Archive for April, 2010

One of life’s mysteries on my mind this week is why so many people are making it so hard and so expensive to get a nose count of how many of us there are in America. More than one in four families have not filled out the short form dealing with some very basic issues.

Now maybe you’re the kind of person who says, “Well, that means just under three out of four did their civic duty so what’s the problem?”

Considering how many ways that vital information is used … amounts of federal money states could receive, the number of congressional representatives we could have, etc. … there are lots of problems.

It doesn’t help to have some congressional idiots telling constituents the census business is a communist plot or worse. One of those has been the clueless Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN). She took to the national airwaves to say she wasn’t sending her form back and no one else should, either.

“The Obama people are trying to find the locations of various ethnic groups so they can be rounded up and sent to internment camps like Japanese Americans in 1942,” said the conspiratorial one.

Later, someone whispered in her ear that knowing how many people there are and where they live is how congressional districts are created. So, if her folks at home didn’t send in their census forms, her job could disappear. Whereupon she filled hers out completely and sent it back.

An accurate census is especially important in our neighborhood. Oregon and other western states are population gainers with more folks moving in than out. As many eastern states have lost population, western states have picked up seats in congress. Accurately keeping track of that ebb and flow is a major use of the census. Good news for us.

There’s also a federal honeypot of some $400 billion that goes to states for various projects in the next few years. Census statistics determine the split of those dollars for all sorts of programs that flow downstream. More good news.

We’re developing a more ethnically diverse population hereabouts. Some federally funded programs are designed to help states deal with that change … schools, job training, etc. … and that can come our way, too … if we’re fully counted. Good news?

Local businesses, using census data, can effectively tailor services and goods delivery if they know who their customers are. For example, in 2008 about 21% of Oregon’s Douglas County population was over age 65 versus a statewide average of about 13%. If you wanted to build a hospital or determine which physician specialties to recruit, that’s good to know.

Median household income in 2008 in the same county was about $39,500 versus $50,000+ in the rest of Oregon. Banks, merchants, homebuilders and their suppliers would like that info. All from the census.

Nobody has given me a valid reason not to participate. Yet I hear people say where they live and with whom is nobody’s business. So they’ve chucked their forms.

It’s interesting that states with highest census form return rates to date are Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana. They’re also at or near the top of the list for highest unemployment. Sounds to me like someone’s been doing a good job of selling the economic benefits of an accurate nose count for some of that expected federal spending. Real job creation.

Some 635,000 census takers are now covering the country trying to find and count those who, for reasons beyond me, haven’t … or won’t … return the forms. Soon their stories will start to be told. One you may have already heard about. Near St. Maries, ID, someone put a shotgun blast over the enumerator’s head. Bad form.

Final fact. Information from the decennial census is confidential. All involved in collecting are sworn to secrecy. No government agency has access to it. Period. There’s lots of case law showing IRS, FBI and other entities have been refused access to data. Only anonymous information is available … statistics, tables, summaries … and only for specific purposes. The expected right to privacy is solidly enforced. You can’t get today’s data for about 70 years!

But the one factually accurate statistic making me maddest is it costs the feds about 42-cents to handle forms mailed back versus about $57 per household to go out and find each one. $57! That’s about $1.5 billion saved if everyone complied by mail, my friend.

I’m currently working on the return failure rate in Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District. Gotta send Michelle a bill for those we have to go find. $57 times ?.

Northwest National Guard soldiers are coming home to local parades these days. Most are happening in small communities where they’re easier to organize. The soldiers need them. So do we.

But, if you’re old enough, you’ll remember when hundreds of thousands of service members came home from war and nobody … nobody … marched and waved flags. No marching bands. No “welcome home” from people you knew before you went to battle; people you thought you were fighting for.

I’m a Korean vet. No combat stars but that was luck of the draw. I was on active duty and could have been shipped off with many of my friends from those service days. They went. I didn’t. They must’ve had all the personnel clerks they needed at the front.

“It wasn’t a war,” we were told. “It was a police action.” Or it was called the “forgotten war” or the “unknown war.” By any name, damn it, it was a war! Our war! Dead: 36,516. Wounded: 92,134. Missing: 8176. POW: 7245. That’s no mere “action!”

TV covered it; usually 36-48 hours after battles being reported since film had to be flown stateside, developed, edited, then aired. It was in your living room. First war that was. From start to incomplete finish, everybody had access to the fighting. And the dying.

Still, when our military folks left that bloody political swamp to come home, they didn’t come back to crowds. No parades. They might’ve been met by a few relatives and friends. Or people who just happened to be at the dock or the airport that day. Hometown honors … if any … were few and sparsely attended.

A lot of people in those uniforms and at home were confused. America had never lost a war. And, while we didn’t lose that one, it didn’t seem over because we just followed orders and walked away. Many to this day have a sense of incompleteness or pain like a wound that won’t heal. Somebody in a large, fancy hotel decided politically the war was over. And it was. In Korea. But not inside.

We came home, tried to pick up where we had left off, and got on with new employment and families. There were very few local … much less national … honors.

Viet Nam was even worse. Dead: 58,236. Wounded: 153,452. Missing: 1746. But at least it was called what it was: a war.

Again, when the shooting stopped, it was just … over. Henry Kissinger and some guys in Paris signed some papers. No other reason. Another draw.

By the time the military got home, the nation was divided; people … for or against the cause … were tired, angry and ready to forget the whole thing. Parades, bands, fireworks in the park … not for most of them.

Korea and Viet Nam wars are still being fought in neighborhood bars, VFW and American Legion halls, at family gatherings and by some of the vets now homeless and living under a bridge somewhere. Those battles are alive today in the minds of hundreds of thousands. For some, they always will be.

And as they suffer, we are filling military hospitals and psych wards with new faces and new broken bodies and minds. I’m told many will eventually look normal. But normal life for them is over. No parades. No bands. For a lot of them, nothing.

Today’s wars, too, will end with a whimper and not an armistice. One day someone, somewhere, will sign some papers and those doing the fighting and the dying will be told … well … I don’t know what they’ll be told this time. But they’ll be marched to an airport to fly home. Just as happened the last two times.

The biggest difference now is the bulk of the fighting and dying is being done by reserves and guard members; not regular military services. And, instead of taking your turn, then being rotated home, these men and women are going twice, three and even four times. The next e-mail. The next letter. The next phone call. They could be gone again.

Walking or riding in a military parade is about all the thanks most of these people will ever get. Some bands. Some flag waving. Maybe a cheer now and then.

While you’re cheering from the curb at the next parade, look to your right and left at those standing with you. If someone has some gray hair, looks about the right age and seems a little wistful, encourage him to get off the curb and join the line of march.

It might be he’s due a parade. Overdue. And this might just be it.

In 1969, when anti-Viet Nam fervor was sweeping the country, a friend of mine named Sam Day joined in one of the protest marches in Boise, Idaho.

What you need to know about Sam was that he was a liberal. Top to bottom, he wasn’t just a Democrat, he was A liberal! He published a small weekly newspaper in Idaho that was required political reading; even in a state where the only other real liberal is, by now, likely stuffed and on display at the state museum.

For this one march up Capitol Boulevard to the Idaho Statehouse, Sam chose to wear a shirt his wife had made; a shirt with a likeness of the American flag across the back. This little nebbish of a guy with a Rocky Mountain backbone, chose to make his patriotism known; at that moment; in that place; in that way.

As marchers noisily but peacefully neared the Statehouse, several cops descended on this one small figure; Sam and Sam alone. He was arrested and marched off to jail, charged with desecrating the American flag.

I hadn’t thought much about that moment in the ensuing 41 years. Until a few days ago. When Roseburg had it’s own little version of the Tea Party whining.

As .006% of Douglas County, Oregon, gathered on the steps of the courthouse … a courthouse ironically enough designed by a Boise architect … Sam came suddenly to mind. The reason was the speaker of the moment: State Senator Jeff Kruse, a man of no uncertain conservative Republican credentials. He was pointing out the crowd shouldn’t be talking about guns and violence saying “This is not a revolution of guns and violence … though I do have a gun.”

Did unnecessary and some would say threatening talk like that remind me of Sam? No.

No, it was more what Senator Kruze was wearing during his excoriating. It was this top-to-bottom American flag shirt with red, white and blue striped sleeves. It was a true knock-off!

And my friend, the dear departed Sam? Well, ol’ Sam would have been proud. Sam would have liked the whiff of rebellion in the air, the protesting, the placards. The exercise of the American way.

But most of all, that diehard liberal would have felt a kinship with the good Sen. Kruze.

But just sartorially speaking, of course. And only for a moment.

Well, tax day has come and gone. Also gone, at least for now, various “Tea Party” gatherings in front of various buildings at home and across the land.

Gone, also, the excessive national media coverage of these little groups. At least for now. I’m not a fan of either: protesters or overblown media coverage. The uninformed noise and the amount of attention paid to it far exceed the news value. Or civic importance. The gatherings are interesting. But so, too, are stories about many other, more meaningful subjects..

The Douglas County fest was in front of our courthouse, scheduled late in the day so people who work could attend. That’s wise. If you know you’re a distinct minority to begin with, you want to throw your little shindig at the most convenient time.

Minority? Well, let’s see. In our county, 53,462 voters marked ballots in the 2008 presidential election: about 31,000 for McCain; 20,000 or so for Obama; the rest to minor candidates. So, some 81% scratched a ballot here, far more than the national average. A fact we’re proud of in our neighborhood.

But I digress. We were talking minority. One sponsor locally opined 1,400 people enjoyed the late afternoon gathering. Well, maybe. Sounds like a conservative trying to be too liberal. But despite the convenient time, advance publicity, all their noise and carrying on, even using his number their count was only about 2.6% of all the souls who cast ballots for president in our county in 2008. 2.6%.

OK, let’s charitably double the number. Now you’re talking 5.2%. We’re still talking definite minority here. Double it again? Same thing. And our county is one of the most conservative in Oregon. If you were going to make a case for finding Tea Party folks on your block, it would be Douglas County.

As I’ve scanned the national stories, it was about the same situation in most gatherings. Small. Distinct minority. But if you watched CNN or Fox or MSBNC or CBS, you would have thought this was something significant and we should pay more attention. They were bringing us something “important!”

Actually, they weren’t. What we saw were groups of people in various cities, all seemingly mad at something. Mad Pres. Obama has increased taxes (he hasn’t); that he was not native American born (he was); that there are “death squads” in the health care law (there aren’t); that seniors covered by Medicare will be forced to quit and join something else (they won’t); that the president and congress have been enacting laws illegally (they haven’t) and on and on and on.

We even saw some members of Congress at the Washington DC noise fest telling some of these same lies while having previously sworn to uphold the Constitution. Really proud of those folks, aren’t we?

Far be it from me to say these street gatherers shouldn’t be able to parade around and vent their anger. My only requirement to take them seriously is that they get their facts straight; that they be mad at something that really exists; that they exhibit enough knowledge of how their government works so we can believe them.

Bottom line: from their placards and statements, they don’t have their facts straight; they’re seemingly mad at nonexistent things; they don’t know enough about government workings … and often the English language … to create a meaningful sign.

As for being mad, Hell, I’m mad, too! Mad at people who damned near deep-sixed our entire economy; mad at the guys who stole more than half of my retirement assets; mad at insurance companies forcing people who’ve paid for coverage for years off their politics when they need them most; mad at Bernie Madoff; mad that Congress hasn’t cracked down with new regulatory restrictions to keep all this from happening again; mad at members of Congress who use their high office to avoid real issues in favor of their own long term employment.

Peaceful assembly to protest is a valued right. We made it so and we protect it fiercely. But there is a generally understood responsibility to be informed and knowledgeable before taking your anger to the nearest public right-of-way. May not be written in any of our founding documents but it’s a definite requirement. If you want to be taken seriously.

When marchers can’t meet even that threshold, they should not only not be taken seriously. They should be arrested for fraud.

If you’re someone who believes nothing is certain in life but death and taxes, I’ll add a third certainty to your short list: no repeal of the new heath care law. You can take that to the bank.

The late Idaho Gov. Robert Smylie once told me “Every law on the books got there because some one or some group worked like Hell to get there. And until someone or some group comes along that wants something else, it will stay.” He was absolutely right. The new law fits his legendary wisdom to a “T.”

While the fringes … left and right … rage on about repeal, national Republican leaders are beginning to back away from their pledge to do that; a pledge made the day after passage. That’s because many of them got off the Potomac “kool aid” for a few days during their spring break. Also, what they began to hear at home when talk of repeal came up was, “Well, let’s think about this a little more.”

The left and right cacophony is more a media thing than something grounded in reality. Now the larger amorphous middle group is beginning to wake up. They’re not attracting microphones and cameras ’cause pictures of people thinking are not ratings boosters.

My research indicates a significant portion of these “let’s-wait-a-minute-on-repeal” thinkers are small business owners and self-employed individuals. Many of them have not been able to make health insurance a part of their employee’s benefits; some haven’t been able to buy polices for themselves. Some have carried $10,000 deductibles to get any coverage at all which means they’ve essentially been uninsured for nearly all medical needs except catastrophic.

Another large group of repeal re-thinkers is filled with single parents. Maybe, in the past, they could scrape enough together to insure one or more kids but had to forego their own coverage because of cost. Or more likely many couldn’t afford insurance at all. For anybody.

And those singles with no coverage because they couldn’t afford it. And millions of others working part time without coverage because many large companies cut full time workers and expensive benefits packages that went with them. And how about sales people? Millions of ’em. Independent contractors they’re called. They sell real estate or cars or insurance and nobody pays for health insurance but them. When times are good and they can.

Little by little, bit by bit, reality is settling in. While the new law is not a perfect law, it is a workable one. The shills, paid malcontents and outright liars who derailed common sense with their “death panels,” “seniors will be killed” and “the world will end” frauds are finally being overcome. We are finding out more about what’s in the new law. Some great national newspaper reporting has been done summarizing what’s in there, for whom and when it’ll become effective.

I’ve been taken to task in these pages and elsewhere for saying the way you get a good law is to put something on the books … even if it’s only a framework … then slowly, carefully and with much thought, amend, add, cut and massage it until it works the way the majority wants it to work. To you task-takers: there, I’ve said it again!

While I’ve disagreed with the way Pres. Obama handled the approach to all this a year ago, I ‘m very supportive of how the new benefits were staged to become effective. Some of the most needed portions … affordable individual insurance, coverage for children, an end to wholesale cancellations, etc. … were front loaded. That’s good political smarts. Gives people time to see how it fits.

The comeuppance for insurance companies who’ve committed wholesale consumer rape through exorbitant fee increases, arbitrary cancellations and one-size-fits-all policies comes a few years from now. Oh yes, legal steps to stop all that are in there. And the companies will unleash millions of dollars to lobby against the inevitable. Maybe they’ll chip away around the edges. But their day of reckoning is coming. Business will never again be conducted as it was in the past.

What makes me so sure? Well, it’s all those people: the singles, the parents, those with prior health problems that will have insurance coverage at last, the small business owners and individuals that will have become used to having coverage they hadn’t had before. All us folks in that amorphous middle.

That is, after all, how we survive as a nation. That’s a civics lesson the fringes will never learn. It’s our secret.

This week … in this space … I’m going to break a promise I made to myself over two years ago and have honored all that time. I said I wouldn’t get into this Catholic Church scandal. And I haven’t. But, in the immortal words of Popeye, “That’s all I can stands. I can stands no more!”

What drove this writer in his 70’s over the edge was another guy in his 70’s … a Cardinal at the Vatican … calling the most recent reporting of priestly sexual abuse of children “petty gossip.” And one of his brethren charging the New York Times was “out to destroy the Vatican” saying abuse charges were like “anti-Semitism.”

Those two dead wrong Cardinals, like some other voices in the Catholic hierarchy now speaking out, seem to be getting public relations advice from the same outfit that almost destroyed Tiger Woods and his public persona after hitting that tree. “ Cover up.” “Say nothing.” “Accuse the accusers.” “The details are none of their business.”

For the past 10 years or so, a lot of people in other countries seemed to look at the clergy carnage within the U.S. Catholic Church, chalking it up to “Well, the Americans are at it again.” Seems we had created an environment for this beastly conduct that was certainly different from their own and “it couldn’t happen there.”

It gives me no comfort to say now to them “look to your own.” The plain truth is the pedophiles desecrating children in the parishes are an intercontinental disgrace knowing no borders. And, every so often, some Protestant denomination gets dragged into one of these proving to all that deviant theologians preying on children are truly ecumenical.

Even various regional units of the Boy Scouts of America are involved in legal battles across our country for the same kind of adult-to-child abuse. Fact is, sexual predators know no special uniform or robe, no religious belief, no nationality, no special province. It’s an equal opportunity crime.

In some places, Boy Scout organizations and a church relationship are one and the same. In much of Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Utah especially, the Mormon Church is an overarching sponsor. There, too, some local leaders in both church and scouting have been found to be pedophiles. Other times there are Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist sponsors which can give a false sense of religious security.

Many American Catholics have been critical of their church leaders for not facing the problem squarely case-by-case; for declaring bankruptcy in some instances to avoid legal decisions awarding millions of dollars to victims; for twisting and obfuscating when documentation has clearly shown a known pedophile was kept in the flock but given different sheep in a different pasture.

Then there are the other priests … the ones doing God’s work and tending to God’s children with true theological love and comfort. Many of them feel they are being tarred by the same brush of exposure now staining the guilty. At a time when Catholic clergy are in short supply, the near daily disclosures of sexual abuse can’t be helping recruiting efforts. Or even retention.

In the case of the Catholic Church specifically, a persuasive argument can be made for an honest, thorough, external investigation and, if necessary, some clerical and procedural disinfecting. But, so far, the public appearance I see is to circle the wagons, exclude outside resources to conduct such investigations and a feeling that this will all blow over if everyone involved keeps his … or her … mouth shut.

That sort of medieval thinking worked for a couple thousand years because of isolated communications and ritualized acceptance. But now, when details of any news story can be flashed around the world in seconds and repeated infinitely … with pictures … the duck-and-cover defense can’t be successful.

There are also the inquiring minds and honest outrage of millions of Catholics who no longer see their leaders as some sort of mystical congress in the Vatican. They want answers. They want facts. They want the problem(s) solved and justice meted out. A lot of those people are parents as is one of my daughters. Or grandparents. Like me. When it comes to the safety and security of the offspring, we … and they … don’t want platitudes and wordy denials of the growing abuse problem. Many are balancing religious beliefs and their children’s futures. They … and we … want action.

My advice to the Vatican? Put on some street clothes, go out among your parishioners and listen to what they’re saying. Then renew your vows and work like Hell!