Archive for March, 2011

We’re living a moment in history that, frankly, scares me more than a little. I’ve not seen it before in my lifetime and I’ve not yet figured out how to deal with it or all that it may mean.

From my little vantage spot here in the Oregon woods, it appears our federal, and many state governments, are divorced from the people. Put another way, there is a lot of empiric evidence the governed are being separated from those governing.

The developing schism of federal Congress-versus-the-voter is easily provable. Two months of unnecessary time have been wasted with issues of abortion, “radical” Muslims hearings, eye-wash cuts of “discretionary” spending versus the entire budgetary spectrum, efforts to kill government departments and programs the right wing hates … thereby creating further unemployment … avoiding the issue of a necessary tax code overhaul and phony hearings on subjects designed to embarrass the Obama administration.

But repeated public opinion polling by respected institutions … right to left … shows near-unanimous voter issues are jobs, cracking down on Wall Street, getting this country out of two undeclared and costly wars, a desire for compromise, less infighting and more positive action from the Congress. All of which flies in the face of what’s really happening.

In many states over the past few weeks, events and issues showing actual government dismissal of voter desires are appearing by the dozens. The most prominent, of course, has been in Wisconsin where up to 100,000 marched on the state capital, opposing efforts to eliminate public employee contract bargaining rights. Repeated Wisconsin and national polling over several weeks, showed voter disapproval … in both parties … of the governor and legislative efforts ran from the low 50’s to over 80%. It was done anyway. Now, 28 states have measures on tap to do the same thing. Ohio has already done it. Again, bipartisan voter majorities sampled said “no.” Gov. Kasich and the legislature said “too bad.”

In Michigan, the governor will sign into law a measure he requested, creating a staff of “emergency executives” under his direct control. When a Michigan city is in financial trouble … and which ones aren’t these days … he can send in an “executive” with the power to remove the mayor, city council and other elected and professional city officials, scrap all existing contracts, fire city employees at will and take over active day-to-day operation of the municipality. Again, repeated Michigan polling has shown voters overwhelmingly opposed. Well, buzz off, people!

In Idaho, while the state’s universities were adamantly against it, the legislature passed a new law allowing guns on college campuses. Educators pleaded not to. Well, that’s just too bad. Idaho also has a new law protecting cattle and hog feeding operations against local complaints, overruling local ordinances. No county commissioner and no local city council wanted that one.

At least 20 states have bills floating around to override the federal Constitution to nullify citizenship of foreign nationals born in this country. Two legislatures have passed bills on the subject. The public opposes the idea. Overwhelmingly. Still, some of those racially-motivated measures will become state law. Temporarily.

More than a dozen states are wasting time and money trying to figure out how to get out from under the new federal health care law. The oft-rejected “nullification” scheme. They’re pursuing futile efforts in the face of dozens and dozens of polls showing a large majority of people not wanting to abolish the law. Modify or reshape it? Yes. Kill it? No! At least 10 states are trying to make presidential candidates prove U.S. citizenship before being allowed on the ballot. Public says “no.” Legislatures are ignoring.

There is much, more evidence out there. A lot more. It would be too easy … and wrong … to say it’s the fault of either major political party. It’s more than that. Historians and sociologists will ultimately have their educated say. But here’s mine. So far.

We’re trying to run a 22nd century country with 18th century tools. And 19th century attitudes of many in power, that can’t be applied to current realities. We have a citizenry largely adept with the use of today’s technologies and today’s thought processes, but we are governed by a dysfunctional, antiquated system; a Congress and many legislatures controlled, at the moment, by people who want to bring back more comfortable … and safer… times. People who deny our interconnectedness in all aspects of our world, longing for a kind of independence that no longer exists in commerce, politics, business, government … or our individual lives. For better or worse.

This growing chasm … at least the one I see … between government and the governed, really scares me. I look overseas and see countries on fire because government and the people were on separate paths. A battle of wills being fought in many streets.

Lincoln’s fears on this subject come too easily to mind. He never doubted this nation’s abilities to deal with threats from without. His fear was the enemy from within. Us.

Today’s query: What in Hell do we taxpayers have to do to get the attention of the U.S. Congress to get the denizens therein to do the work that must be done?

Though up in years, I have a clear memory of just five months ago when I cast my federal ballot. The one that, in my neighborhood, forced my vote for the lesser of two evils. That voting device … and most likely yours … had a heartfelt, large print note attached to it with the strong admonition to get our national economic problems under control, stop passing our bucks to those who got us into this mess, deal effectively with Wall Street and … most of all … develop a federal/private economy that would grow millions of jobs. NOW!

Denizens of Punditville have since been self-righteously blaming politicians … Democrats in particular … for taking their eye off the ball and not dealing with the economy in general and employment in particular. With some justification, great blame was heaped by those employed voices on an entire political party for failure to “do the people’s work.”

Republicans … giddy with joy … stepped up to the plate. And to this very hour of this very day, they have struck out completely. One, Two, Three, you’re outta here!

Regardless of the verbal and mental gymnastics of Boehner, Cantor, McConnell el al, the GOP has yet to address our most pressing economic issues and shows no signs of doing so in my lifetime.

Evidence of that failure is rampant. With his special, outsized speaker’s gavel in hand, Boehner has presided over his majority like an absentee parent. His out-of-control charges have produced no legislative initiative to address “fixes” for the economy. Not one! Rather than cracking down on Wall Street swindlers, Boehner has overseen several efforts to force regulators to back off. Instead of addressing national unemployment, the Republican rat pack has held hearings designed to break the back of labor unions, inflame one or more religious minorities in a witch hunt and slipped anti-abortion language into several bills.

Anxious to hit the ground running from November, ‘10, till now, fully aware of not only the facts but of their promises to get busy on the economy, the effectiveness rating is … Zero! No ideas. No legislation. Nothing!

And looking ahead to the current crop that wants to move into the White House, none of them will produce new presidential help.

What is it about Republicans … the party of business … the party of a healthy economic climate … the party of Reagan … that they can produce such a herd of non-starters? Why, with an electorate crying for economic help, do they spend their energy on abortion and personal, non-governmental issues that are none of their business? How can they look the national economic dragon in the eye and deliberately walk around it to get to family and social matters that are not crying for their ignorant involvement?

I am not anti Republican. Nor am I pro Democrat. I don’t give a damn who runs the place as long as that running is conducted with an honest effort to deal with our national problems. Forget which political party. Call ‘em Party 1 and Party 2. Or Party 87. Just get out the tools, work up a sweat getting things in running order and do so with some intellectual honesty that will make us proud. Is that so damned hard?

To a dysfunctional Senate, we have now added a dysfunctional House. We have a Congress that’s not only NOT working on the issues we sent them there to deal with, but which seems incapable of ever dealing with them. Good people of both parties … good people with the necessary experience … are quitting in frustration. We seem to be replacing them with others who are not up to the task and who, thus far, have proven themselves more interested in their own futures than ours.

I believe we have become a nation more divided by our national governance than secured by it. Over-regulated and overcharged on the one hand; ignored on the other. The majority of people tend to be wanting to go in one direction while a Congress, monopolized by people who want to perpetuate their ineffective performance, wrestle in the mud looking for campaign dollars.

This rant is not just mine. A dozen or more recent polls have shown what Americans want versus the direction Congress is going. Millions feel as I do. But we are still being ignored.

A pessimist is simply an optimist with experience. And my experience tells me we won’t soon see improvement along the banks of the Potomac.

I did not write this column. I truly wish I had. Much of the ubiquitous email in my inbox is a lot of chaff and not much wheat. This one was whole kernel golden grain!

I don’t know who wrote it. But my sincerest wish is that he/she is a teacher at some local high school who is teaching his/her teenage students economics at a uniquely understandable level unavailable at nearly any university.

The material is much more interesting than you may think. Give it a try.

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Sally H. is the proprietor of a bar in Boise.

She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with a new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later. Sally keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers’ loans).

Word gets around about Sally’s “drink now, pay later” marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into her bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Boise.

By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands, Sally gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages.

Consequently, Heidi’s gross sales volume increases massively.

A young and dynamic vice-president at a Boise bank recognizes that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Sally’s borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank’s corporate headquarters, expert traders figure a way to make huge commissions, and transform these customer loans into DRINK BONDS. These “securities” then are bundled and traded on international securities markets. Naive investors don’t really understand that the securities being sold to them as “AAA Secured Bonds” really are debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation’s leading brokerage houses.

One day, even though the bond prices still are climbing, a risk manager at the original Boise bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Sally’s bar. He so informs her.

Sally then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed alcoholics they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since she cannot fulfill her loan obligations, she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and Sally and 11 employees lose their jobs.

Overnight, DRINK BOND prices drop by 90%.

The collapsed bond asset value destroys the bank’s liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community. The bank that had loaned funding for Sally’s bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms’ pension funds in the DRINK BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds.

Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations and her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers.

Fortunately, though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multibillion dollar, no-strings attached cash infusion from the government.

The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, nondrinkers who have never been in Sally’s bar.

Now do you understand?

If you read or listen to the bulk of our country’s mass media and the political taking heads these days, most of the noise is about the bad economic conditions at all levels of government. The loud and conflicted voices go on and on about either making spending cuts or decrying spending cuts.

Problem is, if you take the time to do a little economic research of your own, the evidence is overwhelming that nearly all the media and political chatter is wrong!

For a lot of years … and after listening to a lot of economists … my pick of the litter is Paul Krugman of Princeton. Even with a Nobel Prize in his back pocket, Krugman is one of those rare scholars who can talk economics and put the details in terms most of us can understand. His enviable track record of almost always being right helps, too. Despite his heavy academic credentials, Krugman is no dreamy-eyed liberal. Nor is he a hard-right “trickle-down” guy, though he does do contract work for the conservative-leaning Brookings Institution.

Krugman, and some of his thoughtful peers, see nothing but failure in all this talk of cutting. May make for personal political gratification to see yourself on the evening network news. But Krugman says the economic woes of this country won’t be solved … unless and until … someone has the guts to flat out say “our national budget needs more tax income.” Plus, we “need to change the way government does business.” Without those, he says, cutting will simply bring unnecessary hardships on millions of us and leave us pretty much where we started. In deep national debt.

As a senior on a fixed retirement income, it pains me greatly to say this: I think he’s right. Reducing outgo with no accompanying increase in income just won’t hack it.

Part of Krugman’s well-qualified opinion is we don’t necessarily need to raise taxes. What’s necessary, he believes, is a rewrite … top to bottom … of the confusing and huge federal tax code. Basically, if we changed the way we levy many of our taxes and on what, and if we eliminated some of the loopholes and gigantic-but-unwarranted tax breaks that have been created over the last couple of hundred years, we might even pay less than we do now.

But the devil is in the details here for several reasons. One: it’s highly unlikely anyone … or significant group of anyone’s … is going to make a formal proposal … or demand … that it happen. Two: if it did happen, the corps of thousands of Washington lobbyists would likely be doubled by corporations and other groups trying to protect their largesse at the taxpayer’s expense. The begging would be massive!

It would be similar to trying to have a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of updating one of our most important founding documents. I believe it’s time to do that. But, that’s not going to happen, either. Because once you put the Constitution on the table for amendment, you’d be inundated with every nut case and special interest in America, trying to insert or delete something and the job would never get done.

Despite the excellence of Dr. Krugman’s work, and the evidence he and his cohorts are quite probably right, an overhaul … if not complete rewrite … of the tax code is not likely to take place. Politicians at all levels will continue to stand toe-to-toe and demand cuts in spending. As long as those cuts are someone else’s. Economic illiterates … clinging to their personal desires to stay at the public trough … will push and shove and twist and dodge and warp reality by holding to the fallacy that we can “cut ourselves to prosperity.”

As a result, seniors, low and middle-income Americans will continue to shoulder the burdens of problems that are solvable but for which there are not enough political guts around to deal with them straight on.

Too many national politicians are already either hiding in their offices or rewriting their biographies to get as far to the edge of the earth as possible. The concepts of cooperation and compromise aren’t in them. They are being cowed by ideologues who will eventually find fault and turn on them like yesterday’s garbage. It always happens.

The longer the ideologues hold sway … and the longer we ignore the excellent advice of the Paul Krugman’s of the world … the more debt we’ll create and the more pain will be inflicted. Yes, we’ve got to cut back. But we’ve also got to increase income.

As a species, we’ve still got a lot to learn!

Legal doesn’t always make it right

Author: Barrett Rainey

One of life’s harder lessons for me has been to accept something as legal when I know damned well it’s wrong. Very wrong. And within the last year, the U.S. Supreme Court has hit me square between the eyes with just such a conflict. Twice.

First, it was assigning the personal right of free speech to corporations to allow them to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political candidates and their campaigns. While it may be legal in the eyes of a majority of the Court, there is something morally wrong in the effect the decision has already had on American politics. To say nothing of the lack of common sense in granting all “individual” rights to corporate entities.

The second assault on reality, and the accompanying common sense, came this week in a SCOTUS decision to push the freedom of speech right far beyond the commonly accepted boundary of our society. It did so by finding in favor of a little Kansas “church.” I say “church” because these cretins represent no God I’ve ever worshiped. Their loud litany of vileness comes from no teachings of the Christ I know.

From now on, when the loons and hatemongers of that “church” show up at the military funeral of some soldier, sailor or Marine to shout and march and display their anti-gay signs, they do so with that decision in their collectively slimy pockets. They have the “right.” It’s legal.

Legal? Maybe. But it damned sure ain’t right!

I’ve never been confronted by them personally. Just watching their antics on television has made me switch channels. I cannot possibly imagine the soul-deep pain of a wife, mother, father, brother, sister or child that has to bury a loved one with the chanting and sign waving of their evil presence.

The father of a dead Marine took the case against these people all the way through our legal system, hoping to save other families from the intrusion and hatred he and his family experienced. He lost in the Court, 8-1.

After the decision, he predicted there would be violence and possibly armed confrontation at some future clash over a military grave. Yes, it can be said he was speaking emotionally, reacting to the bad news he had just received. But I believe he meant it. And I believe he’s right.

If you’ve ever attended a military funeral, you know it’s impossible to participate in the rite without being affected; without some shivers in your bones caused by the deep meanings of the traditional ritual. That’s especially true for the family. And it’s always true for a veteran.

Like the grieving father, I believe the SCOTUS decision … while legal … will eventually lead to bloodshed. We have become a country of people reaching for a gun whenever they feel wronged. The Tucson shooter put 31 bullets in a crowd at a quiet shopping center political meeting. A couple of teens at Columbine High didn’t like their social treatment by other students so they killed as many as they could.

We’re told one in four military personnel coming back from our undeclared wars has PTSD. And lot of ‘em won’t be treated. Others will have suffered physical or mental anguish and many of them, too, won’t be cared for. All it takes is for one who knows how to use a gun, is himself walking wounded, and who takes personal offense at these “legal” haters. Just one.

I have friends who condemn the ACLU for defending unpopular and, often, extremely minority causes. They rail about the liberal nut cases who side with people or issues which offend them. They react to the ACLU and its court actions emotionally and not legally. Though a firm believer in the First Amendment, even I have to choke back anger at times that the organization is representing something abhorrent to me.
But in these two decisions in the last year, the U.S. Supreme Court has handed this country two societal problems that overshadow many ACLU issue defense actions. Legal? Apparently. Right? I don’t think so.

The 2010 national political campaign saw hundreds of millions of corporate dollars poured into the election which, in reality, completely overshadowed the legitimacy of issues or candidacies; the direct result of that SCOTUS decision granting the individual “free speech right” to corporate America. We didn’t get the government we voted for. We got the government that was bought for us. The spawn has been born. It will only get worse.

As for the free speech decision dealing with that little Kansas “church,” we’ll see. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of it. And, like the grieving father, I believe what we will hear of it next is gunfire.

The English language is filled with words that lie dormant for years, then suddenly they’re heard so much you wish they’d slip back to their previous anonymity. My latest nomination is the word “disconnect.”

Most of my many years, I used it only when talking about ending a telephone call or pulling a plug on an appliance. You disconnected them.

But now it’s one of the most used words around to describe a political situation I’ve never seen so rampant in America: the refusal of millions to believe fact when presented with it.

I used the word myself the other day, regarding one of the flailing, almost-presidential candidates … Mike Huckabee … as he provided yet another textbook definition of disconnect. And beyond. He was on a right wing talk show hosted by a completely disconnected Bryan Fischer … formerly of Boise, ID … talking about how Pres. Obama had been “raised in Kenya” by his “Kenyan father” and that “probably nurtured Obama’s distrust of the British.” He talked about Mau Mau tribes, found only in Africa. I’m sure several million Obama-hating heads nodded in agreement though the facts are quite different.

The President was not raised by his father, in Kenya or anywhere else. He was raised by his mother. In Indonesia. Half a world away and with no known negative British influence.

Now, the Rev. Mr. Huckabee has a graduate degree and is an ordained minister so one must think he is an educated man. He’s been a governor and a previous Republican luminary so you have to think he’s knowledgeable about the backgrounds of other major politicians. The President has written two books about his life which Huckabee says he’s read. So you have to believe he knows more facts about the Obama family than your average right winger.

Yet here he is. Disconnecting. He went on for several minutes about the Obama-Kenyan experience making “slip-of-the-tongue” not a believable defense. He linked it to other Kenyan-British subjects. But the next day, he said that’s what it was. “Slip-of-the-tongue.”

Road Apples!!!

Here is a college educated, experienced political operative wallowing in the hateful garbage of the deliberately disconnected. He’s been told the facts. He’d rather believe something else. Deliberately.

At this point, you’ve gone beyond “disconnect,” Sir. It’s lying! And your excuse, too.

I blame Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, and the other bellicose, self-serving hatemongers for much of this. They daily twist facts or deliberately lie about what’s happening in our world … the disconnect. Not all the blame because, to our national shame, their hateful lot has been around in other incarnations. But three things are different now.

One is the pervasive ease of Internet and broadcast signals. Their lies are continuous and loud. A second factor is no one has successfully challenged the hate-talkers and sponsors have kept the money coming in. And the third is so many people have been listening to this disinformation for so long, many actually believe it and regurgitate it. Like Huckabee. Maybe, like him, they know better. Maybe not.

It is ironic that, in this largest nation of democratic freedom, so many are prepared to believe the worst about any of our elected leaders and many others in public life. Presented with fact, they will defend the lie. The disconnect.

My daily email contains some of this junk. Most often, someone has started with a fact, then added rumor, then salted this toxic stew with some of the leavings of the “professional” hate sources. It’s passed around as “fact.” It constantly amazes me how many of these electronic missives are negative, contain little if any truth and are filled with non-facts. I honestly can’t remember a single one in the last couple of years that said something positive about the President or his family; that passed on a compliment or a bit of good news.

The disconnect. I’m getting sick of hearing the word. But, like the word “cancer,” it accurately describes a specific condition for which no other word will do. You hear “disconnect” and you know someone is unplugged from reality.

And when you hear someone who wants to be our next president “disconnect” in the national media, like cancer, you want the disconnected unplugged, too.

When I first met James Albertus McClure, he was newly elected to the Idaho Legislature from Payette. Just another small town Idaho lawyer. It was the early1960’s. The legislature had a bunch of ‘em.

He didn’t impress me at the time as being more than the usual model. I suppose one reason was his legislative effort to abolish the federal income tax. He and another small town guy were pushing the idea for the “Liberty Lobby,” an out-of-state, right wing group just one step back from the edge and the John Birch Society. The legislature, at that time, almost represented the two-party system in Idaho because there were more Democrats than you’ll find today. McClure and the “Lobby” lost.

After that, he sort of settled into the pack until he got the itch to run for Congress. He scratched the itch and was elected to the U.S. House in ‘66, serving three terms until moving up to the U.S. Senate in ‘72.

I was news director of a radio station in Boise with a multi-state signal. Since radio was a voice medium, we prided ourselves on including the voices of Idaho newsmakers in our stories rather than some staffer regurgitating a new release. During his state legislative and, even his House years, McClure was quite dutiful in his availability when we called on him.

Same for his first year in the Senate. After awhile, not so much. It got harder to make contact and almost never a callback. You’ve gotta remember there was no Internet, no texting, nothing other than telephones if you wanted to talk with someone.

One slow news day I decided to keep calling until I got him on the phone. Took several days. Then, probably thanks to a staffer who took pity on me, I got a McClure return call. He seemed in a hurry so I rolled the tape and we dealt with several Idaho issues. Then I turned it off and broached the subject that was on my mind.

I told him how difficult it was to get a callback from him, even at his convenience. I described how much more authority stories involving him were with his voice rather than mine. All in all, looking back, I sounded very impressed with myself and a bit insubordinate to power.

His response was … and I’ll never forget it … “Well, you’ve got to remember how busy I am back here, especially now that I’m chairman of the Energy Committee. Lots of demands on my time with people from all over the world wanting my attention. Even heads-of-state in the Middle East.”

Being the brash reporter … and with some unintended arrogance … I responded “How many of those people vote in Idaho?” He hung up.

About two minutes later, McClure called again. “I’m sorry I said that,” he said. “Nothing’s more important than the folks at home.”

I didn’t feel I had won the day. I was embarrassed, angry with myself and stumbling over my own apology. I suddenly saw a Senator McClure in a new and much different light. More than the small town lawyer and deserving of a lot more respect. From me. Another small town guy.

For the rest of his public life, Jim McClure continued to grow in stature. He took on projects others passed by; sometimes Idaho-connected; often of national import. He mellowed politically as he grew older and became an effective mediator. He worked with politicians of both major parties to get things done no younger ideologue trying to abolish the national income tax could ever do.

It’s not hyperbole to say Senator James Albertus McClure became a statesman. I’m glad I knew him before. And especially after.