Archive for January, 2011

Political violence and murder are nothing new. They’ve been around since before the time of Christ and were part of the everyday life of cavemen. Shooting or attempted murder of one more politician in Arizona is hardly breaking precedent. Tragic? Yes. New? No.

As long as there are weapons … usually guns … available to people who live on society’s edges, attempts to kill politicians everywhere will not go away. Just in my lifetime, four of our presidents have been targeted on America’s streets; two of them hit. It makes no difference whether it’s a crazy stage actor, Puerto Rican separatists or drugged-up junkies. Anybody with a violent streak and $50 can become the latest in a long line of assassins. It will never end.

Even the pumped up and often irresponsible hate rhetoric of jerks like Limbaugh, Beck and company is not unique. Crackpots trying to stir up an otherwise lethargic populace with distortions and outright lies have been around for centuries. You’re not going to see an end to them, either.

But there is something new; something Brutus, Booth, Squeaky Frohm and Gordon Hinkley didn’t have. The Internet. You certainly can’t place all the blame there and I wouldn’t try. Yet when the Net is coupled with the extremes of right wing talk radio, millions of daily hate emails, a society willing to accept violence for fun and profit and the unchecked demagoguery extant in this country, there is added kerosene for the fire.

The Net provides electronic gathering places which can give a sense of “family” and purpose to people who used to be loners, more often than not, isolated with and by their fear and hatred. These damaged and defective people suddenly are not alone; they “belong” to others equally as deranged. They’re accepted as “normal.”

One of the first things the media in this country did within hours of the Tucson shooting was a canvass of Facebook, Twitter and other “social” networks. They went to the Internet to find out who the shooter was, where he lived, what he looked like, what he thought and any other trivia that could be scavenged. It was all right there. Right in everybody’s old computer and right on everybody’s old Internet.

What they found was an assortment of flotsam and gibberish. Rambling and sometimes incoherent writings. But they also found links to other sites and other names. And therein lies the root issue we have not dealt with and one which may defy solution.

Anarchists and other extremists now have a communication system. Where they used to operate alone, spouting their hatred to the walls, they now have chat rooms. They have instant, two-way conversations with others of like-mind who can feed the paranoia, validate violent rhetoric, give a sense that there are many who feel as they do so they must be justified and push the irrational off the deep end. To action.

They spend hundreds and hundreds of hours in that environment having their fantasies supported by others who, before the Internet, were just as isolated, just as lonely, just as powerless. Then they get in the car for the morning commute in a world they already hate and are fed a diet of lies and viciousness by the millionaire radio hate talkers who seem to them to be an extension of the world they just left on the Internet. More validation.

They go to a political party meeting for volunteers and hear others calling the President of the United States a foreigner, a liar, a Nazi, a socialist and more. Again, validation for someone who already thinks the government is out to get him.

On TV that night, pictures of rallies with signs spewing the same hate words and members of congress urging the protesters on. Validation from someone they might even have voted for.

So, it’s back to the Internet. New loner experiences to share, new feelings of frustration, new anger. And others are there, waiting in the chat room, to share similar experiences from a world viewed through a skewed and badly cracked prism. Validation.

If I sound harsh and critical of the technological marvel we call the Internet, I don’t mean to be. But, while you wouldn’t put a deranged 10-year-old behind the wheel of a 5,000 pound SUV and head ‘em down the street alone, we are doing just that with a communication system that is unfettered and which can produce results just as deadly. In the proper hands, that SUV probably wouldn’t kill anybody. In the proper hands, neither would the Internet. But how do you prevent it from being in the wrong hands?

The difference between a lynching and a parade is the attitude of the crowd following behind. The difference between using the Internet in ways intended and for national harm is also in the hands of the crowd.

I don’t have the answer. But we’d better find one.

While legislatures in all states have their hands full this season wrestling with historic deficit problems and barrels of red ink, one of those anguished groups is going to be especially fun to watch: our boys and girls in Oregon’s House of Representatives.

That’s because voters sent 60 of them to Salem: 30 in each political party. Split right down the middle. If you just look at those numbers, you’d be tempted to say it will be a mess with little accomplished. And you might be right. But hearing Co-Speaker of the House Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) talk about preliminary work done so far, maybe not.

On most days, Hanna is upbeat. When he talks about organizational work done for this historic situation, you get the feeling leadership in the House is going to give it its best shot. But there’s a lot of devil-in-the-details.

Hanna and Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) are co-speakers, each operating out of separate party offices, sharing or duplicating such staff as necessary. All committee membership is evenly divided; chairmanships, too. The idea is to have mirror images of everything political. Oregon has no House precedent for this; most states don’t. So Hanna and Roblan have been researching, looking for ideas coast-to-coast.

As Hanna tells it, he and Roblan share a professional respect for each other, feeling their past relationship has shown they can work together on most things. But there’ll be some issues that will be truly partisan. Those will be the ones that test the power sharing and hand-holding.

While talk now is very positive from both men, there will be two major tests of this political bonding. One will be how to deal with a near-record shortfall in the coming budget. Typical Republican approach is to lower taxes and cut back spending. Democrats usually are open to maintaining or even small tax increases and will go further to fund what they believe are primary state responsibilities i.e. health care, education, social services, etc.

Hanna and Roblan have some years of legislative experience to help them deal with budgetary matters. Both seem open to hearing all ideas before trying to come up with a spending plan. Even from the new Governor who, thus far, has been supportive. And helpful. Maybe they can pull it off.

But it’s the second test that’ll pose the most problems: the bomb throwers. That’s my term, not theirs. These are the diehards and ideologues that sponsor futile bills on abortion, states rights, limiting federal interference and, this year, probably immigration. These folks show up every session like tulips in the Spring. Many believe “they are on a mission from God” and dissuading them from pursuing that “mission” is next to impossible.

How Hanna and Roblan keep the whip hand on those loose cannons will be the real test of bipartisanship. If one “cannon” … just one … refuses to cooperate with the joint cooperative efforts of leadership and starts a fracas, the whole House could come to a halt. Neither Speaker wants that, nor do most members who are going to Salem to give it their best shot in a very troubled year.

But ideologues and compromise are oil and water. You might tame a few. But if others are hellbent on making a show for the folks at home … and that seems to be the case from Congress on down this year … if that’s their attitude, Hanna and Roblan will be juggling hand grenades.

I wish them well in their task. And I’m thankful leadership of what will be a very troubled session is in their seemingly capable hands. The new Governor seems to have the same feelings and he has some years of experience to help along the way. So far, he’s on the “team.”

Yep, it’s gonna be interesting to watch. Elephants and donkeys pushing a single peanut up a very steep hill. I hope they pull it off.

I’m not sure whether there’s more hypocrisy in politics today than there’s ever been or if, because of blogs and other national sources of information, we just see more things we used to pass by. Whatever the cause, my proclivity for being a “political grumpster” is currently being fed easier and by more sources than ever.

This week’s news brought three dandies.

One came from Idaho, where to be anything other than a Republican means you aren’t fit for statewide public office and puts you on something of a political endangered species list.

Most state-owned lands in Idaho are held in trust, income from which goes primarily to help fund education. So, the Idaho Land Board is charged with maximizing that income for that purpose. The Board is made up of the Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Supt. Of Public Instruction. Republicans to the core … all of ‘em. “Less government” and “less intrusion on the business of business” as the GOP sacred mantra goes. Believers all!

Except this group of lifelong elephant huggers recently spent a couple million endowment dollars to buy a large commercial storage company. Yep, you store your treasures there and you’ll be paying rent to the State of Idaho. Not a private business. Republican owner of the storage place across town certainly can’t be happy about that.

Now, the Board is casting about for more commercial businesses to acquire. Corner grocery here, car dealership over there, maybe a clothing discounter across town. Or maybe open a few Amway dealerships statewide. Yep, YOUR state government can now put YOU out of business if the Land Board buys up your competition!

The “rationale” … if you buy this … is the Board’s simply doing the work it’s charged with: maximizing income for public schools. And the ingrained, basic tenants of Republicanism … being a political friend to business and less government in our lives … well, the Board doesn’t talk much about those things. Actually, the Board hasn’t made any coherent statement about it. Or much else.

If those GOPers want to make a real profit off government competition in the marketplace, they ought to open up a bank.

Wait a minute. Haven’t we already done that?

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The second “grumpster feeding” treat came from the United States Senate. “No,” you gasp, “you don’t mean our beloved 100?” Yep, them.

The latest boondoggle: after spending more than $3 million from our tax kitty over three years, the investigation into the suspicious-looking financing of half a dozen televangelists is ending. Final report recommendations? Nothing. Zip!

Seems four of the half dozen wouldn’t show the Senate Finance Committee their books. Wouldn’t participate. Told senators it was none of their business. Told ‘em so on their golden phones while flying on their private jets from one of their palatial estates to another.

So, the “sacrificial giving” pitches will continue to take millions of dollars from millions of “believers” who are told they, too, will “richly benefit” from “giving just a little bit more.” May not get their own jet or gold phone, but they’ll get something. Cancelled checks, I’d bet.

Oh, speaking of sacrificial: our $3 million, too. Can you say “We don’t want to make our religious “right” base mad at us?”

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And number three: the Republican backtrack on the sacred pledge to voters that, if elected, they would make “immediate cuts of $100 million in the federal budget.”

During the 2010 campaign, Speaker-In-Waiting Boehner and GOP candidates top to bottom made that promise. It was the most repeated of the National Republican Campaign Committee talking points. “We’ll cut $100 million right off the top! Immediately!” A sacred GOP oath! Not that $100 million is a big deal in the federal scheme of things. But it was the idea, don’t you see. An iconic pledge as it were.

Millions of voters bought the pledge. But now … now … “well, you see … that is … er … uh … well, the fiscal year is … well … you know … that is … you see, we’re not at a time we can do that because so many months have gone by and there are so few months left. I mean … you see it’s ….but we’ll do it next budget. That’s a promise.”

So, when you were slitting your wrists to make the blood oath to voters, you didn’t know what the federal fiscal year was? When you campaigned at all those rubber chicken dinners, you hadn’t figured out what month of the fiscal year you’d be sworn in … in? When you looked deep into those child-like voter eyes, you had no idea you couldn’t keep your promise?

Road apples!!! You knew damned well it couldn’t be done or you were too dim-witted to be elected dog catcher!

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Well, there you are. Three more cast iron examples of grist for my growing political grumpism. Ah, the good news just keeps on comin’.

It’s been so many years since we’ve had small children at our house that I’d forgotten what the bickering, infighting and social struggles of a few10-12 year olds sounds like. Thanks to the amorphous Tea Party groups now extant in the land, it’s all coming back.

I don’t mean to disregard what impact the freshly minted protest contingent may have had in shaping what will likely turn out to be one of the worst congressional sessions in my lifetime. But I find no positive way to take all their fussing and fuming seriously even though they are going to cost the nation dearly as they ignore root problems while chasing their tails on social and phony morality issues.

I’ve watched right wing groups for many years … especially in the Northwest … as a sort of political hobby. Though they take on various guises and terribly patriotic names, they are so similar in nearly all ways that it’s difficult to tell them apart. The Tea Party … whatever it is … is no different.

Basic mental elements: fear and distrust. Basic goals: get rid of what is feared/distrusted … fluoride, communists, taxes, liberals, media. Basic sources of information: only from those seeing the world as they do. Accomplishments: limited or zero. Life span: as long as it takes for the basic mental elements above to be directed at someone else … formerly trusted … who has a new, different thought.

The new congress is seated. But some winners backed by the Tea Party are already either moving away from endorsements they earlier sought … Sen. Scott Brown comes to mind … or are finding the real world in Washington, D.C. and promises they made hard to reconcile … Sen-elect Rand Paul on continuing resolutions for example.

While this Potomac realization process is setting in, the various Tea Party groups at home are already launching broadsides against others marching under the same banner. One “Tea Party” group will make a public pronouncement and immediately receive incoming fire from another for daring to speak for the “Party.” One will issue a news release defining a supported policy which draws quick denouncement from another “Tea Party” group as not being “its policy.”

The far right has existed in this country for hundreds of years. It has always been a magnet for malcontents. Oh, some may come to the banner originally with honest intentions and sincere motivations. But, sooner or later, there are arguments and splits among the faithful and members either form splinter groups or fall away feeling they’d been lied to. That’s how the rest of us have survived the crazies.

There is certainly a group of dedicated “faithful” in this Congress. The nucleus already existed: Michele Bachmann, Darrell Issa, Louis Gohmert, Marcia Blackburn, et al. A “T-P coalition” has already been announced headed by Bachmann who wants to teach the newcomers “all she knows.” Counting directions to the parking garage and the nearest restrooms, that’ll take 10 minutes.

They’ll make a lot of noise. They’ll be courted by the media. They’ll all sound wonderfully cheerful. For awhile.

Eventually, they’ll run headlong into issues they can’t control, a leadership that’ll put up with their disruptions for just so long, and backers who will fall away as the “anointed ones” either fail to deliver on campaign promises or are co-opted by the realities some of them will come to learn. Realities like desire for continued employment.

The sad, sad truth of the matter is this bunch of ideologues will waste precious time and scarce resources without coming to grips with the real problems. Some don’t even know what the real problems are. They will spend millions on trumped up hearings and failed social tail chasing. And they’ll cost us billions more as the national debt spirals higher and higher with interest compounding at a rate we can’t afford.

Compromise isn’t in these folks. They despise it and view it as weakness. Most possess none of the qualities of effectiveness that we enjoyed years ago in the likes of Humphrey, Goldwater, Dirksen, Dole and a lot of others. “My way or the highway” is their mantra and accepting-less-to-get-some is beyond their comprehension.

In the end, we will be saved from them by their ineffectiveness and the predictable erosion of their base. They will go away.

But, in the meantime, they will cost us dearly by keeping us from directing our full national attention and resources to issues needing immediate action.

Together with unnecessary wars, this is another national disgrace we cannot afford.

I’m not much for marking the change of one year to another by trying to decide what stories in 12 months of news were important and in what order. What may have moved you may have just slipped by me. And I may have found something earth-shaking which you thought was trivia.

No, I tend to search among the rubble of the year’s leavings, looking for bits and pieces that may not be on anyone else’s radar. They may not be important but they tickle my curiosity. And comment.

One such has been the apparent initial crumbling of Sarah Palin. Much like Lindsay Lohan, it seems the more you know, the less you want to know. Her over-exposed public persona appears to be shrinking. Several statistical samplings of her “favorability” quotient find the numbers below 50% and sliding. Even with Republicans. Particularly in Alaska where she was governor for a couple of years before efforts at personal enrichment took over and she walked out. There, the number has dropped to 34%. Apparently to know her is to not like her very much.

Ratings for her “reality” TV show started high. Curiosity, I’d guess. Then headed straight down. Her first book was a best seller. Her second has sold so poorly book stores are sending copies back to the publisher by the thousands. Again, she apparently doesn’t wear well.

I’d also guess, by the time the significant primaries roll around, the Republican establishment … where the GOP clout is … will have settled on two or three guys who are “electable” and she’ll be relegated to raising what dollars she can for someone else. Or quitting. Again.

So, run for president? I doubt it. The job has many more pressures than being a wilderness governor. It doesn’t pay enough. All your appearances and hackneyed speeches have to be free. Though there is a good retirement plan, significant personal income during those four years … or maybe two … just doesn’t measure up to her current standards. And to get it, she’d have to stay all four. Bummer. Nope. Just don’t see it.

Then there was the 2010 census. While I applaud the counting effort and all the good things we can take from the findings, it also provides the fodder for the most self-serving, crass political, absolutely underhanded job in politics: redistricting. It’s sort of like the start of the Oklahoma land rush for politicians. Except whatever rules there are for honesty and good behavior are totally ignored. Several states will lose representation. Who? What district? Several others will gain. Who? What district? Democrat losses and Republican gains I’d guess.

Deals will be cut. Where possible, those not in current party favor will be tossed. District boundaries will be drawn between the bedroom and the bathroom of a certain house in certain areas. And you may get up one morning to find yourself in a whole new Republican world. Or Democrat, in rare cases. Representative democracy at work. Terribly messy and often not so “representative.”

Elsewhere in the 2010 news leavings, there are those “Tea Party” types going to congress. Keep an eye on their “conversions.” While vowing to “clean up the place,” the new faces have hired nearly two dozen experienced “K Street” lobbyists to be chiefs of staff or legislative liaisons. And a couple of the newcomers have already had fund-raisers to pay off campaign debts or start building the “kitty” for the next race. Yep, change is painful. And rare.

They’ll also face an experienced leadership that appreciates discipline in the ranks. You go along to get along. Or your favorite bills are consigned to the round file. As some of these new faces learn about Potomac survival and start to toe the company line, it won’t be hard to hear the outcry from the “partiers” at home. Ah, change.

So you see, trying to pick a dozen or so stories from a year’s worth of happenings is a terribly subjective activity. Too much for my old head. It’s sort of like dumpster diving. Sometimes there’s a treasure inside though, mostly, you’ll come up with a keeper … or a person … that used to have value. But times change.


NOTE: Ridenbaugh Prop. Randy Stapilus has done an excellent series of what you might call “sleeper stories” which are ongoing and have yet to play out. He’s good at that. Check it out.