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Some radical thinking

Author: Barrett Rainey

Sitting in the timberlands of Southwest Oregon – after having lived in several other states over the years – I hear many people tell me how “conservative” the area is. They’re right. But they don’t go far enough.

These five wooded counties harbor more radicals, political extremists, flat-earthers and outright socially-disconnected people than any other place I know. Despite my lengthy residence and familiarity with some of these people, I am unable to tell whether they were radicals before they came here or whether living here has radicalized them.

But one thing I do know is that, after a decade of residing here, some of this “different” thinking is rubbing off on me. Not that I’m becoming a flat-earther or developing a strong desire to buy dried food supplies and more ammunition. No, it’s more that I’m having the beginnings of some “radical” thinking, too.

Here’s a bit: the political structure of our government is not currently serving us well. Together with some goofy political practices – like the phony GOP filibuster carpet bombing that appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution – we’ve tried to live more or less as the founding fathers intended. But, in doing so, we have become gridlocked, separated from recognized solutions to our own problems and are unable to react to national conditions that change much faster than they did in 1776.

The intention of the authors so long ago was to have co-equal branches of power: executive, legislative and judicial. Worked fine for awhile. Even with the resulting slowness with which government operates. We’ve had times in the past when slowness – or outright inaction – saved us from making some large mistakes or going down the wrong road. That’s not entirely bad.

But we now can achieve little or nothing playing by the old rules because of the highly partisan, fractured nature of modern politics and huge changes of technology in our lives. The system of balances has become a three-way struggle for control. Answers to problems immediate and massive job creation are really achievable. There really are remedies to our national economic and financial mess that economists and other professionals know will work. There are many doable ideas to streamline the military, make government more effective, improve everyone’s quality of life and realistically reorder our national priorities and goals.

All that – and more – can be done. Now. But not if we cling mindlessly to the old ways because 235 years ago, a couple dozen guys in a hot Philadelphia meeting room did the best they could to negotiate solutions to the issues of their time. Their time! Slavery. British tyranny. Taxes. A war in some of their states that threatened an entire nation as they knew it. Then. Not one of them could imagine supersonic flight, computers, organ transplants, cloning, sending men to the moon and beyond, a worldwide economic system tying all nations together and all the other things we take for granted. Well, maybe Franklin could. But no one else.

Still, we try to run a country as if we were using quill pens on parchment paper to send messages by horseback. Jefferson had a three-day ride from his home to Philadelphia but we send people in space around the entire world every 90 minutes. George Washington couldn’t find wooden dentures that fit well but we now grow human ears and noses in a laboratory and graft on entire faces.

I haven’t yet designed a new system. But I’ve been looking at others that offer some interesting tools to help us change our current bitter stalemate.

Parliamentary is just one example. A prime minister is elected every four years or when a “vote of confidence” is necessary. That post virtually controls the political system when it comes to a national course of action, the economy, relations with other countries and much more.

Can mistakes be made? Sure. But corrections can come quickly in a streamlined decision and action process designed for our time. Does this vest a large amount of power in one person? You bet. But accountability is achieved at the ballot box and parliament. Does it work where it exists today? Pretty well, actually.

Of course, this is all just a guy here in the forest talking to the trees. Such a major redesign of our national government would take years to bring about and require an awful lot of work. And trust.

Would it be worth it? Well, you decide. How do you think we’re doing now?

They’re watching you – really

Author: Barrett Rainey

Lots of folks have their shorts in a knot these days – mad because they’ve found out our own government is reading our emails and listening to our phone calls. Reading, watching and listening.

We don’t know exactly how this has been done or precisely how it started. And we don’t know what other sorts of officially sanctioned violations of our personal lives may yet be out there. But, with grudging thanks to Bradley – er – Chelsea Manning and Eric Snowden, we know more than we did. It ain’t good.

Well, get over it. If you’re fretting because you feel you’re being spied on, it’s because you are. If you’re worried about personal privacy, forget it! That horse left the barn years ago. Only thing different these days is we finally know about it for certain. You haven’t had a moment alone in years. Which may cause you to rethink some of the things you’ve been doing. Or saying. In what you thought was privacy.

Can this citizen surveillance by government be justified in a nation of guaranteed liberties? Depends whether you’re a hawk or a dove, I guess. I’ve heard seemingly solid justification and I’ve heard seemingly justified protests. But neither really matters. It’s going to continue and there’s nothing we on the local main streets of the country can do about it. Won’t matter who controls the White House or Congress. It’s here to stay.

A lot of us may never have stopped to think about how much we’re watched even without federal participation. Or how long it’s been going on. When was the last time you were in a bank without a camera overhead? What about your gas station or your favorite 24/7 convenience store? Been to an air or rail terminal lately? How about a major department store? If you live in a large city, when was the last time you got in an elevator and didn’t have a camera looking you over? Well, maybe that’s not a fair question because cameras may have been so well disguised you didn’t see them. What about the hallways and parking lots of your local hospital? Or courthouse? Or commercial storage shed?

A couple of decades ago, our favorite supermarket put up some cameras and a sign that told us it was “for your shopping convenience.” Or “your shopping security.” Major B.S.! It was for the store’s “convenience” and “security” and nothing more. Cameras over exits and checkout stands were to record robberies or see whether a clerk was skimming the receipts. The ones toward the back of the store were there to see if the lady who claimed she “slipped and injured herself” on aisle 12 was making a legitimate claim or working a scam. Cameras in stores are – from a corporate standpoint – a C-Y-A tool. Always have been. Your personal “convenience” and “security” have nothing to do with it.

About the same story for banks. Unless someone with a gun is in the act of holding it up, banks are one of the more secure places you can be in today’s hectic world. Quiet. Unhurried. Peaceful. It’s not your “security” the bankers are interested in.

Have you any idea how many cameras are watching every card – every slot – every table – in your nearest gambling den? I saw a documentary awhile back on a major Vegas casino. There were more than 200 eyes-in-the-ceiling. Just on the gaming floors! There were many more in the 30-story hotel. A lot more.

Traffic cams along highways and at a lot of intersections in cities keep an eye on us as we drive along. Run a red light or challenge the speed limit in some places and they mail you a ticket because they “saw” you do it.

Watch detective and crime shows on the old T&V. Nearly all the folks rush to security cameras to find the bad guys. Wow! It seems they find coverage on just about any street – any building – any neighborhood. Ever notice that?

Reading the other day about cameras worn by people. People who may be in law enforcement. Or just plain business folks. Or crooks. Some surveillance gadgets look like buttons. Some like pens. Some like watches or watch bands. Some like rings. Not just for 007 any more.

No, citizen surveillance of us going about our daily lives is nothing new. There’s so much of it now – and has been for a long, long time – that Orwell’s “1984″ seems like a Pilgrim story. Since the National Security Agency has no idea what Snowden took – or so it says – we can only watch for future media releases of documentation and brace ourselves for more revelations. We can feign surprise. But are we? Really?

Until we can find some way to accomplish real national and personal security without invading the lives of innocent people, it would be well for all of us to be just a little bit paranoid as we go about our daily activities. Just a bit. ‘Cause someone – somewhere – really is watching. Or listening. It’s not just your imagination any more.

“Let ’em eat…..”

Author: Barrett Rainey

More than one in every five households in Oregon depends on food stamps.

Just so you don’t miss the point here, I repeat: MORE than ONE in EVERY FIVE households in Oregon depends on food stamps. Depends. That is more than any other state and nearly double what it was in 2008. Double.

Are we clear?

Think of 10 families you know. The Census Bureau figures, statistically, two of them are getting outside government assistance to keep eating. We’re talking “families” here. Suppose each family is five people. Now we’re talking 10 individuals. Ten out of every 50 of us. And if you don’t think that applies to anyone you know, then someone else knows even more folks using food stamps just to get by. So the ratio in your neighborhood could be even higher.

Dig further down in those numbers and you’ll find the large majority of assistance went to people in rural areas. Maybe in your small county, it was more like two of every five families. Or three.

I am sick of the blatant ignorance that says the majority of food stamp go to (1) lazy Democrats or (2) lazy blacks or Hispanics who won’t work or (3) deadbeats or (4) anyone who doesn’t look like the speaker or live in his neighborhood! Pick one. Pure B.S.! It’s on the I-net daily – spread by “dittoheads” who won’t do their homework. Well, here’s the homework!

When all but three Republican members of the House of Representatives vote to cut $40 billion out of the food stamp budget, chances are you knew a few families who’d have an even harder time trying to buy necessary basics.

And here’s something else to consider about that shameful vote. In all the history of the annual farm bill vote – 50 years more or less – its always been a total package. Always. Billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers or corporations – even a few members of Congress – AND the food stamp assistance program. It’s always been that way. Until this year.

With their majority in the House – and driven by a suicide-like urge to appease their old, white political base in the farm states – Republicans split the bill. Kept the billions rolling out to the farmers – private and corporate – killed the billions to feed people needing help. The rich get richer and the poor go hungry. The vote in the House was so blatantly purely political that even newspaper editorialists in a number of farm states pounded Republicans they traditionally praise.

Here’s one cretin who voted to slash help for the hungry. GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. Asked by a constituent at a town hall session why he voted to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program, his response couldn’t have been more direct. Or more shameful.

Said Kramer, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

Now you might want to consider something that idiot obviously didn’t know. About 76% of food stamp households – 76% – include a child, one or more elderly or someone who’s disabled. Those households receive about 84% of all food benefits.

Out here – in rural Oregon – food banks are being hit with record demand for help. We’re not talking all those fru-fru’s on your grocery list – paper towels, ice cream, potato chips, pot roast. The need is for bread and milk and flour and beans and canned goods of all sorts. The kinds of things people require in a very, very basic diet. Churches are trying to help. Service clubs, too. Backpacks with more of those basic foods go out each Friday for hundreds of kids in our area who won’t have a meal – any meal – until school on Monday. Shelters for abused families are asking for more assistance because they’re serving more battered – and hungry – people.

Now, some S-O-Bs making $174,000 a year, have decided to cut $40 billion from a most basic survival government assistance program while keeping the federal goose laying large golden eggs for their rural, well-fed political base. The $50 or $75 or $100 a week for families that can’t afford groceries will take the hit. So will the food banks and the churches and the service clubs and others running to keep up with the hunger demands.

It’s extremely unlikely this piece of crap will ever get out of the Majority Leader’s desk drawer in the Senate. People who have no other options for basic survival will continue to be served. For now. But the sequester is about to make a huge cut with no one taking any more action. Anyone!

But it would do them well – and all the rest of us – to keep that Republican vote in the House in our minds come election day 2014. If Republicans prevail in 2014 – like that idiot Kramer – millions already suffering hardship could be faced with the loss of the most basic source of survival. Food.

That blatant political self-service along the Potomac deserves nothing more than starvation at the ballot box.

Go get ’em, Ted!!!

Author: Barrett Rainey

Were I a thinking, moderate Republican – which I’m not- but if I were, I’d not only embrace Ted Cruz, I’d be an advocate for everything he stands for. I’d do anything I could to help him get his venomous message out. Seldom has a national political party had such a quick and ready answer to solve what ails it. And how to fix it. Cruz is “da man!”

At this point, some of my more independent, moderate – and especially liberal – friends are reaching for their heart meds and asking for water. But hear me out.

Interviewed by CNN in San Antonio last weekend, Cruz flat out said Republicans “are the single most damaging thing” for the GOP in 2014. The exact quote: “The single most damaging thing that has happened to Republicans for 2014 is all of the Senate Republicans coming out attacking the House Republicans – attacking those pushing the effort to defund Obamacare and lining up opposite the American people.”

Wow! Right on, Teddy! Let the good times – and the divisive rhetoric – roll, baby! Give ‘em Hell! Pure B.S. but go for it!

O.K. Let’s check out some facts. Republicans are going to have tough sledding in the 2014 national election. There are lots of very valid indicators around – all with bad news for Republicans – enough to make professional GOP campaign folks consider taking the year off.

The latest from Public Policy Polling – taken during the height of the budget-debt ceiling fracas – was in 25 GOP held districts. Remember – the questions were asked of folks who already had a Republican member in Congress. In 15 of the 25, respondents preferred a “generic Democrat” to their own representative by name. Just “any old Democrat” to whoever was there now. Ouch!

But it gets worse. Combined with other surveys by the same pollster in the last three weeks, those old “generic Democrats” win 37 of 61 Republican-held districts! Ouch again!

And when told their Republican office holder supported the government shutdown, 11 more districts flipped to”generic Democrat” and one race was a tie. OUCH big time!

Democrats need 17 seats to retake the House. These results show they could get as many as 49! Doubt it’ll happen but some will flip. Maybe 17.

Here’s another sampling – CNN/ORC International polling during the same time. Folks questioned – 54% – said it’s a bad thing the GOP controls the House. 54%! That’s up 11 points since December. Just 38% say it’s a good thing and that is a 13 point dive during the period.

The same sampling found more than six in ten people said Speaker John Boehner should be replaced. AND – nearly 60% favor the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or say it doesn’t go far enough.

So – what has all this to do with Ted Cruz and thinking, feeling Republicans? Simple. Whether the numbers cited here hold up or things move a bit more to the right, the Republican Party is going to take a “hit” at the polls next year. People are fed up with congress. No sampling of public opinion in the last year has found otherwise. None. Only question is who and how much. The brand is sour for all but the most diehard GOP voters.

The Party is badly divided. Party machinery – those controlling who gets on the ballot in many states and who gets monetary support – is in the hands of the far right in a lot of places. Candidates of a more moderate stripe will be – as they often have been – shut out. Oregon is a prime example. The Party chairman is a nut case elected to the job by other similarly politically handicapped souls. New faces on our 2014 national ballots will most certainly be tilted toward the edge of their square earth. Moderates need not apply.

For the last 30 years, the Republican Party has been lurching ever farther out. It has been a happy hunting ground for the Bachmanns, Ghomerts, Brouns, Labradors, Robinsons and others of their ilk. There is no question the Party – in its continued attacks on women and minorities – is headed to oblivion as it tries to appease a diminishing base of older, white voters.

Despite repeated proclamations from its leadership to the contrary, the GOP – as it now exists – is headed to the basement. To become viable again – to become more open and welcoming to a broader base – there must be a complete housecleaning top to bottom. Wiser, more moderate members must find their voices and their place in a new leadership. But that takes time. That takes years.

Then, voila! Along comes “Texas Crude” – our man Cruz. The one guy that might just cut years off that purging and rebuilding. The one political kamikaze pilot that could speed up that process for all Republicans.

Given their head, Cruz, Lee, Rubio, Paul and a few others could bring the intra-party cleansing to a head in the next few months. A year or two tops. Cruz – especially Cruz – could be the crazy shepherd who first divides, then leads the far right lambs off into political swamps in a minority-minority GOP splinter party destined to fail. Yes, this would leave the majority of thinking Republicans in a minority. But only for awhile. Far less time than if the contaminated mess now extant in the party hierarchy continues. Rebuilding the Republican Party into a functioning, welcoming, more attractive place for moderates and independents – even disaffected Democrats – could come a whole lot sooner if the Cruz cancer is exorcized. Surgery and healing now is better than letting the disease – which is killing the Party with more and more voters – metastasize until there is nothing left to save.

Cruz may be just what the doctor ordered. A strong dose of politically curative castor-oil followed by self-directed excommunication. Cut the whackos out and get on with the healing.

For that reason, I’m a Cruz booster. Whatever he says is fine with me. Go for it, Teddy! Drink the Kool-Aid.

Republicans – Heal thyself

Author: Barrett Rainey

Anyone who’s undergone cancer or similar surgery knows such treatment is often dangerous, could be life-threatening and done only when absolutely necessary. But removing pieces of the body is often the only way to save it. The time has come for honest Republicans to put their party under the knife.

What this nation has just been through can most accurately be described as completely unnecessary – a terrible body blow to our already weakened economy – the most politically divisive challenge to our freedoms we’ve seen in some 170 years – a weakening of our standing in the world community – and done so at a cost of human suffering for millions of Americans. For nothing! For absolutely nothing.

Our current national political mess has not been caused by Republicans per-se or Democrats per-se. We’ve long survived the blessings and curses of a two-party system without the economic and human damage inflicted in the last two years. As a nation, we’ve survived many political calamities. What we’ve NOT experienced since the Civil War is the organized efforts of some 150 members of Congress determined to destroy a government they can’t control. Simply because they can’t control it. No matter the cost. But that’s what we have today.

As the midnight hour approached which would put our nation in world economic default and contine the paralysis of a half-closed government, no one – NO ONE with any understanding of the situation – could have done anything but vote to end both calamities. But 18 members of the Senate said “NO” and 144 more in the House joined their chorus. These are some of the parts of the GOP body politic that need to be surgically removed.

I realize some of those folk were highly educated. I understand some actually call themselves “students of government.” I personally know some who had successful careers before they were elected. I’m also very aware of the phrase “educated fools.” In my book, all 162 who voted “no” are in that category.

Seldom have we seen such unified outpouring of advice, warnings and even threats from the American public – and most especially from corporate, academic and intellectual leaders – as we have in the last three weeks. From the top-most levels of all those has come the single message – stop the madness before this country suffers economic and human damages from which we may not recover. When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO and labor unions of all stripes sound identical alarms with identical messages, the range of interests between those two extremes covers just about all the institutional and civic voices of the majority of this country. For those 162 “Republicans,” the warnings went ignorantly unheeded.

National media talking heads can’t seem to figure out how we got into this mess – where the idiots and destructive voices in our Congress came from. Well, we’ve respectfully offered what we believe to be the reason in this space on several occasions. Here it is again. Respectfully.

At the national level – and in most states – candidates in the Republican Party are chosen by the Party structure and not GOP voters at-large. For the last 30 years or so, that structure has been in the hands of former Bircher’s, Freedom Lobby nuts and other right-wing groups who slowly took over the interior operating machinery in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Where they were successful, many shut the door to thoughtful candidacies by ending open primaries, going to closed nominating conventions and taking absolute control of the nominating process so only their people got to the ballot. If your voice offered a reasoned, moderate philosophy – anything but far right gibberish – you were ignored.

Additionally, many Republican primaries have been stacked. Take Michelle Bachmann. Please! (Sorry, Henny.) She’ s never had a heads-up, two-candidate race. Never. There’s always a second or third “candidate” from Libertarians or other minorities in her party. Divide the GOP vote and she wins with 30-40%. Same for Gohmert, King and the other crazies. Either they came from heavily (gerrymandered) Republican districts or were minority percentage winners of an election with more than a single candidate.

Our nation’s political backbone is at its strongest when our two-party political system has been healthy: when the thoughtful struggles of opposing ideas have been open, honest, deliberate – debated by serious and informed voices. At our national best, we need the yin and yang of differing political philosophies to arrive at the most acceptable solutions to any issue. Our national balance is best when there are competing ideas to steady it. Our national difficulties today are simply because we’re being shoved out of that balance by ignorant forces who “know not what they do.”

The debacle of these last few days has not been the fault of honest, fair-minded Republican members of Congress. The only real blame they share is letting the know-nothings, false “prophets” and other idiots control the process too long. They’ve withheld criticism in the name of “unity” but that phony “unity” damned near killed us.

Many voices are predicting the Republican Party – shambles that it currently is – will be beaten solidly in many upcoming elections. That WILL happen. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. If better Republican thinkers – real conservatives, moderates and, yes, even the few remaining liberals – will put the Party on the surgical table and cut out the cancers of ignorance, false ideologies, greed, extreme self-service and the haters feeding all this – the Party will truly be stronger and more competitive. And – maybe best of all – really more open and inclusive.

If surgery will remove the disease killing the GOP, it’s very likely a follow-up prescription of openness and inclusiveness will heal it. If so, a stronger Republican Party can emerge to the benefit of all of us. But we need it now!

This “story” never happened

Author: Barrett Rainey

Note to all media – especially Idaho: Evel Knievel did NOT jump the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. Evel Knievel got less than 150 feet out from the South rim and dived into the Snake River Canyon. Evel Knievel likely NEVER INTENDED to jump over the Snake River Canyon. Got that?

Sepember 8, 1974. It was my first full week as a private pilot. I flew to Twin Falls to bring film of the “jump” back to a Boise TV station. So I was at the site when the fizzing, phony rockets lashed to an aluminum clad motorcycle scooted up the ramp and out – very briefly – into space.

Robert Craig Knievel was on the downhill side of his stunt career at that point. He’d been in various jails a number of times. Finally, one judge told him to go to jail again or join the army. He actually got the name “Evel” from a jailer in Montana who couldn’t spell. He tried – and failed at – a number of career choices including being the owner of a small time hockey team. At some point, he got interested in motocross and rode on the circuit for several years. Another dead end.

He got together some other starving cycle circuit riders in 1966 and had the idea of doing “daredevil” stunts including the jumps he was famous for. Many of the longer ones were in Las Vegas. Pretty good money for a while. But Evel had expensive tastes. At the end, he said he spent about two million more than he made in his lifetime and died broke.

The Idaho jump was the idea a friend of his after Kneivel had been turned down for a permit to jump the Grand Canyon. Twin Falls Commissioners granted the license and he built his “takeoff” ramp on the South side. Publicity went into overdrive. ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” got into a tizzy to get it all on “live” national television. Local Idaho stations didn’t have the satellite gadgetry they do today. So those wanting to show the Knievel “Snake River Canyon jump” on their own air had to have a film crew onsite. That’s how I got involved.

Nobody really stopped to look into the engineering and/or aeronautics of such a feat. Ol’ Evel just strapped a couple of noisy, smoky little rockets to the aluminum-enclosed “Buck Rogers” cycle inside. That was really it.

As “earth shaking” promotions of that sort often are, it completely lacked any sense of reality. But, Evel waved profusely to the crowd – and cameras – cranked up the “space cycle,” the phony rockets spewed a lot of smoke with some flashy sparks and made a whooshing sound. All the cameras rolled. Kneivel rode straight up the ramp, made a very small arc and disappeared. He went no further than 100 feet or so – nearly straight out. From the South side of the canyon, we couldn’t see where he went.

The parachute popped open as planned. The cycle tipped nose down and ol’ Evel floated down inside while the little “rocket ship” bounced off a few rocks. The crowd got excited. The camera guys pushed and shoved to get to the edge of the canyon. Lots of screaming by the crowd. But that was it.

Evel lived to jump ramps in Vegas and elsewhere for several more years before getting so busted up he couldn’t lift either leg over a bike. Some county fairs and a rodeo now and then. But after the Snake River Canyon “jump” his career petered out.

He died Nov. 30, 2007, at the age of 69. His busted up body is buried in Butte, Montana, where he was born. His son Robbie made some long jumps after Dad was grounded. But he found little success after a couple of widely-televised crashes and many broken bones.

A few weeks ago, after years of refusing to get involved with more “daredevils” and all the legal liabilities, Twin Falls Commissioners sold a permit for a future second try to a Texas promoter named “Big Ed” Beckley. He outbid several competitors by agreeing to pay $943,000 for a two-year lease on state land near the canyon rim. Beckley will also pay the State of Idaho $25,000 land rent each year, buy a $10 million liability policy and share some of whatever revenue he gets from various sources as he promotes whatever he intends to offer a couple of years hence. Once his project is up and ready to go, he’ll pay more permit fees, buy more hold-harmless bonds and underwrite other costs.

Now Ol’ Ed may well come up with a real machine able to clear the nearly half mile distance from one rim to the other. He just might. Or – he could very well just slap some rockets on a fancy piece of sheet metal with a motorcycle inside and fizzle his short way out into space for another scenic parachute trip. We’ll see. At nearly 300 pounds and in his late 50’s, “Big Ed” probably won’t be the actual jockey.

In the meantime, to all media – ALL media – the headline “Texas stuntman picked to re-create Evel Knievel jump over Snake River Canyon” contains some flatly false information. Evel did NOT jump the canyon. On that September day. Or any other. And I’d bet the farm he never intended to.

Still – standing there about 100 feet from the ramp that day – I wouldn’t have traded places with him for anything. ANY thing! Heading back to Boise an hour later, I know we were much more comfortable in that Cessna. And we got all the way across that damned canyon.

The danger is very real

Author: Barrett Rainey

I fear for the future of our country.

There. I said it. Those eight words have been in my consciousness for several weeks but seemed too, well, dramatic to say – possibly overstatement or too fatalistic. But, as the battles in Washington D.C. swing from absurd to savage, such fears may not be ungrounded.

My deepest concerns are two. First, what lasting damage will the structure of our government incur before this political internecine warfare ends? And, two, what will our future form of government be – or look like – from that time?

Our constitutional political framework has been under attack for about 240 years. From just about everywhere. And everything. It has withstood wars – internal and external – depressions, recessions, assassinations and upheavals of all sorts. Its been challenged by forces of greed and destruction – man-made and acts of God. It has withstood them all.

But the warfare is from within now. American versus American. Or more accurately put, our political system versus the citizen. The battle isn’t over an issue like slavery or one’s beliefs. There aren’t two clear sides trying to gain the support of the rest of the country. Much of the fight – at its most basic level – is future elected job security on the part of some people – a very few people – many of whom know they’re wrong but will pursue the fight anyway. They’re in positions of authority. They have the power to compromise. They have the power to end it. Immediately. But they won’t.

The argument is not really about the direction of policy despite all the threats and overblown rhetoric. It’s not about fiscal issues or reducing national spending. There is no ideology at the bottom of this. This is simply extreme self-interest facing ignorant anger out to destroy.

That’s not hard to prove. Just listen to some of the combatants – members of Congress – listen to them when they say they don’t support a government shutdown – they don’t support hundreds of thousands of people being thrown out of work through no fault of their own – they don’t want people going hungry – whatever political “victory” was to be won has been lost. “It’s over.” Listen to them. Then watch how they vote. When their names – their offices – their personal futures are on the line – compare their words to their vote. Time after time after time after time.

This isn’t a battle of political parties. It’s not even about some 360 million citizens of this country. The threat to our system of governance – the war of words and wills – the strident defense of this-or-that – all this continues as a very personal cowardice of self-interest.

Yes, there are a few hellbent on gutting the government. And, yes, they and those who crazily support them with their dollars or any other way are to be feared. They offer nothing. No alternative. No plan for the future. No solution to national problems. Not one positive point. They’re out to destroy in the name of some farcical “patriotism” and in the guise of being “good Americans.”

But they offer no patriotism. They offer no acceptable alternatives. They have no plan. They’re ignorant about governance and history. They’re absolutists with no sense of compromise. And, what makes this loud, ignorant few most dangerous, is others who do offer those things – those who do have alternatives and do know how to govern – are being cowed. They’re afraid to stand for what they know is right – afraid to offer legitimate resistance – afraid to tell the know-nothings to “Sit down and shut the Hell up!”

Self-interest on a massive and nationally dangerous scale.

There’s more – much more – at stake at this moment in history than budgets or parties or political choices. Leaders of our economy – heads of international corporations – leaders of other world nations – academicians and still others with unquestioned wisdom and experience – all these and more are warning this internal battle of self-survival at any cost poses dangers even to other nations. Much less the calamity of our own markets – our economy – every person in this country.

Ask yourself this. If this increasingly hostile situation were to magically end today – just quit – how would those 535 in Washington deal with each other tomorrow? Would trust suddenly be restored? Would comity? Would the extreme self-interest just disappear? Would compromise break out to solve what today is “unsolvable?” Would healing begin? What would be the condition of our government to function going forward?

There are no innocents in this challenge to our democracy. No heroes. No leadership. No honest brokering of solutions – whatever solutions there may be. There is simply the cancer of self-interest creeping through the body politic. And, each day that goes by – every phony vote disguised to show “unity” to the folks at home – every lie – every character assassination leveled against anyone of any party – each threat – each intransigent act of personal ass-covering – all lead nowhere. Except to waste another day.

We’ve long been proud of the strength of our chosen governance. We’ve dared hold it up to the world as enlightened and free. We’ve carried torches of freedom and liberty to light dark corners of other nations. We’ve called ourselves “proud citizens.” If you look to the rest of the world in recent days – as I do daily reviewing media from many countries – you’ll find no mention of these. No willingness to follow our lead. No admiration of our successes of democracy going back nearly 300 years.

We are increasingly being looked at with astonishment – as confused – as rudderless – a victim of our own making – being imperiled by the very freedoms that used to make us strong – a nation in decline. Those aren’t the views of our enemies but the astonishment and disappointment of our friends.

Until those who know better stand up to those who know little – the ones out to ravage and destroy what they can’t understand and control – we’ll be a very changed nation when this current madness ends. And it will end.

The question is: if allowed to go longer – if paralysis continues to defy our progress – if the unenlightened madness and destructive dedication of a few are not contained now and ended – what will a new and drastically altered American system of governance look like then?

Again – if it ended today, what would our elected national government be? What would be the relationship of each person there? And their relationship with each of us – the constituents? Would it truly “be over?”

This standoff – this political chaos that’s sapping our economic stability – hurting millions of fellow citizens- this madness of watching cowardly self-interest being whipped by maniacs out to destroy without a plan to rebuild – is more than two political parties that can’t get along. So much more. This has become a nation-changing duel that can eat us from within. It has become a matter of our constitutional survival.

Flu shots and lies

Author: Barrett Rainey

This being the season for flu shots, I was sitting in a clinic waiting room this week with seven other seniors awaiting the seasonal puncture.

The other six apparently knew each other and – while we waited – they had a lively discussion about health care. Specifically “Obamacare.” All opposed it and each had animated – if false – “facts” to support their opposition. They used words like “socialism,” “communism,” “big brother,” “government interference” and other colorful adjectives.

Then, one by one, all surrendered to the nurse for the necessary swab and shot, signed a form and were on their way. The form each signed showed the name of the clinic, who administered what, and medical coding for the vaccine. And a charge of $57 each – to be paid by the federal government’s Medicare program. That old “socialist” health care. The 60-year-old precursor of today’s Affordable Care Act – the dreaded “Obamacare.”

Now, I live in a part of Oregon in which Vlad the Impaler would be an acceptable candidate for any public office for much of the population. Moderates are extremists. Liberals are only good for boat anchors. But conservatives – of any stripe – are “God’s chosen people.” The problem is – as affirmed in conversations with local friends – too many get their “news” from sources that simply affirm their beliefs. Like the Romney campaign of 2012, there is no room for information that conflicts with their “truth.”

My eavesdropping experience with the flu shot group is not an unusual occurrence in our neighborhood. And far too many others. Republicans have been trying their damndest to kill the ACA. They’ve been spreading disinformation and outright lies for several years. Many – including leaders who know better – still call it a “bill.” It’s LAW. Affirmed up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court. The principle sponsor was elected – and elected again – by a majority of Americans. It’s a damned LAW!

Now they’re crying “I-told-you-so” because there were lots of hiccups in the first days of implementation. I did a little digging in old news files this week to see how smoothly things went in the 60’s when Medicare started – the 70’s when Medicaid came along – and the 2000’s with Pres. Bush’s new Medicare prescription drug program.

It wasn’t hard to find stories of significant problems with the initial rollout of all three. Surprised? Hardly! The first days – the first years – were filled with issues and problems. Even supporters expressed concern. Predictions of failures – for all three – were common.

But they didn’t fail. And the ACA won’t, either.

In my mind, two factors have complicated the situation more recently. One is the I-net. The other is the 24-hour news cycle and the thousands of sources for information. Some true. Too many not. It took six weeks for news of the murder of Abraham Lincoln to reach all the nation. Now, when something happens, we have words within minutes – pictures in an hour. And – too often – maybe facts later. No matter where in the world it is.

The more significant problem is the I-Net. Looking at The New York Times, Washington Post, The Oregonian, or “Seattle P.I., you knew one very important thing. What you were reading had been written by professional reporters and reviewed by professional editors. At the time it was printed, it was fact as far as anyone knew.

Now, with the I-Net, some idiot in East Arm Pit, NM, can post something – anything – put it on a colorful website and pass it off as “fact.” It’s not. But how do you know? You can find professional-looking garbage all over the I-Net masquerading as truth. So, if someone wants to shoot down, oh, let’s say, the ACA, – even a political party – just put it on the old I-Net with lies, pictures and lots of colorful images and – VOILA – it’s “fact!”

The whacko Republicans in Congress and the political party they represent are losing their fight against the ACA. Consider just this one FACT courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. Major health insurers, who funneled $86 million into the battle to kill the ACA before it was born, have stopped the cash flow. Instead, they’re watching their stock prices go up. Up. The same companies – recognizing reality – have adjusted operations to deal with ACA and now enjoy record enrollments. And they appear headed to record profits. So, a major source of Republican funding is no more.

But bad information – the lies – are still out there – being pedaled by politicians who know better and people who won’t bother to find out the real facts. The insulated folk. Like the seven waiting with me for flu shots. Bitching’s easier than research. “O’Reilly says it’s so. So it’s true!”

Here’s a real example of people who refuse to accept fact – or even try to find facts. Consider one Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) – a foe of the ACA with a repeated congressional vote to shut our government. These are his words in The Washington Examiner this week.

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Stutzman said. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Another voice of determined ignorance. Who likely doesn’t pay for his flu shot, either.

First mayor – then Congress

Author: Barrett Rainey

Having become thoroughly disgusted at the mess in Washington – and believing little – if anything – will change in 2014 – I’ve been trying to find some sort of solutions to our congressional problems. Yep, even here in the old growth, Oregon forest, we try to keep up on current events and even chip in an idea now and then. Now, I’ve got one.

And it’s this. No one – NO ONE – should be allowed to run for any seat in Congress until that person has served at least a full term as a mayor, city councilman or county commissioner. Such political apprenticeships should be an absolute first step for anyone wanting higher office. No exceptions.

Think about it. Few other professions – and that’s what national politics is now – few professions allow someone right off the street to step in at the top without some sort of internship – some special training for the duties about to be undertaken. From medicine to professional sports to banking to flying an airplane – we’ve been conditioned to studying and preparing under supervision before assuming control. Whether it’s a medical residency, minor league ball or ground school – you first learn rudiments of the craft before you get the “license.”

I began thinking along these lines when that goofy Palin woman pranced out of the Alaskan bush with solutions to all our dilemmas. But HER problem was she “knew what she knew” and was supremely confident she didn’t need to know anymore. Half a term as governor and some whispers in her ear from John McCain were all she needed to become “expert” in the heady world of national politics. We all know how that ended. “ Sarah who?” Had she gone back to her days as part time mayor of Wasilla, she might have had some useful backgrounding for higher office. But noooo! She had to start at the top.

I’ve long-believed the most practical, most useful, most important political decisions are made in city halls and county courthouses. From pot holes to zoning issues to drinking water to street lights to prompt fire department response to levying taxes to pay the bills to neighborhood policing to the local jail – it’s all right here at home and it’s all got to be taken care of by local folks. None of this “Potomac living” and “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality so many in Congress quickly adopt.

How do you expect someone who can’t balance a checkbook to go to Washington and effectively deal with a federal budget in the trillions of dollars with no experience? Now, if you start with a mayor or a commissioner, for example, those folks have had to balance local budgets to pay for all operations because various laws require a balanced municipal or county budget. Require! None of this “running a deficit” crap. They know how to do it. If they don’t do it each year, they don’t last.

Communication. Another valuable qualification for office we’re slowly losing. You send ‘em back there and about all you hear from them is the continual “newsletter” accompanied by a plea for campaign donations. Yes, I know. A congressional district is most often larger that a city or county. Harder to keep in touch. But it can be done. Oregon Senators Merkley and Wyden do it. For a whole state. They hit just about every community in person once a year and keep up a steady stream of emails and briefings on major legislation weekly. Very unusual. But county commissioners and city council members know how to stay in touch. Damned important.

Negotiating. If you can’t work out differences over local zoning, sewer districts, highway placement, bridge building and dozens of other hot button issues face-to-face at home, what else could better prepare you to go to Washington D.C. and get along with 99 others in the Senate or 434 others in the House when it comes to getting done what you want done? If you can’t plan and build a local park or builkd a new sewer system, how can you be successful getting federal approval to log in old growth national forests? Oh, you might luck out. Once or twice. But not over the long haul. You develop the skills at home for long term success back there.

Oh, yeah. I know. Some of you are thinking I’ve finally gone off the deep end. But think about it. Wouldn’t you rather have someone back there representing you who had some prior experience in the job? Wouldn’t it be more effective if the people taking on those large, important, well-paying tasks had some “on-the-job” experience before they leave home? Wouldn’t you be better and more effectively served if people in congress had some prior training? Wouldn’t you rather have a professional with at least some experience rather than someone who was selling shoes last month? Or trying to pray gays straight?

We’ve sent too many amateurs back there with half-vast experience. Which is why we’re getting too many half-vast responses to our national problems.

And, frankly, I’m getting sick of all those half-vasts.

Lies and damned lies

Author: Barrett Rainey

Balance in life is a wonderful thing. The yin and off-setting yang of things can bring joy – balance – warmth – satisfaction. Such a moment of perfect equanimity has touched my life. A moment when two disparate thoughts arrived at the same time – quietly nestling down next to each other.

One was that moment when the U.S. Senate’s biggest educated fool – Tex Cruz – shut his Harvard-educated mouth and voted for the thing he’d been talking against for 21 hours. The other was “BREAKING NEWS” that county commissioners in California’s Siskiyou County had voted to join neighboring Shasta County in a desire to secede from the Ol’ U.S. of A..

POW!

There it was. They want to get rid of us. We want to get rid of him. The immutable balance of life. I tell you, such a moment of harmony just doesn’t come along every other day. You’ve just gotta just stop. Savor it.

Ol’ “Texas Crude” wants desperately to be somebody. Anybody. At the moment, he wants to be president. Of anything. Siskiyou commissioners want to form a new state and – along with fellow commissioners next door – are in search of a new state which will need – wait for it – a new governor!

Now “governor” isn’t “president.” I’ll give you that. Cruz would have to back up a bit. Just a step. For only a little while. But, in the meantime, he WOULD have an entire “state” to run. And if Shasta County joins to create the new “State of Jefferson” they’re talking about, well, it would be a much larger “state” and only a matter of time till Teddy could find himself way up the ladder – living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Take a tip from that Palin woman. Follow her success. Run for governor – then quit. A couple of years at most. He wouldn’t be the first Harvard president of the country. But he’d certainly be the most disliked Harvard grad to get the job.

All that may seem weirdly improbable to you. But around here – in the nearby old-growth forest shared by Oregon and California – you could get even money at any logger bar. Really! They’ve been talking about Jefferson and their great plans for telling the rest of us to “Go To Hell” for a long, long time.

The problem with all this is that neither plan is going to work out. Shasta and Siskiyou will continue to be California real estate. And Cruz will remain in the Senate to taunt political reality and intelligence for just over five more years. Neither dream will come true. Ever.

But while we’re talking about dreams, I have one. I dream that Sean Hannity, Wolf Blitzer and the other broadcast “political experts” will stop calling Cruz a “ brilliant, Ivy League-educated” Senator. He may have gone to an Ivy League school. It may even have been Harvard. But Tex Cruz is not brilliant by any political measurement. In fact, when looking at his chosen path to greatness – adopted during his college years, – most political professionals will tell you this guy is on a self-destructive rant.

There’s nothing “brilliant” or “bright” or “long-lasting” about Cruz. He’s a driven self-promoter, putting even that Palin woman to shame. His “slash and burn” self-serving style offers nothing in terms of making a contribution to this nation. He has no interest in building – only destroying. In just this one week alone, he has demonstrated he fails to understand why he’s in Washington and has no appreciation for the “give-and-take” of how successful politicians have enjoyed their success since before the glory days of Rome. He has no idea how to operate within a system that’s broken better men than him. He is “my-way-or-the-highway” to the core.

Cruz is often compared to Joe McCarthy – the Red-hunting, alcoholic demagogue of the 1950’s. Maybe. I clearly remember those days and the torturous Senate hearings designed – not to get to truth – but to spread a giant lie that McCarthy and his sick supporters wanted to believe was truth. The lives destroyed – careers ended – the celebrity sycophants who kissed the McCarthy ring and carried him around on their shoulders.

And I remember watching Ed Murrow. The craggy-faced, chain smoker at CBS who ripped the scabs off McCarthy and showed him to be the cancerous, drunken corpse he really was.

But times have changed. When Murrow exorcized McCarthy from the body politic, he was alone. Even his CBS bosses tried to tone him down. But we no longer must rely on traditional national media to deal with such miscreants in our system. In just the past few days, we’ve seen even those in his own political party go after Cruz by unloading reams of “opposition research” – read “political back stabbing” – to stop him before he becomes a major problem for thinking Republicans. That won’t end. It’ll increase.

Cruz will not – can not – be more than he already is. A loud voice of lies, half-truths, distortions, character assassination and underhanded political gamesmanship. He serves neither true Republicans nor true Democrats. He serves only Tex Cruz. When he finally is shown to be the despicable, politically soulless animal he is, the death blow will come at his own hand.

God, I hope it’s soon.