Archive for November, 2011

Two political TV ads are indelibly etched in my brain. Each made its point in dramatic fashion.

The first one Lyndon Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater who was thought to be a “war-mongering right-winger” at the time, but who’d hardly make a ripple in the current pond. The ad showed a little girl slowly pulling petals off a flower while a nuclear bomb went off behind her. The message was stability with Johnson; annihilation with Goldwater.

The second: in 2007, then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign ran one we all saw and which remains – almost word-for-word – in my brain today. Black and white. A telephone rings by a bedside. The ad asks “When the phone rings at three in the morning in the White House, who would you rather have answer.” The message, of course, was to portray her as more experienced than Barack Obama.

Both ads were effective: one with an image and the other with words. But it’s the Clinton ad questioning experience – and, by inference, stability and intelligence – in the person who picks up the receiver and faces a world crisis. I can’t help but apply it to the current field of people running for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

O.K. Let’s see what we’ve got here and how it stacks up.

Candidate A: A dingbat “history-challenged” on nearly everything; hates federal subsidies but takes more than $250,000 a year for her family’s farm; thinks homosexuals can go “straight” through prayer; wants to abolish five federal departments; believes founding fathers ended slavery.

Candidate B: Despite knowing his public statements are filed away in numerous video vaults, has been on both/all sides of many major national issues; is viewed as an insult to “thinking” conservatives – by thinking conservatives; after a year campaigning, can’t get more than one in four to say they’ll vote for him; has flatly lied in a national campaign commercial.

Candidate C: Has been confronted by nine women alleging sexual abuse or affairs over a 20 year span; believes presidents need know nothing of foreign issues; goes blank when asked about what this nation’s military involvement was in Lybia this year; thinks “if you’re unemployed it’s your own fault.”

Candidate D: Former governor of Utah; former U.S. Ambassador to China; played in a rock band; used family’s millions in political races when he was unsuccessful raising public funding; can’t attract national poll numbers higher than very low single digits.

Candidate E: Wants to legalize marijuana and other “soft” drugs; abolish the I.R.S., would bring back the gold standard; eliminate the U.S. Dept of Education and several others; has run four times and never come close.

Candidate F: Former senator who believes slaves had “good” lives before emancipation; wants federal law to teach “creationism” in all public schools; legislatively tried to get congress to dictate private medical treatment of brain-dead Terry Schiavo; supports federal laws against homosexuality; failing re-election, he spent years lobbying congress for large national clients who paid for his access.

Candidate G: A governor who has openly – and repeatedly – talked of leading his state to secede from our country; wants to abolish the Dept. Of Education, Dept. Of Commerce and one he can’t remember when asked; doesn’t know the legal voting age in this country; doesn’t know the date of the 2012 election in his own race.

Candidate H: Forced to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives for unethical practices; serial adulterer taken to court to force payment of back child support; avoided Viet Nam by marrying one of his teachers at age 19; has made millions by selling his access to congress to numerous national corporations and individuals; has been pro-choice or an abortion foe for years – often at the same time; campaigned to stop global warming (now opposes) and to support health care insurance mandates (now opposes.)

Did I miss anyone? Good. That should include all of the people running for the Republican Party nomination for president this year. Who do you like? C’mon. Who?

More than that – which one would you have answer that 3 a.m. phone call? Go ahead. Give it some very serious thought. I’ll wait.

I am neither a supporter nor a regular follower of Fox News.

That statement has less to do with my personal beliefs and much, much more to do with 40+ years as a reporter, editor and journalist working in many locales. It is professionally-based rather than a political or personal bias. My lack of regard for the Murdoch product comes from working many of my years for real taskmasters who pounded the ethics of professional journalism into my head and made me feel real consequences if I was “loose with the truth” as one used to say.

If you assume a viewer of Fox News is absolutely impartial politically, and comes to the experience without preconceptions of people and events in the days news, that viewer will often not gain the necessary information to hold an informed view. In fact, he/she will likely know less than people who have not watched Fox.

That is the finding of a recent survey conducted by PublicMind, a research department of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New York. Firectly quoting the bottom line of its report: “People who depend on Fox (News) are even less informed than those who don’t watch any news programming at all.”

The study also found people who watch Sunday morning news programs are more likely better informed than most viewers because subject matter was extended and – in nearly all cases – professionally discussed. But – not Fox News.

PublicMind used in-depth reporting of recent major events in Egypt and other Mideast countries as the basis of questioning. It was felt such stories, coming from many sources and being foreign-based, would bring more impartial answers, less affected by American politics. The fall of Hosni Mubarak and uprisings in Syria were basic subject matter.

People who watched such events on Fox were 18% less likely to know of Mubarak’s ouster by Egyptians than those who watched no news at all. Fox viewers were 6% less likely to know Syrians have not yet overthrown their government. Results were weighted on who watched other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors.

“Because of controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups more likely to watch Fox News,” said Dan Cassino, a political science professor and analyst for PublicMind. “Rather, there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on those questions than those who don’t watch any news at all.”

By contrast, some media sources were shown to have a positive effect on political knowledge. For example, people reading a national newspaper like the New York Times or USA Today were 12 points more likely to be aware of the accurate details in Mideast stories used in the questioning than Fox viewers. But the best informed were those who regularly watched the Sunday morning talk shows. Except Fox.

“Viewers pick up more information from this sort of calm discussion than any other formats,” Cassino said. “Unfortunately, those shows have a much smaller audience than the shouters.”

On the left, MSNBC came in for some criticism in the polling as well. Viewers of that network showed a 10% increase in the likelihood of misidentifying the political leanings of Occupy Wall Street protesters, for example. But on most other issues, MSNBC ranked more toward the middle. Not Fox.

My lifetime in the media tells me Fox and MSNBC viewers seek out those venues because they have a political bias towards the information presented. And in the bias of the presenters which may be similar to their own. While a viewer may be more comfortable with “reporting” supporting his/her own outlook, you often don’t get all the facts. And such “fact” as there may be is – at times – filtered with the announced political leanings of the network. That seems to be what the Fairleigh Dickinson survey shows.

News – REAL NEWS – is not a matter of comfort or affirmation. Reporting should be fact-based and attraction of viewers of similar thought by supporting a particular outlook – right or left – should be ignored. Reporting should not be looked upon as reinforcing one’s point of view or beliefs. Yet Fox – and to some extent MSNBC – do exactly that. And far too often, those viewers check no other media, swearing by what they have seen “reported” on their favorite. Or the one that affirms their thinking.

On a typical day, I look at more than a dozen news sources. I don’t read all of any of them. But I get a journalist’s overview of several angles of a particular story. Or I pick up information in one place not showing up in one or more of the others. Do I look at some I know are “reporting” with a built-in bias? Sure. But I try to apply the bias to the information presented.

PublicMind polling strongly shows many people form their views using supporting sources skewing events or people with an institutional bias.

That’s wrong. And, far too often, so is Fox.

In recent days, the words “death penalty” have been on the minds of many in our Northwest neighborhood because of one that was carried out – and one that wasn’t. It would be easy to say “that was yesterday’s news” and go on with life. Maybe for some. Not me.

Idaho put the terminal cocktail in the arm of a guy who – without doubt – deserved exactly what he got. No question. Oregon – faced with a fella proven just as guilty and who wanted to die – stopped short. He didn’t die and likely won’t.

To a lot of folk, those were the two main characters in the recent ongoing struggle of our society to live with the death penalty. But were they? There are hundreds of convicts on death rows in our Northwest prisons. Any two of them could have been the ones on the table. No, the main characters seemed to me to be the rest of us. And the actions of the two governors on whose watch those executions were scheduled.

Idaho’s Governor Otter flew off for meetings in Hawaii a few days before Paul Rhodes was to die. Sort of demolishes the old scene of officials at the prison waiting around the phone for a last-minute call from the governor’s office upholding or stopping the execution. I’ve known Otter for many, many years and I wouldn’t want to accuse him of not paying attention to the Rhodes death date. And they do have phones in Hawaii. But the image. The seemingly “I’ll go on with my schedule” attitude from someone with the power of life and death in his hands. That trip – no matter how important it may have been – conjures up terrible images – especially for those who don’t know Otter personally.

Oregon’s Governor Kitzhaber, on the other hand, created a completely different set of scenes. For weeks – if not years- before the execution date for Gary Haugen, Kitzhaber wrestled with the situation. Not just Haugen. But the whole issue of state-sponsored killing. We know because he said so. And he said so in a lengthy and powerful statement, read with shaking voice and trembling hand.

Kitzhaber allowed the death penalty to be carried out during a previous term as governor. But you need to know Kitzhaber is a physician. He has taken the Hippocratic oath all doctors take containing the oft-quoted phrase “…do no harm.” After reading his lengthy statement and listening to his wavering voice, I’d guess the oath came in for second consideration to a man truly conflicted with exercising the constitutionally-granted power of legally taking a life.

Death penalty supporters are jumping up and down, claiming Oregon’s Governor has “usurped the power of the people” by commuting Haugen’s sentence. They’re wrong. He didn’t. He has the power to do just what he did. It’s in our constitution. His job description.

Oregonians have twice approved the death penalty and twice rejected it. The last balloting affirmation for its use – 56%-44% – was in 1984. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the validity of voting on the subject because so few of us have any firsthand experience with it. Most people’s views seem based on emotion. This is one subject where emotion should be no part of the decision process. Oregon’s back-and-forth polling is more proof of that.

Many of us who closely follow politics and political people become somewhat cynical after so many years. Usually with ample evidence. It comes from politicians lying to us – as is currently being done by some of the national Republican presidential wannabees. It comes from being told by politicians “black is white and white is black” when you know that’s not the case. It comes from watching good people – some of whom may be friends – succumb to money and power rather than sticking to principle.

Kitzhaber’s actions – his demeanor – his willingness to face repercussions from voters – his determination to take a stand against what he feels is a moral wrong – his deep personal searching – all these things are a wake-up call to us cynics. I don’t know the man but I’ve much more respect for him and the humanity he’s exhibited than many others who govern. And I’m now more likely to take his word on other issues because of his personal honesty with this one.

Whether you favor the death penalty – or oppose it – is not the issue here. The issue is what we have all learned about one man’s efforts to do his job without sacrificing his core beliefs. Regardless of penalties he may later face himself.

If you oppose the death penalty, you will likely applaud what he has done – or wouldn’t do. If you support the death penalty, you should applaud as well. Because you have ample evidence that someone with a personal moral compass is making other decisions on other issues – some of which may be equally important to you.

We may be in better hands than we thought.

Being a political junkie, one of my pursuits is to learn more about the various forms of government we all live with. City and county have been a hobby for years because they’re closest to us and the parts of the political puzzle on which we can have the most impact. The federal animal, though, is quite another situation.

The more you delve into it – sort of like eating sawdust without asking for water – the more of a mess it seems to be. The Pentagon, for instance, takes a lion’s share of our tax dollars but administrators recently admitted they have absolutely no accounting system to identify where those dollars go. The money comes in by the hundreds of billions but there is no assured tracking to see exactly where it all goes. It just – goes. No one knows where. Or how much. Or to whom. Besides Halliburton.

Now, if you want a federal agency that can tell you where everything is, how many, how much, how high, how low, where, when, by whom, to whom, for whom, why, etc. that’s the U.S. Census Bureau. I joined their emailing list some time ago and my inbox overflows daily with detailed output on nearly everything. And I mean EVERYTHING!

From time to time, as appropriate, I use some of the material. Because some of it is quite interesting and provides helpful research. Some of it. Other times, well, let’s just say you have to wonder how many people are employed to put all these sorts of weird facts together. The approaching Thanksgiving holiday offers an excellent example of Census Bureau information you may never have thought necessary.

For example, in 2010, the turkey “crop” in this country was 243 million birds. That didn’t count turkey imports which cost consumers nearly $8 million. Almost all the imports came from Canada. See what I mean about wide-ranging information? Exact count?

Ah, but we’re just beginning. There are the cranberries – 750 million pounds of them. More than 60% came from Wisconsin. Oregon ranked about fifth. Sweet potatoes produced for the holiday weighted in at 2.4 billion pounds. Pumpkin for the pie totaled 1.1 billion pounds. For those who’d rather have cherry pies, our tart cherry production was 266.1 million pounds. Wheat grown for all the bread, rolls and pie crusts came to 201 billion bushels. Snap (green) beans for side dishes came in at 656 million tons.

And where was all this eaten, you ask? Why in the 116.7 million households the Census Bureau counted in 2010.

They even know there are four towns in our country named Turkey – one each in Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina. Nine communities are named Cranberry. The one in Pennsylvania is the largest with 28,098 residents. And there are 37 places and townships named Plymouth – as in Plymouth Rock where the first Thanksgiving dinner was probably eaten.

Now, if the U.S. Census Bureau can come up with all this microscopic information about a single national holiday, you have some small idea of the gigantic amount of detail I get about all the really important stuff. It’s overwhelming! Those folks know just about everything.

Now, all this attention to detail in one federal department got me to thinking about the lack of attention to detail in the other.

Suppose – just suppose – we moved a bunch of the Census Bureau counters into the Defense Department swamp where even the number of alligators is unknown. Suppose the folks that counted the turkeys and weighed all those cranberries and wheat and snap beans started counting airplanes, trucks, humvees, military personnel, civilians, bullets, bombs, ships, boots, hats, rifles, machine guns, rain coats and everything else the Pentagon buys, rents, leases or owns. If you can find and weigh snap beans, why can’t you do the same with, oh, say khaki galoshes or submarines?

I’ll bet if someone gave that idea to Mitch McConnell or John Boehner, those two might even come up with a bill or two or three to put right in there with those on abortion, voter fraud, union criminalizing and all those other important national issues they’ve been filling their time with for almost a year now. You know, all those national priority subjects that have kept them so busy they haven’t had time for a single bill on job creation or fixing all those things that caused our country’s credit rating to be reduced three months ago.

Yep, the more you study the federal government from afar, the more ideas you can come up with to make sense of it all. Being in Washington, D.C. just puts you too close to the problem.

My Webster’s Dictionary defines “de-ja vu” as something overly or unpleasantly familiar.” My synonym is more simple: expectations of Congress.

September 3rd, the column in this space was headlined “Well, the politicians have slickered us again.” Since Congress was stalemated about how to reduce our incredible national debt, the “super” committee had just been appointed to solve the whole issue. To keep them on-point, congressional “leadership” set a date of Nov. 23rd as a “drop-dead-certain” deadline. If there was no plan from “super” committee, there would be automatic Draconian cuts in the federal budget.

Well, Nov. 23rd is about upon us. The national media – as predicted two months ago – began the “countdown clock” on TV and Internet screens last week. The committee’s accomplished nothing. It will accomplish nothing. As I said at the time: “The idea of a “super” committee was bogus from the git-go. Talking heads (will) predict a financial doomsday. The committee … will go nowhere. The deadline will pass. Without (Draconian) cuts. Without action.”

Now, comes no greater authority on the ways of Congress than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). As I write, we are two days from that phony deadline. And the Senator’s words this day are: “The Congress is not bound by this. It’s something we passed. We can reverse it.”

McCain is spot on! I rest my case. In fact, case closed. This was puppet theater from the beginning.

The entire process of wasting the last two months was deliberately created by congressional leaders who appointed the doomed 12. The six Democrats were instructed not to accept entitlement changes. None. Upon penalty of political death. Republicans were charged not to accept a penny in revenue increases. Not one cent. Upon penalty of political death. When all members of any group created to “negotiate” or “compromise” are instructed to do neither … well … you know.

And here’s another political bon mot to chew on. It’s been nearly 100 days since Standard & Poor’s downgraded our national credit rating because of our debtor nation status in the world and the lengthy and steadfast refusal of our government to take steps to address it. This means higher interest rates are piling billions of dollars on top of our already trillions in debt. And Congress has done what to address the issue in those hundred days? Specifically? What?

Nothing! Not one piece of legislation. Not one hearing. Not one decision. NOTHING! Now S&P is making noises backstage that it could act again which would mean the interest on our debt would be so high we could never pay it, much less the principle. NOTHING!

To those who say the people of the Occupy movements extant in the land are a bunch of hippies, ne’er-do-wells, complainers, food stamp huggers, malcontents, miscreants, dropouts and bums without direction or message, these two political failures are proof you are wrong! Very wrong!

Their message is my message. And it should be yours. Frustration with a federal government absolutely unwilling to address the issues which are dividing this country and hurting millions. You don’t need a formal leadership to articulate that message. You don’t need a formal list of grievances to nail to the door of Congress. This is not Martin Luther being picky-picky with the Roman Catholic Church!

Our nation is slowly being brought to its knees. A country that could never be conquered from without is bleeding cancerously from within. In the name of ideology, we are in danger of being done in by an unresponsive government and individuals who have the financial means to corrupt that system of governance.

The warning for this was sounded 173 years ago. The words are old and dust-covered but the meaning is as relevant as today’s headlines. And they were spoken by a wise – very wise – Republican.

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.” Abraham Lincoln – January 27, 1838

If you still think this can’t happen here, I submit the current suicidal political behavior attacking our form of government from atop Capitol Hill and the billions of dollars being spent by a few to assure life as we know it will disappear. Replaced by their idea of a corporate society overseen by a “board of directors” of their choosing.

Congress is sterile political puppetry, unable to govern. The people in the street – and I promise there will be more of them – are there because the purpose of government to do collectively what we are unable to do individually is being thwarted from the bank to the ballot box.

Mr. Lincoln’s words are relevant. And damned scary!

There is an old saying in politics – and coincidentally in crime – “follow the money.” The reason that’s important in both cases is it leads to whose in control. In politics and in crime.

What’s happening today in Republican politics at the national level is both political and a crime. Because, with the support of the U.S. Supreme court, Republican money by the hundreds of millions is being spent outside the party. For the party. By people who have no elected or appointed responsibility to the party or for the outsized control they are exerting over and through it.

Heavily bankrolled uber-lobbyists of the ilk of Karl Rove have formed a loosely knit, completely unofficial arm of the G-O-P – using the G-O-P for cover – to pour truckloads of dollars into political campaigns and ballot initiatives. Hundreds of millions coming from the Koch brothers and others who want to alter political, social and economic foundations of this country. That is their goal! And they’re willing to spend billions to achieve it.

Rove and the others, according to the New York Times and other sources, meet regularly to “share polling and opposition research, preview advertising plans and methods of contacting – and influencing – voters in swing states.” It’s a highly organized, computerized bunch with backers with very, VERY deep pockets.

None of these people – not one – has an office in the Republican Party or any responsibility for accountability to the Republican Party. And, in fact, much of the money they control is no longer going to the Republican Party. Which, given the control money buys, means the Party is weaker and in danger of being less of a player than it has historically been. So far, the G-O-P has been willing to accept this “second citizen” role because the goals and philosophies are pretty much the same. At the moment.

All of this is possible because of your friends and neighbors at the U.S. Supreme Court – that heavily conservative majority that gave us “Citizens United.” According to Justices Roberts, Thomas, Rehnquist, et al, you and General Motors – and Koch Industries – have the same rights of free speech. Therefore, a Koch check for, say $ 3 million, is just as legitimate as yours for $10.00. No difference. No controls. They’re the same “free” speech. The Court says so.

No U.S. Supreme Court ruling since Roe vs Wade has had such a far-reaching impact on all of us. And, because that decision is only a little over a year old, the real impact has not yet been felt. Billionaires got their feet wet in the 2010 elections. But just their feet. They are now ready to dive in right up to their well–shaven chins.

The irony here for those who care about the Republican party is that the national organization is deeply in debt. Candidates at any level, looking for the traditional G-O-P check in the mail, are going to be disappointed this year. And next.

But – and this is where “follow the money” really means something – others may be offering campaigning politicians even larger checks than the national G-O-P has delivered in recent years. And you know – you just know – those checks will come with pretty big strings attached. Probably larger, more ideologically connected and more rightward-leaning than usual. Mr. Rove has already promised that. Rove’s set a goal for his “American Crossroads” group of raising $240 million for the 2012 elections. And the Koch’s “Americans For Prosperity” is planning to match that.

The national G-O-P is losing in another meaningful way. Many of the top, most experienced staffers are leaving for fatter paychecks and more freedom. Brian Walsh, formerly G-O-P national political director, quit and is now shepherding “Congressional Leadership Fund” and “American Action Network,” two of the front organizations with no recognized membership other than a handful of fat cats.

In a move that may come back to haunt Republican Party decision makers, for the first time ever – the very first – they are making it’s voter list available to these shell game players. A former chief of the RNC has resigned for a big pay raise and has set up Data Trust, an expensive-to-maintain, computer-driven data base, using that membership list.

Are all the traditional G-O-P hierarchy happy with this? Not on your old elephant campaign button! Some see the original Party becoming “Republican Light” as more traditional Party apparatus and staff are being moved out or dismantled. But they can’t stop it. The money’s too big.

So what seems to be happening, thanks to a boneheaded – and more partisan than normal – Supreme Court decision, is we are being introduced to “Republican Party A” and “Republican Party B.” The establishment of a large and well-funded third political party. Currently inside a Trojan horse. But for how long?

Will this symbiotic relationship always be? My guess is, it will not. Somewhere down the political road – on some issue that may not even be in play yet – there’s likely to be a separation of goals or opinions. Then you’ll see a wrestling match featuring the Koch’s and their billionaire buddies to control whatever the shape of the Party is or may be at that time. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the outcome will be anybody’s guess.

Some of what you’re about to read may strike a few of you as sexist. It may sound like male arrogance. It may sound like my ego talking. But none of that is meant or implied. Or true.

First, and for the record before we get to that, I believe Herman Cain is totally unqualified for any government job. Any! He’s the hand puppet of the Koch Brothers who are using a considerable portion of their $100 billion joint net worth to buy themselves a country. Cain offers nothing of value to our national political discussions except what Chucky and Davey whisper in his ear. His right ear.

Second, since the truth will eventually come out, I’m not concerned whether Cain is a serial sex abuser. Other than to say that any male with that kind of extended pattern – if conclusively proven – should be neutered. Period.

Third, Cain is not going to be president of anything except the Herman Cain Personal Financial Betterment Association. Even the nuts who will control the 2012 Republican Convention will have forgotten his name by the time the gavel sounds in Florida next summer.

So, with that understanding, the rest of these thoughts are based on my personal experiences while living in Washington, D.C. as a minor member of the national media. While that period of my life was 40 years ago, it has been reinforced by a number of more recent visits. What I’m about to describe is as current as today. Further, my comments are not meant – in any way – to excuse, justify or support Mr. Cain. We’re talking “cultural definition” here.

Washington, D.C. – and the power it represents – is a magnet to many, many people. Both sexes. They go there looking for careers, political experience, money, access, privilege, power and in ways not always healthy.

But the worst catnip seems to be for some – certainly not all but some – women. In my time, some of them wanted to meet/marry Ted Kennedy or Gary Hart or any other political pinup of the day. When I was part of the after-hours social life there, I met a lot of newcomers who were looking to find someone who knew the people they wanted to know. While standing around at a cocktail party at a South American embassy on Mass. Avenue, I actually had a very attractive young woman walk up to me and say “Are you anybody?” Just “anybody?” Answer that one with your ego on the floor.

D.C. has always had a very active after-hours life. Social and otherwise. Even during the Nixon years which, after the Kennedy and Johnson years, made the place almost medieval. Most of the best attended gatherings were – and are – high-priced fund raisers for members of Congress, usually sponsored by the member, the member’s political party or one or more lobbyists.

A second after-hours draw is the embassy party. Many countries occasionally open their doors late in the day for food and drink. Some of them are pretty extensive. In my day, it was the South American countries that laid on the food, drink, music and atmosphere that drew a lot of people. While some members of Congress often attended, some who were otherwise engaged or didn’t like the party circuit, chose to send staff. And, of course, there are the media types looking for a story from someone with a well-lubricated tongue.

In my personal experience, the majority of the attendees were usually women. Lots of young, single women. Without casting too wide a net, I can say that, while some were there for official business, there were many who wanted to use the event for “climbing the Washington ladder.” As did some males. And in Washington, the climb is best when you get to know the person on the next rung above you. Or two or three rungs up.

But, while a lot of people of both sexes were cruising the scene to “score,” others were looking for access. Still do. The conversations I remember contained a lot of “Who do you work for” – as opposed to “What do you do” or “Tell me about yourself.” If the answer was the name of somebody in Congress or an important government department head, the media or a major business organization, the conversation usually continued. If not, you were often left alone with your bourbon and branch water.

My point here is, for someone with an abnormal sex drive, much of the Washington social circuit is a private hunting ground with a lot of prey. For men or women. And, as noted in all the Herman Cain stories of late, that’s where he’s accused of operating.

I’m not saying he’s guilty or innocent. We’ll know that in due time. But you’ll note a common thread in the stories of the two women who’ve come forward is the setting they’ve described was after-hours – dinner – social.

Again, I’ve meant nothing sexist or arrogant in these comments. But unless you’ve experienced the D.C. nightlife, especially some of the politically social nightlife, you can’t imagine how different it often is from where you live.

For some, it’s the “good life.” For me, well, let’s just say that I don’t live there anymore. And in nearly 40 years, I haven’t missed it for a minute.

Before I state some mixed feelings about the tragic fate of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, let me make something very, very clear. His firing in the child abuse sex scandal is deserved. So is that of the university’s president. And there probably should be more. Quickly.

Athletic Director Tim Curley – currently on paid administrative leave – should get the immediate axe for perjuring himself before a grand jury when he said repeatedly he knew nothing. The Pennsylvania Attorney General already has published proof he lied.

Senior Vice President Gary Shultz – also charged with perjury with proof also publically offered by the A.G. – should be yanked from retirement and that retirement should be suspenbded until all the legal details shake out. Then, maybe revoked.

Grad Assistant Coach Mike McQueary has not been touched – yet – but he needs to be canned quickly. And prosecuted. It was McQueary who walked in on a rape of a youngster in the shower area of the football facility in 2002, did not intervene, turned around and walked away. He turned tail and walked, then kept his mouth shut. For nine years!

And let’s not forget Jerry Sandusky, the defensive coach against whom the evidence of a 15 year pattern of violating young boys is mountainous. He should never see the sun without bars between him and Old Sol. Never!

Before this scandalous tragedy is over, there will probably be more employees of Penn State rooted out and targeted for a portion of the total blame. If so, and it’s proven, put them outside with the rest of the trash.

With that said, the one tragic figure here being pilloried is Paterno. He is guilty. Yes. U.S. Code Title 42, Chapter 132, Subchapter IV, 13031 is the pertinent law. It applies to all medical professionals, social workers, teachers (including football coaches) and others having contact with children. Unlike some sweeping laws federal , it’s very, very clear.

“A person who, while engaged in a professional capacity or activity … learns of facts that give reason to suspect that a child has suffered an incident of child abuse, shall as soon as possible make a report of the suspected abuse to the agency designated under subsection (d)…..”

One such designated agency is local law enforcement. Paterno did not go there. On that point rests his guilt. By his own admission. No question. BUT – what Paterno failed to do should not make him the poster child for the whole Penn State mess. Still, that’s just what’s happening.

It’s happening because of a lazy, sensation-seeking and – in some cases – incompetent national media. When the Penn State story is reported, the first picture you see – and sometimes the only picture you see – is Paterno. His image is becoming the logo for the whole tawdry mess. And that’s wrong!

Line up all of the bad guys according to their participation. The baddest of the bad is Sandusky, the sick bastard who preyed on the kids. For 15 years. If there is a poster child for this scandal, it is Sandusky. Put his picture on every mention of what is being reported, every time it’s reported. Give him no place to hide. Put his picture on milk cartons.

Curley and Schultz stand interchangeably second and third. Already charged, they’re walking around free and – to most of us – unrecognized. Their likenesses, too, should top every story dealing with this.

Fourth – only temporarily because he hasn’t yet been charged – is McQueary who witnessed Sandusky in action in the shower and did nothing. Nothing at the moment to stop it and nothing since 2002 though he could have offered eyewitness testimony to law enforcement. In my mind, being there and doing nothing makes him awfully close to being a co-conspirator. Nine years he’s kept the secret.

Then, in the lineup of only those identified so far, should be Paterno. Was he wrong? Yes. Did he do what was required? No. Should he share in the punishment? Yes. Some of it.

But the media is making him out to be “the story.” That is flat out wrong! His failure was what he didn’t do but should have. Not what he did do but shouldn’t have.

Over the years, JoePa has made Penn State rich. The football program brought in $72.7 million last season alone. He’s been used by the University and boosters for years to raise hundreds of millions – if not a billion or two – for a football program that otherwise might have been forgettable. His entire adult life has been tied to a school that used him for all he was worth – all they could market him for – before putting him out with the trash. He deserves better.

Paterno’s legacy will never be the same. From now on, every time his name is mentioned in the media, including his obituary, the first sentence – no matter the story – will include a reference to the “Penn State sex scandal.”

You can bet on it. And that, too is wrong.

Though we honor members of the military – and former members – each year with a national Veteran’s Day, it’s unlikely most people know how many veterans there are in the United States today, how many are typically younger and how many are well into their senior years. Using some new data from the federal Census Bureau, we found some interesting facts.

At the end of 2010, there were nearly 22 million vets – both active and inactive. Of that, about 1.5 million are women, 2.4 million black, 1.2 million Hispanic, 265,000 Asian and 156,000 American Indian or Alaska Native.

Not surprisingly, many are older – 9 million over age 65. About 1.7 million are younger than 35. The difference between those numbers – about 6 million – is important because many of those are considered career military. That means if they serve until retirement, costs associated with that – retirement pay, medical care, dependent costs, travel entitlements, long term care – will be large factors in future federal and some state budgets.

There are about 7.6 million living Viet Nam era vets. Some 35% of all living veterans served during the official term of the war – 1964-1975.

Texas, Florida and California each have more than a million vets living there. The state with the highest percentage of residents 18 years and older qualifying as veterans was Alaska with 14.1%. Significantly higher than any continental U.S. state.

One Census Bureau finding surprised me. In the 2008 Presidential election, 15.8 million veterans cast ballots. Now that’s a significant voting block you never hear mentioned by the pundits. It would be interesting to see how that number broke down for the two major political parties. More Republican, I’d expect.

Also, in the off-year 2010 congressional election, 12.4 million vets voted which is a much higher percentage than the public at large. Again, some voting numbers that should hardly be ignored by politicians.

But the most surprising information to me was this. The annual median income of veterans – in 2010 adjusted dollars – was $35,367. For the American population as a whole, the figure was about $10,000 less.

So it would seem service members – and retired members – are in pretty good financial shape, right? Well, 26% of all veterans qualified for poverty status with a disability in 2010. 26%! Seems to me that’s a terribly significant figure, too. And nothing to be proud about.

From a statistical viewpoint, all this data is sort of interesting. But some of it is going to change – and change radically – in the near future.

We’re used to counting the number of former military who have lost an arm or a leg; who’ve been paralyzed by a war wound; who’ve had some other major bodily injury. But we’ve only recently become concerned with all those injuries we can’t see – the ones inside the head. PTSD we call it or other clinical terms. They look good in their uniforms or their civies, but they’re carrying life-changing – and often violent – behaviors inside.

As we recognize and treat more of these newly emerging veteran casualties, the costs of war and the statistics of survival will change tremendously. We are going to need a restructured Veteran’s Administration health system to expand care for mental health issues – many of which are, and will continue to be, long term. And very, very expensive.

Because of drone attack planes and other computer-based marvels replacing a lot of “boots on the ground,” we may see some of the costs directly related to weapons systems reduced as we need fewer aircraft carriers, fewer super and hypersonic planes. But the human costs – ones we didn’t recognize before and didn’t count as “injuries of war” – those costs are bound to increase.

It we’re going to continue to lure our young into a future military, we are honor-bound as a nation to be there for them when their mission’s done – especially the ones who come back with war wounds seen and unseen.

At the moment, nearly 22 million Americans qualify for the highly honorable term “veteran.” Judging by some of the statistics from the Census Bureau, we haven’t done a great job with the responsibility we already have.

Have a good Veteran’s Day.

Bring ’em home? You bet!

Author: Barrett Rainey

While the Obama administration has some ‘splaining to do about a number of things, I find one significant action totally acceptable on it’s face: the decision to get the American military out of Iraq.

Yep, that’s a good one. That’s been my feeling for almost 10 years. Goes back to about 10 minutes after George Bush sent that same military into Iraq.

But it seems this keeping of a campaign promise by Barack Obama is riling a bunch of people who think our mission there, this long decade, has been to make sure the Iraq people have a good “democratic” government. Where have these folks been? That just t’ain’t true. Except maybe in their fevered heads. We were there to get Sadaam who tried to kill George II’s father in the first Gulf war. And, of course, to get those nuclear weapons. The ones that weren’t there ‘cause – well – they weren’t there.

Our second Iraq incursion was a war of “choice” based on lies. It’s hard to try to tie principles of “democracy” to that. Or any principles. It was wrong then. It’s wrong as we leave. It’ll be wrong throughout history.

I’ve been criticized by readers and some friends for “not supporting our military.” As a veteran, why wouldn’t I “support our military?” The difference has been I’ve supported getting them out before any more are killed in a war that defies justification. You can’t be much more of a supporter than wanting to keep the troops alive.

Supporters of keeping our military there base their argument on mostly one thing: we leave and things will go back to where they were a dozen years ago, only this time – absent Sadaam – Iran will creep across the border and become more of a force in the affairs of Iraq.

So? If we kept our men and women there for 50 years, then left, what would be the case then? Or 100 years? Are we supposed to have a military presence – boots on the ground – wherever there’s a tyrant or a despot or some crackpot we don’t agree with who’s mistreating the local citizenry? Are we to keep being “policeman to the world” at the cost of thousands of young lives and billions upon billions of dollars? To what end? Our nation is a debtor now and costs of “wars of choice” are a good part of that.

Short of a nuclear war – which doesn’t seem nearly as likely now as it did 50-60 years ago – we have no business using our military or our treasury in foreign wars because we see some injustices. Times have changed. And conduct of our international military affairs should change, too.

What we’ve just witnessed in Libya seems to be a precursor of what our involvement should be overseas unless American holdings are directly attacked. In Libya, we took a truly joint role with other countries under the NATO banner. We furnished some of the air power, a bit of hardware, some of the intelligence/surveillance and some of the back-channel diplomatic efforts to get Ghadafi out or killed. The Libyan war was a civil war, with Libyans doing the hard fighting on the ground and NATO nations giving military support where needed. We spent a few billion dollars: other nations spent a few billion Euro’s. No American military lives lost; no NATO losses. Ghadafi’s gone so now the Libyans can figure out what they want. If it’s another tribal leader, so be it.

It should not be the province of this nation to take democracy wherever we think it should go and impose our tortured form of it on anyone else. That means Iraq and damned sure includes Afghanistan. Further, given changes in the conduct of war with ever-evolving technology, it doesn’t make much sense to spend the billions we spend each year keeping a huge military presence in Europe or the Far East either.

Reducing our forces in foreign countries is not isolationism. It’s simply recognizing world conditions have changed since the 1940’s and 50’s. As in all of history, most of the time nations that were once enemies find themselves partners as we do now with Germany and Japan.

I find it unconscionable we can spend billions building public schools in Iraq and Afghanistan while schools are crumbling in the 50 states. We are spending more billions to build roads and bridges in the Mideast while our own are failing. Or are in the process. We’re hiring school teachers, police and fire personnel over there and firing them at home. National policies – to say nothing of our priorities – need drastic and immediate changing.

Support the troops? You bet! Bring ‘em home? You bet!!!