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Well, boys and girls, we’ve had ourselves a convention season. Two shows of entirely different tone and quality. Very different in messages. Word is the two of ‘em cost about $30 million.

So, let’s have a little display of hands here. You on the starboard side – has all the hoopla changed your mind about anything? Anything at all? Go ahead, raise your hands. We’ll wait.

Now you on the port side – same question. Did you watch ‘em and did it make a difference in your vote? Hands up, please. O.K. Are you sure?

Hmm. That’s how you feel? Really? After the $30 million and all. One hand in the air? My, my.

That’s about the sum of a recent little informal poll I’ve done with friends and correspondents in the wake of this overly expensive political carnage. People seem to have come away with little or no change in their views of the two presidential candidates. Or, of the two sponsoring parties. Or, much else.

In a way, it’s not surprising. National political conventions have just about outlived their usefulness. Going in, everyone pretty much knows what will happen, how their state will vote and who the nominee(s) will be. There’s no guesswork. No suspense. Just the show and a lot of words from many unknown people that even the networks have found so uninteresting they don’t broadcast many of ‘em.

With 50 states using 50 sets of rules to select delegates to these political moshpits, it’s hard to see any direct connection to the folks at home and how they look at things. This is especially true with the use of state caucuses that are about as representative of home voters as a hermit using a Ouija board.

Primary elections aren’t much better since some are “closed” to voters outside a particular party while others are “open” to any and everybody. Results so truly unrepresentative they reflect little value when used to measure a state’s political proclivities.

Since the voting rights act was wrongfully gutted by SCOTUS last year, many states have enacted new laws barring some residents from registering or, if already registered, from voting. Just last week, a federal appeals court ripped up new laws in North Carolina and labeled them for what they actually were: attempts to keep minorities from voting. I’d guess some other states – Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Georgia et al – are going to be affected, too. Good!

I know there are some cretins who scream and howl about all things federal, even when some federal actions benefit them. But, seems to me, the only way to clean up our befouled elections and their mystifying and questionable implementation, is to throw ‘em all out and start over.

I’d like to see a single federal statute for conduct of all races for national office. States would be given total power to conduct their races anyway they deemed fit. But, nationally, if we’d select delegates in the 50 states the same uniform way, there would be some consistency and consistency and more accuracy in results. Not the hodgepodge and grossly inaccurate mess we have now.

Then, we should take apart the antiquity called the Electoral College which has outlived its usefulness. At least in its present form. It’s become a bottleneck and results issued by the body can be – and often are – not truly representative of the popular vote. As it is now, if a candidate carries half a dozen states, he/she is a winner regardless of the other 44. That’s not right. But that’s what it’s become.

Some sort of electoral body is probably necessary to support a more truly voter representative and level playing field. Of course, what shape and how it would be structured are controversial. But, it could be done. And it should be done. Soon.

Which brings us back to conventions. And that $30 million. It’s hard to see what the two parties got for that lavish and disgusting expenditure. The GOP was actually out begging for $6 million from former benefactors just to pay the tab in Cleveland. Which gives you some indication of the resources the national GOP has on hand to help candidates in the November elections. Not much.

Besides, Republicans may have crowned a presidential candidate who won’t be in the field come November. You can get pretty good odds on that in Vegas these days. I may take a couple of retirement dollars that didn’t go to help pay for someone else’s meaningless convention and make a small Nevada investment. Could be.

Doug Fairbanks he ain’t

Author: Barrett Rainey

Someone – we don’t know who just yet – but someone has pulled back the curtain on that pudgy little fella working the controls in New Jersey politics. And what we see back there is he’s just a real – and flawed – little guy like the rest of us. He’s really not “larger-than-life.” He’s really not a “different kind of politician.” And he won’t be on the presidential ballot in 2016. He’s lied. Several times. And it’s been proven.

Though a follower of things political, I’ve tried to avoid getting into this Christie mess. In the first week or two of disclosures of the abuses in the George Washington Bridge story, the whole thing seemed like a tempest in a Jersey teapot. Disgraceful actions by an overzealous staff run amok. Just the usual B.S. But Christie himself, a New York media blitz, the purely amateurish and irrational actions of some of his Republican political travelers and pictures – those damning pictures – have made it impossible to “walk on by.”

When this whole thing blew up a couple of weeks ago, I said to myself “Self,” I said. “This guy’s a pro. He’s tough. He’s a straight shooter. He’ll ream out his staff, throw out the garbage and put the whole thing to rest. Nothing to see here. Go on to something else.”

But Christie has become his own worst problem. At first, he hunkered down. Silence. Then he decided spending two hours on his feet with New York and national media would put the whole thing to rest. It didn’t. For two reasons.

First, answering questions from 60-70 reporters while staying “on message” for that time is impossible. You’re going to get the same questions 12 different ways. And, if you stray from the absolute truth just once, you’re going to screw up and contradict something before it’s over. Christie thought he could beat that. He didn’t. He screwed up several times.

Second, his lengthy appearance “on camera” was probably the longest continuous stretch he’s stood before the national public to be looked over. What he showed was not the image of a controlled, even-tempered, intelligent and wise decision-maker in command of his duties. Presidential material, as it were. He was alternately churlish, apologetic, humble, over-bearing, articulate, inarticulate, knowing, unknowing, aware of detail, unaware of detail and obviously reaching to find new answers to questions already answered. He lost me when he tried to make himself a victim going through the “cycles of grief.”

Compounding his problems has been his Republican “friends.” Rather than trying to find something honest and positive to drum up public support for Christie in his time of trial, Giulani, Santorum, Huckabee and the Republican scribes at Fox dragged out Benghazi and the IRS – trying to use the oft-disproved lies of the loony right to divert attention to the White House. And those guys want us to put them back in public office? Really?

On his own, Christie has shown himself to be a chief executive either out-of-touch with his own top-level staff or he’s created a staff that freelances with the governor’s name and image – and he allows it. He’s either ceded control of affairs of the State of New Jersey to others while pursuing his national political ambitions or he’s too isolated to know what’s going on in the office next door. Either he’s the jovial, wise politician he tries to depict or he’s the bully using the powers of his office to punish those who don’t follow his line.

Those two hours in front of the cameras could well have been the single, most self-destructive turning point in Christie’s political fortunes as he tried to win back an increasingly suspicious media. Or, maybe there’ll be many smaller turning points – the ones accumulated over the years in which it seems he or his renegade staff punished perceived New Jersey political non-adherents to the Christie management style.

It’s not possible to believe Chris Christie didn’t know – long ago – of the bridge debacle and the resulting multi-government and citizen reaction to it. There’s proof of that already. It’s not believable that his staff kept an ambitious politician so successfully sequestered from events that so impacted the very voters he needs as his political base for further national successes. We’ve got proof of that, too.

Chris Christie today may be the same guy he was 30 days ago to New Jersey supporters. But he’s not the same guy he was 30 days ago to a national audience that had little knowledge of his more earthy persona. And of his hardball political proclivities.

The only guy I know who could stand in the breech and take on a hundred swordsmen successfully was Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Chris Christie is no Doug Fairbanks!

Failure guaranteed

Author: Barrett Rainey

In terms of useful work accomplished, the recently ended session of Congress was bad – worst ever. The new session that began last week will strive for – and likely surpass – that historic low. The square earth cancer existing in the House for several years has spread to the Senate, guaranteeing already single-digit voter approval ratings will slip even more.

Grim forecast? Yes. Without basis? No. Indicators are all over the place. But here are three that resonate with me.

First – the longer-than-usual list of members quitting. But not just that. What makes these departures more problematic is the political leaning represented by many in the exiting group. Moderates. Many from the middle who’ve historically cooperated with that “other” party. Some who’ve had to beat off primary challenges from the tinfoil hat crowd in the past because of their willingness to “get-the-job-done” using the politics of compromise. Punishment for statesmanship. Attacked by the ignorant for doing the job they were elected to do. At some point, a guy gets fed up being clobbered for doing the right thing.. At some point, he quits. We’re seeing it this time in spades!

Additionally, even some of those who’ve carried water for the far right have somehow slipped into disfavor – encouraged the wrath of the foil folk – finding themselves “primaried.” You won’t find that word in Webster’s or SpellCheck. It means the nuts have put up someone further right-of-center than you and you’re going to have to spend big bucks to win your own primary – then more big bucks to battle the other party in a second election.

Rep Mike Simpson (R-ID) comes to mind as a prime example. Sen. Minority Leader McConnell, (R-KY), too. Though hewing to the square earth Republican line – even when that line was a guaranteed loser – both men are raising money to battle their own party folk. Then still more bucks if a Democrat shows up for the November general election. Gotta have “purity,” dontcha know.

The exit of moderates – especially GOP moderates – assures the mess we’ve endured in recent years will get even messier. A victory here and there for newly minted extremists will simply further foul a bad situation.

Second – both political parties are shrinking in membership. Large numbers of people who previously considered themselves Democrats or Republicans are abandoning whatever’s left of those organizations and moving to the Independent banner. But that’s a very, very sharp two-edged sword.

While one might feel personally and philosophically rewarded by being politically free to pick and choose, the problem is there is no viable “Independent Party” with any clout. Many states don’t allow candidates who aren’t Democrat or Republican on the ballot. So what you get in many cases is the recognized two parties put unacceptable candidates on the ballots for the disenfranchised “Independents” to chose between.

Unless – and until – enough people can create a real Independent Party made up of truly fed-up former Democrats and Republicans, there’ll be no real change. The third party folk will simply have abandoned the recognized and lawful system and have no clout to change anything. The choice really amounts to being disenfranchised or going back to the political party you’re trying to escape from while trying to change it.

Third – there are 534 members in the current Congress. Right? How many would you guess are millionaires? MORE THAN HALF! Yep. At least 268 had a documented 2012 net worth of a million. Or more!

Used to be easy to look it up. But the Center for Responsive Politics that researched those figures says Congress quietly changed the rules recently so you can’t tell how much over a million they might really be worth. Chief Obama hater Rep. Issa (R-CA) is generally judged to be the most well-heeled at about a billion. Even Idaho’s little Sen. Risch is up in the multi-million range.

So, next time you consider the Republican cut to food stamps of $40 billion, ask yourself this:”With more than half the people voting who should eat – how much and when – being millionaires, what do they really know of hunger? How in touch with people trying to keep their families fed are these guys?

Or, that old Republican bugaboo – unemployment benefits. What do Issa and Risch and the 266 other millionaires really know of being unemployed while trying to keep a family together? What do they know of the absolute need of $200 or $300 a week to survive? When more than half the folks writing our laws and determining benefits have checkbooks with seven or eight or nine figures in them, how concerned are they about the necessities you have to deal with on a daily basis?

Is the new Congress going to be worse than the last? Will there be more partisanship and stalemate? Will the foil hat crowd continue to sabotage democracy? Will the more than half the Congress worth over a million apiece remain out-of-touch with today’s reality at your house?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

Happy New Year anyway.

Snowden and pornography

Author: Barrett Rainey

Dealing with my feelings about the Edward Snowden story creates some of the same thoughts I have about pornography. As an issue, I’m opposed to porn. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take a quick look if it pops up unexpectedly on a web site I’ve happened across.

What Snowden did – stealing and distributing U.S. government secrets – is abhorrent – a clear violation of oaths he took when granted a security clearance to work with classified documents. He’s no hero. He’s a criminal and should be punished as such. He betrayed the trust granted by his civilian employer – and the entire nation by implication – and he may be a source of lasting damage to our national security. So far, that’s doubtful but not all the information he purloined has been published.

With that said – like porn – we’ll all take a look at what stolen details come out of the electronic stash of documents. And they’re coming. Some boring – some interesting – some downright scary and unsettling. It’s certain there will be more revelations, like the ever-present surveillance of the National Security Agency in all our lives. It’s likely to be an even bumpier ride.

Like it or not, what we’re learning about “big brother” and the gaze on us all by the “eye that never sleeps,” is alarming – yet fascinating – stuff. Kind of like that brief, occasional glimpse of porn. Those doing the surveillance are pissed because we now know. But – as the surveilled – we need to know. We have a constitutionally guaranteed right to know.

I hear many people say, “Well, so what? I’m not doing anything wrong. Go ahead and look. They won’t find anything.” Two things scare me about people who say that. First, they’re probably licensed to drive on the same highways I use. Second, the issue is not what we’re doing but rather why should our government be watching us?

This is not a political issue for which this administration or the previous one – or the one previous to that – can be solely criticized. If it’s true the neo-cons of the first Bush years started this, it’s equally true all subsequent administrations have approved it.

In the days after 9/11, there may have been sufficient reasons for ramping up surveillance of electronic traffic. Or, it may have been an overreaction to fears raised by that terrible attack. Makes no difference now. What does make a difference is we’ve had a dozen years to see if such government snooping on its citizens is warranted or is simply being continued because it “may” be effective to identify terrorists. Operative word there is “may.”

There’s been plenty of time to assess the value of such surveillance. The question is, has anyone done such an assessment? If so, what were the results? If not, why the Hell not? One agency says, “Well, we don’t look at these messages from those sources” and another says “We only look at these people.” Is there any coordination here? Who’s in and who’s out? We need to know.

As happens so often when we or a corporation or a government try to operate secretly, the word will get out eventually. The cat’s out of the bag now on this national “secret.” We know – in at least some vague ways – our privacy is being violated by a government trying to do due diligence in matters of national security. But we don’t know exactly by whom, how or what the results are. The fact that no one has flown another airplane into another building is not the answer we deserve. That’s simply a political brush off.

The question of whether Edward Snowden and Bradley – oops – Chelsea Manning were motivated to betray the national trust placed in them is for another time and other discussions. Assuring necessary security in the field of classified national information in the hands of millions of people needs to be addressed now. And safeguards – such as there may be – instituted immediately.

This administration – and whatever intelligent members of Congress we have left – need to make a “full court press” inside government and out. Why do we have these programs? What kinds and how many? Run by whom? Effectiveness? Are there adequate safeguards? Are there other, less invasive ways to get the same results? How are we screening those who are allowed access? And we – you and I – need to be told PDQ the answers to those and other pertinent questions.

Now that the “surveillance cow is out of the national security barn,” we need to know how it got out and what went with it. Even NSA doesn’t seem to know what Snowden took, how he took it or where it is. Those are the folks we’re supposed to rely on when we put our heads on the pillow each night.

Can’t speak for you but I’ve been sleeping with one eye open lately.

The Sheriff’s warning

Author: Barrett Rainey

“The Sheriff’s Office regretfully advises that, if you know you are in a potentially volatile situation – for example, you are a protected person in a restraining order you believe the respondent may violate – you may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.”

Put another way, if someone is about to harm you – or even kill you – move!

Where you live, that statement may not sound very significant. But – in Grants Pass or Merlin or Cave Junction, Oregon – that message appeared on the official website of Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. If you’re a woman with three small children – it’s 3 a.m. – your drunken ex is hammering on the door with the butt of his shotgun while shouting he’s “gonna kill you” – the significance is impossible to overstate.

The New York Times recently did a piece on the Josephine mess with the rhetorical question “The first clue to how dangerous it is to live on Oregon’s Josephine County? When no one answers the phone at the sheriff’s office.”

Yet this is life today in Josephine County. And it may soon be how things are in Curry and possibly Jackson Counties. It’s one thing when counties have to cut some clerks or some road workers or a planner or two. But it’s entirely another – a very life-threatening “another” – when jails are closed, violators are arrested and immediately released, prosecutor’s office staffs are cut in half or more, citizens arm themselves and start armed patrols.

It’s reliably estimated there are more than 100 such armed “peace keeper” amateurs out there. Just people like you and me with no official authority and certainly no official backing. Except they believe they’re “deputies” of a sort who are driving up and down the roads looking out for violators. With no training. No government support. No orders. No official oversight. And not a shred of legal protection if they shoot someone. Much less kill someone. Would you stop for some guy flashing his headlights in an unmarked pickup 10 miles from nowhere at midnight? What would he do if you didn’t? If you keep on driving, what’s he going to do?

In Josephine County, the armed imposters call themselves “North Valley Community Watch.” Leaders make the totally unsupported claim they can act as “a deterrent to crime.” Oh ya? When you had a full complement of lawmen – city and county – local people were still robbing banks, beating their spouses, driving drunk and killing their neighbors. So how are 100 or more guys without any law enforcement training or authority going to be a “deterrent” to the drunken wife-beater down the street?

The civil liability issue here is huge. Which is why Sheriff John Bishop in neighboring Curry County – in just as bad financial times – has put the kabosh on similar armed citizen wannabes. So far. He wonders aloud how civilians – lacking the trained split-second decision making skill of a real deputy – can do the right thing at the right second. What if the phony cop shoots an innocent person? Or even a guilty one? Who sues who?

Fact is, Curry County is in a bit worse shape top to bottom than Josephine or Jackson. The most recent two bond issues to raise money to take care of the worst situations were soundly killed. One by a margin of six out of 10 shouting “NO!” County and city officers are quitting. Recruiting good replacements is impossible. Though the state constitution requires an operating jail, even that is on the block. Along with emergency communications.

These three counties are in this mess largely because of poor political decisions by several past county commissions. More than a dozen counties have been receiving large annual payments of federal bucks tied to logging and/or payment-in-lieu of taxes for hundreds of thousands of acres of federal timber land. It’s been going on for years. Until recently. But the well is dry. For years, many past commissioners simply spent the federal “gravy” as it came in rather than raise taxes to keep up with changing times. A few other, smarter local commissioners put some of the largesse into “rainy day” savings accounts and are now budgeting with those dollars to offset the loss. But even that is coming to an end.

Oregon’s congressional delegation has been pushing legislative bills up the hill like so many peanuts. But – given the do-less-than-nothing nature of the situation along the Potomac – no substantial relief has been forthcoming. Oh, a bill passes here but dies over there. Or, one gets to committee and disappears into the swamp water. The fact is the federal spigot has not been turned on again. And the coffers of many Oregon countries are empty. As in Josephine. Or, damned near it as in Curry.

When your innocent life may be in danger and the best advice you can get from local law enforcement is to move out of town, the wise will take heed, rent a truck and go.

Musical “spirits” of Christmas

Author: Barrett Rainey

Christmas presents a number of challenges for me. The first is that
I’m not a shopper – I’m a buyer. Need new jeans? Go from car to Men’s Department – find my size – go to cashier – back to car. Four minutes flat! Now that’s buying. Anything more is painful.

Except Christmas. Because, personally, there’s one significant difference this time of year; something that makes the pain of “shopping” more bearable. And that’s listening to the sounds of all the dead singers coming over the sound system at the mall. Really brightens thing up..

Think about it. Listen for it. Bing Crosby – Rosemary Clooney – Karen Carpenter – Perry Como – Eddy Arnold – Sammy Davis Jr. – Nat Cole – Mel Torme – Burl Ives – Ella Fitzgerald – Frank Sinatra – Dean Martin – the Andrews Sisters – Andy Williams – Patti Page – Margaret Whiting – Elvis. All dead. Except at Christmas. At the mall.

These people were recording Christmas songs before most of today’s shoppers were born. Now they’re gone. Except at Christmas. Then we dig ‘em up. All of ‘em. Every year.

I’m a child of radio. I listened to Ed Murrow from London in the eaqrly ‘40’s on my little bedside Sears Silvertone while doing grade school homework. All the mystery shows, the comedies, variety shows and the news. Those were my childhood friends. I knew ‘em all.

For about four decades, radio and television provided me with a fine life of earning a living, travel, one-of-a-kind experiences and making friends. TV was a large part of it but radio was where I felt most at home. Television “is.” What you see is what you get. But radio was “whatever-you-wanted-it-to-be.” Nobody else in the whole world – nobody – visualized the Green Hornet exactly the way I did. When Superman leapt over a tall building, mine was the tallest that ever was!

When you had such deeply ingrained memories of what was possible with radio, who wouldn’t want to grow up and be a part of it. I sure did. Until radio as I knew it – as it was intended to be – died. Starting in the ‘80’s.

My last broadcasting job was in radio. And one day – I just quit. Cold turkey. Radio was gone. Time for me to go, too. Listen to it now. Pick anyone of three content categories and listen. Really listen. They all sound alike.

Radio is primarily a for-profit product these days. And most of the stations – too damned many of them – are not owned by professional broadcasters any more. Now, majority ownership is “chains” – some with hundreds of outlets. They’ve got investors and stockholders and bean-counters with ex-time salesmen for managers. Bottom line determines programming – not originality. Medford radio – Eugene Radio – Boise radio – Olympia radio. Run up and down the dial and you won’t find any real differences.

It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just “is.” When “The Gipper’s” Federal Communications Commission deregulated radio, it became a Monopoly game with buyers hoarding radio licenses. Buy ‘em. Sell ‘em. Trade ‘em. Pile ‘em up. It just “is.”

So, I go to the mall at Christmas because that’s where my “friends” are. Bing, Ella, Rosemary, Frank, Andy and all the rest. There’s almost no place for them in today’s fractured radio world that’s looking for the 18-to-28-year old demographic of the ratings services.

Well, my“friends” may be as dead as yesterday’s Limbaugh flatulence on today’s airwaves. But they’ll always be at the mall. I’ve tried to picture “Jingle Bells” done by Pink Floyd. It doesn’t work. How ‘bout “Let it Snow; Let It Snow” by Miley Cyrus? No? Maybe “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” by Hootie and the Blowfish?” Ugh! Or “Silent Night” by ZZ Top. Guess not.

Every generation’s “musicians” make Christmas albums. You hear a new one once in awhile. Or more likely catch one of their videos. Usually country/western. They’re out there. For a year or two.

But they won’t be played on background music at the mall any time soon. They won’t be purchased for our personal music collections in anything like the numbers of “White Christmas” recordings by Ol’ Bing. So my question is this. How long can these dead-but-talented-spirits be resurrected each year? Digitally “dug up,” as it were? Even with all those contemporary “flash-in-the-pan” folks recording soon-to-be-forgotten Christmas noise, will we be hearing Rosemary and Mel and Nat for the next century or so?

The answer is, I think, yes. Because there is a quality of permanence in what they did. Because they did it once. They did it simply. They did it right. No echo chambers. No multi-track overdubbing. Except for Les Paul. It was “Christmas lightning” in a bottle.

Well, off to the mall. Ella’s going to be there from 2 to 2:15 this afternoon.

Back to square one

Author: Barrett Rainey

While the U.S. Supreme Court gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) can probably be strictly legally supported, minorities in this country have even more to fear. The decision – questionable or not – throws their future access to the polls into the hands of the most do-nothing, divided, regressive and inoperable congress in recent history. And that ain’t good.

The challenge to the VRA was based primarily on Section 5 – that portion requiring certain states and other government entities holding elections to get advance U.S. Justice Department approval of their election rules if they appeared on a list of locales where previous election discrimination had been proven. In the 1960’s. The plaintiff’s argument was basically “We’ve changed and what we intentionally did wrong before we don’t do anymore so we shouldn’t be forced to comply with a 48-year-old decision.”

While the Justices bought that dubious claim 5-4 – apparently believing previous discriminatory practices had likely ended – the question is: have they? Some new serious statistical evidence suggests – they haven’t.

Law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer (University of California Cal-Davis and University of Connecticut) have published a study arguing “the list of states required to obtain federal approval under VRA ‘remarkably mirrors the geography of anti-black prejudice’ in the United States today.”

“What we generated,” Elmendorf said, “is an answer to the question whether racial voting conditions in specific states had really changed which was asked by the chief justice during oral arguments. Defendant was unable to answer.”

Using a 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey, the professors asked non-blacks to rank their own racial group against blacks regarding intelligence, trustworthiness and work ethic. Respondents ranked their racial group above blacks by an average of 15 points in each category.

The results were striking. Their mathematical model suggests, of the states with the highest percentage of people biased against blacks, six are Southern: Lousiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. All had been previously required to seek fed approval for election law changes under the VRA based on past bad practices. But no longer.

Two other states – Arizona and Alaska – also were required to get government approval of voting changes. But Elmendorf and Spencer note, while those two ranked much lower in black bias, their data indicates Arizona’s significant bias is against Hispanics and Alaska’s is anti-Native American.

Certainly some racial bias likely exists in all states. But – no matter how the researchers crunched the numbers in this example – “the Deep South states went right to the top,” according to Elmendorf.

So, let’s take stock. SCOTUS says things have changed racially. The above-cited survey – and others – show the same old bias’s still exist. Which leaves the whole thing up to 535 people who can’t agree on what time it is or whose watch to use. If that’s not bad enough, states-after-Republican-controlled-states are doing their damndest to stop minorities from registering and voting. At a time in our political history when we need some stability, SCOTUS tipped the scales to even more serious problems.

Minorities have a right to worry about being disenfranchised. Responsible Americans in the majority should be equally concerned. Speaker Boehner has proven he can’t even pass gas let alone serious legislation. It’s quite likely his farm bill debacle will be followed by a similar disaster dealing with any immigration bill that accidentally makes it to the upper house. And, failing some prompt corrective action on voting rights in Congress, the offending states will continue to be hellbent on cutting access to the vote. That’s not just speculation. It’s been happening for several elections. Even in some of the states on the now-defunct list of violators.

We’ve got a long string of domino s here. The right of full, free access to the voting booth needs the support of the court. But to get effective court backup, justices need to be presented with a new law that meets constitutional standards. But such a corrective law must come out of a congress that is useless and hopelessly ineffective. Without such a law, states that have proven they’ll deny voting access to non-whites have free range to construct all sorts of barriers. Barriers that would have to be broken by – wait for it – the U.S. Supreme Court.

Minority access to the vote is as much in danger today as it was in 1965. What the Hell happened?

Stressful oceanside living

Author: Barrett Rainey

Most of us move many times in our lives. For whatever reason exists at the moment. Life’s exigencies as it were. In the process, we’re deluged with changes in nearly everything. New environment – new and different shopping – new geography and place names to learn – sometimes different local customs or practices – new driver’s licenses or passports. Leaving friends. Meeting new people. The whole moving experience is often change top to bottom. We get used to it.

I’ve moved many times. Many and often. Across town, state-to-state, coast-to-coast and border-to-border. Life’s adjustments caused by relocating have been regular and varied. So often, in fact, I thought our most recent was just another “pack-‘em-up-and-move-‘em-out.” Wrong.

The first time we moved to the edge of the Pacific was a decade ago. We did it because we’d never lived there. Simple as that. Lots of exciting new things to experience and a very different living environment. My flat land artist wife has been ocean-smitten for years. So when the moving bug hit this time, like Brigham Young, she pointed westward and the family wagons moved. And we learned all over again.

Coastal living – Oregon coastal living – is a whole new deal. Take shopping, for instance. Most communities are small with limited store selection. If you want a Costco or Mode or Best Buy, you have to drive more than 50-75 miles inland. Then back. There may be an occasional Safeway or Fred Meyer but most grocery outlets are small, regional types like IGA or Ray’s or Grocery Outlet or Mom & Pop’s.

Prices for everything – everything – are higher. It’s a lifestyle premium you pay for rainfall that can exceed 90 inches a year. Yes, Virginia, 90! And there’s the fog and cold and other things that aggravate your arthritis and rheumatism. Lots of seniors try living near the ocean but find some of the frailties of age can make it a painful experience. So they either develop a tolerance or move inland again.

You can’t just go to a store near the ocean and buy anything you want or need at any time. One June, I was looking for a long-sleeved shirt at the largest chain store in Brookings and was told they only carried long-sleeved shirts between September and April. If I really wanted one in June, it would be a 180 mile drive. Until September, of course.

Medical care is most often sketchy. Hospitals – where they exist at all – are small and specialists are few. So major medical needs result in 100-200 mile drives inland or, in the case of a real emergency, air ambulance. Cost for that? Don’t even think about it.

You get used to two-lane highways at all times. Or occasionally one-lane. No Interstate or beltways. And you know, in nearly all cases, North and South are the only ways out of town. Until you get to the next two-lane heading East which could be many miles away. In the small coastal towns, don’t even think of trying to turn left off Highway 101 from May through September. Backs up local traffic for miles.

Then there’s mold and mildew. Everywhere. In, around and through everything. If you store household goods commercially, you must have heated and climate-controlled lockers. Dehumidifiers are as standard in most coastal homes as air conditioners further inland. Houses that look in good shape outside can have rotten footings and mold-despoiled electrical systems. You learn to deal with mold and mildew. Or you move away from the coast.

Winds can be a problem. In some of the more exposed places they can hit 50 to 70 miles-an-hour during the larger storms. Things in your yard that aren’t battened down disappear regularly. Replacing all or part of wind-damaged roofs or fencing is as permanent a job security as being a mortician. And a not-unexpected additional homeowner cost.

Weather can change on a dime. We’ve experienced 75 degrees on Christmas day followed by a dusting of snow on New Year’s Eve. It can rain for an hour – a day – three weeks straight. Living permanently near the Pacific requires a change of wardrobe. Rainproof outerwear or slickers. Water-tight shoes and boots. You keep an umbrella in the car at all times. Even though most “coasters” think using one is for tourists.

These are just some of the issues you face when taking up permanent residence near Oregon’s Pacific shoreline. Very different from the blue skies of August when you and the family spent that week in a rented condo and you thought maybe this would be a good place to retire. That week doesn’t really represent the struggles of year-round residence. Over a 12 month period, living by the sea can be a very trying experience. It ain’t for sissies.

So, here we are. Again.

“Why,” you ask? “Why do it again given all those drawbacks – the irritation – the problems?”

Well, I’ll answer that. In a bit. Right now, the sun is out. The sky and the ocean are blue as a baby’s bright eyes. And the surf’s really pounding. Gotta go. I’ll get back to you.

Right wing amoeba splitting

Author: Barrett Rainey

A basic tenant of folks on the right in this country is they can’t abide unity. It’s what they preach. It’s on their signs in the streets and is the major theme of their boisterous and usually crazy gatherings. But unity is a concept they can’t grasp. It happens again and again. And it always will.

The Achilles’ Heel of the extreme right is distrust coupled with anger. Why? Because the prime motivational forces of those most drawn to the lunatic fringe are – wait for it – distrust and anger. The passions that bring them together are most often distrust of – or anger with – government. Or some element of thereof. Read their literature. Listen to their preferred media. Hear their spokesmen. No words of peace. No talk of love. No promise of better times. No plans offered. Just the ever-present distrust and anger. Of someone or something. Always.

But, while these two traits draw them together, sooner or later they’re the same forces that create divisions of loyalty, splits in “philosophy” or give birth to factions which break off from the original group to form one or more new cells of the distrustful and the angered. This basic truth is what’s likely to make the Republican Party a minor national influence for years to come. And many elections to come. Evidence is everywhere.

Take the now-discredited Texan Dick Armey – around whom tea baggies gathered so faithfully a couple years back – that same Dick Armey had a “philosophical” falling-out with the big money guys in their faux “grassroots” club. He walked out the door with a “severance package” of $8 million plus. Stage far right of course. Seems he was seeing things differently from the billionaires who’ve been putting the big money in his pockets all this time. He was angry and distrustful. “Grass roots movement?” Oh, sure. Yeah. You betcha!

Then consider Jim DeMint quitting the U.S. Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, which began long ago as a respected conservative “think tank” but which has become a bastion of all things far, far to the right. His stated reason? He can “be more effective.” Sure. If you’d been reading his clippings recently you’d have known he was angry his far right minority views weren’t being adopted by the majority of his GOP colleagues – that he was feeling “stifled” and couldn’t carry out his “agenda.” He even put hundreds of thousands of dollars into 2012 primary campaigns against sitting senators. In his own party! Anger. Distrust. He also more than tripled is income!

Rep. Shelley Capito of West Virginia, says she’ll run for the U..S. Senate in 2014. Years of GOP membership and service. The ink wasn’t dry on the press release before three – count ‘em – three “republican” groups (small r) denounced her, saying they’d support someone else in the primary. Their joint “reasoning?” She occasionally voted for things they didn’t like and all said “she couldn’t be trusted.” Oh, yes. They were angry, too.

The Koch boys tried to take over the Cato Institute this year – another fortress of GOP “conservatism.” Not far enough right for the Koch’s and their phony “Americans For Prosperity” front. They lost in court. They were angry. From Pine Street in Meridian, Idaho, to “K” Street in Washington, DC, the far right is constantly in a state of amoeba-like throes of joining – then splitting. It was ever thus. It will ever be.

Faux news chief Roger Ailes was very angry when he took Karl Rove and political whore Dick Morris off the payroll this year. Temporarily for Rove. “Unprofessional behavior,” he said. “Angry and distrusted,” sez I.

Even John Boehner had to “fire” four members of his caucus from important committee spots so he could assure passage of whatever budget deal he and the White House might agree to. And they will. Naysayers who opposed him from within did so because he wasn’t “pure” enough – because he appeared willing to compromise. Purity rejects compromise.

Basic, child-like reasoning would say “put all your similarly inclined, disaffected into one organization – one club – one party – and you’d be a force to be reckoned with. Your numbers would be sizeable and your affect on elections could be greater.” It won’t happen.

What assures that is the one trait they all share – one which eventually also drives them apart. Ideological purity. DeMint, for one, has famously said he’d rather have a minority of 40 “ideologically united” senators than a 60 member majority of various beliefs. He preaches that at all those chicken dinners on the GOP campaign trail. In their own ways, each of these right wing splinter groups believes the same thing. Unity in theme. But each falls – or will fall – victim to disunity in practice. Distrust. Anger.

By the way, after nearly 25 years, representatives of DeMint’s crackpot Heritage Foundation are now barred from meetings of conservative House members on the Hill. A matter of purity I’d guess. Exiled. Even DeMint.

Contrast this evidence of the “unforgiving” with those who approach political decisions with more moderate beliefs. Rather than “purity,” those folks go for inclusion. The Republican Party used to do that. They did until 1964 when the Goldwater folks ran the Rockefeller folks out of the neighborhood. Put it on a graph and you can draw a straight line downward from 1964 to now if you’re measuring GOP tolerance of different ideas.

Remember Reagan’s 11th commandment ? “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican?” Remember those words? Look around you now only 25 years or so later. Now, it’s not only words they speak. The knives are out. Dare to be different from the ideology of the day and you’ll be dismissed as a heretic. And you’ll form another group. ‘Cause the other folk are angry with you. And they don’t trust you. Or you them.

I’m not pitching for the Democrat Party. But look no further than our most recent election for evidence that the Republican Party – as currently operated – is becoming irrelevant. Especially if you remember the televised crowd shots from the two national conventions. Democrats: black, brown and other skin colors – many, many women in leadership among the state delegations – younger folks – great inclusion. Republicans? Mostly older and mostly white. More men than women among the delegates. Read their platforms. Republican “inclusion?” You gotta be kidding!

Disaffected, more moderate Republicans? Yes, Virginia, still are some of those folk around. But they aren’t going to continue supporting candidates for anything while being shut out of party leadership. They’ll continue to be faced with incompetent – but “pure” – candidates on future Republican ballots. Walsh, King, Santorum, Gingrich, Cain, Brewer and more of their ilk in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and beyond. They’ll be there. Guaranteed. “Ideological purity” and “exclusion” will make it so.

Far right elements – ideological or moneyed – have done more to minimize the Republican Party than any Democrat victory ever. They control ballot access, money and what’s left of the Party structure. Those who don’t agree face difficult choices. Moderates can try to retake control which will require major efforts over many years and many elections – starting at precinct levels. The disaffected can shut up and swallow hard as they try to remain faithful to a Party that no longer represents them. Or they can leave. That’s about it.

Meanwhile, the amoeba-like joining and splitting of the various minorities that make up the purist crowd will dominate all things Republican.

Wait! Hear that? There goes another one.

The move from Hell

Author: Barrett Rainey

We – Barb and I – have just finished “the move from Hell.”

With a quick curtsey to the folks still living back there under the trees in the old forest in far Southwest Oregon, I don’t mean you’re still in Hell. It’s just, well, politically warmer there.

No, I mean by “Hell” one of life’s little experiences that really tests the limits of one’s patience, strength, durability and causes you to think you really are in Hell. Of course, all of those things are magnified when you both reach your 70’s and still try to do the things you did in your 40’s. You may look younger than your years. You may feel younger. You still may be living a lifestyle that belies those 70 years. But inside, when push comes to shove – or rather when push comes to lift and carry again and again and again – there’s no fooling about the rings on your trunk. Those higher numbers kick in with the accompanying pain..

From the off-the-beaten-path ‘50’s approach to life and seclusion of the forest, we’ve resettled beside the sea. The Pacific Ocean as it were. We’ve traded about 40 inches of rainfall per year for something like 70. Also more fog – more wind – more gray skies. And a chill in the bones that angers the old arthritis.

But, when the sun shines – and it does often here – and the ocean appears as blue as the skies – it’s a marvelous place to be. We’ve lived on the coast before – Curry County actually. Rainfall in Curry routinely tops 90 inches. But temperatures are so balmy year-round that growers plant lily bulbs and harvest the grown flowers all twelve months. Periods of heavy rain – very heavy rain- are punctuated by several days of beautiful skies. And it’s not unusual to hit 70 degrees in Brookings in December while the rest of Oregon shivers.

Now we’re enjoying the welcome and comfort of Lincoln County which – like much of the rest of Oregon – is a two-party neighborhood. Everything we own resides in four large storage units and we’re sharing a 30-foot motorhome with Rat Terrier Winston and Calico Clementine. Unusual names, yes. It’s a Churchillian thing. We’ve changed our driver’s licenses, the vehicle registrations and have become registered voters. Independent, of course. A different life awaits.

But – recovering from “the-move-from-Hell” is taking longer than before. The sore muscles and sprains are going to be felt for more weeks than previously. Going from living in 2,000 square feet to about 180 is not as easy to adjust to as in previous relocations. Even an older Winston is grouchier than he used to get.

As a people, we Americans are a very mobile group. The Census Bureau says about 36 million of us moved in 2012 and 2013. The area with the fewest movers was the Northeast (7.8 percent); the highest was the West (13.4 percent).

Most of us didn’t move long distances. About two-thirds stayed in the same county. Those that moved out-of-county numbered about 40 percent and relocated less than 50 miles away. About 25 percent of all who moved during 2012 and 2013 were renters.

The Bureau figures there were two main reasons for relocations: housing and employment. Among renters it was more the latter than the former.

Relocations are never easy. And some are tougher than others. This was a tough one for us. Oh, we’ll heal soon. And we’ll settle in once the new house is finished. Or, as is the case at the moment, one sells and the other gets started.

But our philosophy is – “let’s get on with it.” Time enough for recovery later. That’s why the grave is called “the final resting place.”