disheartening, for the rest of us, too — for those of us who depend on the newspaper to tell us what is going on in this state.

With 12 to 15 fewer people to cover and edit the news, there will be more events great and small that pass without notice, without scrutiny, without comment. We'll never know what those events are. Is there a scandal in the making that will go uncovered, a solution to a problem that will go unnoticed, a personal accomplishment that will go unheralded?

Or, perhaps, uncovered, unnoticed or unheralded until it's too late?

For what isn't covered in a newspaper is every bit as important as what is covered.

This state went for a generation or two without a scandal, in large part because the Register reporters were the state's hounddogs sniffing out wrongdoers and the editorial writers were the watchdogs snuffing out wrongdoings. With every "downsizing," with every "right-sizing," with every layoff, more wrong-doers — self-serving politicians, self-dealing officials, self-centered businesses — were given a pass.

Now, there will be even more passes.

The closing of the Washington bureau is especially sad. In its day, it was famous for its reporting on agriculture and the environment — its reporters won five Pulitzer Prizes — and it was feared and admired throughout government.

But that was then, and now is now. Now, the choices that editors and reporters must make at the Register will become vastly more difficult — what should be covered, what can be ignored? Now, the burden on Iowa Public Radio and Iowa Public Television has just gotten greater; they are the two remaining ties that bind this state together, that ensure that the teacher in Plymouth County and the mayor in Lee County and the veterinarian in Page County are as well and equally informed as the legislator in Des Moines. It's a heavy burden on them as well as on those at the newspaper who must cover an ever-more complicated state with ever-fewer resources.

The layoffs at the Register may be the result of changing economics of the newspaper business or shareholder demands or absentee ownership. Or a combination of all that. But it's foolish to point fingers and folly to assign blame. That matters not to the reader. What matters is all the news that we won't know. And, of course, we don't know what we won't know. CV


Michael Gartner worked his way through high school and college in the sports department of The Des Moines Register in the 1950s and from 1974 to 1984 was successively executive editor, editor, president and chief operating officer of the newspaper. In 1997 he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials he wrote for the Ames Tribune.