Archive for October, 2010

Influences affecting your outlook on life can come from nearly anyplace or anyone if you keep your ear tuned. Several of mine come from that great philosopher Popeye. You know, the sailor guy. “I yam what I yam” is pretty deep stuff if you think about it.

Another of his gems of wisdom currently describes my thinking about our nation’s political struggles. “That’s all I can stands. I can stands no more.” From our little Main Street and from “sea to shining sea,” the irrational, the outrageous, the stupid and the ignorant “discourse” has risen in my ears to the limits expressed by that famous sage. “I can stands no more!”

I was reading an article entitled “Eight dumb things Americans believe.” Things like President Obama wasn’t born in this country, he’s really a Muslim, the Bush administration tried to cover up 9/11, etc. Recent polling shows an alarming number of people really believe some dumb stuff.

It’s only a short step from that mental vagrancy to another in my mind: some of the ridiculous rhetoric polluting our political discourse about things that ain’t gonna happen in our lifetimes. Period.

Things like abolishing the 14th and 17th amendments to our Constitution; the ones making babies born here American citizens and direct election of the U.S. Senate by the people. Ain’t gonna happen.

Candidate promises to round up all 700 million illegal aliens in this country and ship ‘em back to Mexico. As if there aren’t illegal Canadians, Germans, French and Botswana folk. Millions of ‘em. How would you do it? What would it cost? Ain’t gonna happen.

Unqualified office seekers promising to abolish the federal Department of Education, get us out of the United Nations, return our economic base to the gold standard, allow us to pay our taxes with gold and silver bars, cut Medicaid and abolish Medicare. All together now: “Ain’t gonna happen.”

The most outrageous but seriously promised by some is to reduce or end Social Security or, at the very least, privatize it and invest in the stock markets. The average mind boggles to think any candidate who seriously runs on that idea owns a car and is driving on our highways.

In my extended years, we’ve had wars, economic up and down times, national struggles about this-that-and-the-other, high crime problems, protests about dozens of issues and all sorts of upheavals. But no other economic calamity has damaged the lives of so many Americans since the Great Depression as all of us are experiencing right now. No period in our last 70 years has so demanded competent leadership and experienced decision-making for each of us.

So what are we getting? What are we hearing? We’re getting far too many candidates running on empty, worthless and idiotic platforms that, if elected, would add to our national damages. We’re hearing ignorance about how our government operates under our laws and the founding documents. We’re being promised dumb things that ain’t gonna happen.

I’m a registered Independent. I’m one of those “swing voters” you hear so much about. I’m in that majority of voters that cling to no party and, most of the time, I sum up my distrust of both with the time-honored phrase “a pox on both their houses.” There is some good in each; there is some bad. But there is not enough value in either to attract my membership.

If national Democrats continue to be gutless and incapable of the leadership they were accorded at the polls in 2008, they don’t deserve a renewed contract. If Republicans are going to stand by while a confused, angry and scared minority runs their party off a cliff, they don’t deserve the “keys to the kingdom,” either.

If I needed an operation to save my life, I wouldn’t hand the scalpel to a guy off the street, without a day’s experience in the operating room, who believes surgery is akin to witchcraft. If I were to charter an airplane, I wouldn’t ask a bus driver to “give it a try.”

So, in this time of great national requirement to have experienced, intelligent, well-grounded people making crucial decisions that will affect each of us for generations, why should we give that great responsibility to anyone who espouses or advocates any of the above? Why would any of us pollute the national dialogue and waste valuable time by electing anyone who thinks these are the solutions to our seemingly intractable issues?

In our house, it ain’t gonna happen! How about yours?

I’ve followed politics for about 50 years. I’ve been outside, inside, on top of and beneath the business of elections and the governmental system under which we live in many roles. I like to think I have at least a layman’s grasp of the concept.

But one facet of the business I’ve never been able to understand: endorsements. Now, anecdotally, maybe there is some value in a particular local election where people know each other. I’ll give you that. But, as a general concept, I find no use in them.

If someone has so little understanding of the person or issue they are about to vote on that they have to see what a celebrity or politician endorses before making up their mind, I’d hate to think that person also has a driver’s license. As I’ve cast many a ballot, I’ve never stopped to wonder “Who else said they liked this guy?” “Who said I should vote for him?” “How does George Clooney feel about this?” Never once.

We’ve got a congressional candidate in these parts who’s been endorsed by a couple of former astronauts who were dragged around the district for anyone old enough to remember their exploits to “ooh” and “ah” over. Some did. Far more didn’t. For my part, if George Washington appeared on one side of this guy, and Abraham Lincoln on the other, telling me this was “their fella,” he still couldn’t get my vote.

I want to be very clear here. If a president goes to candidate rallies as he’s trying to get out the vote and supporting his party, that’s one thing. Same if a governor tours the state beating the drums for his/her party to get voters to the rolls on election day and slaps his party’s candidate on the back. That I understand.

But to lay his/her hand on someone’s shoulder and say “I like this guy … ol’ what’s his name … and he has my full endorsement.” Well, that’s something else. In one ear and out the other.

I innocently got caught up in one of these endorsement deals once. A candidate had been approved by the local chamber of commerce political action committee. He wasn’t my guy. But candidates endorsed by chambers of commerce seldom are. In this case, the candidate used the committee endorsement to run a full page ad in the newspaper touting his “achievement.” But, rather than say the endorsement came from a committee of a dozen members, he listed every member of the chamber by name. All 600 or so. Mine, too. I’ll bet he lost some votes on that one. I’ve always hoped so.

Good folk that we are, we like to think people go to the polls knowing the candidates and issues because they’ve done their personal research and know the facts. We’d like to think that. But, too often, that ain’t the way it is. Too many folks mark the ballot either for reasons that have nothing to do with good government, or in ignorance, while telling themselves they’re “good citizens” because they voted.

Democracy is not a foolproof deal. In many cases we’ve survived this or that catastrophe in spite of ourselves and not through informed choices. Dumb luck.

Ironically, while we currently have the best tools in history to make ourselves better informed, we’ve created so much information we sometimes can’t find that we need. We’ve also put minutiae on the same level as more important, life-changing events in the guise of “news.” So someone who knows Lindsey Lohan’s latest adventure with the law can feel he/she is up on “current events.” While the really important information of the day simply slides by.

Maybe it’s for these … the unknowing … that endorsements still have some value. Maybe there are enough folks who can be swayed by the attachment of some celebrities fame … local or otherwise … to a candidate to win the election. Maybe name dropping is the key to success.

Damn! I hope not.

You can tell when elections are close at hand. Candidates become more frantic, more potshots are taken at opponents, more promises of what they’ll do for us are made and some pretty outrageous things are often said. And done.

And have you noticed the especially aggravating ones with nothing to say about their ideas or goals but only nasty things about the “other guy”? How could you not?

This comes to mind many evenings as I wind a clock on our fireplace mantle. It’s “the” family heirloom…a Seth Thomas built in Plymouth Hollow, Connecticut, about 1826. It’s been in our family since 1845, bought at a Tennessee auction for $3.00 by a great-great granddad.

The clock’s in remarkable shape, keeping excellent time. It’s in such good condition you can still read the written guarantee on the inside. “Warranted good.” That’s it. “Warranted good.” Nothing more. And it’s 184 years old! Talk about “GOOD”!

As I wind it each evening, I often think about all that promising or warranting. That’s all a warranty is, after all: a promise. A promise to perform; a promise to do. It used to mean a “promise to keep.”

When’s the last time a vote seeker gave you a warranty … or a promise … on something and not only kept it but outdid it? A very, very few might. But for many … way too many … it’s often just huckstering.

Now, think about a lot of the louder voices courting your vote every election. In that group I always find an especially onerous subspecies: the ones not proposing ways of tackling and solving problems or even proposing rational if difficult solutions. No, they’re the ones that either demonize opponents or pledge to do some impossible thing.

You know the ones. “Elect me and I’ll reduce government” or “ I’ll cut taxes” or “I’ll get government out of your life.” You’ve heard ‘em. We’ve all heard ‘em.

Think about it: has government been reduced lately; have taxes been cut in any meaningful way; is government less a factor in your life today; will it ever be?

Have these folks that blamed the other guy or the other party or some other level of government come through on their own warranties or, like so many things we buy today, did we put them to work only to find the warranties weren’t worth the greenbacks they were written on?

The answers for me are “no”, “no”, “no”, “no”, no” and too often “yes.”

They’re back out there now. It’s election time again. Promises (“warranties”) are being made. “The health care law is good and I’ll keep it.” “It’s bad and I’ll repeal it.” “I’ll tax the rich and help the poor.” “I’ll tax the poor and help the rich.” “I’ll keep taxes where they are but cut spending.” “I’ll create jobs.” “I’ll create better jobs.” “I’ll tax those rotten banks/off-shore businesses/baseball teams/the NFL.” “We need to protect poor, unselfish, charitable oil companies and go after speculators.” And on and on and on. And on.

Given the economic mess we’re in, and the huge bill we’ll pay to dig ourselves out, about all we can expect from the next team of players is to get us back on solid ground, patch the economic and regulatory holes in our bucket and limit damage to a minimum. Anyone promising more, in my view, has no chance of delivering. And, deep down, knows it!

So, I’ve developed a tin ear for promising. I’m not listening to them anymore!. No, this time around I’m looking for only one name on my ballot. A name with a warranty I’ve come to trust. Seth Thomas.

NOTE: I’ve never re-run a column before. But, in view of our current electoral struggles, the message in this one, from two years ago, bears repeating.

There’s an ad theme running in nearly all media each election year that’s infuriating and absurd. We’re hearing it now even though it’s pure political doublespeak and, on examination, absolutely idiotic. But we get it each election; local, state or national. This time, coupled with understandable, but dangerous short-term voter anger, it may trade personal satisfaction for long-term national disaster.

The baseless claim goes 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, one of our members of congress, county commissioner, mayor, city council and other political office chasers.

The subliminal message you’re supposed to hear is “politics is bad, those who practice it are bad people and government is ineffective and a burden to you because of too many 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 a pilot 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 every other area of our lives, we seek out the most competent, most experienced people in whom to entrust our lives and safety.

But these 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. Give me the controls and you relax.” Yeah. And look at the mess we’re in. I submit the largest single problem with politics in our state and nation today is we’ve 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, McCall 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 putting the levers of government at all levels in the hands of too many ideologue-driven 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 a lot of political vagrants who’ve practiced self-interest and phony single-issue morality in an arena not intended for such.

Apply this to a political issue of great Northwest importance. There are 18 counties in Oregon desperate for continued extension of federal O&C funding for schools, law enforcement and jobs. Who stands the best chance of success on this crucial issue: a 12 term member of the majority or a freshman member of either party who advocates getting rid of federal dealings in Oregon? Be clear: I’m not advocating anyone’s candidacy. But, in Western Oregon, this is a life-and-death situation that makes the point. How many jobs, families and whole communities are directly affected by just this one terribly important issue? And there are many others.

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

If we are to exorcize this rancor and division that’s 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: people who can compromise. We’ve already got some. But we need more!

We are desperately in need of professional politicians who can separate the true mission of government from bigotry, impossible fringe thinking, self-service and single issue divisiveness that have become too common. We need people wise enough to identify areas lawfully within the role of government and who are mentally equipped to execute those duties.

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

As a writer, I’m acutely aware of the dangers of plagiarism. It’s a trap set constantly for an inventive mind that thinks, in a moment of absentia, you’ve come up with a brilliant original thought. Then someone does a little research and points out you’ve simply passed along someone else’s “original thought.”

So it is with some sadness I admit I am about to write words that are not mine though I wish professionally that they were. They come from an anonymous reader of a colleague’s work on this Ridenbaugh Press. To wit:

“A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the ‘60’s, selfish like the ‘80’s, contradicting neither. It is estranged, aimless and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets. Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob. They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers.” Boy, I wish the respondent had signed a name to that ‘cause I’d really like to congratulate him/her.

In my own feeble way, I’ve been trying to say the same thing for the last year or so. The often profane, often racist-tinged, staged abuse of public assembly we’ve seen so often on television could not be more perfectly encapsulated. And the longer it goes, the more frantic, confused and contradictory it becomes.

Several things have captured my attention about these highly arranged, “spontaneous” side shows and the often innocent people who’ve been sucked into them. One is the total contradiction of getting government out of our lives. Aside from impossible, these same people want to abolish the 17th amendment to the Constitution. Won’t happen. But if it did, that would mean state legislators would elect U.S. senators rather than the people. How would that get “government out of our lives” and why would we give up our power?

Another is abolishing the 14th amendment so children born here of illegal immigrants would not be American citizens. Why would this nation, built by immigrants … some legal, some not … turn its back on one of the basic tenets that made us great? Again, won’t happen. But if we did, can you imagine the can of worms that would open? We’d need an entire court system to deal with the vagaries of immigrant births. Less government?

These two points alone make a mockery of much of the loud noise. Demonstrators take their little vest pocket constitutions into the streets, saying this nation needs to “return” to living by the document as if we’d allowed it to lapse somewhere. Then, simultaneously, they say “But of course, WE want to change the parts WE don’t like.” Often, they can’t recognize other parts when asked to idenfity them.

The longer these spectacles go, several things are certain. The national media will tire of covering them and find something else to quench ab appetite for sensation. People who’ve innocently believed what the moneyed backers have wanted them to believe are finding someone else’s agenda is being served. As more far right “think tanks” and obscenely rich individuals are identified, many participants are discovering their support is being used for purposes they don’t necessarily believe in.

Big money is at play here. Very big. Professional opportunists, some fresh from other far right failures, have attached themselves to this latest one. They smell money coming from people who want big returns on their investments: more direct access to power; less citizen input; fewer controls on activities that make them rich.

The street theater will disappear with colder weather. Most of its original candidates lost primaries and others will lose next month. Not all. But some. In a couple of years, when they can’t produce on their radical ideas, their non-compromising supporters will think of them as just so many failed incumbents. Since being called upon to be catalysts of this new “movement,” many are finding out there’s no there … there.

We Americans tolerate extremes but live in the middle. When we find these “movements” offer less than we already have, don’t really change things for the better or that they are being promoted by folks with self-serving agendas, we soon turn away. And they die.

The anonymous spokesperson was right. I just wish I’d said it first.

It’s no breaking news to say there’ll be a high tide washing over the American political terrain next month. As David Gergen put it “We’ll have to wait until November 3rd to see what sort of flotsam and jetsam was left on the shore.” Looks like there will be plenty of both.

But what then? What happens after the F&S are sworn into office in January, ‘11? Where do they … and we … go from there?

While I give the Tea Party and the billionaires behind it credit for stirring up a lot of innocent and gullible people by telling them how mad they must be and offering a vehicle through which to express their anger, where does it go from there?

Let’s look at the agenda many of these folks ran on and solemnly promised. Repeal of a couple of constitutional amendments dealing with automatic citizenship of foreign national babies born here and direct election of U.S. Senators by the public. Those won’t happen.

Repeal of the income tax to be replaced by a flat tax of some 23% as a national sales tax. Closing the Department of Education, getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and OSHA. Not going to happen.

Repeal of our recently enacted health care law or, in the alternative, killing it by not funding it. Polls say no way. Drastically change Social Security and Medicare so they don’t cover as many people, upping the qualifying age and limiting benefits. Or killing the programs outright. Really? Close the VA medical system and give vets vouchers for private health care. Force victims of rape or incest to carry pregnancies to term and live with the results. You think?

These and other strange, totally politically impossible promises were made to appeal to as many fringe and undecided voters as possible. Throw in the otherwise normal folks who wasted their choices by voting “against” something instead of “for” something and you’ve got a sizeable and diverse group of future voters to keep happy.

If you agree the chances of getting all, most, or even some of these promises converted into law are not likely in the next two years, what of those home folks who believed the impossible dream and put these nuts into office? If the nuts don’t deliver on even some of their promises, much less all of them, who’s going to save their butts two years hence? When they go back to the voters. When they’re incumbents. When they’re the insiders. You know. “Fool me once?”

In the last few years, a number of very respectable and mostly intelligent members of congress have quit in frustration when they found they couldn’t bring about changes they wanted in government. They couldn’t get hearings on good legislation. They got sick of gridlock and animosity among their peers. They found intransigence when trying to move major bureaucrats who’ve been running the system for years and have absolute control of their fiefdoms. The kingdoms we call departments of government.

Good people, backing good ideas with good legislation, threw in the towel after a couple of terms because they were professionally stymied by a system that resists change, run by people who had greater political clout than senators or representatives. Partisanship created not only by splits between the major parties but also subgroups of diehards and ideologues within each party who wouldn’t compromise on the time of day. No compromise. No progress.

TV’s talking heads are telling us change is afoot. We’re hearing a lot of dire predictions about what will happen when some of these amateurs get into the system and start messing with the levers they aren’t equipped to handle. Maybe. But I think not.

I think we’ll hear a lot of loud voices, witness embarrassing ignorance in some instances, see some ridiculous investigative hearings conducted by witch hunters with extremely narrow personal agendas, threats to some of our world alliances and, in two years, find little accomplished to deal with the real problems you and I are living with.

That last part is what worries me most. The limited damage these people will do can be repaired in most cases. Meantime, the economic mess crippling this nation won’t likely be addressed in any meaningful way. The real needs on Main Street will fade into a background overshadowed by conspiracy chasing and wild goose hunting. There’ll be even more influence exerted by those who put up the billions to offer false hope while scaring a lot of folks. Millions of Americans suffering home and/or job loss through no fault of their own will not find the relief government could sponsor. Gridlock will likely increase.

If the path that seems to lie ahead turns out to be as troubled as it appears it will, we’ll be living in a democracy foreign to me. And a form we really don’t deserve. But maybe not for long.

We stand at the edge and it scares me

Author: Barrett Rainey

Looking back over recent political columns I’ve written, the word “ignorant” pops out a lot. I’ve been using it more lately.

Surveying our recent and current political landscape, listening to candidates, watching the foreign-backed attack ads and sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of certain candidacies, the word keeps coming to mind. Over and over and over.

Now, when one uses the word “ignorant” referring to someone or their mental makeup, it can seem the writer … in this case me … is making some sort of judgment; putting himself … me … in a higher or more informed classification and, thus, indicating that he … me … is smarter. I mean no such thing.

Repetition of a word is a writer’s trap we’re aware of most of the time and try to avoid. So, we scan the text, attempting to come up with other words that may be more apt; more descriptive.

Scanning my recent commentaries on national … and for some of us local … political candidates, use of the word “ignorant” comfortably applies to some of them but was, indeed, overused. I should’ve substituted “uninformed,” “deliberately uninformed,” “unqualified,” “phony,” “liar” and, in a few cases, “dangerous.”

In nearly 50 years of reporting and following our country’s political adventures, I have never seen so many people unfit for public office vying at such lofty levels. Nor have I seen our political system as fractured from top to bottom as it is now.

Normally, when we have contested races, the winner is usually the one whose thinking and declared positions most closely match the majority of the electorate. Sometimes my guy; sometimes yours. Somehow, no matter the struggle, we find areas of agreement and support someone with our vote.

In far too many races, not this time. I fear many electors are so mad at something, and so scared about something else, they’ll vote against someone and not for anyone.

Where I live … Oregon’s 4th Congressional District … is a good case on point. A 12 term middle-of-the-road incumbent faces a guy whose self-described outlook on life is badly uninformed, ignorant (there’s that word again) about many issues, who is unwilling to compromise on anything, wants to close all public schools and who has made a pile of money sending racist home-school texts to people around the world.

He is the poster child of an unsuitable candidate for the United States Congress. The antithesis of a reasonable person. Yet friends whom I respect, people who have been successful in business and other facets of life, people who love this country and some who have served in it’s military … these same people are running around town with this nut’s campaign signs and vowing to vote for him.

I can’t believe these competent, thoughtful and otherwise normal people really support this nutcase; a guy who would go to Washington, D.C., disappear into a fog of political goofiness and be totally incapable of effectively representing this district and its very serious needs. But they swear they will.

That’s one totally unsuitable candidate. There are others; many others. Fear, anger, economic uncertainty, a willingness to get rid of anything that smacks of Washington, D.C., billionaire’s with millions to burn and an unlimited amount of anonymous dollars pouring into campaigns regardless of the suitability of the candidate. We’re inundated with hypocritical advertising enriching the advertisers but not the electorate. We know the dirty linen of office seekers but not the content of their thinking to serve in public office. All these and more are tearing the two-party system to shreds.

I have fears, too. I fear this “anybody-but-him” mentality will result in long-term harm to our political system. I fear the needs of local constituencies will go unanswered as unsuitable and uncompromising office holders spend their time in black and white inconsequential efforts trying to take us all back to 1952. I fear for our place in a world more linked than ever in our history but, because of these ideologues, unable to participate because of their unwillingness. I fear ignorance replacing statesmanship.

That word again. Well, sometimes it’s the only one that works.

While I may periodically disagree with my fellow journalists locally and nationally, I seldom decide one of them needs a swift kick in the butt, then offer my strong right leg for the job. Today is one of those rare occasions. My leg is in the cocked position.

There is an article in the current Newsweek entitled “The Nazi Sympathizer Who Isn’t.” Not knowing who he/she wrote this pathetic drivel, my gut tells me he/she is less than 60 years of age and likely a gentile. Anyone older than 60 and/or with Jewish lineage would never have written it.

The story involves Ohio GOP congressional candidate Rich Iott and pictures of him posing in a Nazi military uniform. Seems he’s been dressing up that way for years and getting together with buddies for faux military re-enactments in the Ohio countryside. His son, too. He calls it “a family bonding” experience and has denied being a Nazi sympathizer. His son got smart and quit.

Iott has been blasted by most major political party organizations and roundly criticized for his “hobby” in most circles. A few GOP voices have been heard but the party organization has said nothing officially.

The Newsweek author’ opines, since Iott has denied harboring Nazi views, defended his actions as being educational and says his interests are simply in the” impressive military achievements of the German military,” we should put things in proper context and go on about life.

Like Hell I will! Nor should anyone else.

When you talk of Nazi “military achievements” you are talking of the murder of more than 6,000,000 people. You are talking butchery and blind annihilation of sizeable portions of the citizenry of several European countries. You are talking about massive crimes against humanity on a scale never seen before or since.

For a candidate for national office to try to slough off his “hobby” as some sort of admiration for what a “small country can do against much larger military forces” is not laughable. It’s stupidity, ignorance and mindless in major doses.

This guy has no place in American political life. As for the writer of a national piece trying to justify the actions of this idiot, I suggest a visit to the nearest Synagogue and a few evenings with the Rabbi.

Unfortunately, Iott is not the only political aberration in a national election year full of ‘em. In my little corner of Oregon, we have a nut making a living mailing out thousands of racist “text books” in the name of “proper” home schooling and spouting off-the-wall theories he passes off as “good science.” A Senator wannabe kook in Nevada thinks we can always resort to using guns against the government if we don’t like what’s going on. “Glad we have the Second Amendment,” she proclaims.

Half a dozen federal candidates want government out of our lives but insist that a woman impregnated by a rapist or male in her family carry the product of that rape or incest to term and live with it. They want government to insure she does. A double dose of idiocy, contradiction and more ignorance.

We’ve got a woman who wants to be a U.S. Senator repeatedly denying she’s a witch (as all of us have to do) and lying about her education. She’s not “for” anything. Another believes restaurant and other business owners should be able to deny service to blacks, Asians, Muslims or anyone else they don’t like. Another in Connecticut has repeatedly claimed phony military service in Viet Nam. “Misstated” he says now. Misstated how many times? Yeah. Sure.

We have an unusual number of disgusting racists, bigots, cheats, liars and Nazi sympathizers to chose from this year. We have hundreds of candidates who’ve never held office of any kind wanting to be senators, congressmen and governors at a time when we need experience, honesty, ability to compromise and real people skills just to get this country back on track.

My fear is there will be more votes cast this year “against” something than “for” anything. Baby, bath water and even the tub thrown out in the name of anger at situations beyond anyone’s control.

To the young whitewasher at Newsweek: after your quick course in the real Nazi “military achievements” take a look at 1930’s German history and the kind of national mindlessness that made the butchery possible. All it took was authority in the wrong hands given by a fearful public in national economic shambles.

If the comparison escapes you, give me a call.

If you crawl up the mountain of bad economic news from border to border and peer carefully over the top, what you’ll see in the next valley are tax increases. Lots of ‘em. Local, state, federal and everyplace where public debt is piling up. Higher taxes are coming, election year pledges from your friendly neighborhood politician not to let that happen notwithstanding. It’s gonna happen.

We’ve seen the sneakiest of these begin to worm their ways into our family budgets. Fees they’re called. Want your kids to play football, play in the band or participate in many organized public school activities? Dig deeper for larger “fees.” College costs up this year. New or higher fees? Been to a National Park lately? New charges on your credit card bills? How about the monthly utility statement? A dollar here; a few pennies there?

“Oh,” we’re told, “fees and taxes are very different.” And, in fact, they are. There are distinct legal definitions. “Fee increases are just caused by the higher cost of doing business,” we’re told. And they usually are.

But when you’re paying the monthly bills, and you’re got bills left after the money runs out, legal definition be damned. Fees and taxes hit us payees just the same.

I’m certainly not condemning anyone’s city council, county commissions or even the fine folk in the legislature. None of them want to add to the financial burdens we’re already carrying. But they will. They’ve kept their fingers in the holes in the budgetary dikes as long as they can. They’ve trimmed and cut with honest intent. But when local communities in this country begin ripping out paved streets because they can’t afford to maintain ‘em, government backs are securely against the budgetary wall and taxes will go up. When you selectively turn off street lights to lower the municipal electric bill, what’s next? Taxes will go up.

Now about here some will think I’ve gone ‘round a mental curve and fallen off the track. But I’m serious. Very.

Does Oregon … or any other state … need all the counties it currently has? I’ve long wondered why we don’t make changes in our laws so counties like Moro or Harney – with hundreds of thousands of square miles and so few people – don’t have to support, with a much smaller tax base, all the same government offices as Multnomah which is basically Portland. Can’t we have multiple county prosecutors? Clerks? Assessors? How about merging some counties?

Does Douglas County … or any other … need all the school districts it has? Is it time to get over long-passed high school sports rivalries and talk about consolidation of some of these things? Do we have to have 10-15 school superintendents in a county and all the support staff and duplicate overhead? Can’t we have just one with local deputies or even a principal or two with additional administrative duties in the smaller places like Glide or Brookings or Gold Hill? Now if you live in one of those little districts and don’t want to change, fine with me. But how much more tax load do you want to carry for the sake of local ego?

How about courts? Aren’t there ways to streamline or combine some of them? Road districts. Same thing. Why do some cities have their own vehicle repair shops just down the road from the county shops? Why can’t city and county parks departments be run out of the same office? If we can combine planning staffs and their duties, what makes the rest so different?

Now all of that may seem like fanciful thinking. But I call it “economical” thinking and “realistic” thinking when government entities are being pressed as hard as they are now. ‘Cause that means we taxpayers are going to get pressed. Much harder. I realize some of these ideas would even necessitate a change in the state constitution or a few laws. So what?

These thoughts will probably generate feedback saying “Oh, we can’t do this or that because of this or that.” Such thinking about change always does. But how long do we keep doing what we’ve been doing and expect different … and less costly … results?

I don’t mind paying my fair share. But doing so gives me the absolute right to raise questions and demand some 21st century thinking. We’re still largely running the administration of Oregon and its subdistricts as it was organized 150 years ago.

NOTE: Hybrids have replaced buggy whips and Twitter and Facebook have replaced the quill pen.

The story of a Tennessee fire department’s crews sitting in their trucks watching a family’s house burn to the ground haunts me. Something like that isn’t supposed to happen in America. Not the America where I live.

But it did. Whether it will happen again depends on how fast the city political folks realize what a truly dumb idea they had in charging an “optional” annual fee for county fire protection and change the situation. Make that DUMB in capital letters!

I don’t like “ala carte” government, picking what government services you want from a list and paying for only those. It doesn’t work. But there are people out there right now, running for public offices across our land, advocating this truly stupid concept.

It can work on rare occasion. At our Southern Oregon house, we subscribe to ground and airambulance services for about $50 a year. We’re somewhat isolated and, at our ages, may have need of specialized care available only in major population centers. Cost of an ambulance ride across town can be $1,000 or more. If flying is involved, a $10,000 bill is not unexpected. Ambulance services will accept whatever our insurance carrier will pay if we keep the annual fee current. We don’t have to pay it but we choose to. It’s more of an investment hedge against a possible huge bill. We still have ambulance service either way. It’s just a matter of who pays for it.

But our fire department expectations are fulfilled with payment of our local taxes. In some cases, we’ve paid slightly more taxes for fire protection because of an override to cover a department’s higher costs: new equipment, new firehouse or some such. But we can’t opt in or out of coverage no matter the cost. No one should be able to.

The Tennessee family paid property taxes. What wasn’t paid was an additional $75 “fee” to cover some of the city fire department’s cost of service in the county. Whether that fee should have been paid … which in this case it wasn’t for whatever reason … is not the issue.

What is the issue is the concept of paying for protection in your taxes, then being asked to pay more as a “fire fee.” Some will pay. Some won’t, thinking “They’d never just sit there and let my house burn.” Oh, yes they will. And they did.

There are issues when fire equipment in one jurisdiction is called to another as happened here; insurance, liability, etc. Most of the time that situation is handled through joint service agreements among fire districts. In this case, since the optional $75 wasn’t paid for the cross-jurisdictional coverage, fire crews sat and watched the destruction.

Government has a cost. When it comes to issues of public safety, payment of those costs is usually by property or similar taxes. If costs go up, the prudent course is to raise taxes, seek passage of a bond issue or a specific tax override to pay the bill. If the public refuses, costs are cut, usually through reduced services. That wasn’t the case in Tennessee.

Conduct of public safety is the responsibility of professionals. Paying for public safety is the responsibility of all residents living in the covered area. Insuring adequate public safety is delivered and paid for is the responsibility of those we elect to public office. In this case, the elected folk in the city passed the political buck, opting for a voluntary “fee”

If it were my life’s remnants in those ashes, I’d be looking up the definition of “malfeasance” in my friendly dictionary. If those same electied idiots still refuse to change the situation fast, I’d start looking up some legal definitions for the word “criminal” as well.