Archive for September, 2009

A flier crossed my desk the other day offering me computer security that would be “government grade.” My first thought was, given the computer data sieve that is such an ongoing federal problem, “Government grade is no guarantee at all! I want better.”

My second thought: “Do I really have such a low an opinion of government security?” My third thought: “You bet. And not just in matters of security.”

Let your mind wander to the near-farce that is airport security. Look at seaport security: Thousands of containers and ships going through ports daily with most unchecked. Look at nearly nonexistent rail security. How about hundreds of federal laptops disappearing shortly after they’re issued? People pouring over our southern border by the thousands. A couple of thousand miles on our northern border with no security at all!

It’s only a short step from that reality to this one: In many ways, the federal government has become an impediment to getting major things done.

Now, you federal employees reading this, don’t get all unhappy and start jumping up and down. I have a lot of respect for what you do as individuals. Good people, doing your jobs. No, my problem isn’t with the people we hire. It’s many of the people we elect.

Impediment: “Something that interferes with progress; delays action; makes progress difficult.” Does it fit? I think so.

Pick some subjects. Gas prices. Is drilling for more oil in more places going to bring down the price of gas? No. Not now. Not in five years. Now is the time, with our backs to the wall, to bring to bear all government and private resource talents to create alternative fuel and power sources. This is the time for the Kennedy-style pledge to “put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before the decade is out.” He said it. We did it! If we don’t do that with energy, we’ll be in this same painful place for years and years.

But with oil industry dollars staining the pockets of many of those with a congressional vote, it ain’t gonna happen. Drilling is no answer. Innovation is. More platforms in the sea is no answer. World technology is.

Realistic economic stimulus? The phony “rebate” checks and “cash for clunkers” were just that: Phony. That was our money to begin with. And Congress had to borrow the billions to come up with those. We’ll pay interest on it for many years to come. Our kids, too.

Honest, long-term tax overhaul and spending? Ha! How about zeroing out a third of the federal agency budgets over three budget cycles and re-budgeting, starting from dollar one, on a staggered agency basis? Fill the rat holes. Stop patching and adding pages to an already illogical tax code.

Government meat and other food inspection and certification programs that work? Not now. Think tomatoes. Think jalapeno peppers. Think ground beef.

Outdated and wrong-headed forest policies. Fix ’em using today’s technology, management and harvesting techniques. Talk to timber and environmental people like you do oil companies. Make them part of the team. Use their expertise to craft economical, stable and environmentally sound policies. Do it right!

Do you get my drift here? Are you sensing a pattern? And we haven’t even mentioned the literally billions of dollars lost to waste and outright fraud in the defense department. Can you say Halliburton and Blackwater and “no bid?”

I hold no ill will for government employees who keep their heads down and do their jobs. It’s the elected employees and the masterful profiteers who send my temperature up. Ah, but I repeat myself.

Government-level security? Are you kidding me? Fix the rest of that stuff. Then we’ll talk.

My belief that too many people don’t know how their government works is challenged at times by some faithful readers. At the same time, however, they often offer more proof to substantiate my claim.

One recent correspondent demanded Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) go back to Washington DC with instructions from the people who attended a Douglas County “Town Hall” disturbance in DeFazio’s Southwest Oregon district. Those loud voices, the writer said, demanded DeFazio oppose taxes and any health plan. Period! The will-of-the-people as it were. Do it or else.

I don’t often respond to letter writers … critical or not … because I welcome and respect their opinions. Most of the time. While I respect this one, it serves as good grist for some civics education.

DeFazio and I have a tenuous relationship. He’s taken me to task and I him. But, this time, the little fella needs some help. In his defense, in 30 days or so, he had some 16 public meetings with constituents. He heard many voices giving him many opinions and more than a few marching orders. But here’s a quick civics lesson.

DeFazio is a Democrat. He almost always loses Douglas, Josephine, Jefferson, Curry and Coos Counties in his district come election time. So when he gets together with people in those counties, the plain fact is he probably hears from more people who won’t vote for him than will. Pure statistical reality.

But … and this is political reality … Lane County around Eugene has more Democrats than Republicans. A lot more. Enough, so far, to offset DeFazio’s vote losses in the other five counties. He holds meetings in all areas and he hears from folks in all. The operating word here is “ALL.” And you can bet the farm what he hears in Douglas, for example, is not quite like what he hears in Lane. Where he wins election after election with good margins.

So marching orders from his flock can be terribly inconsistent and sometimes contradictory. What our loud correspondent heard at his local meeting is likely not what DeFazio heard at some others.

Another reality: people elected to Congress can’t vote the way all the voices at home would like. Founding fathers never intended that. If they had, some awfully old men would still be meeting in Philadelphia, trying to get past the issue of slavery.

So here’s what those fathers did. They set up elections for senators every six years and representatives every two. The idea was the lower house would be closer to the people and shorter terms would make them more responsive to political issues of the day. Still a good idea.

When people are elected to Congress, the best we can hope for is that they will read the bills before them and cast an informed vote. That’s it. When each representative has hundreds of thousands of people at home, who have thousands of ideas about this, that and other, no one can cast a vote on anything to please all.

DeFazio says he read whichever health care bill he was talking about. I believe him. I’d bet the farm the letter writer had not. So who was more informed? DeFazio says he or his key staff read them all. I believe him. But have people attending the district meetings done likewise? Or sat through hundreds of hours of hearings listening to all arguments for and against? Doubtful.

The term “town hall” meeting for congressional district get-together’s is a misnomer. Real town hall meetings were where local citizens and local town elders got together to deal with local issues and decide a course of local action. You can’t do that with 400,000 people in a congressional district. There’s nothing “town hall” about it. Better we call them “issue meetings” or “listening tours.”

Nothing here is to say people shouldn’t attend these meetings, listen to what the congressman says, give the congressman your ideas and have an informative session. Great way to do the people’s business.

But far right and far left single issue politics are killing effective communication and, thus, endangering real democracy. “You’re either with us on this one issue (health care, abortion, taxes, etc.) or we’re against you.”

Democracy doesn’t mean getting your way all the time. But it does mean listening to the other guy’s words and respecting that he, too, is as entitled to be heard as yourself. And he probably feels just as strongly as you do.

Bottom line: in politics, the answer is always … always … negotiation and give-and-take. DeFazio knows that. And nose counting. Some of his louder constituents need to learn it.

There’s an ad theme that runs in nearly all the media each election year that’s irritating and ridiculous. You can count on hearing it even though it’s pure political doublespeak and, on examination, absolutely idiotic. But you’ll get it every time there’s an election; local, state or national.

It goes something like this: “Elect me because I’m not a politician. We don’t need more politicians.” This message can tout someone who wants to be governor of our fair state. At times it’s used by congressional, county commissioner, mayor, city council and other political office chasers.

The subliminal message you are supposed to hear is that politics is bad, those who practice it are bad people and government is ineffective and a burden to you because of politicians.

Now if you buy into that, I have a suggestion for you. Have your next surgery performed by someone who works in fast food. Try flying at 30,000 feet with someone who’s never flown before. Have your teeth fixed by a furnace installer.

Put in that light, the claim doesn’t make much sense, does it? That’s because, in all other areas of our lives, we seek out the most competent, most experienced people in whom to entrust our lives and safety.

But these screwball office-chasing wannabees keep coming at us, saying, “I want to fly your airplane though I’m not a pilot. Your problem is you are flying with too many pilots. Let me sit up front.”
I submit the largest single problem with politics in our state and nation today is that we have elected too many non-politicians in too many places.

Politics is an old and, when practiced by professionals, effective and quite honorable craft. When in the hands of a Lincoln, Roosevelt, Goldwater, Humphrey, Nunn, Reagan, Truman, Dirksen, Franklin, Adams, Morse, Church, Hatfield and some other well-qualified politicians, this nation has prospered and our government has functioned very well.

The basic tools of give-and-take debate, legislative craftsmanship and compromise in the hands of professionals brought us through wars, created prosperity, assured the vote, created jobs, enabled astounding advances in health care, space exploration and mind-boggling technology. Even leveled the civil rights playing field.

What we’ve suffered of late is the levers of government at all levels are in the hands of too many amateurs who don’t understand how to use them and never should have been allowed near them. We’ve been conned by voices who have attached their egos and job ambitions to positions of authority never designed for either. We’ve elected some political vagrants who have promoted self-interest and single-issue morality in an arena not intended for such.

From the White House to the court house to city hall , we have become a politically divided and fractured nation at the hands of people who are non-politicians. They are a noisy, non-professional minority that we’ve allowed to do the surgery, fly the airplane and pull the teeth.

If we are to exorcize this rancor and division that is costing us national treasure, human resources and even lives, we need to fill government from top to bottom with men and women who ARE politicians in the finest sense of the word. We’ve already got some. But we need more!

We are desperately in need of people who can separate the true mission of government from the self-service and single issue divisiveness that have become common. We need candidates wise enough to identify the areas that are lawfully within the role of government and who can execute those duties.

Elect a non-politician? Not on your inflamed appendix!

For better or worse, former Pres. Jimmy Carter has ripped the scab off the old, dark wound of racism now appearing in many of the protests in this country.

While it would be unfair to say racism is in the minds of most of those in the raucous, definitely not spontaneous demonstrations, it would be equally as unfair to say it isn’t there.

Signs such as “An African lion living in the zoo and a lying African living in the White House” are not the creation of minds celebrating diversity. Signs depicting Pres. Obama as a witch doctor with bones protruding from his nose make the racism charge quite plausible.

Add “Lying Muslim Immigrant” and you throw in religious intolerance. Then there’s the “We left our guns at home: this time” and you’ve got the gun nut posse comitatus fringe. Look at the hundreds of signs printed up by a Catholic anti-abortion organization and handed out by the backers of the street theatre that said “Bury Obamacare with Ted Kennedy” and you have the shameless as well.

The opportunistic creators of this “citizen demonstration” business … and for some it IS a business … may not be playing on race or the other issues. But neither are they distancing themselves from the many instances on display. Nor are they condemning them and weeding those small minds out of their productions.

Commentators and editorial writers have been tippy-toeing around the race word for several weeks but no one has used for what it is. Until Carter. He’s put the issue in play. Now we’ll see what they do with it.

He’s right, of course. It’s there. It’s a consistent undercurrent. He’s shined a light on those still clinging to the most divisive issue in our nation’s history.

There are many on the public stage who could have made the racism charge but most don’t have the prestige and the life experiences of the former president. He grew up in a heavily segregated state with division of the races a “natural” condition in his early years. He didn’t have to study it; he was immersed in it. The signs all around him … blatant or shaded … were his to know and his to overcome.

Those who are denying racism hasn’t been a prominent part of our latest example of bought-and-paid-for “freedom of expression” either wouldn’t know an elephant in their bath room or don’t want to acknowledge what is there. Or they welcome it!

Reminds me of the old saw: “Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?”

I’m a strong supporter of free speech. That has not only been a way of life in my many years as a journalist but also a deeply held personal conviction. I’ve availed myself of the constitutional guarantee thousands of times. I live it.

But hate speech isn’t acceptable free speech if it’s used to denigrate or inflame. Nor is calling the president a liar when participating in a formal congressional affair when hundreds of years of history and decorum dictate otherwise. For most of us, free speech is accompanied by the responsibility to know when … and where … to exercise that freedom.

Courts have ruled gun ownership is a right, too. But firing off a few shots at church wouldn’t be considered a responsible use of the guarantee. When and where.

I have some sympathy for those who honestly take to the streets to show their anger and frustration. I’m mad and frustrated, too. And largely for the same reasons. My family has been hurt by the economic catastrophe. Our home has lost a sizeable percentage of its value while our taxes have increased. I’m paying too much and too many taxes. Health care is far too large a portion of our living expenses and is causing lifestyle sacrifices. Employment to use skills developed over a lifetime is non-existent. Damned right I’m mad!

But is any of that tied to racism? Is any of that an excuse to take to the streets with racist and tasteless signs while making threats to come back armed or trying to secede from this country?

Jimmy Carter may have done us a favor by making his charge of race-tinged protests on national TV. Maybe he has taken a first step to lancing this disgusting boil on the body politic. It’s been with us far too long.

Maybe we can’t rid ourselves of this scourge. But we can call it what it is. And we can ignore those who carry the disgusting message.

The time has come to “just do it.”

I’ve never had many worries about this nation. In my more than three score and ten years, I’ve learned, whatever the problem, we’ll deal with it, overcome it and continue as the great country we are.

Now, midst mindless shouting, threats made in our streets, outrageous behavior of a very small part of society, disgraceful voices and actions from some we’ve elected, my night’s sleep is not so sound.

We are a nation of law; a nation where, in things democratic, the majority … even if only 50.1% … settles the issue. If they wish, those in the minority can continue working for whatever their issue may be until the question is put forth again. But, in the meantime, the minority is expected to respect and abide by that principle as we’ve done for 233 years

That practice has never pleased everybody. It was never meant to. But it’s how we’ve won wars, overcome economic obstacles, run our system of free elections, raised our children, prospered and settled our national issues. I buy into that with no reservations!

But that’s not what’s happened lately. In massive matters of health care reform, a tortured economy and more, while the majority has searched for solutions, a small minority has become loud, profane, disrespectful and obstructionist. It’s been supported by moneyed backers whose interests, in many cases, are not the nation’s interests.

That minority, I’m sorry to say, has been aided and abetted by a national media more intent on ratings and corporate economic gain than in factual research and reporting, allowing more time and space than the distractions deserve.

The many lies and distortions accepted by a loud few as fact have been repeated enough. They’ve shouted “lie” when faced with fact. Some have said they hate this country and its flag, talking secession though that possibility is not reality. Many of the few have refused truth and fact when presented with it. Some in congress have abused their public trust by trying to forestall the law of majority rule in offering their voices to the malcontents.

As parents, most of us operated on a two step basis with our children’s discipline. We long ago moved from simply laying down the law, instead using patience and answering questions, explaining when necessary why we expected certain behavior. Most of the time, that’s all it took. But if the errors were repeated, we responded more firmly.

As a nation of law, I believe those charged with responsibility have adequately performed the first step in dealing with the vacuous minority and should move on to the second. Enough is enough!

I have no answers for our near catastrophic problems. I have no plan to right all wrongs in our national health care system. No one individual does. But collective answers must be found quickly and applied by those we elected to do so. We gave them a large national majority November 4, 2008, in a lawful election. We gave them those instructions. We told them to do it; we didn’t tell them how.

While Democrats are in control, were it Republicans my charge would be the same: devise a course of action, solicit input from every legitimate source, decide what must be done. Then do it! The time has passed to listen to a noisy few with no answers; only blind protest.
If the chosen plan works, great. If it doesn’t, change it till it does. The sheer size of these problems demands no less. If we don’t take drastic action in both fronts, we will soon drain our nation’s resources to the status of a third world country. To those that don’t believe that, overwhelming facts say you’re wrong.

Unless the shouters and malcontents carry around those pocket-sized versions of our Constitution just for appearances, they should take the document out and read it. Not just the out-of-context parts they’re fond of quoting but the entire thing. The rules are there for all of us. And, like it or not, they apply even if a few don’t like them.

There has been enough shouting, name-calling, threats, accusations and lies. Voices with no realistic alternatives for solving our problems should now be ignored by the majority elected to lead. Our laws prescribe it. As the majority, we should demand it. Just do it!

Being a journalist most of my life, it takes some doing for news of the day to really get under my skin. But the recent lunatic angst over Pres. Obama’s televised remarks to school children across this country has done it!

I realize parents have an absolute right to guard their child’s exposure to elements outside the home. Did it myself. But parental guarding does not mean cutting kids off from the normal intercourse of education that includes within it … if it is to be valid … ideas, words and thoughts that might differ from their own. How else will the home lessons be tested and validated? Or challenged if need be?

I’d hope those folks would feel more comfortable in their parenting skills and the ability to teach their offspring how to decide what they hear for themselves than to think an American president’s brief TV talk can brainwash developing minds.

As a child, I remember sitting in my classroom listening to the radio speeches of that grand old “socialist” Franklin Roosevelt during WWII. His “dangerous” remarks were about buying savings stamps, collecting materials for the war and being an American. Sure changed my outlook for the “worse” even though I was raised by straight-ticket-voting Republican parents.

This whole unnecessary cacophony is symptomatic of the huge divisions in this country. Pick a subject. Any subject. I don’t care if it’s as simple as being a good American. You’ll get an argument about what that means. We used to consider this country a “melting pot” where all could go about their business as they chose but were held together by a common respect for the larger picture: one nation.

But we have been fed a diet of single-issue simplemindedness and hate rather than respect for other points of view for so long that we have lost our commonality. That commonality, my friend, is the glue of nations. Without it, there is no nation.

Parents in our country have great latitude in raising their children. That is as it should be. But the asinine spectacle surrounding the Obama educational session illustrates an area where a lot of parents have apparently failed their offspring. Having instilled in them the values of the home, do they believe their kids are so easily swayed by a president’s 15 minute broadcast remarks that they will be corrupted and turn their backs on those home-taught values? Road apples!

Starting with the first grade, kids in the public school system are hit right in the face with other children who are different in nearly every way. It starts at the age of six and will continue for a lifetime. From that age, all a parent can do is keep up the values teaching at home and hope/pray they have given good foundations that will face the many tests ahead.

I also sense, in this unnecessary hysteria, a darker element. A friend … whose judgment I’ve trusted for several decades … e-mailed me “I hope this fear isn’t motivated in any way by the image of an intelligent black man telling white children how they should conduct themselves to reach the path of success.”

While I second his hope, it is not hard to see the racial element of this disgraceful protesting. Presidents have been interacting with public schools and students for decades. Great portions of political campaigning are dedicated to educational support. It’s not a Republican or Democrat thing. So what’s different this time?

Aside from the extreme national divisiveness we live with, the only other differing factor is race. I hate to think it. Especially since this president is an absolutely top notch example of what this nation’s educational system can do. His personal achievements in the public school system and in higher education are exemplary. From what I’ve seen, his role as head of a growing family is equally impressive, especially given the public pressures and exposures under which each member of that family lives.

But as this unnecessary and ridiculous outcry assaults the reasoned ear, when normal communication as practiced by other presidents for may years is feared and when presidential prompting for self development and self responsibility is the target of vitriol by a loud few, the issue of race is not an unreasonable conclusion.

Many in the educational community share complicity in this censorship. Their acquiescence to this minority of division belies their responsibility to provide a full and varied exposure of learning to all. “Recording for later playback if you approve” passes the buck and avoids the role of educational leadership.

This episode is not one of our proudest. There is enough shame to go around.

The congressional full employment season has begun in Oregon and other parts of the hinterlands. We used to call it “political campaigning” but it’s largely become a job placement activity.

Looking on both sides of the road you can see activity in the bushes as the job seekers try to find the best opening and begin foraging for the resources (read “money”) to find employment at the public trough.

Certainly this doesn’t describe all the candidates out there. Some good ones are beginning to be picked up in our headlights. But it does describe the activities of far too many. Especially federally.

It’s been said you can’t go broke underestimating the intelligence of the public. I’ve never really bought into that as a whole. However if you substitute “some members of congress” for the word “public” you now have a proposition I can support.

I’ve been astounded watching some of these offenders of ethics and honesty stand in front of crowds and deliberately lie about what is in the non-existent “health care reform bill.” That’s right: non-existent.

There are several proposals floating around congress being touted by these miscreants as “THE BILL” but none have been laid on the table for formal committee action or authored by the president. None. Which may be Mr. Obama’s biggest problem.

The president handed control of this uncontrollable situation to anyone in congress who wanted to say anything … factual or not. What was needed when he began his pitch for health care reform was his “health care reform bill.” Imperfect or improbable, it would have established a point of reference … a ground zero as it were.

Imagine Moses coming down the mountain with no stone tablets and saying to the masses “God wants you to follow his rules which will be adopted after future hearings.” You can guess how effective that would have been.

But I digress. We were talking about the ethical fitness … or lack there of … of some of the civilians in the hinterlands who want to get on the federal gravy train.

Neither party has a corner on the unfit-for-public-service candidacies of some of these people. Offices in the Longworth House or Dirksen Senate Office Buildings have long been catnip to many. Then, they get that sip of Potomac water (read power) and the career politician is invented.

People on the fringy right have long wrapped themselves in the constitution of this country, attempting to twist and bend certain out-of-context parts to make their points, as they do with the Bible. Several have made sure I have my own vest pocket version to carry around. Which I don’t.

What they fail to look at is the office-holding mindset of those who wrote that document. Contrary to the mail I get, no, they weren’t all lawyers and weren’t all Christians. Those guys put aside varied personal private sector careers, went to Philadelphia to kick this country off, then went home to go back to work. None … including G. Washington … wanted a federal career at that time.

Now we’ve bred a class of people wanting to grab the federal brass ring and hold on with both hands … cradle to grave. Oregon and her sister states have produced a few who could be full-time legislators and who served with distinction. But we’ve also elected our share of duds who would’ve had trouble staying employed in the private sector.

We don’t ask much. If we sense one or more of the applicants for employment have some good ideas and some sort of ethical compass, we give ‘em a “ticket to ride.” If they work out, we renew their option. To most of us, it doesn’t make much difference which political party they represent. I’ve split my ticket for years. I’d bet most voters do.

Problem is the system has been rigged so, once on the gravy train, it’s damned hard to get ‘em off. The late Mo Udall told me once “These people learned the rules to get themselves here and they damned sure aren’t going to change them!”

There isn’t much we can do about the quality .. or lack thereof … of people chasing our vote. It’s like shopping at a discount warehouse: what’s on the shelf that day is all there is. But we can learn to be more careful with our ballot, more discerning of the ethics and honesty of the model we’re offered and remember that, once we give ‘em the ticket, it’s hard to get ‘em off the train.

Even the fast food business has a hiring probationary period. If it’s good enough for burger flippers, it ought to be good enough for congress.