Archive for January, 2011

Damn the advice! Full speed ahead!

Author: Barrett Rainey

I have good teeth for a guy my age. Thanks largely to a very good dentist whose advice I try to follow. My eyes are in similarly fine condition because I listen to my optometrist. We enjoy a pleasant relationship with the I.R.S. because heeding our accountant has been a priority. And the family legal affairs are quite tidy because we follow the attentive instructions of our attorney.

That’s what educated, trained specialists do in our lives. They use their education and that training to help us deal with the needs we all have to avoid problems … be they health, fiscal or legal issues. And if we’re smart, we’ll heed the advice. And act on it.

So why in Hell does the Idaho Legislature continue to ignore both legal advice and common sense when it comes to staying out of court and wasting millions of dollars?

It’s not a new phenomenon. For years, following legal admonitions from the Idaho attorney general … of either party … and other sources that they are about to run into a legal wall resulting in fiscal pain and expensive court battles, the elected crowd in the Statehouse has dropped the legal advice in the round file and marched right into the nearest legally immovable object: either state or federal constitutions or directly afoul of black letter law. They do it again and again. And again.

Just in my limited memory, they’ve walked off several expensive legal cliffs. Some years back, they tried to collect state taxes from gasoline sales on Indian reservations. After failing subsequent court tests, the tribes themselves … mostly out of courtesy and to further good relations … agreed to compromise. But many, many tax dollars went into lawyer retirement plans in a losing effort.

Then there was the legislature’s attempt to control gambling on Indian reservations despite several clear U.S. Supreme Court decisions that this was another Idaho loser. In the end, again thanks to the tribes, an agreement was reached on certain limitations but no outright control. Ah, the lawyers made out like bandits.

There was that abortive legislative maneuver to levy certain taxes on long haul truckers using Idaho highways to get from one state to another. The attorney general warned them. But … more large legal fees in a losing battle. Also millions of dollars for refunds on trucker taxes already collected. Messy, that one. Expensive, too. Lawyers loved it.

A year ago, despite legal advice to the contrary, they jumped off the cliff again. Twice. First it was to put a state law on the books that basically said the new federal health care law didn’t apply to Idaho. They followed with another statute trying to exempt guns manufactured in the state from any federal oversight or control.

Neither law has been tested in court. They will be. When that happens, I know where my betting money will be. And taxpayers in the Gem State will make another large deposit into lawyer retirement accounts.

This year, despite a formal A.G. opinion that says their plan is not constitutional, they’re poised to put another state law on the books, saying Idaho can pick and choose which federal laws are acceptable. And which are not. Nullification. That one will cost millions of tax dollars in likely defeat. Lawyers are already lining up outside the Statehouse.

I’m all for independence. Who isn’t? But repeatedly trying to exert that independence, in the face of competent legal advice that you’re likely to lose, is not something most of us would do individually. So why do it collectively as a legislature? Why do it over and over? Why spend millions of tax dollars on legal fees in losing fights when schools and law enforcement and local governments are screaming for help?

This repeated behavior seems, in my humble opinion, to come awfully close to malfeasance on the part of legislators: “a wrongful act the actor had no right to do; improper professional conduct.”

A state attorney general is no more a member of the legislature than your personal attorney is a legal member of your family. But, as a highly qualified legal advisor, basic common sense dictates whatever advise is forthcoming should be carefully weighed by recipients in both instances. The evidence says many Idaho legislators don’t.

Legislative hubris is a bad thing. When it’s repeated again and again and again, with the same costly results, it can be a terribly expensive failing.

Unless they’re just into lawyer retirement accounts, Idaho taxpayers ought to be smarter voters.

While we’re not to the point … yet … of inmates being in charge of the institution, though numerous stories coming out of Congress and some state legislatures are indicating we’re close. Two subjects make my case: attempts at nullification and some screwball budget ideas.

Because of the way some lawmakers are trying to use the concept of nullification, it’s clear they don’t know much about it. Often cited as being in our Constitution … it’s not. While it seems correct to give Thomas Jefferson credit for the concept that states should be able to pick and chose which federal laws apply to them, it was only his opinion and not made part of any official document. By anybody.

But 10 states … Oregon, Idaho and Montana among them … are about to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money in court to try to get out from under the nation’s new health care law by nullification. Money badly needed by schools, law enforcement and local governments. When constitutional scholars are asked about chances for success of this governmental crap shoot with our bucks, the answer is all but unanimous: no way!

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled many times … often unanimously … against the concept of nullification. And in a landmark case in 1819 in Maryland, the Court flat out said states are subordinate to the federal government.

But some legislators are waving copies of a book entitled “Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century” written by Thomas Woods, Jr., a guy who used to promote southern secession. That’s it. That’s their “proof” of their drive for nullification. Sold a lot of books; made a lot of money; screwed up a lot of heads.

Idaho’s attorney general has already told his Republican brothers and sisters they’re wrong. But this is the same bunch that stands on an official state GOP platform of seizing federal lands, returning to the gold standard and requiring a loyalty oath of candidates before party endorsement. So his legal advice is being … well … ignored. Damned law schools.

Speaking of constitutions, ours requires the president come up with a budget for congress to make a mud pie out of. Pres. Obama is working on his. Axes at the ready, congress awaits delivery.

But two “Tea Partyists” have already written theirs as if the constitution had been changed overnight. It wasn’t.

Sen. Paul has authored one to cut $500 Billion in the current federal budget which has less than nine months to go! How would he do that? Eliminate all foreign aid. Abolish the Departments of Energy and Education forthwith, eliminate the Affordable Housing Program, Commission on the Arts, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the State Justice Institute.

Let’s get a reaction to that from a very conservative place … the Brookings Institution. Says economist Isabel Sawhill, an expert on fiscal issues: “Oh my God. That’s crazy. Really whacko.” A term economists seldom use.

Paul deals with the 20% of the budget called “discretionary.” The other 80% he leaves largely untouched. Whew!

Ah, but not the historically challenged Rep. Bachmann. Take $29 billion of the $31 billion budget of Dept. Of Education (which guts it) and cut $7.8 billion at the Dept. Of Justice (which guts it). Make farm subsidies farm “savings accounts” … whatever that means. Cap V.A. health spending regardless of her many previous “go-to-war” votes, privatize Transportation Safety Administration, FAA and Amtrak, repeal the new Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and lease out the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to all comers.

Federal budget cuts there must be. And there will be. But these and other wholesale budget-slashing floaters are all over Capitol Hill at the moment. Mostly from newcomers filled with themselves but who haven’t faced working on a federal budget. Ever.

Some of this fiscal insanity may actually get out of the House as legislation. It won’t get out of the Senate. But how much will we, who pay the bill for all this in our taxes, see wasted? My guess: hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain. At a time when pennies count, we’ll see dollars blown away rather than being used more effectively.

No, the craziest among them are not yet in charge. But they’re going to make it a lot more difficult for the saner, more responsible people who are there to get a very hard job done.

Just don’t give them the keys to anything.

Well, we’ve been outsmarted again

Author: Barrett Rainey

Sometimes this country … with all of its technology, superior weapons systems and good old American ingenuity … comes up looking damned foolish. Case in point.

Our friends at Boeing have taken nearly a billion dollars from we taxpayers thanks to the Bush and Obama administrations. All that money was wasted on a now-defunct high tech surveillance system that was going to end our problems along the border with Mexico. Thermal imaging, night spotting, automated warnings, yadda, yadda, yadda. “State-of-the-art” and then some!

So what’s the latest “technology” accomplishment of the drug smugglers in the area? A large rubber band and some 2-x4’s. A six foot slingshot! And it worked!

Now, double the size, put some mattresses on the American side and you’ve got the answer to how to get Mexican nationals across the border illegally. All the border patrol would have to look for would be the old mattresses. If they were left behind.

When the Hell are we ever going to learn?


EDITOR’S NOTE: Shortly after posting the above, a correspondent asked how many practice shots the Mexican nationals would get to see if they could hit the mattresses. I wouldn’t give ’em any. After all, we’re dealing with professionals. Tougher standards.

Sometimes in these later years of life, I’m brought up short by something that’s changed in my personal habits while I’ve paid little attention to it. Often, abruptness of the realization is prompted by something totally unrelated. It’s happened again.

I’m a child of the media. Started early and spent most of my years in one or the other of its various forms. Newspapers and radio. Later, television. Each with a different function. Each adding to my daily store of knowledge. Traditional.

Then, this week, a bit of news out of Sun Valley, Idaho, was the fuse to let me know something else had changed. And me along with it.

The Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, in the business of promoting the whole world famous resort area, intends spending $800,000 this year doing so. And, starting now, not one red cent on anything but … the Internet! No more travel magazines, TV ads, newspaper spreads in those large eastern markets. Further, while new to me in a marketing sense, it’s been done before. By the good folks at Vail, Colorado, for example, who earlier abandoned print and other outlets to go with … the Internet.

Sun Valley intends to market “snow porn” as Vail now does. That’s a marketing phrase I’ll bet you haven’t heard. Internet videos of really great snowboarders and skiers pounding their way off snow covered cliffs, pushing hip deep in powder or running large halfpipes. Pictures to get your ski pulse pounding and your wallet open.

The news really surprised me. The advertising portion of my media background taught me most successful campaigns were “targeted.” That meant finding out who your audience was, where they were and how they got their information. In most cases, that meant apportioning your resources to more than one form of media.

So, learning these two major international advertisers, among others, were ignoring that tradition and putting all their media eggs in one basket surprised me. Then that sudden aforementioned realization of change in my own life hit: my media information habits had been shifting all along and I was not really conscious of it. I, too, had begun getting nearly all of my daily information from … the Internet.

We live in a small Southwest Oregon town with a poorly crafted and badly outdated local newspaper. There’s no other delivered in a timely manner from outside the area to stay on top of local things. Radio news here, too, is incomplete, focusing on the “low hanging fruit” of daily police logs and is so poorly staffed there’s almost no enterprising or “beat” reporting. Reads the wire service, reads the newspaper and regurgitates. Local TV much the same. With pictures. Sometimes.

National television news is so loaded with celebrity-chasing and “infotainment” features … or reporters interviewing each other and the “experts” … that it’s often hard to find the “red meat” of good reporting on serious issues. News networks have cut staffs and bureaus and are repeating both newscasts and features ad nauseam.

So, I started looking to other places for a primary news source. But I hadn’t realized it as “life changing.” It was just another way to get information. Where the Oregonian or the Idaho Statesman or the Washington Post used to go with the morning coffee, now it’s the electronic Huffington Post or the New York Times or the Washington Post … on the ‘Net. All delivered in a timely manner and still staffed with top notch reporting of real news.

With a paucity of local news in a community of 20,000 or so, over a period of time, I had completely changed my news inputs from the old traditional to … the ‘Net.

I know it may not sound like much. But after a lifetime of learning to do things in certain ways, the sudden knowledge that you’ve morphed an important part of that life into a completely different form is personally surprising. Even the use of the word “morphed” in my senior lexicon. When did I start using that?

All traditional media is losing ground to the Internet. Advertising dollars and readership numbers are down … way down. That will continue. Media forms that don’t make the transition will disappear. Those that do will look … and sound … a lot different. That’s a high price to pay for progress. But that’s progress.

I’m going to follow the Sun Valley decision. It’s a sizeable gamble. It’s turning your back on traditional ways and jumping with both feet into the new.

I didn’t exactly jump. More like sorta pushed!

Day or two ago, Ridenbaugh Press Prop. Randy Stapilus wrote a piece about two congressional meetings held in his Northwest Oregon neighborhood: Sen. Ron Wyden in one and Sen. Jeff Merkley in the other.

He wrote of the crowd’s usual questions about Social Security, Medicare, our two wars, unemployment and the other normal issues politicians discuss at these sorts of gatherings.

Then he added this: it was mostly “a civil crowd … and questions were more friendly.” And “not a sign of the Tea Party or its sympathizers.” Without thinking, I sent him back a note saying the same sorts of quiet meetings had been held in Southwest Oregon earlier this month.

Then it hit me: why is it newsworthy to include comments about crowd civility and normalcy when talking about the usual constituent meetings of members of congress? Why did I feel it was necessary to take fingers to keyboard to support his comments? And since when is the expected norm of civilized behavior a deviation worth noting?

Much of the answer to those questions lies in that little sentence Randy included: “Not a sign of the Tea Party or its sympathizers.” Which brought about yet another query: Why?

For the record, I am not a Tea Party sympathizer nor admirer. While the concept of making your feelings known on issues political and to those in office is right, just and guaranteed, it comes with certain responsibilities. My belief is you do so (1) knowing enough about what you’re talking about to discuss facts without over-the-top speech or using threatening rhetoric coupled with right wing talking points and (2) with the understanding that your issue is no more important than the guy on your right or left who may disagree with you and (3) you conduct yourself peacefully, courteously and civilly.

But in the last two years, loud disruptions of meetings with elected officials have too often become shouting contests dominated by some with little or no knowledge of how government works. So many of these sessions have featured people at their worst, coupled with personal threats against the elected, that reporters now find it newsworthy when such is not the case.

To me, the words “tea party” have become more a catch phrase than being used to describe a valid citizen movement. Your neighbors who are “members” of such groups will be the first to tell you there is no “party;” just people sympathetic to certain hot button issues.

In my view, whatever real “Tea Party” there may be can be defined by two basic points. First, control by very wealthy people behind the scenes putting multiple millions of dollars into efforts to rewrite our constitution, put power in the hands of a few and to exercise control of conditions under which this country is governed.

And two, the “Tea Party” is being offered by them as a seemingly innocent gathering point for Americans who are scared, willing to follow something new, people who often lack an understanding of what government is – and isn’t – and to some who oppose any types of controls on society though they may be necessary to assure the common good.

In a recent speech to a Tea Party Group, Rep. Michelle Bachmann praised the founding fathers for “condemning slavery” and ”working tirelessly to abolish it.” People applauded and cheered. She got repeated national media coverage. Facts that slavery was guaranteed in the original constitution and about half the signers were slave owners were ignored. Her words were taken as gospel in support of whatever point she was trying to make. Phony history was being espoused by a member of Congress, unchallenged and on national television.

Taken as a single instance, just words from an ignorant person. The problem is she … and others in congressional and Tea Party leadership … are looked upon by followers as experts. Their utterings are accorded belief and trust. They pass along this bad information to friends and actual history sinks further into a morass of lies. Makes no difference if she says these things deliberately or because she’s ignorant. Some people … too many people … listen and believe.

Massive amounts of cold water are about to hit those supporting this hollow movement. Many of those they’ve sent to Washington to change things will prove no more worthy of their continued backing than those they chased out. Former marchers in the streets … no matter how honestly motivated … are going to find little to cheer about as Potomac fever claims more victims and self-service keeps their “candidates” from bringing about the “revolution” they desired.

Those aren’t the people who worry me. It’s the others with the money who know better. If the control and power they seek still eludes them, what will they do next? How high will they turn the rhetoric? To what ends will those with the deep pockets go to redesign our democracy?

Two Oregon congressional constituent meetings “highlighted” by civility and proper decorum seem relatively far away from all that. But for how long?

“Don’t tax you and don’t tax me;
tax the guy behind the tree.

That badly worn piece of doggerel is heard around the halls of all state legislatures more often than the pledge of allegiance. Old and tattered as they may be, the words are an oft-repeated mantra the states – and nation – have followed far too long.

I’ve used this space to sound alarms as loudly as I can that this country is teetering on the edge of national bankruptcy and we need immediate action. The same can be said of all 50 states to one degree or another. If you think I’m an alarmist, read on.

First, the issue: how bad? CNNMoney.Com financial writer Jeanne Sahadi makes a dramatic point: at the moment, 76-cents of every tax dollar goes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest on our $14 trillion debt. So everything else the government does is paid for with the 24-cents per dollar left over PLUS borrowing more money.

Further, she writes, without serious efforts to curb growth of just the debt, by 2020, 92 cents of every tax dollar will go to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest. Alone! Leaving government eight-cents for all else. Eight cents!

Put in dollar perspective, for tax year 2010, the feds collected $2.162 trillion in revenue. Now, 8% of that is $173 billion. That is one year of just our military expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan. One year! Without providing a single dollar for ALL other government spending. Not one dollar! Zero! Zip! Nada!

One thing more. Without serious action, by 2040, federal income would pay ONLY for debt interest and Social Security, according to Susan Irving of the Government Accounting Office.

Irving poses these questions for lawmakers and we taxpayers: “What should government be doing; at what cost; are you willing to spend that?” Or put another way, “What do you want government to pay for; what will it cover; will it take care of your priorities?”

Now, freeze all that. And add this.

The New York Times is reporting behind-the-scenes efforts have begun to allow states to declare bankruptcy. This would get them out from under the debts they carry, including pensions promised to retired public workers. Some states already have insolvent pension funds so money is being diverted from other essential services like health care and education.

Then there’s the matter of all the financial institutions holding state debt in bonds AND in some of those pension funds. If one or more states default through bankruptcy or other means, what would that do to the nation’s investment system? All of the investment system?

The issue is fraught with constitutional questions but some members of Congress are already asking for hearings.

These are just two of the critical issues on the table now. There are many, many more and there is no good news in any of them! We are in a hole nationally and each state has its own crevasse. Without absolutely the brightest minds in economics, banking and politics coming up with some major decisions very, very soon, we risk crumbling not only as a world power but as a nation.

So, what immediate action is Congress taking? The kind of “first day” action promised in the 2010 campaign? What committee assignments has leadership made to tackle these and other potentially devastating issues? On what emergency time line? None.

In fact, House Speaker Boehner put it this way: “I am not going to make specific assignments and set some sort of imaginary deadlines for action.” “No specific assignments?” “Imaginary?” In the immortal words of Jay Leno to adulterer Hugh Grant, “What the Hell were you thinking?”

Time already wasted trying to repeal the health care law, new unnecessary legislation on an already settled prohibition of federal dollars paying for abortions, canvassing private enterprise on what regulatory measures it’d “like repealed” … all of this points to a tone-deaf congress and mindless dedication to personal voter employment concerns. And more “business as usual.”

We are at a watershed moment in our nation’s history. States, too. For way too long, we’ve been trying to patch up and adapt a 19th century way of doing things in our political system(s) instead of heading off really critical emergencies – as we now face – by remaking government from the ground up.

At the risk of offending strict constitutionalists … and the many phonies that can only mouth “constitutional” words … we must face the fact that the founding fathers did a miraculous job for their times. BUT these are not their times and we are facing problems they couldn’t have imagined in a system – and with tools – they never dreamt of. We need some major structural changes in nearly all forms of government.

Without such new thinking … without redefining government at all levels … without creating a new and contemporary set of priorities for what we want government to do … without adoption of new ways to pay for the answers to those items … whatever less we do will result in failure.

We are standing at the edge of a very high cliff. One national foot is precariously in the air. We’ve been warned. What the Hell is it going to take to do what MUST be done?

While not distrusting all things federal, I do maintain an inquisitive skepticism about the devilish details when I run across some scheme to use its often unchecked power for one thing or another. Selling off federal holdings that some civil servants believe are no longer useful is one such catcher of my attention.

What sets off red lights and sirens for me at the moment is that we have a huge federal debt of about $3.5 trillion. With seemingly little backbone in our Congress to address it head on, some of the boys and girls are salivating at the idea of selling off some stuff. Get rid of it. Sell it. No career risk. Piece o’ cake.

Since the Bush administration first came up with the idea, pieces of property we own… a lighthouse or two here … an apartment complex or vacant office building there … have been on the auction block. Why someone outbid 28 other people to buy a Massachusetts lighthouse for $190,000 makes me curious. It really happened.

Now, consider this: we taxpayers own about 650 million acres of land and about 429,000 buildings. In fiscal 2009, 45,190 structures were categorized as “underutilized.” Additionally, 10,327 were called “excess or unwanted.” Also consider, no one in the government knew those numbers before 2009; not until George Bush said several years earlier “Go out and count ‘em.” It was all just “there.” Barak Obama followed suit, directing agencies to save $8 billion by selling off property and making associated cuts.

Sounds like we’re talking big bucks here, doesn’t it? Well, a federal fiscal commission says we could rake in about $15 billion if those properties we selectively call “underutilized” or “excess-unwanted” were sold at or near market value. Which, of course, is impossible. Still, a Republican in the House has put in a bill to “git ‘er done.”

Should some be sold? Probably. But hold on there. If the debt is $3.5 trillion and you make $15 billion by selling our holdings, you’re not making a very big dent in the problem. And today’s “surplus” may be tomorrow’s “needed.” Still, with the self-serving outlook of various vote-seekers in Congress, it might not be too hard to build up a head of steam among the unknowing to have a huge federal garage sale.

There in lies my angst. Especially when you consider how much and how many federal holdings are here in the West. It may be O.K. to sell off a long-closed military base in Montana. But how about some of that Montana rangeland that looks useless? You know. Some of those miles and miles of nothing to Easterners but which are really important habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife and vegetation that would no longer be protected?

And if that doesn’t give you a shiver or two, what about some forests that nobody seems to use? You know. All those federal trees out there that just clutter up our landscape?

Fact is, where you live in our expansive country largely affects how you look at a lot of those millions of federal acres and thousands of properties. And forests. To people in large cities, maybe an empty office building is a historic treasure but all those empty spaces out West where no one lives or all those trees, well, why not start there? “Just waste space. And there’s so much of it.”

I’m not saying “Watch out! Here they come!” But I am saying look at this so far innocent idea of reducing our federal holdings as a camel’s nose under our tent. There certainly are government properties that have become excess and which we could do without. But the “devilish detail” is in the selection process.

There is already a move in Congress … courtesy of the aforementioned Rep. Ron Kind (R-WI) … to eliminate and/or bypass the “cumbersome” review currently required before federal properties can be offered for sale. Part of the existing review is to first offer buildings or land to states or local governments at discounts of up to 100%.

So here are some warning signs. The feds are in deep red ink and looking for ways to bail out the boat. States and local governments are so hard pressed they can’t afford to buy anything or take on new “free” debt. Corporations and individuals with megabucks are always looking to acquire more. You, me and the guy across the street couldn’t buy up enough to protect the valuable stuff. And this guy wants to eliminate the review process which may be more important now than ever.

Steve Symms used to be a senator from Idaho. Fiscal conservative. Except for himself personally: full federal retirement and a lobbying job for life. But he used to have a good line that sums up this potentially dangerous threat to Western lands.

“Doesn’t make any sense to sell off the farm to buy a sports car.”

Steve and I haven’t agreed on much through the years. But that about says it.

You never feel quite so good or quite so confident in life as when you complete two things: a good dental checkup with a professional cleaning and when you walk out of your doctor’s office and he’s told you you’re good for another 3,000 miles.

Both experiences … which I usually have twice each year … are worth my weight in gold. I am truly blessed.

Several years ago, I reached the age when Medicare became my mandatory medical program. No option. That’s the law. Stop making those expensive insurance payments each month, pay a quite reasonable Part A premium, add a medigap policy for a modest charge and make the shift.

I can’t say that my already excellent health care got any better. But I can tell you it didn’t diminish a single degree in quality as it got more affordable. My primary care doctor continued his fine ministrations. I needed no referral to see the specialist of my choice. Even my prescriptions got cheaper. Pretty hard to find a downside.

I review the above facts periodically. Like every time some misguided citizen decries the eventuality of single-payer care for all our medical needs. It’s coming. You can bet the farm on it. Not this year or next. Maybe not for a generation. But it’s gonna happen.

We are being driven to a national single payer system by many factors. One is economy-of-scale. Another is getting the for-profit element out of care so it can be priced uniformly according to actual cost rather than the financial needs of boards of directors and stockholders.

Tort reform is coming, too. And legitimate drug pricing is on the horizon within a government-operated system redesigned to get a handle on some of the ridiculous 200-300-400% markups on drugs before they get to the consumer.

Maybe the largest single factor is to get the hands of larcenous insurance companies out of the national pocket. When primary payer responsibility rests with a single entity the current medigap program, which works so well for seniors, can be redesigned for everyone. A few companies may go out of business. Happened when Medicare came along. But I’d bet it’s more likely there would be a wave of creative insurance opportunities benefitting those covered. Which would mean everybody!

An often unaddressed factor in our health care cost is the expensive business of research. This country is the world’s leader. Hands down. When talking about cost, that’s the 900 pound gorilla in the room. Public and private research expenditures are in the billions each year and that’s not going to change. But we’ve got to separate care from science and develop a way of paying for each using innovation we have not thus far applied.

Maybe the most significant reason single payer care is coming is that we’ve failed in every other attempt to work within the current and badly disjointed system. There are too many egos to be satisfied; too many high-dollar vested interests and a chicken-like spine in politicians who’ve been involved thus far. None of that will change. Nor will the escalating costs that we cannot sustain. Not unless we create a completely new delivery system with our hands on the controls.

It can’t be successfully conceived or designed with political interests in control. Never happen. The driving force will have to come from outside in much the same way as the President’s debt reduction panel. Only we’ll have to take their work more seriously. The best minds … free of axes to grind … will have to be at the table. They’ll have to “think-outside-the-box,” looking at all systems now being used in all countries. They may have to take a bit from here and a bit from there if some things are found to work well. They may have to go from the ground up. Or some combination.

When I see the goofball emails about government involvement in health care equated to a dying … and poorly run … postal service, I get steamed. The comparison is ludicrous. Electronic technology is dooming snail mail more than any other factor. Technology and private competition.

Medical care is unlike anything else in our lives. When we’re well, we don’t give it much thought unless it’s to complain about cost or availability. But when we need it, we want the best and we want all there is to take care of us or our loved ones. We want it now! And cost, at that moment, is irrelevant.

We’ve treated discussions of it, thus far, as a political issue. It’s not basically a political issue. It IS the most personal national issue we have. It’s got to be dealt with in that perspective.

Single payer health care is coming. Sooner. Later. But coming. We’ve about exhausted all other ways to solve an issue that can, and will, eventually bankrupt us. And, from my own experience, I can’t say the idea is all that distasteful.

The kids in the media … nationally and at home … are falling all over themselves about two things these days in the wake of the Tucson, AZ killings: whether political rhetoric will become more tolerant and what sorts of gun control efforts we’ll see in Congress.

At the risk of putting pins in their balloons, my answers are (a) no and (b) none which are successful. That about says it.

Exhibit “A” on the reduced rhetoric business: Maine GOP Gov. Paul LePage who decided this week … after the shootings … to skip an NAACP gathering to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. When the NAACP expressed disappointment, LePage had a quick on-camera response: “They can kiss my ass.”

I could waste a lot of electronic “ink” here with other exhibits of such speech in just the last seven days but I won’t. The only reason we haven’t heard more is because Congress hasn’t been in session for that period of time. They’ll be back Monday. Start listening. Oh, and don’t forget hate radio which is exhibits “B” through “ZZZ.”

Exhibit “A” for no gun control efforts: House Speaker Boehner’s refusal to introduce a bill banning extended ammunition clips in the hands of private citizens. Even some leaders of the NRA, who’ve eliminated prior members of Congress for even having thoughts on the subject of gun control, said they wouldn’t oppose the idea. But it won’t see the light of day. Count on it.

Exhibit “B” on guns: several states have legislators scrambling to introduce more access to them. South Carolina has one in the hopper already to expand concealed access and ‘open carry.’ Arizona, the state where all the killing occurred, allows ‘open carry’ already and guns in bars. Anyone think there’ll be successful repealers in the legislature there this year?

Members of Congress … and in many legislatures … live in fear of the NRA discontinuing their employment. They aren’t about to step on the toes that are on feet that walk NRA voters to the polls.

To me, the irony here is the many, many times NRA leadership has failed to grasp opportunities to greatly improve the image of that organization without backing away from its tenets. Present and past leaders have been presented with dozens of golden moments to maintain their resistance to serious gun control while showing a more human side to the issue. And the organization.

Take Arizona, for example. Even as victims are healing, the NRA could step up and formally adopt a position statement saying “While law enforcement personnel need extended ammo clips, we see no need for them in the hands of private citizens. The ammo capacities from the factory are just fine.” No gun control slippage there.

If you harbor feelings the NRA is an intransigent, hard-edged group, blind to reason and common sense … as I do … wouldn’t you say to yourself, “Now that seems very reasonable.” I would.

How about when the ban on automatic weapons came up for renewal some years back but efforts to renew it failed? Police officers, especially in large cities, said they come up against Uzzi’s and Tech-9’s routinely; that gangs and other criminal groups have them outgunned with automatic weapons.

Suppose, while renewing its pledge of Second Amendment protection, the NRA said “There is no sporting or target reason for automatic weapons in the hands of private citizens and the ban should be made permanent.” Wouldn’t the rest of us have felt a little better about the organization and not been so wary next time the issue of guns came up politically? I would.

When the president of Mexico said drug cartels in his country get most of their machine guns and other automatics from America and held up proof, what if the NRA had said “That’s wrong” instead of “That’s their problem” which the leadership said at the time? Wouldn’t you have said “Way to go, NRA?” I would.

No, Democrat and Republican, too many members of Congress check their daily score sheet compiled by the NRA to see that they’re still near 100. One of the Texas hardliners … whose I.Q. isn’t nearly that high … already has a bill to arm members of Congress. Others of similar small mind are taking crayon-to-paper to follow suit.

Much as we common folk would like it, rhetoric will continue hot and … in some places like hate radio … heavy. And legitimate efforts to keep guns from the irresponsible or incapacitated will, themselves, be gunned down. We have crossed a line on these issues that’s too hard for carriers of both affronts to society to step back across.

The overheated rhetoric draws attention. And ignoring the gun problem is rewarded with dollars and votes. Much as most of would like to have changes in both instances, as Walter Cronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is.”

Having spent most of my life in one branch or the other of the news media, I often find myself in the position of defending some part of it for this-that-or-the-other. Not today.

CNN, MSNBC, FOX … with minor assists from CBS, NBC and ABC television… have acted so unprofessionally in so much of their “reporting” in these days following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murders of six others that I can only say “a pox on all their houses.” For the first time in my life, I turned them all off and went to the Internet. That’s a Hell of an admission for a former reporter but it’s true.

The baseless speculation, “facts” without attribution, rumor reporting and specious comments about what might have been or could have been or should have been were … and are … without merit. Today, four days after the shooting, all sorts of names and factors are being dragged into the “reporting” that have no connection with any of it.

I’m far from a Sarah Palin water carrier, but to link any of her web sites or any previous comments on anything to the Giffords story were ludicrous. Making speculative jumps from hospital to talk radio or any portion of the Tea Party movement have been just plain irresponsible. The seeming need to report the tragedy and then pin blame on someone or anyone or anything has proven to me only that these people who call themselves “reporters” have a long way to go to earn the title without the quotation marks.

Many, many factors passed on as “news” are symptoms of our too-violent society. But they are not the cause for anything even remotely connected with the Gifford tragedy. A sick, deranged person, acting on God only knows what stimulus, did what he did for reasons yet to be determined. It’s as simple as that. It’s as complex as that. Anything reported going beyond those details is speculation and should be labeled so.

Few of us are qualified to examine the shootings and determine … with any accuracy … why they happened. Yet the media is full of conjecture masquerading as fact. That is wrong.

I could take up a lot of space here with my list of things I think contributed to this and other violent stories across this country in recent years. You’ve probably got one, too. Unbridled hate, a societal coarseness that permeates our lives, a tolerance for violence in all aspects of daily living, lies being broadcast or otherwise transmitted as truth, the wrong weapons available to the wrong people, a reluctance to hold people accountable for their actions or speech. And on and on. And on.

While all of those things may … or may not … be emblematic of our society, they are just supposition on my part and I’m happy to label them such. But in recent days, those sorts of things have been part of the “reporting” of the Tucson shootings. That is irresponsible, unprofessional and wrong.

Former presidential advisor David Gergen of the Harvard Kennedy Center said it best last weekend. And I paraphrase. We need time before we start casting about for causes or solutions. We need to see what shakes out of the examinations of the shooter’s life, what law enforcement investigations turn up and some distance from emotion to deal with the facts as they become known.

That says it all. And, aside from hard, provable facts to come, that’s all that should be said. Or, more especially, reported.

Like you, I pray for Rep. Giffords and the others wounded in the massacre. Whether wounded in body, mind or spirit. I am hopeful that trained minds and reasoned examinations will uncover more of the facts.

Our national media has not shown itself well in this difficult story. It has demonstrated, once again, that some of the enmity with which it is regarded by the general public is well-earned. This fascination with “infotainment” in the guise of news is not healthy.

Some journalistic policing and policy changing needs to be done from the street reporter to the top echelons of our media empires. It needs to be done from the inside before others try to do so from the outside.