Archive for July, 2010

In our ever-changing world, a major political anachronism of our time is the candidate debate. Most often, incumbents don’t want ’em; challengers can’t get enough. Unfortunately, knowledge gained from most is usually minimal.

There are several reasons for this. Given the power of incumbency, office holders normally have about an 80% re-election edge via campaign dollars and name recognition. In our current “throw-the-bastard’s-out” climate, that may fall a bit. Still, the guy inside starts with an advantage over the guy outside.

Then there’s the chance the incumbent … starting ahead … may stumble or commit some sort of public gaffe and lose some ground. The challenger can make a similar fatal mistake. Richard Nixon debating John Kennedy comes to mind. Jerry Ford, too.

There’s also the incumbent reluctance to give the opponent free advertising to become better known through debates. Unless, as in the case with John Kitzhaber, your opponent has a high profile from previous public life, an incumbent is almost always better known.

Oregon has a longtime congressional hired hand, Mr. DeFazio, who knows all that. Which is why opponent Art Robinson has an uphill battle to get on the same stage in the Southeast part of our state. Any stage. DeFazio normally loses in six of his district’s counties, making up the winning margin in heavily Democrat Lane County.

Another factor making at least televised debates less worth watching is the general media’s lack of understanding of both its role and of the workings of government. Debates are not time for “gotcha” questions. There are too many legitimate issues that need straight-up inquiries and responses. But if the questioner lacks an understanding of the political process, phony answers go unchallenged by someone who doesn’t know when he/she’s been “had.”

I’ve been on debate panels and sat through more than the average voter. As a political wonk, I keep a mental scorecard of not only content of answers but also quality. Same for questioners.

To be fair to media folks, most debate formats put them in an untenable position at the git-go. If follow-up questions aren’t allowed, debate participants can say anything that pops into his/her head and not be called on it. Happens all the time. The candidate “skates” and the voter is the loser.

I haven’t given up on debates; only how they’re conducted. If asked to organize one, I’d start by eliminating media. I’d opt for a strong, single questioner … unknown to either participant … who would know when to talk. And when not to.

The format would be head-to-head with questions and answers coming from the folks we’re there to see: candidates. We’ve currently got a national crop of challengers with some pretty far out ideas and more volume than reasoned thought. On many issues. So rules about sticking to subject matter and observing common courtesy would have to be unhesitatingly enforced. That’s why the strong, unfamiliar moderator.

Take DeFazio-Robinson. DeFazio likes to think of himself as an “independent” Democrat, whatever that is. Robinson takes positions to the right of Ivan the Terrible, many he couldn’t possibly get through any U.S. Congress. I don’t think the two of ’em could agree on the time of day. Or whose clock to use. With minimal outside interference, you’d find a spirited “discussion” on many things. Might not get a lot of healthy mental red meat but you wouldn’t go away hungry and you’d know a lot more about the makeup of each man.

There’s another problem with debates. Too few people watch them or take time to attend the local venue. So, information from a spirited set-to doesn’t always get to the people who need to know because of apathy or ignorance. Or both.

I’ve heard many folks complain about the sorry state of politics these days. Plain fact is, what we have didn’t happen overnight. But it did happen without you. That’s a fact. Someone showed up at the polls. Someone voted for these people. If things aren’t being run the way you want, where were you when the contract was being signed? You may not like … or even care about … things political but we didn’t get here in a vacuum. We just got here while you were doing something else.

Nowhere in our Northwest neighborhood is there a clearer divide and thus a clearer choice between candidates of differing views than the DeFazio-Robinson contest.

They both need to stop posturing and “belly up to the bar.” And we all need to be there. Listening.

Once in awhile, something in the day’s news catches my attention, makes me so mad my teeth ache and … POW … the next “Second Thoughts” is born on the spot. This is one such time.

You’d hardly expect someplace like the little Mormon community of Hyrum, Utah, to rile your consciousness. But such is the site and cause of my anger.

The good folk in Hyrum have their little Fourth of July celebration each year. Normally, it’s a festive affair resulting in good patriotic feelings and lots of fun. And, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s dubious decision removing prayer from most public ceremony’s, the program in Hyrum this year and every year starts off with … a prayer. Not just any prayer this year. This time it was in Spanish. The resulting fracas put the city’s fireworks display to shame.

Local Pastor Maria Montalvo was invited by the city council to open the festivities with a blessing. Though bilingual, fearing her English was not up to the occasion, she asked, in advance, if she could pray in Spanish with instant translation. Just fine, she was told.

She prayed. It was instantly translated. And much of the population of little Hyrum, Utah, came unglued. The newspaper was inundated with letters of outrage. One guy, calling himself a veteran, wrote “the city council should be impeached and sent to Mexico.” The council caved, apologized, and claimed members “would never disrespect veterans.”

And therein lies the source of my angst. If any apology is due anyone it is from the city council to the Rev. Montalvo. She did what she was asked to do the way she was permitted to do it. In advance. Whatever wrongdoing occurred in Hyrum, she was not part of it. In fact, even during the Mormon “high holy time” known as “Pioneer Days” in Utah, you’ll see many Spanish-speaking participants. And their flags. Very inclusive.

I’ll admit. I’m rankled when buying products with bilingual labels and instructions. I get angry when told “press 1 for English” when using the phone. And I believe, as a matter of general safety, all states should offer driver’s license exams in English because that’s the language used on signs and printed instructions for abiding by our driving and other laws.

In a moment of extreme honesty, I sincerely believe people living in this country should be able to basically converse – if for nothing more than necessity and courtesy – in English. While no one should be required to give up a second language, native or not, respect for our laws and for the opportunities others come here seeking, should demand at least an understanding of the common language. Were I to go to any other country where English is not the primary language, I would expect the same.

So saying, the fact is Spanish-speaking minorities within our borders are the fastest growing population segment. Leaving federal immigration failures for another discussion, there is nothing wrong with the legal immigrant’s participation in that growth. But, as we who are native move our chairs over to accommodate those who want to sit beside us to share our blessings, I believe we should be met with an corresponding accommodation: learn at least the rudiments of the host language.

To inject racism into any discussion of this sort … as was done in Hyrum and most other times this subject comes up … is wrong. Racial diversity is a hallmark of this country and we used to consider it a strength. Christian, Jew, Hindu, Croat, agnostic and all sorts of others from all manner of countries formed this mongrel republic and brought with them every conceivable language and custom.

To me, one major trait that has kept all that diversity going the same direction since those early times has been a common language. No one should be asked to … and no one should be expected to … give up native language, custom, dress or practices. That would be racist.

But if a nation is to be greater than the sum of its parts, there must be commonality of more than mere residence. Especially now, when we are so rooted in opposition to so many areas, we need even more strength in those things that connect us one to the other. Some of the basics that have traditionally bound us are being frayed by opportunists, outliers, obstructionists and outright liars. Our common language can and should be our common strength.

My apologies to Rev. Montalvo. As for the Hyrum city council, shame on you!

You, me, the media, our national political institution and the world-at-large received an excellent but painful education this week regarding something I’ve warned about repeatedly: exploitation of and by an unqualified media to reach an angry public ready to believe the worst.

Of course that lesson involved the shameful treatment of Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture who was fired by Secretary Tom Vilsack before he had all the facts. Innocent of wrongdoing, it turns out, Ms. Sherrod was crucified by a media too ready to exploit rather than report and vilified by some in the public without the whole story.

The instigator of this tragic episode was a right wing blogger who edited video of an inspirational speech by Ms. Sherrod into a deliberate lie to make his racist point. And where did he take his piece of hateful handiwork? He took it to the national media outlet most likely to use it: Fox News.

I’ve never liked Fox because of its deliberate “news” tilt in which all things Republican are good and Democrat are bad. On examination, it is peopled with pretty faces lacking journalistic “chops.” I know one of their anchors well and he doesn’t have the depth of experience or training to be there. But he, like the rest of them, looks good.

I’m skeptical of MSNBC as well for some of the same reasons. But at least Mathews has a law degree, years as a senior staffer on Capitol Hill and two decades of media experience. Olbermann has a master’s from Cornell and 26 years of reporting. Maddow is a Rhodes scholar with a doctorate and longtime radio talk show host. None of them hold themselves out to be “working reporters” as do those at Fox. Still, recognizing their commentary tilt, it’s not my source for national news coverage.

There is much blame to go around in the Sherrod story. Most of it rests with the right wing zealot … not conservative … who doctored the speech tape. He deliberately deceived everyone. More blame goes to the kids at Fox for not doing a reporter’s due diligence by seeking multiple sources for what could have been killed right there if all the facts were known.

Some of that blame rests with us … a public so divided and so angry we are willing to believe the worst or at least believe something that has been foisted on us by our “trusted” media. Therein lies a problem that affects too many people, regardless of political persuasion.

My experience is many viewers gravitate to media that reinforces their viewpoint without challenging their comfort. It can be TV, talk radio or, in major markets, one of multiple daily newspapers. I absolutely guarantee if you watch only Fox or MSNBC, for example, or listen only to Limbaugh or Bill Press on talk radio, you will NOT be accurately informed. You will NOT have sufficient facts on any issue to say you really understand. They aren’t there to inform. They’re there to persuade.

For the most part, I ignore talk radio and watch little of Fox or MSNBC. I may find political solace with one or the other but I know I won’t be really getting the news. So, my daily routine usually starts with an Internet site like or From either of those locations you can read almost any newspaper in the world. One of the informative things you’ll find is reading about America as seen in newspapers from England, France, India or Japan.

A sample of my daily national reading may be the Denver Post, LA Times, Washington Post, or the Oregonian. I’ll try some others periodically. Point is, the news is coming from several trusted sources and it’s up to me to sort out the facts.

“Takes too much time I don’t have,” you might say. Yes, it takes some time. But sites are available 24-7 and it takes no longer to scan news in one paper than the other. You can hit two in 10 minutes.

The major reason for the Sherrod incident is it was created by someone with a single point of view, sensationalized by a media outlet with a single point of view, staffed with people who report that point of view because they’re paid to report that point of view. In other words, in a vacuum with no other offsetting truths. And everybody bought it!

Shirley Sherrod was shafted. And we all share a bit of the blame.

Dirk Kempthorne’s appearance before a congressional panel this week is the latest facet of a political career of mediocre talent, long on luck, timing and connections.

Kempthorne was, among other things, one of the Interior Secretaries of Pres. Bush II; 2006 – 2009. Because of that, he was called to the federal hearing room to testify about Interior’s supposed oversight of offshore drilling in those years. His predecessor and successor were also quizzed.

Kempthorne … Republican to his jockey shorts … will never tell anyone anything about oil drilling oversight that doesn’t sound like “We did our jobs and had no idea any catastrophe like the B-P blowout could occur.” Not be the brightest pol in the room but he’s loyal.

I’ve known Kempthorne since before he got into Idaho elective politics, parlaying being a Republican in this country’s most Republican state into national jobs. Always an opportunist to the core. And lucky. Damned lucky. Some smarter Idaho Republican operatives saw his marketability early on and had more to do with his climbing the political ladder than he did.

His first “political” job was student body president at the University of Idaho. After that, he was an Idaho state employee. Then, during a stint as a lobbyist, he was run by Republicans in a “non-partisan” election for mayor of Boise when the previous mayor had angered so many people there was an “anybody-but-him” atmosphere among the citizenry. You could have elected Mickey Mouse that year. Success? Timing!

Kempthorne’s years as mayor were undistinguished. All he had to do was stay out of the way, keep quiet and let the pent-up commercial and housing development markets have their head. He did basically that. And Idaho’s largest city exploded. Success? Timing!

Some of the aforementioned Republican pros were impressed with Kempthorne’s ability to look good (he did a pinup calendar spread), his folksy ability with people, a quick smile and his ability to follow the company line. So when the Idaho governor’s chair was open, they had their horse. Remember, in Idaho, then and since, you can put a large “R” on the flank of a Golden Retriever and elect him to anything. Success? Timing!

On my radio talk show at the time, I called him the “mayor of Idaho.” He put in a few years with an overwhelmingly Republican legislature and a Democrat minority so small their caucuses could be held in someone’s home. Again, a relatively undistinguished tenure except for a statewide road project that is still causing headaches a decade later.

A U.S. Senate seat opened in Idaho and the Republican team boosted him up into it. Again, slap an “R” on the product and Idahoans will buy it by the case. Again, too, service until 2006 without anything remarkable. But always a trusted GOP vote. On anything. Success? Timing!

Kempthorne got to know Bush at Republican governor’s meetings. When Bush needed an Interior secretary in is second term, he called Dirk.

Kempthorne was at Interior from ‘06 to ‘09. Not much to be remembered for except one thing: an office bathroom that cost taxpayers $236,000. Yep. $236,000. National media and people from Idaho would go to Washington DC asking to see Kempthorne’s “throne.”

Well, those days are gone now. But Kempthorne, after spending a career advocating smaller government and less government, accomplished one thing. He put the combination of city, state and federal service into a nice government retirement package. And his contacts into lobbying. Many Idaho Republican former office holders, believing in the same smaller role for government, also cash monthly government retirement checks. Thinking people in Idaho got over the irony of that long ago.

Eventually, the B-P disaster will die down. Courts will award some damages. Some low level government employees may have to take early retirement. One or more miscreants may actually go to jail.

But the Kempthorne legacy will survive untrammeled and untarnished. Whatever it is. Success? Timing.

A couple of weeks ago I used this space to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court decision rejecting a restrictive gun law from Illinois, and opined the court had opened the door to possibly hundreds of test cases. Indeed, printed on the same page, there was a story reporting Chicago adopted a new test ordinance less than 72 hours after the SCOTUS rejection. Try, try again.

I received more response to that column than any other. Most of it literate and interesting. A couple challenged everything including, I think, my manhood. May have been the spelling and the @#/%(*. Because that column focused mostly on the court decision, a common question I received was what I personally thought about gun control and, given my unloaded weapons at home, what my bonafides were to even have an informed opinion. Fair enough.

Yes, my pistols are unloaded. Responsible gun owners keep them that way when not in use. Experience: in the USAF many, many years back, I fired expert several times and was on a rifle team in competition. So I’m not totally ignorant about weaponry. It’s just that, as I grew older and got interested in new things like flying and sailplanes, shooting and other youthful pursuits fell by the wayside. Except for the occasional turkey I now prod in the backside with a pellet rifle.

What do I really think? Well, you asked.

Gun law challenges don’t come from Roseburg or Okanagen or Burley. They come mostly from large eastern cities where the prey is more likely to be human than a three-point buck. Or a turkey. Millions of Americans live in poverty areas… read “ghetto” … including some where even cops don’t like to go. Children are often victims. Killed in a crossfire between gangs or just walking to school. Homes of innocent people are shot up as street shooters run up the kills in indiscriminate murders.

To those innocent people, guns are not for sport. They don’t equate guns with knocking down an elk or trap shooting. To them, guns force them off their streets and keep them prisoner in their homes. They are denied the liberty you and I enjoy to use our neighborhoods safely.

Here’s a scenario about guns I see out there. Think about that word “liberty.” The first two guarantees in our Constitution don’t cover guns. The first two are “life” and “liberty.”

You and I may take guns to be part of our “liberty.” Fine. But people cowering inside their homes and burying children killed in crossfires can be said to be denied “liberty.” The liberty to walk their streets, sit on the porch, be assured their kids can play safely in a neighborhood and can walk to school as our kids do without being murdered. Liberty to live without constant fear.

I believe, one of these days, some sharp young attorney is going to take that word “liberty” and use the violent denial of that constitutionally guaranteed freedom to make a compelling case for tougher gun laws. You may differ and that’s O.K.. But the validity of law often turns on a single word. And, even without a law school education, I can make a good case that liberty denied is unconstitutional.

Again, I’m not anti-gun. But I’m willing to believe the issue is not black and white as the NRA does. It has many facets. All must be considered.

I’ve heard our Constitution described as a “flowing” or “living document” with the requirement that it be taken in total and not in pieces to suit a single argument as some zealots do with the Bible. I believe that. We are not assured one or the other of the guarantees. Or even most of them. We are guaranteed the right to them all.

We are a badly polarized nation at the moment. On everything. And gun control is one of the most divisive issues we have. We hear most about it from the loud extremes on either side. Both are wrong in their bellicose exclusivity. There are an awful lot of us … most of us … in the middle. And the middle is where workable compromises and solutions always come from. Always.

The middle doesn’t say much until pressure builds high enough. The middle ground view of guns is not everybody’s view. But, when pushed, ours may be the majority view. Blind, unquestioning defenders of gun ownership forget that at their peril. Pressure on the middle is building. Dead children in your street and bullet holes in your living room wall can do that.

Two headlines. “Wave of Oregonians nearing end of benefits” and “Automated and efficient” on the front page of last Sunday’s newspaper in our little southern Oregon village. Separate. But connected in a most human way. And the connection isn’t good.

While the “automated and efficient” story touted technology at Roseburg Forest Products operations, the real human news underlying that reality is being played out here and across the nation. As old industries like logging and manufacturing become more technologically efficient, jobs disappear. By the thousands. Hundreds of thousands.

The recession has killed off 7.9 million jobs says Lakshman Achuthan, respected director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute. He figures “job losses during this recession were so off-the-chart that, even though 600,000 private sector jobs are back, we’ve got 8 million jobs to go.”

If rehiring was about 200,000 jobs a month, he says, double what it really is, it would take til 2013 to recapture just jobs lost. Add to that, a working age population that grows by about 150,000 people a month. So the hole gets deeper as we go.

Then there’s this. Nationally, the Labor Department says 1.2 million people have stopped looking even as their unemployment benefits run out. These “discouraged workers” as they’re called, don’t show up in monthly unemployment numbers, meaning they statistically don’t exist because no one counts them anymore.

Now, add still one another log on the fire. Many people out of work … could be most of them … lost jobs in industries not expected to return to their glory days. Timber and manufacturing are two among many. That means, according to Wells Fargo chief economist John Silva, “We’ve got the wrong people in the wrong place with the wrong skills.”

While these are national statistics, the very painful human reality is being played out in small Oregon communities like ours. Played out in spades! With newfound efficiencies and high tech equipment, RFP, Weyerhauser and the other timber movers-and-shakers will never see the large payrolls of former days. One example is the Murphy plywood plant in Sutherlin, Oregon, destroyed by fire several years ago. Oh, it’s rebuilt and humming right along. But all that humming is being done by about half the previous workers. Technology.

Consider also, no paycheck and no unemployment check. So who’ll buy the goods and services the rest of us offer? Grocery stores, car dealers, banks, shoe stores, department stores, advertising. Little by little, the ripples will reach everybody in town. For some, waiting to get through this national disaster, the wait will be too long.

Well, that’s a lot of bad news. Much more than I’d like to convey. So, is there anything we can do about it? There is one powerful tool. But it’s going to take some intestinal fortitude for a lot of these people to use it. Retraining. Re-education. Now!

Some months ago, during a minor surgery procedure at our local hospital, I was attended to by a nurse. Over six feet. Large, scarred hands. A 200 pound former logger. He was as good and as gentle as any nurse I’ve encountered in my long life. He lost a job some years ago, thought about the future, sucked it up and enrolled in a nursing program.

I’ve often wondered what it took for him to enter that classroom on the first day with about 25 chattering, giggling teenage girls. It took guts. It took an inner strength for this rough-and-tumble woodsman to say, “That’s behind me. This is what I’ve got to do.” Then do it!

Major silver mines in North Idaho closed in the 80’s. But there are hundreds of guys still waiting for them to reopen. An Internet car dealer in Kellogg now parks his huge inventory on what were once school playgrounds, empty store and abandoned church parking lots, closed streets that aren’t needed anymore. We can’t let that happen to all the small timber towns inthe Northwest!

There are scholarships, government and private grants, low interest loans and other economic aids available if you look. May not be there long if there’s no short term recovery. But they’re out there now. Nursing, computer repair, software design, auto repair, merchandising, physical therapy, law enforcement, barbering and cosmetology. And more.

I strongly believe education … re-education … is the best tool we have to get millions working again. The reality is it’s not easy in mid-life to close the door on all you’ve ever known and begin all over. From scratch. It’s tough. It takes guts. It takes strength you may never have used. Or thought you had.

But it can be done. My wood-chopper nurse can vouch for that.

As one who tries to live by the rules, as the vast majority does, I’m frankly getting very tired of being penalized for the rule-breaking habits of the small minority. It’s crept into my life again.

This time, it was at the Roseburg DMV office as I renewed my aged driver’s license. Now, those of you staffing the office, relax. Please know my literary ire is not aimed at you. Matter of fact, in my occasional visits to Oregon’s far-flung DMV network, our local guys were more pleasant and helpful than many I’ve experienced. All of them.

No, the angst is brought on by our legislators using … dare I say it … “a nuclear weapon on an ant” in their desire to keep licenses out of the hands of illegals. There are far, far more legal residents than illegals on our highways. Yet we law-abiders must produce original or original certified birth certificates, proof of legal name, social security cards, proof of physical residence (utility bills, etc.) before they’ll do business with us. Oregonians get “nuked” while bad guys get a license in another state.

Same thing at your neighborhood airport. “Flyer’s shakedown” I call it. Luggage inspection, physical inspection, questions, forms, photos. And after every hurdle, some guy tries to light his underwear on fire. Nothing … nothing… in the inspection process is going to corral some nut wanting to bring down an airliner with his blazing jockey shorts. So what’s the validity of delays and frustrations piled on the rest of us?

This process of penalizing good people along with the bad starts before kindergarten when we’re told “everybody will be punished if someone doesn’t confess.” We grow up with the idea that, while being good and honest citizens, we rule-following majorities will be held hostage to the far fewer miscreants. Oregon’s legislators have made it so with driver’s licenses. Congress did the same with air travel.

Dealing with airline safety is a subject for another time and more space. But help for the overwhelming majority of Oregonians, and Americans in general, is easier to find.

We’re dealing with federal government failure to secure our borders. That failure has resulted in significant consequences for the law-abiding. We’re secretly photographed, subject to surveillance almost anyplace, fingerprinted, quizzed, bugged, intercepted and suffer loss of privacy because politicians won’t address the root problem: employers … read large campaign cash contributors … hiring illegals: no questions asked.

In Seattle last summer, we saw groups of undocumented workers standing at several places in the suburbs. Day-laborers … illegals … waiting for contractors to pick them up to do jobs that would result in cash at the end of the day. That scene is repeated in major cities daily. You stop hiring and you’re a long way toward ending illegal immigration.

Ranchers and farmers knowingly hire illegals by the day, week or season. “No one else will do the work,” they say. Road apples! Illegals are paid cash; the employer can avoid taxes, worker’s comp and cut costs.

You keep setting pots of honey out on your patio, you’ll draw those who want honey. Simple as that. End employment of non-documented and we end the majority of our immigration problem. Not all of it. But a good chunk. Tomatoes may cost three bucks apiece but that’s the price of secure borders.

Still, ranchers, farmers, growers of all stripes, contractors and a lot of major companies keep hiring. And keep political contributions flowing.

I’m often told “government can’t solve most of our problems.” ‘ Tis true. So here’s a big one we can do ourselves. But we won’t because of the cheap labor and a willing illegal work force. In this country, even in the problem-solving department, the majority is held hostage by a minority.

And that adds to my frustration. It’s a no-brainer to throw rocks at government bodies. Many times, the lumps are well-earned. But here’s a rare situation of a solution to a national problem when we don’t need the public troughers. It’s a problem we can solve. Privately. Only we won’t. It will continue so long as the private-employer-few continues to hold the many hostage.

Our health care bills are higher because of the problem. Our porous national security costs more. Our justice and prison systems are fuller and more expensive. Our drug problems are massive. Taxes are higher.

But there’s a bright side. Our tomatoes are cheaper.