Archive for February, 2011

With this country in its worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, and with a national debt that won’t be paid off in the next couple of generations, we are in need of some major political leadership. Major. Big Time. Great thinkers and doers. At the top. A president to match the difficulty of the issues.

Seems to me the last place to look for that required “at-the-top” leadership is the national Republic Party. At least at the moment.

In my long, politically-involved life, I’ve never seen a larger collection of misfits and empty suits … male and female … as the current crop of rabbits running from state to state seeking support. Never!

When the party of Lincoln needs someone of real stature to carry the banner for 2012, I can’t find anyone in the “unannounced-but-I’m-going-to-be-there” bunch that could carry Ronald Reagan’s coat to the inauguration. Bachman, Thune, Pawlenty, Paul, Barbour, Trump, Romney, Santorum and several others who can’t get any significant traction.

Note: I did not list Ms. Palin in the bunch. That self-limited, walking cerebral vacuum has no plans to give up a lucrative career on the rubber chicken circuit for less money and heavy responsibilities. Those with presidential hopes don’t file a copyright on their name like someone who has just invented a new floor wax. She’s just interested in the marketing possibilities of her celebrity-hood.

So, consider the aforementioned names and any others who may have told you personally of their impending candidacy. Find the heavyweight with the necessary proven leadership skills and problem-solving capabilities we so badly require. Go ahead. Consider. I’ll wait.

No one. I thought so.

What we find in this bunch of low-hanging frivolous fruit is a gaggle of people seeking to cash in on celebrity. Some of them couldn’t pass a test on American civics, much less solve national and world problems. Others of their number just don’t have any real appeal beyond their own families.

More proof of this thesis came a couple of weeks ago when freshman New Jersey Gov. Christie got some national TV time. He showed off his “take-no-prisoners” approach to state budgeting and cracked a couple of one-liners. Suddenly, we were inundated with Republican voices saying he should run for president. He demurred. Wisely.

The GOP is fresh out of fresh faces. It is also fresh out of anyone with national name recognition that can appeal to independents or centrists of either party. Leadership … such as it is … has moved so far to the right at the national and local levels that even the sainted Reagan would not be acceptable. It will get worse.

So GOP kingmakers are in a Catch-22 spot. They can’t produce a candidate with broad appeal and, if such a name were to surface, they couldn’t get the ultra conservative elements of their own party leadership … who will run the nominating convention … to accept it.

We are a long way from Nov. 6, 2012. Not even your old Ouija board could predict the outcome. But one thing is very clear. Republicans are about out of time to come up with someone to mount the elephant and lead a winning parade.

The ideological purists are not “forgive-and-forget” people so, in the end, they won’t get behind any one person. They will control the nominating convention and, after well-publicized infighting and purity tests, will likely produce a candidate unacceptable to anyone but them. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Were I the Obama family, I don’t think I’d sweat the U-Haul truck just yet.

I’ve watched the animals in America’s political zoos most of my adult life. It’s not always a pleasant chore. Limited mostly to people who can eat sawdust without asking for water.

But sometimes, a “political” story comes along that’s so overpowering in sheer contradiction that it leaves the world of politics and even the non-wonk can share in the idiocy. This is one of those.

The inhabitants of the Idaho Legislature, like many counterparts in other states, have been embroiled in wasting taxpayer’s money trying to get out from our new federal law on health care. They tried to embark on a guaranteed-to-lose … but costly … action called “nullification.” That’s an attempt to override the powers of the U.S. Constitution so the state … in this case Idaho … can ignore the new law. Or, one would guess, any other federal statute local folks don’t like. A Senate committee of six wisely deep-sixed, this week, what the House had already passed overwhelmingly.

The concept of nullification succeeds only in the mind of the malcontent who refuses to check decisions of the U.S. Supreme court going back more than 200 years. Or, as in the case of Idaho, those who rise in debate to say “God is with us and might makes right.”

Now, here’s where those of us with a twisted sense of humor find the delight that keeps us coming back for more.

Remember, now, the state legislature has wasted a lot of time trying to get out from under a law it doesn’t like; a law laid down by a level of government one step up on the political food chain. The Feds. Alright. Here’s the next step.

The Idaho House Agricultural Committee is working on a bill dealing with expansion of feedlots for large cattle operations. You know, those huge muddy, smelly fenced fields where cattle are fattened up. Fed right into the old slaughterhouse.

While some of these super-size, hamburger-breeding factories are owned by a farmer or two, many of them belong to large corporate operations that run dozens or even hundreds of ‘em. So, when neighbors, and even communities, begin filing complaints about nasty smells and polluted waters, the big-city owners are far removed from the mess they’re making. Complaints are just a damned paperwork nuisance.

But the Idaho Legislature may turn a deaf ear … and a plugged nose … to the neighbors. And the communities. The Ag Committee bill would strengthen the Idaho Right To Farm Act. It would do so by shielding operators from complaints and even lawsuits. It would do so by … now wait … here it comes … are you ready … curtailing or even overriding local ordinances regulating feedlots.

In other words, a legislature trying to get out from under a federal law it doesn’t like is trying to put a law on the books to ignore or overrule local ordinances and laws it doesn’t like, either.

Imagine yourself a city council member or a county commissioner in a county befouled by these corporate burger operations. You want to do your duty but find you have no control over your own destiny because your friendly state government neutered your local laws.

There is yet another irony here. Many of Idaho’s legislators ran on the old, phony mantra of “get government out of our lives.” I call it phony because many of these same folks want government in the bedroom to be sure there are no abortions. They also want federal highways, water systems, airports, social security, medicare, etc. But that’s another thought for another day.

As a species, I rather enjoy the inhabitants of our political worlds. Most of ‘em. But there are a few … lately, more than a few … who have taken the absurd to new levels.

There are many serious things I could say at this moment about the volatile economic conditions of each state and our country at-large. I could wax eloquently about the need for common sense, compromise and the necessity for wiser heads to deal with our many troubles.

But you already know about that.

So … just for a few moment … let’s just sit and drink in the absurdity of another stirring political contradiction created in the minds of the denizens of the Idaho Statehouse and even the governor who you know will sign the feedlot bill if it makes it to his office. Let’s just enjoy a chuckle or two.

Because of the traditional seriousness of politics, we watchers of it don’t get many laughs. Lately, though, they’ve increased. A bunch.

About the time you think politicians can’t go lower in the basement of public opinion, along comes a game of “musical states.” That’s when legislators of one party in one state collectively run to hide out in another to avoid a difficult vote.


Reminds me of a child who knows, when he gets home, he’s going to get a whipping for something so he goes to the neighbor’s house to stay overnight with a friend. Apparently the thoughtful architect of this legislative escape mechanism is about eight-years-old.

Take it to the next step: the U.S. Congress. Majority Democrats in the Senate are going to vote to federally legalize same sex marriage. Trying to stop the process, all Republicans get on a bus and go to Canada for an extended stay.

Or the Salem City Council schedules a vote on doubling parking fees downtown. Half the council promptly takes a bus to Eugene where family and friends send credit cards and care packages for the foreseeable future.

In my years of reporting on governing bodies from city councils to Congress, I’ve seen various officeholders “take a walk” on certain votes. It’s not the professional thing to do but it happens. More often than you’d imagine. But for a whole political party to take a hike, that’s a new phenomenon. And a bad one.

I’ve only seen one case where my sympathies went with the walker. In the ‘70’s in the Idaho House, Rep. Vard Chatburn, an elderly, rock-ribbed, Mormon, Republican farmer, attempted to get a bill passed on what amounted to assisted suicide. It violated some of his own long-standing beliefs and was a real test of his personal fortitude.

But he had spent a great deal of time prior to the legislative session with a lifelong friend, also a rock-ribbed Mormon, Republican farmer, who was dying. Not a quick death. But a long, slow, agonizing and painful one, brought about by a terrible cancer. Chatburn paid regular calls on his neighbor and boyhood friend. He watched the agony of someone he had loved all his life. He couldn’t do much. He could only be there. And watch. And wait for death’s relief.

The friend asked him, from his death bed, to use his position as a lawmaker to help others facing this same agonizing situation. They talked about a law that would allow people, in a hopeless and excruciating condition, to decide how to end life with whatever dignity was left and to give their families relief from the terrible burden they felt they were being. Before his friend died, Chatburn said he would.

He wrote a bill. He carried it through a Republican-dominated committee of his peers. And friends. He got the Republican Speaker of the House, another old friend, to bring it up for a vote; a vote he knew in his heart he would lose.

When the bill was called up, this short, thin staunch conservative farmer got to his feet, attempting to fulfill his promise to a friend of more than 70 years. The shoulders of his small frame slumped; his voice was not much more than a whisper; the tears on his cheeks abundant and free-slowing. This entirely sympathetic figure, known and respected by nearly all who listened, subordinated a lifetime of his own thoughts on the subject and made a full-throated argument for his cause. His friend’s request. His own pledge.

As members began reaching for their buttons to vote electronically on the legislation, Chatburn left his seat, stepped behind the green curtain that encircled the House chamber, and wept openly. He made his argument as he had pledged. But he could not vote his conscience as he wanted.

Back to today. Granted, the Republican governor of Wisconsin is being a jerk of the first order. Even some in his own party think he’s gone too far rejecting compromises proposed by both parties and concessions from the unions. But the political wars are full of jerks and you don’t win your fights by leaving the battlefield. Democrats there are dead wrong, too.

For whatever reason, Democrats in Wisconsin lost their legislative majority last November. It happens. Some days you get the chicken; some days the feathers. The accepted response is to conduct business as best you can until the next election, regroup and get back on the campaign trail. Not keep a Greyhound bus outside the statehouse for a fast getaway.

I’ve heard all sorts of excuses about why the Dems left the state: wanted time for supporters to get their acts together; wanted to slow down progress so they could form a plan of action; yadda yadda. None are good enough to justify the hasty exit.

None have come close to the day Idaho Republican Vard Chatburn gave his very best effort to fulfill a promise to a friend but couldn’t vote the way he knew he would have to. No.

The political world is the best place I know to find non-sequiturs and real ironies. Sometimes they come about by accident. Sometimes by the hubris and arrogance of someone who’s in charge of something but shouldn’t be.

The latest example to cross my computer screen comes out of the Idaho Legislature; a body that has been out of touch with the mainstream of life for years. Several reasons for that.

One is an almost complete lack of a second political party across the board, so the decades-long, one-party domination of has been unabated. Continued inbreeding of either party, in power for 30-40 years, can produce some odd species.

The other is that the heavy majority GOP, moving ever further to the right for so long, has been more effective turning out the vote and Democrats haven’t been able to successfully or consistently appeal to whatever independents might be around. Since there’s no registration by party in Idaho, it’s hard to find them. I used to be one. Seldom heard from Democrats; always heard from Republicans.

Anyhow, back to today’s irony and hubris example.

Some years ago, Oregon wisely and humanely put an assisted suicide law on the books. It’s served us well. You couldn’t do that in Idaho, even if it only applied to stuffed animals. The far right wouldn’t hear of it. And if the far right doesn’t want it, it won’t happen.

No, what the far Idaho right did was enact a “conscience law” which has almost the direct opposite affect. It covers anything medical from doctors to pharmacists and all in between. The intent is to allow medical folks to not do anything medically that bothers their conscience or their ethics and to turn away people wanting … or even needing … their professional services for no other reason than that. Without penalty if problems later develop because of a failure to act.

One of the most publicized 2010 stories of the law’s consequences came when a pharmacist would not fill a prescription to stop cervical bleeding because he believed the woman had had an abortion and he didn’t believe in abortions. She and her bleeding condition were turned away. Whether she had an abortion or not. And the pharmacist didn’t know for certain.

So much for the past. Here’s today. Same “conscience law” which has now raised a new issue: possibly nullifying Living Wills executed by people who want to control their end-of-life affairs and who may not want to be kept around on machines. The AARP of Idaho, with some 180,000 members, got a bill introduced containing amending language that says no health professional can refuse to follow a patient’s or physician’s directions conforming with the “Medical Consent and Natural Death Act,” another Idaho law. Simple, straight-forward and no problem. Right? Not in Idaho.

Now to that inbreeding. The chairman of the assigned committee is an old East Idaho dinosaur. Been around far too many years. He says it would weaken the “conscience” law so he has put it in his desk drawer, effectively killing it. Along with two others.

The AARP dropped 500 letters of support for the bill on his desk. His response? He’ll look through them to see if any of his constituents wrote any. Appears if nobody did he’ll just ignore the situation.

So, thousands of Idahoans, concerned their Living Wills will be ignored, are confused and/or mad. And there’s damned little they can do about the dinosaur from a little farming community who could be re-elected forever by his like-minded constituents, regardless of the rest of the state.

So, hundreds of thousands of Idaho seniors, concerned about control of their own lives, are being held hostage by another senior concerned only with his. It’s that irony thing. That, and the inbreeding.

The late, longtime Idaho Governor Robert Smylie told me once, it makes no difference which party is in control, “after a while, you need to open all the closet doors and clean out what’s in there. Both parties.”

My former state is long overdue for some closet cleaning. And some dinosaur hunting.

We live in a nation that has, because of technology developed just within my lifetime, made available to us access to virtually all information in our world. Facts and subject matter that used to be known only to scholars are now reachable from our homes and businesses. We have no reason not to be the best informed population that ever lived. And live that way.

But we are not. And the evidence is overwhelming. It fills the pages of our increasingly poorly edited and disappearing newspapers. We are inundated daily by increasingly poorly produced broadcast news. And evidence of misinformation … or disinformation … disguised as fact pollutes much of what we read on the Internet.

Though we have easy access to facts, it is becoming harder to find them because of deliberate efforts of some to distort or twist them to serve their own purposes. We’ve had to develop services to check and double-check the accuracy of much of what is being passed off as “fact.” So, being really informed, despite the availability of so much data, has become harder; not easier.

The evidence of susceptibility to phony facts is at play in our nation’s political system. Phony not because I don’t see things the way some who use this disinformation do. Phony because facts aren’t there. You might say that’s been the case since the first politician. But not the way I mean. It’s been greatly accelerated in our time.

I’ve coined a phrase for it. “Deliberate ignorance” meaning that, although the correct information is readily available, some chose to use the bad information or the lie. And they’ll back up their fraudulent claim with “fact.”

For one proof of this thesis, go to the opening page of and read an entry by Prop. Randy Stapilus entitled “Uneasy Nullification Debating” dealing with just one day’s debate in the Idaho Legislature. Go ahead. Do it now. Then come back. I’ll wait.


Notice how little FACT is used by these backers of an already legally discredited nullification concept. And notice how much phony “fact” you find. It leaves you with a single choice. Either that legislative body is dominated by liars or good, honest people have accepted bad information as “fact” and have based their votes on it. Those are the only two answers. My guess: a little of both.

I’d prefer to think they’re good people with bad information. But with the real, accurate facts available, why not use them? Why not take a little extra time to check out what’s real and what’s not before you stand on the floor of a legislative body and have your name attached to lies kept for posterity in the public record of those proceedings?

Our national congressional debate transcripts are rife with more of this. Health care “death squads.” “Birther” challenges to the legality of Pres. Obama’s citizenship. Statistics … like the 200,000 government hires in two years under the Obama administration … are used by “leaders” and accepted as fact by followers though there is no fact there. And on and on and on.

The average person works harder these days, producing more than a counterpart only a few years ago. Yet with the available flow of more information more easily accessible now than ever, we are hard-pressed to have the time to be as well-informed as we might be. As we should be. As we must be.

This “more-information-less-time” conundrum is fertile ground for hate radio and ideologues. Whatever their twisted logic … for personal wealth, celebrity or ignorance … they feed into the same information pool as real fact; contaminating the other sources of news and information we rely on. A twist of fact here, a little lie there and soon it’s a verbal meatloaf of jumbled “facts.”

Then, those who would venerate these con artists … or who believe them in their own ignorance … mix that pollution and regurgitate it as “fact.” The nullification debate in the Idaho legislature is a classic case in point.

I’m a firm first amendment supporter and will continue to be. Free speech is essential to our democracy. But it must be free, factual speech. The late Sen. Patrick Moynihan is credited with saying “You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.”

Those who practice “deliberate ignorance” are a danger to us all.

Two events of recent days have combined … at least in my head … to show we homo sapiens at our best. And worst.

One was the victorious outcome for the people of Egypt as they reached for freedom and more individual control over their lives. Their all-or-nothing risk of life and heritage was put on the line against a dictator with an army who had abridged human rights for three decades. And without formal leadership or guns, they prevailed. We may marvel at what they did … and how they did it … but we will never really feel the exultation amidst the tears of happiness as fully as they have. It was mesmerizing!

As for the worst, it can be summed up in four words: Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). As someone raised in an old and honorable Republican family, I could feel only disgust and shame for nearly all who appeared there and for their inane speeches. The miraculous events in Egypt … a nation’s struggle for freedom and independence, themes which used to be cornerstones of conservative thinking … passed largely unnoticed and without significant comment.

There seemed to be an effort by the “presidential” hopefuls who showed up to pander to the worst and ignore the best. One after another came to the podium and the national TV cameras with little more than verbal garbage to pile on the table. It was four days of wallowing in tripe that showed these supposed Republican leaders as vacuous and without anything to offer to deal with our current issues.

Though Mike Huckabee skipped the whole inglorious affair, he followed up a few days later by exhibiting a similar lack of perspective. “The issue of abortion trumps all others,” he told a national TV audience.

Abortion? Really? Here all along I thought abortion was a social and family matter. And that something as dangerous to national survival as our overwhelming debt needed our full attention. And that we should be putting maximum political effort to greatly reduce unemployment somewhere near the top of our issues. Silly, silly me.

If Democrats have proven nothing else politically in the past two years it is that “we the people” are focused on jobs and a better economy. Democrats did not profit … nor will Republicans … by inserting social issues on their agenda.

I grew up with a political dynamic that no longer exists and we are the poorer because it disappeared. That was the healthy tension created by two strong, vibrant political parties that proposed, discussed and argued issues important to our nation and … somehow … got to a consensus like reasonable adults. Each stood for something. Each had an identity voters could recognize and make an informed choice of which to support. We had a balance that kept us on track. A healthy tension. And it caused me to vote a “split ticket” for many years,

Republicans aren’t alone in this deterioration of our political health and dialogue. There has been plenty of Democrat erosion to add to the mix. It’s just that Republicans put it in prime time on national TV to display the worst of their ilk. The uninformed and sometimes equally noxious Democrats seem happier in smaller, private embarrassments.

To me, Ronald Reagan and Bush The Elder were the last Republican leaders to have clear personal and political positions that defined them and which gave the nation a choice. They knew what “loyal opposition” meant. They proposed as well as opposed. They didn’t take personal aim at someone and announce to the country “We’re gonna make him fail and then run him out of office.” No “gotcha” politics dominating efforts to try to find solutions to national problems. Did “gotcha” politics exist? Sure. But not as part of formal speeches by leadership on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

If any of those who appeared at CPAC … and the others of like mind who didn’t … end up with the Republican presidential nomination, my guess is Pres. Obama will get his second term by a comfortable margin. Because it’s not enough to oppose what he and his administration have done or will do. It’s necessary to propose something as an alternative. To date, I’ve heard nothing from the Republican Party in the way of ideas, concepts, proposals that I could get behind. No positive position telling me these folk understand where we are and what they would do to get us going again.

On one hand, we’ve watched Egyptians saying to themselves “We want this, that and the other and we’re going to go for it even if we die in the attempt.”

On the other, CPAC has presented us a baker’s dozen of people who can’t seem to rise above trash-talking and empty rhetoric to say “We understand what the nation faces and we have these ideas to apply to the solutions.” Not one.

Personally, I’d have felt safer in front of an Egyptian tank in Cairo than I do with CPAC’s best.

If you’re younger than 45, you can stop reading right here. The rest of these ramblings won’t make much sense.

In my weekly pile of email flotsam and jetsam the other day, I found one of the many hilarious comedy sketches from the old “Carol Burnett Show” of the 70’s. Some of ‘em are still around on “You Tube” if case you haven’t yet succumbed to the ever-present half-hour commercials trying to sell you several seasons of the show on CD’s.

This particular bit contained the classic comedy of my two favorites from all those Burnett gems: Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. It was the dentist office sketch with Conway as the apparently new tooth doctor and Korman as the long-suffering patient.

The sketch was short on dialogue and long on physical comedy, something the current crop of what are euphemistically called “comedians” just can’t do. Physical comedy is almost pantomime with few words and lots of knockabout action which, if not done so brilliantly by the best of them, would be called clumsiness. You also need a few props, most of which eventually are destroyed in the routine.

Conway was … and I guess still is … one of the best of that craft. Along with Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Dick VanDyke, Laurel and Hardy, Peter Sellers, Red Skelton and a few more. It’s an ancient skill. Lots of people have tried it. Few succeeded. At least not with the perfection of Conway and those other guys.

The late Harvey Korman, on the other hand, was known for his ability with a comedy line and his always outlandish creation of characters. Really great! But he had one professional failing for a comedian. A failing that, in his case, made him all the funnier. He could not work with his friend Conway without cracking up. And in the dentist sketch, he was destroyed by Conway’s physical comedy. Half way through, he made no pretense of keeping a straight face. He just couldn’t do it.

So it was doubly funny: Conway’s knockabout routine as the bumbling dentist and Korman, not only the hapless patient and foil, but also as part of the audience that had to laugh. Had to. Conway’s that good.

After a couple of viewings … and with tears on my cheeks … I got to thinking about what I had just seen and how it affected me.

I like comedy. I really do. But we see so little of it. If you take out all the lines about sex, physical imperfections of someone’s body, censor all the words you wouldn’t say to your mother, remove the verbal put-downs of one character to another, take out the sexual and racial stereotyping, you won’t find much to laugh about. There’ll be nothing left.

I’m no prude. Neither is Barb. But we can sit in front of the TV for hours watching “situation comedies” and not crack a smile. We don’t sit there anymore. Because if you see one half-hour sit-com, you’ve seen them all. The same situations regurgitated over and over and over. And all with laugh tracks that put laughs where the director wanted them instead of where a live audience would have put them. Naturally.

If you watch what’s euphemistically called the “Comedy Channel,” you’ll find foul-mouthed, jeans and sweatshirt guys in sneakers. Hour after hour after hour. Boil out the above “must have” ingredients and you can’t tell ‘em apart. Male from female. That’s about it. And sometimes, not even that.

Again, I like comedy. Nearly all kinds of comedy. British highbrow and satire are my favorites. About nearly any subject. Think Monty Python and you’ll know what I mean. I like Robin Williams, Johnny Carson, Mort Sahl, Abbott and Costello, Danny Kaye and lots more. Humor on subjects all over the map. And sketch comics like Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen and some of the old vaudevillians.

But somewhere back a few years, we lost most of our comedians who worked with talented writers, spending years honing routines until they had ‘em perfect. And we replaced that craftsmanship with put-downs, racist jabs, sexual references and whatever else came to the mind of someone who may have been a great comedian if …a big IF … they had worked with good writers and thought of themselves as professionals rather than someone who says funny things.

We don’t waste time watching them these days. We’ve tried. And “Tain’t funny, McGee.” And if you don’t understand that line, you’ve wasted too much time reading this far.

I sat through a presentation by our congressional neighborhood’s little fella in the U.S. House of Representatives the other day. Mr. DeFazio.

Much of it was political filler of “I voted for this…” “I voted against that …” “I’ve led the fight for…” “I was first to recognize…” and some bragging about successful earmarks, etcetera. The kind of wishy-washy stuff that, for reasons I don’t understand, seems to satisfy those asking the obvious but seldom-answered questions.

However, he did say one thing that peaked my curiosity and which I will be following with some interest. Talking about the mandatory insurance purchase provisions of our new national health care law, Ol’ Pete said he was about to introduce a bill to allow individuals to opt out. But in so doing, they would have to sign a pledge that they would be responsible for their own health care costs.

Now there’s an idea to set you thinking. I don’t know the details and it wouldn’t do any good to ask because I’d just be told “We’re still working on it and nothing’s final until it’s introduced.” So I won’t waste anyone’s time asking. Yet.

But I’ve been mulling the DeFazio idea over for several days. Obviously the “devil’s in the details.” A lot of details! Like making it compatible with other state and federal laws regarding health care.

Let’s start with the obvious. At what age do you put this pledge option before an individual? That’s quite important because, when I was in my 20’s, I believed I was indestructible and would live a long, healthy life. I would never be sick or in a car wreck or in an airplane falling out of the sky. Oh, it could happen to others. But I was indestructible.

So, in my 20’s, would I make a good and well-informed decision on the need for health care insurance for the next year or two? Or the rest of my life? Very doubtful. I didn’t even see the need for life insurance at that age and, if it hadn’t been for my much wiser parents paying the first installments of a little life policy, I wouldn’t have been insured at all.

Then there’s this. Say I opted out at 25 but get some terrible disease at 53. After the free ride for 28 years, as a sick middle-aged guy, can I suddenly opt in? Under our new health care law, insurance companies can’t deny insurance for pre-existing conditions. So, what about it? Is that fair to all the others who were wiser than me and who’ve paid their premiums all along? Can I get in at the last minute and save some big bucks?

Another thought. Suppose I opted out of health insurance and, say at age 41, I got smacked walking across the street. With no health insurance, do they just drag what’s left of me to the curb and folks continue on with their lives as I lie there bleeding? If 10% of the 300,000,000 of us opted out and got hit that way, our streets would be quite littered with unattended bleeding carcases.

Or this. At age 46, I have a heart attack and some friends take me to the hospital emergency room. What happens to my sickly soul when the admitting people there find I’m uninsured? By my choice 20 years earlier. Do they just set what’s left of me back out on the sidewalk?

That last scenario can’t happen now because hospitals accepting federal funds can’t turn people away. Will the DeFazio option change that, too?

Another case. Suppose I marry and have a family of four but still opt out. Is that reckless endangerment of minor children? If I don’t make insurance premium payments, how long do they spend their childhoods with no health insurance?

By now, you’ve probably thought of a couple other instances where questions arise about the DeFazio “up-or-down” health care scheme. As I said, “devils” and “details.”

I realize there are many people now who are uninsured. By choice. But under current laws, they are treated and patched up when the need arises. It’s also a fact that to make the new law financially viable, it’s the mandatory provision that carries the weight. Seems to me that would be undermined if opting out were allowed. It would also seem society would suddenly become even more financially burdened for the long run.

There are some idiots around who want to privatize Social Security. Based on the stock market volatility of the last three years, that could have left a lot of 60-something’s with nothing when needed most. At first glance, DeFazio’s option provision would seem almost as bad.

So, we’ll be looking over his small shoulder in coming weeks. He may be on to something. But I’d like a second opinion. And a third.

While Douglas County, Oregon … where I live … wrestles with the loss of millions of federal dollars in the coming months, and some drastic cuts in all services, we have a blackmail game being played here on a free service that exists nowhere else in Oregon. Or the rest of the country, either, I’m told.

First, here’s a little background. The County runs a solid waste system as nearly all counties do. The crown jewel … if garbage has such an ornament … is a large and seemingly well-run landfill just South of Roseburg off I-5. I’ve used it several times and have been impressed with the way it’s run. Always greeted with a smile by the lady in the little house at the entrance. Helpful assistants pointing out which unloading zone to use. And a full array of recycling bins near the entrance. Yep, seems to be state-of-the-art as these things go.

But … we have something you don’t have. We have all this and we’re not charged one dime to use it! Not a penney! It’s FREE! Residents can just load up, drive a mile South and empty the old pickup at no charge! How about that?

Now this solid waste business in our county costs about $3.5 million to run each year. In addition to the landfill, there are about a dozen transfer drop-off stations in the county. Overseeing all the activity are 26 workers or “full time equivalencies” in government-speak.

The County gets $575,000 income a year from some commercial fees and resale of wood chips and scrap iron. So there’s about a net $2.9 million that has to come from somewhere to make budget.

That additional money has been part of a federal subsidy this county and 17 others have enjoyed for a number of years. The feds have been paying millions to the counties for school support, public safety and other programs because of federal timberlands each county had that wasn’t on the tax rolls. Sort of a “safety net” as it were. Until now.

Now, all 18 counties are going to lose this “net.” I could tell you horror stories of what losing many millions of dollars will do to local budgets for public safety and other services but we’re just talking landfill here. And the landfill alone will lose all that $2.9 million which underwrites the solid waste program.

“So what’s the problem,” you ask? “The gravy train is gone,” you say. “All you freeloaders are going to have to just pay a few bucks to get rid of what you don’t want just like me. What’s the big deal?”

Well, that’s where the blackmail comes in. Because every time the county commission goes anywhere near the fee idea, the hearing room is filled with people who say “O.K., charge us $5.00 for a pickup load of our trash and we’ll just dump it along the road somewhere. Go ahead. Start charging. We’ll start dumping.”

And every time that has happened … so far … the commissioners back away and somebody changes the subject. For years, threats to break the anti-littering and similar laws have been enough to keep our little landfill business fee free.

I’ve never lived anywhere where landfills were free. Only here. And I have to admit that, each time I take a load of family castoffs to the dump, I feel a bit guilty for using the service without paying $5-10 for the privilege. Tain’t right.

I’ve never served in elective office and, God willing, never will. Just not cut out for it as you’re about to see. I lack the saint-like patience needed for such voter employment and have little use for people who make a tough job even harder. Like these blackmailers.

There are, I’m sure, better and more legally-trained heads than mine who are aware of this “mountain-meets-Mohammed” situation and have given it some thought. So I’m not liable to be asked for advice. And the advice I’d give might not even be legal.

But here’s what I’d say. Develop a list of appropriate, reasonable and expected charges for using our landfill. Post them prominently. Enforce them absolutely. Then put a county ordinance on the books with a fine of a minimum of $1,000 mandatory for the first conviction of illegal dumping. Then $2,500 mandatory for the second and $3,500 for the third. And enforce it … absolutely!

Somewhere in the trash most people throw away are clues to identify and track who it belonged to. Not always. But sometimes enough … like a VIN number on an old car body … to trace it and make an example of the first miscreant to have his illegal dumping butt seated in a county court room. Even just one enforced $1,000 fine will echo through the underground like wildfire.

Times here and elsewhere are tough. And they’re about to get tougher. I don’t envy county commissioners their jobs. But this economy can no longer afford the unique Douglas County “free landfill” use we’ve enjoyed. Every service provided must carry its own weight to be sustained.

And if somebody wants to avoid both the fee and reality, I say “sock it to ‘em.”

While the forested neighborhood of Southwest Oregon where I live is not seeing much improvement in economic conditions at the moment, some of the nation seems to be.

Just today, a long story crossed my desk headlined “Factories Boom” with an opening sentence that read “The U.S. manufacturing sector is roaring back after the worst recession in generations.” In recent days, other stories announced the opening of a new General Motors plant, banks making more loans, businesses adding to inventories, companies large and small reporting more sales and better profit lines. Even some major mergers which show confidence in things economic.

In short, as you look out across the barren ground caused by the recession of the last couple of years, you’re beginning to see some sprouts of greenery as more and more indicators push to the upside and conditions improve.

One of the best stories of the bunch has been about repayment of the TARP funds; the $245 billion government loans to large banks and other businesses that started under the Bush administration continued by Pres. Obama. To date, some $242 billion has been repaid. Ahead of schedule. And by the time the rest is returned … by the end of this year … there will be a tidy $2 billion or so tacked on as interest to the taxpayers who put up the bucks. Not bad.

Yep, the TARP and stimulus monies seem to have worked. Even General Motors and Chrysler are healthy again.

But you know what you don’t see in all this upbeat news? You don’t see stories cutting the Obama administration any slack! Not one!

Now I know any event as big as the beginning of an economic recovery is the result of a lot of things. Maybe even some things which the administration didn’t have a hand in. But it has been customary in our society to use the words “…on our watch” meaning when something good or bad happens, the guy at the top gets the credit or takes the blame. Presidential careers have lived and died with that two-edged sword since George Washington’s time.

I doubt presidents of either party have undertaken a major task motivated by a desire to take credit … or blame. But it happens. On the blame side, Jimmy Carter was faulted far too much for the American hostage-taking in Iran. On the plus side, Ronald Reagan got far too much credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Carter was run out of office for what happened on his watch while Reagan has been all but beatified for what occurred on his. It happens.

But from Congress to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to banks on Wall Street to coffee shops on Main Street, I’m not hearing anyone credit Barak Obama and his crew for the good economic improvements popping up on our national landscape. And credit there should be.

I think there are two major factors for that. Three if you count the fact that a lot of Republicans in Congress wouldn’t say a kind word about Obama if he could walk across the Potomac. So let’s just stick to the other two.

One is the fact that unemployment numbers aren’t getting much better. Yet. And probably won’t for the foreseeable future. So, rightly or wrongly, blame flows to the top as people continue to feel left out of any improvements.

The other factor is that state legislatures, county commissions and city councils are just now directly feeling the effects of the bad news they’ve been fearing. As the dollar flow is cut from above, they are facing continuing demands while having less to work with. There’ll be more such bad news when Congress finally lives up to it’s responsibility and puts a new budget on the books. When actual numbers are published of the lesser amount of federal funding going to states, counties and cities, there’ll be even more pain. And more blame.

In an economy the size of ours, the ripple affects take some time to be felt through the entire system. Everyone down the line knew more bad news was coming but it took a year or two for the actual numbers to arrive on the local budget doorstep.

So it will be with recovery. While there’s some green grass on the national landscape, the dust is just beginning to blow across the barren local fields. It’ll get worse before it gets better.

Which is why, to my thinking, the administration in the White House is not receiving the plaudits due for such improvements as we are seeing on this president’s “watch.” At street level, there’s still too much pain.

Still, good news there is. Not enough of it to be sure. But good nonetheless. So, from where I sit on the edge of this Oregon forest, for what it’s worth, “thank you.”

Just thought someone in the White House ought to know.