Archive for September, 2011

I really need your help!

Author: Barrett Rainey

National polling out today shows 85% of Americans are not happy with the direction the country is headed. An almost identical number has no faith the current Congress will solve the major problems facing us.

That means 15% approve the present course of things and a like number has faith Congress is doing it’s job.

So help me out here. If you count yourself among the 15% who believe things are fine and our Congress is being effective, please leave me a comment.

I’d also like to know if you have a current driver’s license, are presently in detox and are not in the custodial care of someone in the 85%.

For more elections than I care to remember, I’ve searched my ballots for the space that says “NONE OF THE ABOVE.” Never found it. But in another of those meaningless and seldom interesting presidential straw polls, some 2,600 GOP-TP conservatives meeting in Florida exercised it beautifully last week.

They looked at the present crop of wannabees and chose one of the least likely to succeed in anything electoral: Herman Cain. The percentage margin over the supposed front-runner was more than double. YES!

Cain’s not going anywhere. But this futile exercise in the Sunshine State points up two things. One is the willingness of some people this year to vote for nearly anybody who isn’t “Him.” “Him” being someone from the list of “established” candidates. “Things aren’t working with the current crop,” they reason, “So lets try someone else. Anyone else.”

That’s an important wildcard this year and shouldn’t be taken lightly no matter how dangerous the outcome could be.

The other factor playing into the 2012 election is that Democrats are showing signs of this same dissatisfaction and malaise on their own side of the ballot. At the top. Many are expressing a desire for another “horse” besides the incumbent. How big that group may be is anyone’s guess but it might be large enough to change the outcome in a close election.

By tradition, the party with an incumbent president doesn’t usually offer another name on the primary ballot. As is often said, “He may be an S-O-B but he’s our S-O-B.” For various reasons, some Democrats aren’t satisfied with having no other choice from their stable this time around. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus for any particular name. Just for a choice.

Some Republicans of my acquaintance aren’t terribly satisfied with what’s being offered on the GOP election menu. For good reason. Some of their current offerings couldn’t win a high school class election. Several have a tenuous grasp on reality. More than one is factually challenged on nearly any subject. Taken as a group, the most universal reaction seems to be “Is this the best we can do?”

For that reason, some big money GOPer’s continue to hammer on the New Jersey door of Gov. Christie. So far, he hasn’t opened it. And he shouldn’t. Christie has considerable strength’s and talent. He may prove to be a good presidential choice. Some years down the road

But right now, the one aspect people seem to admire most about him is also his biggest flaw: the tendency to “tell it like it is” and bull his way through tough situations. More than a few times, Christie has had one of his size 11 shoes in his mouth after an encounter. He’s perceived as being “candid” though I’m not so sure it isn’t simply a short fuse.

Christie reminds me of the young bull sitting atop a hill overlooking a herd of cows in a lush pasture. He’s ready to RUN down the hill and court one of ‘em. But the older, wiser bull next to him suggests they conserve their strength, WALK down the hill and court them all.

Christie hasn’t learned that lesson yet. We don’t need a president who is willing to run through a wall when decisions are being made. Which seems to be his customary approach. While I wish Pres. Obama was more willing than he seems to be to take someone to the woodshed, that’s not the primary trait we need in a chief executive. So far, Christie has shown little patience with negotiation and trying to win people to his point of view. In fact, he’s gone the other way and run into several immovable walls in his own tenure. Patience in a president is a virtue to be valued. Though in Obama’s case, I’d like to see a little more traffic to that outbuilding on occasion.

So, here we are. Some Democrats who want a little more “kick-ass” in their leader. And many Republicans still looking past the candidates they have, trying to find someone more to their liking. I doubt they’ll come up with anyone who can achieve a significant base, given how rightward the GOP hierarchy is currently leaning. That would require someone who is “right “ on ALL issues. There is no room for compromise among the purists. And the purists seem to be in charge.

All this makes for very unsettling politics in an already unsettled economic and politically divided time. How this will play out is anyone’s guess.

We have 14 months to go. One party not entirely happy with it’s own horse. And the other party still looking for someone to ride. Even the best handicappers wouldn’t place a bet at this point.

A couple news items of note making the rounds. Both could be deposited in the “suspicions confirmed” basket.

Sometime ago I wrote that politicians hellbent on getting this nation out of debt without raising taxes on business or the general voting population should start by taking a look at all the tax breaks on the books and getting rid of many of them. Politicians don’t like to do that because they risk the financial backing of those who wanted those breaks in the first place. But what do you know? It’s happening. A little.

The Missouri Legislature is having a special session just to re-examine all the tax “gifts” on the books. Revenue gained from old ones eliminated will be used to fund new ones for companies needing help getting established. Several other states are looking at their previous tax largesse to see if specific breaks or credits should be continued. Or abolished.

Helping a new firm get off the ground – with all the payroll and other community benefits associated with the effort – is admirable and justifiable. But, while most politicians will stand foursquare behind creating tax breaks or credits for certain companies and individuals, there are two widespread abuses often connected with the process..

One is that some breaks are created for more personal political purposes than for the reasons publically stated. Companies receiving unwarranted tax windfalls can be notoriously generous come campaign donation time. Nothing like having a friend at the tax factory.

The other abuse is that, once granted, tax credits and other relief are seldom reviewed and stay on the books for years. Often long after needed. That’s what you’ll find nationally. That’s what you’ll find in nearly all states. Can be caused by oversight, short legislative memories or good lobbyists.

While I sympathize with lawmakers reluctant to raise revenue – read tax increases – it seems inexcusable not to go back to the tax codes on a regular basis to look at all credits/breaks granted years earlier. Because, in the most basic terms, tax credits/breaks for one are tax increases for others.

Say taxes bring in $1,000 and your budget is $1,000. You give companies “A” and “B” tax relief of $100 per company. Now, you only have $800 coming in to meet the $1,000 budget. To make up the difference, you spread that $200 deficit over the other payers. The former, my friend, are tax credits and the latter are tax increases. You just weren’t told.

If legislators – and Congress – would be stingy in creating breaks while going back to the tax code regularly to make sure they’re still justified, I’ll bet revenues could be enhanced considerably.

Something else in the news worthy of passing along. If I had a buck for every time some politician complained about “too much regulation killing small business,” I’d be on a tropical island somewhere and you’d be reading some other blog. It’s especially the mantra of Republicans of all stripes.

Well, my friend, t’aint necessarily be so. That far-from-liberal-bastion called The Wall Street Journal came up with a survey of just owners of small businesses showing nearly 80% of them weren’t having a lot of trouble with current regulations. Further, many of the respondents said they welcomed regulatory oversight to make sure they were competing on level playing fields with all competitors playing by the same rules.

Almost 80%. That’s a pretty sizeable rebuff to at the squawking politicians trying to curry favor with voters. And donors. That’s not to say there aren’t regulatory abuses. Of course there are. But when written carefully and applied with common sense, the outcry – it seems – is greater by far than the truth. You need a scalpel here to correct abuses. Not a meat axe on all regulation.

So, there you are. In one column, you and I have propounded a way to raise government revenue without more taxes and we’re learned a lot of this regulatory bitching is just that: bitching.

That’s a pretty good day’s work.

In the last few years, I’ve become a frequent critic of the U.S. Supreme Court. Especially so after decisions began flowing under Chief Justice Roberts. Now lower federal courts, also stocked with “conservative” judges by Pres. Bush Jr., seem to be taking cues from a reconstituted SCOTUS. And us little guys are paying a high price for the political shift.

I’m a critic without portfolio. Unencumbered by a law degree, I‘ve no special legal training. I’m not versed in niceties of how a court should be judged. But I do have a considerable amount of common sense. Of right and wrong. The Roberts Court – and a few others – seem too far right and too often wrong. Common sense wise.

There was the tragic SCOTUS “Citizens United” decision granting corporations the same “rights-of-free-speech” as individuals thus creating a major cancer in our political system. Now two new decisions – one by SCOTUS – seem destined to also wreak havoc and significant economic loss for those of us who aren’t large corporate “individuals.”

One came in April without a lot of legal fanfare or media notice and is just now being denounced as the “crushing blow to consumers” it seems to be. Lawyers are having cases kicked out of court because SCOTUS decided corporations can enforce fine print contract language compelling us to waive our right to file lawsuits. You know, the contracts that if not signed, you get no phone service or other products. Sign or else. Legal blackmail. Hundreds of legal challenges squelched in just six months.

David DiSabato, a New Jersey attorney specializing in consumer law, said “Defendants – corporations – are trying to steamroll us out of court with this. We are being shut down with a ruling that opens the door for companies to pick the pockets of millions of consumers $10 at a time.”

One of his clients tried to challenge $10 charges on a Verizon phone bill for everything from ring tones to horoscopes and other unordered “services.” In one instance, Verizon would not even disclose the name of the billing company. So, DiSabato filed a class action and ran smack into a brick wall.

Verison filed an action to dismiss and force arbitration. If the company is upheld, consumers nationally may never be able to discover who’s behind these “phantom” charges or even if such companies exist. DiSabato says he expects Verizon to prevail. And if it does, “consumers will never have a day in court, will never know how many of them are being ripped off and may never know by whom,” he added. His reasoning: people won’t be able to hire anyone to fight $10 fees. And he’s right!

The other judicial landmine for individual Americans deals with “patent trolling.” Patent trolls are “Non-Practicing Entities” or NPE’s. NPE’s were supposed to be providers of clout for individual inventors to keep large companies from infringing on their patents on such things as software development. Give the little guy help by suing and, if prevailing, return ownership of his patent. At least that was the argument used in courts.

But, guess what? That’s not how it’s worked out. And courts, paving the way for this seemingly generous representation, set the abuse in motion with a series of decisions for the “big guys.”

Since NPE’s have little if any research or development expenses of their own, a Boston University study of such cases found patent trolls have cost innovators $500 billion in lost wealth between 1990 and 2010. The figure was developed using patent defendant’s stock prices following a lawsuit, excluding general market trends and random stock fluctuations.

BU Professor James Bessen says “The only real beneficiaries (of these decisions) are lawyers and perhaps principals of the NPE’s. There are many big losers from NPE litigation while hardly anyone benefits.” Certainly not the inventor.

The study concludes patent trolls create a large disincentive to innovate. In fact, Boston U found, the more a company spends on research and development, the more likely it is to be sued because the vast majority of defendants in patent lawsuits invest heavily in R&D. Patent troll lawsuits, according to BU, “increase incentives for large tech companies to acquire vast portfolios of patents to bolster their defenses and do so even if real innovation suffers.” Apple and Microsoft, for instance, joined some other “biggies” and paid bankrupt Nortel $4.5 billion for patents Nortel owned; Google paid $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility and its 17,000 patents.

The patent reform bill signed by President Obama last week will do nothing to stop all this. Either new laws are needed – don’t count on it – or different court decisions – don’t count on it. So, SCOTUS – and its legal offspring – are hammering the little guys with decisions that may – or may not – meet the letter of an arcane law here and there but fail what to me is the higher standard: common sense.

The old saw is “if the laws need changing, change ‘em.” But unless a whole lot of us suddenly develop the deep pockets of these corporate “individuals,” we won’t stand a chance in Hell.

For much of this you can thank Chief Justice Roberts.

The other day, someone who doesn’t follow politics very closely said to me, “It’s amazing how the Tea Party has grown from just a bunch of people parading in the streets to being a force in national politics. Who’d have thought?”

If your regular daily intake of news doesn’t involve heavy doses of political info, that view is probably held by many folks. But if you follow the antics of the political crowd closely, if you also follow the money in our system of governance and if you’re a bit wonkish about it, there really is nothing “amazing” about the T-P presence. Here’s a scenario that works for me.

The Tea Party – so-called – did not spring up in the streets without a great deal of planning and funding from mostly corporate sources. Corporate or from the deep pockets of those who own the corporations. Chief among them: David and Charles Koch and their Koch Industries fortunes.

The easiest way to think of the birth of Tea Partying is to picture a herd of cattle about to stampede. You can sense from the nervousness that it’s about to happen. When it does, almost instantly one portion breaks a certain direction and all the others follow. In the T-P case, you had small groups of dissatisfied Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated people – feeling ignored and frustrated – who wanted to make their frustrations known. If they could be linked together, a herd about to stampede.

The Koch’s enlisted former Texas Cong. Dick Armey, some of his political friends, contacts and some lobbyists to come up with an organizational plan to harness what was building up. They wanted to get out front of the “herd” and set the direction. All this talk about how the T-P is “grassroots people acting on their own without structure or planning” is just so much B.S. Ignition for the spark (money) and control of the direction (organization) were there in abundance at the “birth.” In the hands of pros.

One other factor was also well-planned. For access to election ballots in the 50 states – without independent or third party hassles – the “herd” was run straight into the Republican Party corral. Creators of the T-P needed an established “host” to attach themselves to so they could put up candidates without having to jump election law hurdles in 50 states to create a third political party.

Notice none of the herd moved into the Democratic corral. All went Republican because, for the last few decades, the G-O-P was moving further to the right. With many of the local worker positions already in the hands of people who would be attracted to the Tea Party theme, there was a ready-built organization. Take the rightward movement of the G-O-P and shove it just a little more to the right, using all that frustration – lubricated with lots of money – to do the job.

So now you have the G-O-P-T-P. Most people active in Republican Party organizations have given up protesting the charge the two are tied together. The symbiotic relationship of money, administration and sponsorship is too readily apparent to be denied.

It would be wrong to say the Tea Party has not been effective. It has. To a point. But there are questions. Effective in what way? Has it become a force for positive change or a major contributor to anger and gridlock in our national politics? Does it put forth responsible solutions to problems which many Americans have expressed frustration with or is it a front for self-serving individuals who want to alter the social fabric of a nation?

My own view is that those at the top of the T-P – and those putting up the big bucks – have all but turned their backs on those in the streets they badly used to gain political power and access. The marching feet and the waving flags are unnecessary now. The Koch’s and their friends have picked up support on the “inside” of Congress from a handful of members who were largely previously ignored and left out of the halls of leadership. They’ve got presidential candidates on television daily trumpeting the messages they want to change the national discourse their way.

The Tea Party is anything but “grassroots.” It’s a highly controlled and carefully orchestrated concentration of money and far right ambitions a handful of very rich people want to use as hammers to reshape this nation. Reshape it to privilege for a few and access to power limited to them.

What worries me more is, because it’s become mainstream as the Republican Party, those driving the agenda – those who are paying for it – have a status that adds a phony legitimacy to their efforts to take control of this nation’s direction.

If there’s an Achillies heel in their efforts to control it may be the demand for ideological purity; a demand everyone agree on their singular views or face expulsion from the movement. That’s nearly always fatal politically.

In a truly ironic twist, the undoing of those who would control eventually may be the street people they used to gain power; folks who don’t like to be controlled; folks who want more individual freedom. Like you and me.

At my age, it’s too late for a mid-life crisis. So it must be a “late-life crisis” coupled with occasional “senior interludes”.

This is normally recognized in two ways. First, I’m getting more daily offers of assistance. For awhile, I figured it was just living in Oregon where nice people look out for each other.

“Great,” I said. “Beats ol’ big city life any time”.

But then I noticed some of the people offering assistance appeared to be older than me! That brought on pangs of guilt and a rush to the nearest mirror for assurance. Well, so much for assurance.

The other form of this affliction comes when suddenly realizing you are dealing with so many younger people . Children it seems. Even worse, a lot of them are people in whom you must trust your life.

Take airline travel for instance. Time was you felt comfortable with a gray haired crew up front. That meant thousands of hours in the air, experience with lots of emergencies, calm assurance of command.

Well, look around now. The pilots are Skippy and Ginger and some guy in a uniform running up and down the aisle is named Randy. Wait a minute. I’m as much for equality and advancement as the next guy. But some of these kids haven’t started shaving and such gray hair as may be on the flight is all in the passenger cabin! I’ve got more pilot-in-command time in a Cessna 150.

We recently needed some legal assistance. Since I’ve managed to stay out of trouble during our current residency, I hadn’t needed an attorney so I relied on a referral. At the office, I filled out the obligatory “how-are-you-going-to-pay” form and was ushered to the inner sanctum. I thought the young fella behind the desk was an intern who’d do pre-meeting legal screening.

No way! This prepubescent kid in a golf shirt was going to get me through the local county legal briar patch? He should’ve been home cramming for a chemistry exam.

Don’t even ask me about my barber. Every time he jumps up on his little chair-side stool I repeatedly tell him playtime is over and I’m here to see his father.

My medical, flight safety, hair care and legal concerns are being handled by kids who’ve never lived without computers, have no concept of 45RPM records, never saw Ed Sullivan, Jack Parr or Huntley-Brinkley or a black and white TV set. Ask them about fender skirts and they get a blank look. Same thing for 25-cent-a-gallon gas, party line telephones and transistors. They don’t know life before credit or debit cards, microwave ovens or radio before talk radio. Or FM!

Oh, I’m sure they have all the proper credentials and accompanying education and training. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be where they are. But two things they haven’t got are miles on the odometer of life and realtime experiences that make us who we are. They’re just beginning the professional evolution process that will make them into what the rest of us have become. Older. Much older.

Oh well, I guess it’s up to me to relax and get used to it. But I’d like to be around the day pilot Skippy gets on a flight as a gray-haired passenger and is told on the intercom “Good morning. Your captain today is computer 2-4-3-7. And, effective immediately, we are no longer using co-pilots.”

Yep. Love to see that.


Over the last two years, many topics have been subjects for “Second Thoughts.” Over a couple hundred commentaries. Some could likely qualify as profound or informational; some probably more rambling and a bit disjointed. There have been many reactions; some printed; some face-to-face; some accompanied by finger-wagging of one or more digits. Most feedback I ‘ve enjoyed.

But I’m troubled. Why is it the most reactions I’ve gotten to a single column was when I wrote about wild turkeys trashing up our property? What is it about those damned birds? Common ground, I guess. Most responders had their own complaints. Well, if that’s what binds us together, so be it.

Some suggested solutions that couldn’t be reprinted in a family blog. But the most pointed and … you’ll excuse the expression … on target, came from a lady who’ll remain anonymous. For obvious reasons.

Her advice: “Shoot, shovel, shut up”.

Some advice you just know in your heart is right.

Interesting public polling out this week shows the majority of us are concerned about the future of Libya. Personally, I’m more concerned about the future of this country but that’s another story. Or blog.

Seems about 70% of us think Libya is going to be a mess for a long time. Ya think? Really? If you had no other information than a 1962 movie from my all-time 10 Best List, you would know Libya is – and will be – a constant battleground until the second coming. The movie, of course, is “Lawrence of Arabia.”

A story popped up a few days ago that came directly from that script. Or, more precisely, from the history of the last 1,000 years or so on which that script was based. Seems now that the bad guy and his family are gone, those who fought the good fight are having a hard time agreeing on who gets what. Or who is responsible for what. Maybe they saw the movie nearly 50 years ago.

Libya is a tribal country. Dozens of tribes therein can trace their history back thousands of years. Nothing has changed in all those violent centuries and there is no reason to think it will now.

In fact, what is being reported in today’s news reminds me of one central scene in the film. Lawrence – British Capt. T.E. Lawrence – has led the tribes to Damascus. The city is captured and all the bad guys sent packing. The tribal chiefs convene to bask in victory. They gather in a large palace room devoid of furniture. All are seated in a large circle. All are armed.

Quickly, you discover the problem. Tribal divisions. One after another, the tribal chieftains stomp around, waving swords and other weapons as they castigate the other tribes for failing to run the power plant, making a mess of the water supply system, failing to organize the responsibilities each has claimed in the name of his tribe. It nearly comes to warfare.

Somewhere in Tripoli, as you read this, the same scene is likely being repeated. And will be again and again. It hasn’t – and won’t – change.

The biggest reason there hasn’t been such tribal violence in the last 40 years is because Moammar Gadhafi and his tribe made sure all the other tribes got their share of the spoils: adequate division of oil dollars and guaranteed tribal borders. And the fact that Gadhafi usually made short work of anyone who didn’t see things his way. Backed up, of course, by his tribe.

With him gone, about the only certainty is that Libya will be as divided and as territorial as it has been for centuries. None of the world’s technology will change that. There is fierce competition already to get tribal hands on major oil fields and the world’s oil companies have entered into negotiations with the ones they think will be the winners. While the old goals were control of trade routes and territorial expansion, the new goal is control of that black gold. And the sea ports.

With all of this unchanging history, the Obama administration and NATO need only have one goal: get out and stay out! While we – and the rest of the world – should assist with any humanitarian needs, that should be the only role. And only second-hand thru recognized relief agencies.

Libya is very much like Afghanistan and Iraq in one important way. All outsiders – ALL outsiders – have or will eventually leave the country in defeat. Impressed as we are in this nation with our just over 200 year old existence, we seem to have absolutely no understanding of other countries with their unchanging histories lasting over thousands of years.

T.E. Lawrence went to Arabia in 1916 with an outstanding record of service as a British soldier. He left three years later a broken and disillusioned man. The more he learned living among the Arabian tribes, the more he found the British – and indeed the rest of the world – really knew nothing about the countries and how Western culture was viewed.

As I read the latest news from Libya this week of rebel tribes disagreeing over the spoils of victory, visions of Lawrence racing across the desert astride a camel came vividly to mind. He took more understanding of the area to the grave with him than we have learned in the last 94 years. It’s a shame his experiences and what he learned died with him.

I’m not so much concerned about what happens now in Libya as I am about why we in this country seem to have so much trouble learning about how the rest of the world really is. And why – in most cases – we don’t leave it the Hell alone.

Most of my working life has been spent in radio and television. So, that’s where I used to get most of my daily news, turning to newspapers in my spare time for more in-depth details. Broadcasting is, most often, immediate. Newspapers are historic. And they may become an historic memory.

A couple of Southern Oregon papers are tied up in their owner’s current bankruptcy proceedings. Which means other local papers in the small Western chain are as well. No print papers I know of are really making money. Those not in financial trouble are just hanging on. And a good number have disappeared in recent years.

To say electronic news delivery – especially the Internet – has led to these dire journalistic conditions is accurate. But only partly so. To say continuation of a national red ink economy is to blame is also correct but, again, only partly. There are other factors. Here are some that come to mind.

There’s been a failure of many papers to move with technology. While some have put up web pages, few have really invested the same resources they do with their print side. Our little local paper has one. A subscription costs about ten bucks a month. That’s on top of what you pay for the print version. The I-Net version has not been a rousing success and our local paper is struggling. Same with a lot of others.

Many well-known newspapers have electronic presences, especially the big ones. Some are successful; some not so. Some charge for e-subscriptions; some don’t. All seem to want a foot in both camps and don’t want to cut the umbilical cord of hardcopy printing. So, resources are divided. That decision is going to have to be faced eventually.

Another anchor on the newspaper business is small ones trying to hang on so each little community has its own. Sort of like the post office. Times are changing. So, too, are the way advertisers spend their money.

Something new is being tried. In several states, you can find small regional papers. Where there used to be several little ones, there is now one; maybe two. Each might be countywide or several counties. Some put in a page or two especially for this community or that. Some don’t. But they’ve attracted some local advertisers that like the regional outreach to more potential customers. What’s published may not be quite as personal – or as local – but is likely to be more economically successful.

And there’s the issue of journalistic quality. These community papers have always been like small radio and TV operations in one way. That’s where the new kids go to get into the business. After a few months or a year of work, they move on to the next larger market. While not a new issue, what’s making it worse now is the lack of basic skills in the newcomers.

Our little local paper is a prime example. Any day. Any page. Errors in spelling. Errors in fact. Errors in editing. Writing so convoluted at times you have to try to figure out the story or skip it. Little stories unimportant to the wider community yet taking up two-thirds of the front page with pictures that add nothing. Same inside. Filling space because of limited staff. Real stories of local politics and business going unreported. So many errors and so many poorly edited pages it becomes an evening chore to get from front to back.

I don’t mean to rag the local people. They face the same problems of lack of dollars to pay better wages to hire more qualified reporters and editors, young people coming in with poor journalistic skills transition through so quickly they can’t be trained, constant pressure on the bottom line, local ad revenues down and declining readership as more people go elsewhere for their local news. If they can find it. Looking at small community papers across the Northwest you see the same situation. And it will get worse.

If I were in the small town print business these days, I‘d closely study the success of The Huffington Post, a completely electronic national newspaper. It’s one I go to everyday. It’s well-edited, filled with information, easy to find what you’re looking for. It publishes no print version. And it’s financially very successful. Though it’s a very large paper, it seems to me some technical and business practices could be scaled down to local size. Especially the commitment to go exclusively electronic. There have to be some corollaries for local publishers.

Bottom line for the small newspapers we read: not all will survive. Those that do will have to commit to a major electronic use of resources or go the way of the buggy whip. I don’t necessarily like it. But it’s a fact.

My first paying job was carrying the Bend Bulletin door to door. Those days are about gone. If newspapers don’t radically change the way they publish, they’ll be gone, too.

Labor Day has come and gone in our little Southwest Oregon town. The day seemed to just slide on by with little notice and could have been easily forgotten. Oh, the banks were closed. And the post office. Garbage pickup will be a day late this week. Usual happenings on any declared day off.

What was missing was any gathering – a small parade or a picnic or at least some political event – in the park. Just weren’t any. Labor Day in these parts was – well – laborless.

Used to be Labor Day in most places was pretty much a community event with a loud parade, a big picnic in the largest park in town and an invasion of Democrat politicians to make speeches, eat hamburgers, have a beer or two and shake every hand within reach. You took the kids and you enjoyed the day with your family and your union brothers and sisters. All day. It was a big deal!

It sure wasn’t here. Oh, we’ve got unions. Several in the timber industry. For what it’s worth, our teachers still organize. We’ve got government workers and service employees by the dozens. And with all the truckers working out of this region, we’ve got some Teamster cards. But Labor Day? In the Park? The music, the barbeque, the politicians? Nothing.

I’m like most Americans: neither heavily pro nor loudly anti-unions. I’ve carried a card when I had to. I’ve opted not to when it wasn’t required for employment. I’ve seen some real boondoggles and messes caused by one union or the other. I’ve seen circumstances where the union not only improved wages and employment for good workers, it also saved lives.

But, while not being a staunch union supporter, I’m angry at politicians – and the corporations that put all those dollars in their pockets – for making union membership an excuse to put targets on the backs of workers. Police, fire, teachers and public servant career workers have been pounded by governors, legislatures and many in congress. In the last year, many states have tried to legislate unions out of existence. In doing so, they have vilified people for no other reason than their membership cards.

At least one state – Ohio – seems to have had a political change of heart. After putting a law on the books decimating unions, the Republican governor and his GOP legislative brethren are rethinking the issue and offering to make significant changes if Democrats will agree. Could be the outpouring of bipartisan opposition by voters in both parties, a dozen or more successful recall petition drives and a significant voter-backed repealer on the next election ballot got their attention.

To say all Republicans are against unions and Democrats universally support them would be untrue. But, once elected, too many politician act as if that were the case. It’s not. Like so many other personal issues – yes, including abortion – those who think that way are dead wrong and their intrusion into yet another area of individual freedoms simply diverts attention away from all the other real unsolved problems.

I am continually amazed at those who holler at the top of their lungs about “government intrusion” in their lives yet support it when it’s in someone else’s. I’m talking union busting here but it could just as easily be perceived gun control, too many unnecessary regulations or wanting to use government to stop abortions.

Politicians of all stripes – at all levels – have more than enough to keep them busy these days without union busting and bashing public employees. None of them – not one – will solve all the problems on his/her plate in our lifetimes. But they could accomplish a lot more if they’d stop messing with our lives and let us be us. With or without a union card.

What will eventually get our economy out of the ditch isn’t politicians but the hard hats doing tough infrastructure jobs that must be done. And the teachers educating kids who will eventually make the national political and economic decisions. And the truckers, oil rig workers, auto assembly people and the timber guys. A lot of ‘em will carry union cards. And all of them – all of them – should be recognized for saving our butts.

I missed Labor Day this year.

Sometimes, given other important distractions, you can lose track of things that should receive more attention. That’s been happening to me lately.

What with the goings-on in Libya and Syria, downgrading of our nation’s credit rating, the Presidential vacation and the Kardishian wedding, I’ve completely lost track of a group of people that dropped off my radar: that congressional “super committee” of 12 that’s supposed to be solving our national debt problems. Where’d they go?

Far be it from me to say a nasty word about our national media. They’re a busy bunch, gathering pictures of the rebels, the Martha’s Vineyard gawkers and those helicopter wedding photos. It’s just been a busy time. I’m sure they know what they’re doing. So let me pick up some media slack. Or slacking.

Watching the massive incompetence of our Congress takes the ability to eat sawdust all day without asking for water. But, a few weeks ago, we were told 12 tried-and-true politicians had been charged with reducing our staggering national debt without raising revenues. I thought that was kind of important. Also impossible. But, as I said, other “significant” news got in the way.

We really should keep track of these 12 people. While congressional leadership would have us believe these appointees will miraculously put us back on a sound financial basis without any cost to us, it seems more to me that these folks have been sent over Niagra Falls. Without a barrel. The words “impossible” and “suicide” come quickly to mind.

The idea of creating this “super committee” was bogus from the get-go. We’ve already got a committee. It’s called the U.S. Congress. Duly elected, properly seated and charged with doing the nation’s business. To boldly claim a bi-partisan anointing of 12 is going to create solutions acceptable to the other 523 and the President is – in a word or two – B.S.

The shelves of the White House and congressional libraries are lined floor-to-ceiling with previous Blue Ribbon reports dealing with our debt. The most recent – the Simpson-Bowles Report – is so new it has yet to collect it’s first covering of dust. Filled with all sorts of recommendations generated by some very intelligent people, it likely has more substance than anything a deeply divided, politically-appointed bunch of congressional members can muster. Were I one of the recent 12 congressional appointees, my first action would be to move the Simpson-Bowles Report be adopted as the committee’s own and my second motion would be to adjourn. Both would likely lose.

Then there’s the “Gang of Six,.” Other members of that same congress who’ve spent months meeting, researching and compiling voluminous stacks of paper dealing with this same subject. Any one of the six has more knowledge at this point than anyone appointed to the 12. But not one of them – not one – was included in the 12. How about that for creative political thinking?

“But wait,” you say. “This new committee must come up with ways to deal with our collapsing economy or the agreement under which members were appointed will proceed to a second step, forcing the full congress to take Draconian measures. The agreement says so.”

Don’t hold your breath. Congress operates under hundreds of lawful requirements to do this, that or the other which are often ignored. A new and contemporary budget is legally required each year. How many years has it been since a budget was passed? Three? Five? Seven? Continuing resolutions are not budgets. They’re “smoke-and-mirrors” designed to circumvent the legal budgetary niceties.

It should never be forgotten that those who write laws are usually in the first wave of those who ignore them or who have ways to circumvent whatever the requirement. My bet is that will apply here. Come November, when the 12 are supposed to produce their list, the media will start a countdown clock based on the committee’s deadline which will be accompanied by dozens of talking heads predicting a financial doomsday. The committee report will go nowhere. The deadline will pass. Without action.

If all this seems arrogant and negative, I have but one request. Make me a list of half a dozen large problems really solved by our national congress in the last five years. O.K, last two years. Alright, one year.

Half a dozen problems? Well, maybe three. O.K., two. How about one?

I’d say the negative view stands about a 90-10 chance of being accurate.