Archive for March, 2011

I have my own personal gauge for voter dissatisfaction in the nation. Without other outside indications, I know exactly when the electorate is experiencing a fever of political discontent. It’s always accompanied by in increase in my email intake from people wanting to adopt term limits. Always a direct correlation.

I know the temperature is near critical mass when I get petitions from friends who know my feelings about term limits – I’m against them – but want me to sign anyway. Frustration level: very high!

For the record, I’m one of the unhappiest campers you’ll find with the current Congress and many statehouses. We’re stalemated, lied to and cheated daily. Twice on weekends. I’ve never seen the gridlock – the animosity — the anger – the “throw-the-bums-out feelings” – as high as they are now. Poll after poll after poll shows those currently content with government number less than 20% and most of them must be high on something.

In some ways, Congress is an impediment to progress. It’s become a permanent employment system which was never intended. It harbors many denizens who say one thing at home and another along the Potomac. Some are in office despite lack of personal knowledge of how politics should be conducted or what the real problems are.

Both parties are absent effective leadership. There’s no trust, no comity, no give-and-take. In some countries, this much anger directed at the political system would result in revolution in the streets and possibly a hanging or two in a public square. So, the term limits emails pour in.

None of the term limiting versions I’ve seen would work. For several reasons. First, if an office holder could only serve a certain number of years, the ones you’d like to keep would have to leave about the time they become effective. In all other environments, length of service and experience are greatly desired because of skills learned and the institutional knowledge gained. Loss of good people and constant training of new ones of unknown ability makes poor sense.

Second, given the size of government and complexity of the issues, institutional memory is highly valued. It can make a mediocre politician better and a good politician great. But, under term limits, that necessary ingredient would be lacking in the elected and totally placed in the hands of civil servants. That’s a recipe for a weakened political system when controlled by the wrong people with no voter accountability.

And third, you have lobbyists. If you think they have too much power now, term limits would only enhance their access and control of decisions that should be made by the elected. They, too, would have the institutional memory lacking by members of Congress. That kind of memory comes only from experience. Knowing what worked and what didn’t – knowing how issues and policies came into being – knowing the historic intricacies of making government effective – all that would be lacking in the elected, giving others with their own agendas a greater opportunity for abuse.

Aside from keeping the guy busy who makes signs for the desks, office doors and parking spaces, I see no real improvement in forcing turnover through term limits and other artificial means

What I do see is a sizeable number of citizens who have no idea how government works, pay little attention to daily events, are uneducated about the nation’s political structure and justice system. Too often, people pay little to no mind to government until either it is about to affect them personally with taxes, restrictions, a war or until shortly before an election.

Too many people go to the polls not knowing anything about the candidates or issues. Too many vote their pocketbook rather than taking the time to study issue information or doing the necessary background work to make an informed decision.

American voters seem to me to be the least informed when asked to make a voting decision. A recent poll showed only 30% knew who Joe Biden is and more than 50% couldn’t name our vice president. We laugh about Jay Leno’s “man on the street” segments when we see people fail to answer simple questions about our country. Yet some of those folk vote. For whom? For what? Informed? How? About what?

I see only two things that can improve the quality of our political leaders. First is an educated electorate that knows the candidates, the issues and stays involved with what’s happening politically on a regular basis.

The second is identifying and electing better candidates to replace many of the current litter. Too many good people don’t want to take time from their career, put their own lives or their families on hold or suffer the mindless criticism that often goes with the job. We need quality men and women to step up. We’ve got a few but not enough.

Term limiting is one of those quick fix ideas that sounds good but doesn’t hold up to full examination. It’s an ineffective band-aid when surgery is what’s needed. Educating citizens would be more effective. And finding those better candidates is absolutely necessary.

If we can’t find enough, we may have to breed ‘em.

Interesting CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll out this week. Lots of numbers with this bottom line: more people are getting fed up with the Tea Party, putting it’s unfavorable rating right up there with Republicans and Democrats. Tea Party unfavorable 47%; Republican and Democrat Parties at 48%. Nationwide sample.

Buried in all the numbers was a very interesting statistic for Americans making less than $50,000 a year. Last October to now, Tea Party unfavorable numbers for those folks went UP 15 points! Roughly half of all Americans make $50,000 or less annually so that’s a lot of voters who are seeing the T-P people in a new, more negative light.

I have my own pet theory for that. My guess is it’s because the elected Tea Party candidates are now zealously pursuing massive and – for the most part- blind cuts in federal programs. Across-the-board whacks everywhere. But many people making $50,000 or less qualify for – and take part in – many of those same federal programs: Medicaid, Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI), Medicare, housing, help with utility bills, transportation, food aid and others.

Seems all that talk about reducing government spending was passed off in the 2010 campaigns as “cut waste,” “cut fat,” “tax the rich” and a few other easy “promises.” Nobody talked about “my” programs. It was “the other guys wasteful programs.” So now, when viewing the Tea Party, there’s a different prism. One shining more light on the difficulty of “cutting waste” – or even defining what it is – and it’s hitting close to home for a lot of folks. A lot of underemployed and out-of-work folks.

Another reason for the rising tide of negativity toward the Tea Party may come from people, like some of my friends, who cast the “pissed off” ballot last November. More than a few said they were “sending a message to Washington” and that “anybody is better than what we have now.” They put the delicate levers of government into very unqualified hands. And the “anybody but him” vote didn’t work out as they planned.

So, congratulations to the Koch brothers and other billionaires behind the Tea Party. Voters don’t like you any better than the other guys.

Now that’s real America!

First, it was the hypocrisy of Prof. Gingrich, trying to duck some well-earned charges of being such for soft-peddling his bed- jumping behavior (see above SECOND THOUGHTS – 3-28-11). Now comes former Sen. Rick Santorum – about-to-be presidential canadidate – who easily has made the dumbest political and social statement of all time. And on the ol’ radio in a primary state. New Hampshire.

I swear: if you’re not sitting down for this one, please find a chair before reading on. If you’re a Republican, you might want to take a deep breath.

Right out there – on the ol’ radio this week – Santorum showed the full effects of standing out in the sun too long. The subject was pretty simple: Social Security. But not nearly so simple as his statement.

“Abortion rates are influencing the number of children born in the United States and there are, therefore, not enough children to support the program long term.” Honest to God. That’s what he said.

But that’s not the really stupid part! Are you ready, sports fans? Here it comes!

“A third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion.” That’s what he said. I couldn’t make that up! A former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. Radio station WEZS, Laconia, New Hampshire. This week.

The father of seven concluded, “I want children living in America and contributing. America’s greatest resource is our people and we’re denying America what it needs, which is more Americans.”

This is one of those rare times when I can’t think of anything more to say. You’re on your own.

Newt Gingrich took to the airwaves on Fox-GOP News over the weekend to tell the world “I am not a hypocrite.” Yeah, he really did.

This is the same Newt Gingrich who is thrice married, conducted two extra-marital affairs – one with a member of his own staff – while married to one of the three, confronted one wife at her hospital bedside seeking a divorce while she was being treated for cancer, who led the charge to impeach former Pres. Clinton for improper conduct while deep in his own affairs, and who was forced to resign not only as Speaker of the House but also from the Congress for his life’s activities.

“I am not a hypocrite.”

Sounds to me a lot like another hypocrite telling the nation “I am not a crook!”

Recent coarseness of American politics has been escalating, especially since the late ‘60’s when Viet Nam was the center of debate. And debate then was hot and heavy. To the confrontational moments these days, you can often add foul and personal attacks to describe a lot of it.

While our 200+ year history is full of examples stretching back to our founding – George Washington once called the Continental Congress a “residence of the unthinking” – our harshest examples pale in comparison with the British and the French. Verbal attacks on public office holders over there are nothing new. And often not at all civil.

But our citizen criticisms are becoming more frequent from city hall to county courthouse. Several well-known confrontations have even turned to gunfire and murder. The violence and aggressiveness that permeate our society have often made non-conformity to Robert’s Rules of Order the expected rather than the exception.

While I certainly support decorum in public meetings and endorse a lot of methods officials have adopted to deal with it, the little Southern Idaho community of Burley has taken a step too far.

Burley is your typical small Idaho community. About 9,300 souls who live along the famed Snake River. Rural, agricultural, with an air of the normal attitude found in most similar towns – individual independence. Mostly Republican. Heavily conservative.

The city council of Burley seems representative of all that. But an action it recently took is not sitting well along Main Street. Or with me.

The Council has traditionally offered residents a public comment period at its meetings. Those wanting to speak have been limited to three-minutes and have been asked to stick with their points. Both seem reasonable requirements and most people adhere to them. But there are voices – and every council or commission has them – who use the time for a personal grievance tirade and who can be more than a little pointed in their remarks. Often a personal attack or two shows up in these sessions.

Here’s where the Council of the City of Burley, Idaho, and I part company. After several rounds of this incivility, the Council has dropped the citizen comment slot from the agenda. If you want to speak during a meeting, you have to sign up well-in-advance and wait until you’re scheduled at a future meeting. Which is not every week or two in a town of 9,300.

They did this once before in 2009. Same cause. Some of the same people. After a few weeks, and some public complaints, the comment period was reinstated. It should be so again. Quickly.

One advantage of a small community is that you know folks. The good guys and the troublemakers. You can take previous bad actors aside before any meeting, talk to them and assure them – strongly – that order will be maintained. I’ve never been to a council meeting where the police chief or some other sworn office wasn’t in attendance. If you need backup, you got it. And if the warned miscreant breaks the rules, you use ‘em. Order maintained.

If necessary, the mayor can talk to a local magistrate about the issue. Subsequently, those who find themselves in front of the judge on a “disturbing the peace” or “public nuisance” ticket could be relieved of $200-300 as a result of their disruptive and discourteous behavior. Seems to me that would leave an impression the council is serious while maintaining open communication. And civility. Legally.

Cutting off citizen access to elected officials – especially during public meetings – is not a good practice. Nor is setting up a procedural path of hurdles to overcome. Lots of folks – especially in small towns – are on a first-name basis with the mayor or council member. May even be related. Conducting a local council meeting should recognize that wonderful small town advantage and make use of it. Not try to eliminate it.

Lots of folks want to be on a council or commission. Most of those that are work a lot of unpaid hours trying to do a good job. They are due a proper amount of recognition. Citizens need to respect that.

But the elected need to keep in mind the burden of public service is often accompanied by going the extra mile with folks you might otherwise not want to deal with. The oath of office does not make you someone who can conduct official business without public accountability. It does not shield you from citizen reaction – good or bad.

If someone won’t keep the rules and abide by the common laws of courtesy and respect in the conduct of business, every official has tools available to enforce good behavior. It’s been my experience a generous portion of fairness in the conduct of public business will bring citizen support when enforcement to assure that fairness is duly exercised.

Silencing the majority or creating unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for those who respect the rules are unnecessary. And unwanted.

When you are a “commentator” or “journalist,” you know some subjects are, professionally speaking, “losers.” No matter where you come down, you’re automatically going to make somebody mad. Very mad. That’s when the anonymous phone calls and nasty emails begin.

Several subjects fit the category: right-to-work, religion, guns. Most of all, abortion. It’s a subject I’ve avoided writing about for decades. Until now. I’m opening Pandora’s Box on this because, as I scan legislative stories from various states, I see the word oozing to the surface in far too many capitols. Congress, too. It should not be. The subject was never meant to be political – shouldn’t be political – will never be solved politically. Never.

I have three daughters and six grandkids with religious affiliations all over the map: freestyle to Roman Catholic. Their family decisions are theirs and theirs alone. We trust their judgment and respect their choices. Whatever they are. If they ask for help, we try. If not, we stand aside. Just as politicians – all politicians everywhere – should stand aside on abortion.

For those who don’t want to read further, I’ll make my two main points right here. Number one: abortion is a personal matter; for the woman and for members of the family involved. Period. Second, that most personal subject is not now … should not have been … and should never be … a matter for government legislation or involvement. It’s nobody else’s damned business. Period.

The most strident voices repeatedly forcing the subject of abortion to the political arena represent to me, in many cases, the most contradictory aspect in American politics. More often than not, they’re people who want less government in their lives. While they wouldn’t stand for a government official in their bedrooms and would take to the streets to stop it, they want one in a doctor’s office during pregnancy counseling. They wouldn’t tolerate government interference in their religious choices but want it in everyone else’s medical care. Am I alone in seeing the contradiction?

Government has a lousy track record in issues of morality. Likely the most famous was prohibition. But there have been others when zealots pushed lawmakers into trying to legislate our personal behavior. Didn’t work then. Won’t work now. Never will.

Our nation was founded on principles involving freedoms. The basic documents enumerated freedoms on one hand while authorizing government certain deliberately narrow responsibilities on the other. A lot of people who want to make abortion a political issue forget that. They’ll fight to the death to make their own decisions … free of government oversight … while trying to make criminals out of women and their doctors who need to make critical choices of this most personal nature.

We live in a nice home surrounded by good neighbors. Nice people, all of them. Though different in many ways, we respect each other’s privacy and each other’s values. They don’t ask us what color to paint their houses; we’re not allowed choices of the vehicles they drive; they plant lawns and landscape without our advice.

And not one of them… not one … has come to our door asking about what sorts of medical procedures we’d recommend for their adult children whom we’ve never met. Not one! Nor have we gone to their door, warning to call the cops if one of those offspring makes a personal decision we don’t agree with. None of our damned business!

The non-political-issue of abortion … and all other individual issues of morality … to me, are that simple. Where your family is concerned, where your personal choices are concerned, whatever those choices turn out to be, on whatever personal subject … it’s none of anyone else’s business.

It’s easy to blame the zealots who keep shoving proposed abortion legislation under the noses of politicians. Too easy. The fault lies not just with them but with those elected. The ones from state capital to Congress who cling to the demented thinking that they must remain in office or the country will go to Hell. Preservation of political self. It’s the most cancerous element in our politics today. It’s strangling the nation as self-preservation-at-any-cost keeps new blood and new thinking from taking on our issues.

If the people in office … and there are many … who are presented with this non-political paperwork, had the plain old guts to hand it back to the supplicant, we would accomplish two really important things.

First, we’d send yet another matter of personal choice back where it belongs and keep government at all levels from wasting time, talent and treasure on something that’ll never be enforceable. Any more than any other personal morality issue has ever been enforceable at the hands of government.

Second, the divisiveness of the subject would be absent from politics. We are a nation in the throes of so many critically important issues. We need comity. We need cooperation. We need compromise. We need focus on matters of national survival. We do not need another dead end run at something that is none of government’s business and which serves only to divide decision makers. And it does do that.

Well, enough said. In a few minutes the emails will pop up and the phone calls will start. That’s O.K. When it comes to acknowledging ‘em, I’m pro-choice. And my choice is to ignore ‘em.

Warren Christopher was the most interesting person I’ve ever met. I say that after more than 70 years of life, several decades in the media and after meeting many, many prominent and impressive people. Warren Christopher was the most interesting and most impressive!

Certainly nothing about his physical appearance led you to that conclusion. He may have stood five-eight. He may have weighed about 150 pounds if he was carrying his large briefcase. Quiet demeanor. More often than not, the last to speak in a meeting of luminaries. Just another guy who spent nearly all of his life in major public service. Until he died last week at the age of 85.

I won’t regurgitate his impressive resume. All that was covered in stories of his death: Clinton’s Secretary of State, peace envoy, chief negotiator in several major international deals, etc. And often he was an “unofficial” troubleshooter for both Democrat and Republican presidents who trusted him and his long list of personal international contacts. While a lot of his official works will never appear on his lengthy list of achievements – many for national security reasons – he lived an amazing and effective life.

The late Sen. Frank Church brought Christopher to Boise in the ‘80’s for a symposium on international affairs. It was Church who arranged for me to meet with Christopher for a 30-minute interview. Those 30 minutes turned into three hours! Somewhere, in my stack of career leftovers, I still have the tape.

As he and I started the interview, we were “diplomat” and “reporter.” About 30 minutes in – where we were supposed to end – we were talking like friends and I was listening to some of the most fascinating tales of international events you could imagine.

I’ll never forget his response to one question in particular. After telling me the backgrounds of one major meeting or event after another, I asked “When you and, say the President of Egypt, get through all the diplomatic niceties and the formal talks, do you ever get the chance to sit down with the guy alone, with a cigar and a good wine and say ‘Anwar (Sadat), you’re wrong?’”

“Oh, yes,” Christopher said. “With him, I said it more than once. Also with others; those who were open to personal conversations. And they to me. I’ve found not all world leaders are as confident and decisive as we see them on camera. Sometimes they need reassurance and sometimes they need candid advice they may not be getting from those around them.” He stopped for a moment and added, “Presidents, too.”

Christopher gave me – a small town, nobody reporter – his full attention during that interview. He answered questions directly, gave me detail and insight and seemed to shut out all outside possibilities that we would be interrupted. He showed no urgency to get back to his world of important friends and contacts. He was focused on the moment.

In this age of political nastiness and constant carping by people from whom we expect better behavior, this small, almost nebbish appearing man stood very tall. His demeanor was that of a statesman. No, make that Statesman with a capital “S.” There had to be many reasons why so many world figures trusted this guy; called on him when they had a mess to clean up or needed someone to solve a difficult problem.

No mystery to me. Warren Christopher was the most interesting and impressive man I’ve ever met. Maybe for them, too.

Some weeks ago, I wrote here at length about the idiocy of the Idaho Legislature, ignoring sound legal advice and rushing headlong into expensive and immovable legal walls. Well, boys and girls, the current crop is carrying on that fine old, taxpayer underwritten tradition.

Idaho has a very competent GOP Attorney General in Lawrence Wasden who’s garnered national accolades from peers in other states and has an enviable track record of legal accuracy. He’s surrounded himself with a competent staff of lawyers whose collective backgrounds assure well-researched, sound legal responses to Idaho officials who ask for help.

Problem is, the Legislature often asks for his advice just before members decide to ignore it. So, over the years … even before Wasden … legislative types have cost Idaho taxpayers millions in court loses in a string of legal defeats. And, as they say, “the beat goes on.”

In a year when the only thing that should be on the plate is budgetary matters, the Idaho group is getting itself embroiled in the non-political topic of abortion. Yes again. Details of this particular waste of time aren’t important here. Suffice it to say the A.G. has warned them officially they’re going down a bad road and, more than likely, will lose in the end. After, of course, another court fight and more tax dollars thrown at it. The physician/legislator who sought the advice agreed with the decision but not the rest of the pack. So the outside Idaho Attorney Retirement Act, funded by the taxpayer, is alive and well.

Then there was the issue of “nullification” when the body decided to tell the feds Idaho wouldn’t abide by the new health care laws. A. G. said “You’ve got another loser here.” One house passed it overwhelmingly before wiser political heads intervened. Outside attorneys were already salivating.

Oh, and the guns. A few legislative NRA types have a bill headed to approval to allow concealed weapons on all university and college campuses. The schools have shouted “NO.” The response? “Damned liberals. No sense of the need for personal protection.”

Boise State University could be especially affected. Several facilities on its campus are used for major sporting events and national touring musicians and shows. Things like the 2012 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships. Shows by Garth Brooks, Elton John, Reba McIntyre and others.

The NCAA clearly says in it’s rules: “Firearms and explosives of any kind not permitted.” Same language, more or less, in the performer’s contracts. No. None. Period.

So BSU stands to lose big bucks because nobody’s rule banning guns is going to override state law. Kids can drink the beer, carry the guns and that’s it! Interesting note here: the BSU lobbyist who’s saying “no” the loudest is a former, long time GOP Speaker of the Idaho House where his old companions slam-dunked the bill. Also interesting that the same Legislature is cutting BSU’s state revenue. Double hit.

Legislative deep thinkers have also eliminated $35 million in Medicaid spending. Smart? No, dumb! Idaho gets back more federal dollars than it pays out … about $2 fed for every $1 state. So, cutting $35 million costs the state an additional $73 million. Nearly $100 million gone from elder care, home care (a bargain for the buck when compared with institutions) and all other Medicaid spending.

So, at what cost the $35 million savings? Ask any county commissioner about indigent medical bills as payer-of-last-resort. Ask any sheriff about people who should be institutionalized but who are dangerous on the street. Those that do get institutional care will cost more because their care will be more expensive. And every dollar … every one … will be an Idaho tax dollar because there’ll be no federal underwriting. Finally, ask the care-giver and family.

The state is also estimating 1,000 people will be laid off as a result of the action. That’ll cost the state in unemployment claims at a Dept. Of Labor already in the red and mooching other federal bucks.

Reduced care. Much more costly care. Higher unemployment. But as one legislator said in debate for the winning side, “We don’t need no more federal dollars in Idaho.”

Well, boys and girls, I’ll keep an eye on the upcoming, losing legal battles of our neighboring state. And of the effects of alcohol and concealed guns on their university and college grounds. And I’ll try to total the dollars lost as major sporting events and national performers fly over …and not into … Idaho.

The suffering of those who lost their freedom, dignity and independence in the Medicaid “savings?” The local governments hit with yet another fiscal whammy? Who will add all that up? Nobody in the Idaho Legislature, I’d bet. After all, they sure showed those feds!

Like most of us, I’ve never lived through a tornado, hurricane, flood or other really bad natural disaster. Just damned lucky. As a longtime resident of the Northwest, I’ve been shaken around by an earthquake or two. Just shaken. Not stirred.

So, again, like most of us, I have absolutely no idea how people in Northern Japan are feeling, what they’re thinking or how deeply they’re suffering. Pictures of total devastation show an unworldly landscape. Especially one video from a town of about 12,000 people, shown going about their business. Ten minutes later it was a pile of soaked rubble. And all the people seen on the street before probably died in those 10 minutes.

While no one can guess, with any certainty, what most of the survivors will do, my gut says a lot of them will go right back where they were. I say that because, in the news business, I’ve covered a disaster or two.

In the early ‘60’s, for example, while a reporter at KFAB-AM-FM in Omaha, I reported on a couple of major floods. Every few years, the normally peaceful Missouri River on the city’s East side would cover some of the low lying land. And take out a few homes. After a season or two, you could tell when it was going to happen again.

One of the worst things about flooding is, although some of the buildings that survive look pretty good, most of them have to be demolished because of internal water damage to basic structural and utilities systems. Which means, by the time any real rebuilding can start, often the large area is just so much flat ground.

One particularly bad Spring, with high water threatening downtown Omaha, I was sent to a temporary shelter to interview some of the people who had been flooded out. Few wanted to talk and there really wasn’t much you could ask them except “how do you feel?”

One old fella, a rare native of the area, caught my attention. Bib overalls, soiled hat, several days growth of beard and a cigarette. He was quietly watching a small black and white TV set. I sat down beside him.

“What now,” I asked inanely?

“What do you mean,” he said. “I go back. And I start again.”

“Why,” I asked again? “Why go back.” He looked at me like I was from a foreign country.

“Because that’s where I live,” he said matter-of-factly. “That’s where I’ve lived for 67 years. The damned river don’t live there. I do!”

The Japanese are a rooted people, in a country smaller than California but with four times the population. Floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, huge fire storms, foreign conquerors and even atomic bombs are just some of the catastrophes that have assaulted them. They’re not strangers to deprivation and suffering. Their culture has historically demanded patience and often superhuman perseverance. And, above all, sacrifice.

But, in recent years, younger Japanese lifestyles have become more Western. Our electronic interconnectedness has created a different atmosphere for them. The 20, 30 and 40-somethings, especially in the larger cities, live in a culture difficult, in many ways, to tell from our own. Clothes, cars, music, outlook … much different than their parents just 20-30 years ago.

Now, many younger Japanese are facing terribly hard living conditions and the need to sacrifice like they’ve never known. While not a new experience to their parents and grandparents, for them the electricity has always been on, food was always available, homes were warm in winter and cool in summer. What will their reactions be to this national tragedy? When the peace, comfort and all material things they’ve ever known are gone?

I can’t even begin to guess. But I’ll bet the older Japanese are a lot like that old gentleman in Omaha so many years ago. I’d bet that, if you went to one of the shelters and looked up one of the Japanese seniors who had been displaced, you’d find a wrinkled, bearded face.

And you’d be told, “The tsunami doesn’t live there. I do.

The other night, we watched a Discovery Channel hour about the Texas Rangers and their battles … literally … with Mexican drug runners. It was a very interesting story. Rangers didn’t always win but they prevailed most of the time. And the bullets … a lot of bullets … were real.

I can’t remember the exact location. But it was a small, narrow stretch of the Rio Grande River where the distance from shore to shore is about 80 yards. The Mexican crooks like the spot because they can smuggle drugs … or people … across with minimum exposure. And, because the water is deep and fast-moving, it’s a good place for the drivers to dump a vehicle and swim home if the Rangers get close on their tail during a chase.

I hadn’t thought about Texas Rangers and their Stetson hats for a long time and it was unusual to watch them in action without the trademark headgear. These officers were in camouflage fatigues or army combat gear. Many had traditional helmets, bulletproof vests and other military accessories.

Some were armed with automatic rifles in addition to sidearms. They had specially equipped SUV’s, jet boats for river work, up-to-date ground surveillance equipment and about every military and law enforcement device imaginable.

Including several helicopters. Not one. Several. Just in this one operating location. New stuff with lots of add-ons. One accessory worthy of note was the FLIR equipment. That’s “Forward-Looking InfraRed.” When used with their state-of-the-art night vision goggles, flying Rangers could spot smugglers and illegals on the darkest nights. Even the snipers riding in the choppers had special night vision equipment and special high power scopes so they could do their job in pitch black conditions. All that night gear ain’t cheap!

Then there was their first-class operating base. It was a long semi-trailer, probably the 53-foot model. One side was a large slide-out like you’d see on an RV. Inside, a wall of TV monitors bringing in signals from all over the place. Satellite stuff. Armed Rangers were seated in front of almost every flat panel screen with armed supervisors standing behind. A real military “war room.” And the entire trailer combat center was sitting inside another very large building like a hangar.

Now this was just one location along the Texas-Mexico border. I’m sure there were others since that border is so long. This one well-armed, state-of-the-art complex couldn’t have been the only Ranger operational site. But let’s just imagine that it was.

I wondered what the cost of just that one very special Texas Ranger group might be. I did a little research. Well, equipment, armament and special clothing for these Rangers in the field came to more than $1,500 per man including weapons. I’d estimate we saw about two-dozen troopers. The SUV’s … and there were many in addition to the traditional patrol vehicles … about $30,000 each because of all the special gear. The boats … I saw three … about $25,000 each. Dive gear for a team … approximately another $8,000.

The trailer, with all it’s sophisticated equipment, could easily have cost $500,000. And those helicopters. The ones I looked up, which were the same or similar, were over $1 million a copy. We saw at least two. Again, in this one base.

So, totaling up equipment, throwing on the usual state employee salaries and benefits, you could easily reach several million dollars. Just what we saw in this one presentation. There are likely other bases, more Rangers and more equipment.

“So what, Rainey,” you ask? “Where are you going with this?”

Well, after we turned off the TV, I got to thinking about how long the State of Texas could pay this very expensive and ongoing bill. That’s when it hit me. I doubt the State of Texas is paying the freight for most of this.

No, for that you’d have to look to Washington, D.C. and the Dept. Of Homeland Security, probably Defense and possibly some other federal money pots. Which means you and I are likely the payers-of-last-resort and it’s our tax dollars picking up a lot of the Texas tab.

And we’re doing this in a state in which the Governor … Rick Perry … has loudly and repeatedly condemned the federal government for interfering in the affairs of his “sovereign state” and who has talked of secession as being a possibility if it continues. Talked of and threatened! And he’s been joined in his threats by members of his congressional delegation.

Given the $25+ billion debt in the Texas state budget this year, the discontinuance of the federal largesse could be quite a problem for Perry and his Rangers. Without you and me, those front line defenders would be out there in Speedos, on 10-speeds, carrying Daisy air rifles.

Give that a little thought, Mr. Governor, next time you pop off to your right wing base. You might want to treat those of us paying the bill with a little more respect. No, make that a lot more respect.