Archive for January, 2012

The Truth Is Not In Them

Author: Barrett Rainey

Some of the saddest people in my life today are longtime, practicing Republicans. Make that “most of the saddest people in my life today are longtime, practicing Republicans.”

The cause of such angst among those folks is the sorry state of affairs in their presidential primary. It has devolved into a name-calling, back-stabbing, dishonest quartet of caricatures I wouldn’t want in MY house much less the White House.

In the words of my Quaker grandmother: “The truth is not in them”

Neither party has a corner on the dishonesty market. It’s an equal opportunity character trait. In our political system, we’ve always tolerated candidates who were “fast and loose with the truth.” I’m hard pressed to think of a single presidential individual or pursuer of other major office who could pass a lie detector test on all statements in a campaign.

But while tolerating some truth-bending and a few overstuffed claims in our political game has been acceptable in the past, we now have four who are competing for first place in a race to the bottom of the barrel. After four primaries, as far as truth is concerned, it definitely “is not in them,”

Without direct intercession of the Almighty between now and midsummer, one of these guys is going to be the Republican nominee. There is no effective moderation in the party to head it off. So our choice at the polls will be to keep what we have – and what we know – or throw out baby, bath water and tub to take our chances with one of these opportunists who seems willing to say anything, do anything, be anything to get elected.

Not one- repeat – not one has enunciated a set of personal core values, taken a personal or political position and stuck with it, defined in any intelligent way what his principles are or laid out a proposal to deal with any of the critical problems facing this country. Not one. We know precisely what they don’t like and what they’re against. And who. But we have no idea what they like and what they are for.

The national media has aided and abetted this travesty of a campaign. All have allowed themselves to be misdirected rather than pursuing fact. While we need valuable information on character – or lack thereof – personal values – or lack thereof – we have been treated to repetitions ad nauseam of endless personal attacks and character assassination rather than what these people stand for and what their vision is for this country. And us. Following all this more closely than most, I have no idea.

Don’t look for anything to change any of this at the national GOP convention in a few months. The internal workings of that organization are in total control of the far right, fringe elements of the Grand Old Party. There will be no move to produce a candidate to appeal to anyone but them. There will be no talk of moderation, of compromise, of accommodating other views in an effort to widen appeal of the party. “My Way Or The Highway” will be the convention motto. Others need not attend.

This collision of dogma of a few versus interests and desires of the many has been festering in the party for a very, very long time. Since Barry Goldwater and his people threw Nelson Rockefeller and his people out of the 1964 convention. Moderates who’ve stayed with the national party have had no effective voice in its operation or direction – or philosophy – since that time. It’s been a long, steady procession to the right. With the possible exception of a Republican incumbent or two, nominees from an “open” convention have been “fringier” each time.

Now we have four candidates from “out there” to choose from. We are asked to pick one from the pack to oppose the sitting president in November. But what is the basis to be for our decision? Someone with a moral center of convictions? Someone with a career of accomplishment? Someone of character we’d be proud to have lead the nation? Someone with vision or a plan to deal with the ills that face this country and the world? Someone with patience and qualities of leadership that include compromise and cooperation?

Which one would that be? Which one?

It’s time you met Winston

Author: Barrett Rainey

I’ve never understood people who don’t like dogs. As for the other group … the people who don’t like people … well, I confess I sometimes find myself among them.

But dogs? DOGS? Never!

One of my very closest and most highly respected friends started out as a dog. Winston. Now, he’s just a small, hairy, loving “person” who has to be let out several times a day to do chores. Like me.

Being a human seems to be his judgment, too. He may be a 17-pound Rat Terrier by birth. But in his mind, he’s a 6-foot person who just happens to be black, brown and white, has four legs and whose ears may be a bit larger than the rest of us. Those are the only differences.

Now I realize someone talking about his dog is about as pleasant for most folks as the guy who digs out a wallet full of pictures of the grandkids. Well, if you’re one of those people, stop reading.

I’ve never liked Winston’s breed name. Rat Terrier. It doesn’t conjure up the intelligent, mild-mannered, extremely smart animal he is. The name comes from the 1200’s in Europe when a small dog was needed to hunt vermin in the castle but it also had to be docile enough to sit in someone’s lap at court. Dogs were a fixture at court.

One of the things about the breed that surprises me is how many people say upon meeting Winston “I used to have a dog just like that.” In the 20’s and 30’s, they were very popular. In fact, the dog on the old RCA record label was an R-T. They’re coming back now.

In all my years of travel and in all my various careers, I’ve thought of myself as a good judge of people. But my skill in that department is dwarfed by my little friend. He is never fooled. Never!

He also knows just what to do and “say” in his contacts with others. I never appreciated how smart he was in that area until shortly before my mother’s death a couple of years ago.

He could walk the halls of the nursing facility without a leash, staying within a couple feet of me. Some people he’d ignore. Others he would deliberately walk up to, offering himself for petting. Somehow he knew which people wanted the attention AND the ones that didn’t. He was never wrong.

When he came to Mom’s room, he knew immediately what to do. And not do. An elderly woman in bed most of the time, she had aches, pains and tender spots in various parts of her body. Winston knew that.

Without being able to see up on the bed, he would gingerly leap to a corner near the foot where no part of her body would be. Then he’d walk the edge of the bed to a spot just above her hip and curl up.
And stay there.

He’s a “person” who loves to travel, too. Especially in the motor home with the large, flat dash up front. Mom made him a small quilt several years ago just for that spot. Curled up on the quilt with a window to life eight feet wide about five feet above the ground is his Heaven.

His eating likes and dislikes are decidedly human, too. While we feed him a good dog food and limit treats, we do often allow plate licking when meals are over. He’s not a fussy eater. He dislikes only grapes. Maybe celery. All other people food will do nicely, thank you.

Winston’s animal relationships are mostly excellent. Except with Clementine. She’s our Calico indoor cat. The best that can be said is they tolerate each other. Sort of like a marriage gone wrong but you’re staying together for the sake of the kids.

Winston, of course, sleeps at the foot of the bed on his own little blanket. Except when Barb is out of town and then he’s up on her empty pillow. While she and he have a good rapport, I’d hate to have to put them head-to-head in the “who owns the pillow test.”

Smart, sensitive, fun to be around, well-groomed, good traveler, doesn’t snore, good communicator. I spent years looking for a wife like that. Then along came Winston. Who knew?

Will Rogers was a dog lover. One of his best observations was “If dogs aren’t allowed in Heaven, I don’t want to go there. I want to go where the dogs are.”


Joseph Vincent Paterno is gone. Dead. The official cause reads “cancer.” My take: a shattered world of memories and a broken heart were major contributors.

The Penn State sex scandal that ended his illustrious career was a terrible thing, not justifiable by anyone in any way. Careers of other Penn State employees have been quickly ended. As well they should have been. If found guilty, my hope is that Jerry Sandusky – longtime trusted Paterno assistant – never sees the sun without steel bars between him and it.

I won’t try to let Paterno off the moral hook. But there’s a vast difference between his situation and that of the principle offender. In Sandusky’s case, the offense is what he is alleged to have done. In Paterno’s, it’s what he is alleged not to have done. Twice. If both commission and omission are eventually proven, so be it. What Sandusky allegedly did will make him a footnote to sorry history. What Paterno allegedly didn’t do – in 2002 and 2011 – will be footnotes to his entire life’s meaning. And should not be.

With his death, Paterno can’t suffer any longer. But as we inter his bones, I have a theory about what he allegedly didn’t do. Why he didn’t do it.

“JoePa” came to Penn State as an assistant football coast in 1950: 62 years ago. The Penn State football program and the Penn State campus way of “reality” became his entire life. After graduating from Brown University a year earlier, he simply changed campuses but lived in an environment dominated by the shelter from reality that marks institutional and academic settings. The only life he knew as both a young man and an old war horse. And all the years between.

Imagine the personal conditioning of going to work in the same job at the same place for 62 years, living in the same house for more than 40 years. Imagine – if you can – the life-shaping protection of living nearly all your life sheltered from the day-to-day demands and pressures nearly all of us have. A cocoon-like life. Something like spending 62 years in the military. In your personal life, from your early years to your middle years to your last years, you had your place – you had your job – and you had little day-to-day contact with the pressured world the rest of us live in.

Imagine how such an experience would mold you. Would shape your thinking. Would shape your sense of responsibility. Would determine your reactions to a sudden, violent, outside reality completely foreign to everything you’d ever known.

Evidence thus far is that, when told by an assistant of Sandusky’s alleged behavior, Paterno contacted the Penn State Athletic Director – his immediate superior and boss – and told him what second-hand information he had, labeling it a “problem” within his football program that needed administrative attention.

Paterno did what he was supposed to do in his isolated, institutional environment. Information coming from beneath his level of responsibility was quickly passed on to the person he – Paterno – was responsible to above: the athletic director. Information coming up the chain was passed to the next person up that chain. Isn’t that what you’d do in your job? We all know the drill. Paterno reacted properly in his. As far as he went.

The “crime” which brought his illustrious career – and maybe his life – to an end is that he did not do more. He did not contact the Penn State president. He did not contact campus police or off-campus police. He apparently told no one about the second-hand information he had received, relying on the “system” of his “campus reality” and the very different lifelong academic environment to respond as he believed they would. After all, the people “up-the-chain“ also ran the campus police. He did what he was supposed to do. He did no more.

And that’s why I’m able to cut “JoePa” some slack. While we all may believe he should have “done more,” we are not the products of the same environmental conditioning Paterno was. We don’t look at life as someone sheltered from a lot of its realities. Still, as I opined at the outset, Paterno should not be let off the hook entirely.

But consider: what about the thousands of young men whose lives he helped shape for 62 years? What about 37 major bowl appearances in his 46 years as head coach – the only FBS coach to reach 400 victories? The donation of more than $4 million to Penn State programs and the millions more he and his wife gave to build a world-class academic library on campus? What about his rejection of NFL and other career opportunities to stay right there on campus, turning out winning teams and those thousands of young men, most of whom benefitted from the life-changing affiliation with “JoePa” and his principled approach to athletics?

While we may feel he should have done more in the Sandusky scandal on two ocasions, I find some mitigation for “JoePa.” The ethical and moral teachings he blended with the Penn State football programs of 62 years have paid some enormous dividends in thousands of lives. I wish him a good eternal rest.

And Peace.

I’ve been given a great deal of advice in my life. So much so, at times, I thought that was my only reason for existence – to be the one everyone else gave advice to. They’d been advised about this, that and the other so wanted to make sure I got mine.

Much of the time, we ignore advice from those around us. We are, after all, independent people living in a nation that prides itself on it’s independence. So the “School of Hard Knocks” – which we usually “attend” when we ignore more and better experienced advice and do it our own way – has more graduates than all the universities of the world combined.

So saying, I am about to offer some advice here.

From childhood up, maybe the best and most consistent instruction I’ve received from others is “Don’t decide something while you’re angry.” It didn’t take long – whether as a child or an adult – to learn that is always – ALWAYS – the right thing to do. Let things settle, stay on course, take some time, then make your decision.

The reason why this comes to mind now is there are many, many people in this country who are going to the polls very, very mad. It was so in 2010 and it now seems anger is the national mood. Anger with government. Anger with politicians. Anger with bankers. Anger with the economy. Anger with nearly everyone and nearly everything.

Most of all, mad and frustrated that our lives – and so many of the things we were brought up to believe in – are being tossed to and fro. Institutions we grew up respecting seem to have either turned their backs on us or become villains attacking our security, our economy, our families, our way of life. We are damned mad. And, truth be told, more than a little scared.

We’re a nation so conflicted, badly divided and distrustful that we and our institutions are suspicious of nearly everything and able to agree on almost nothing. The proof is everywhere. But no more so than in politics. National polling dealing with elections to be held 11 months hence is absolutely worthless at this point. Means nothing. Well, almost nothing. The rotating “leader-of-the-month” in polling of the Republican presidential fracas makes my anger argument. If Democrats were to put up someone to oppose the sitting president, it would probably be the same scenario.

Angry and often bitter national divisions have their roots in each of us. Though many are fed by professional haters paid to keep the pot boiling, nearly all of us have become disillusioned and angry with conditions. Even we who ignore the haters by tuning them out have developed our own sense of futility and anger because we seem to lack the power to change things. To make conditions better.

Being told how divided and mad we are only feeds what’s already there. Emotions of frustration, disillusionment and the rest start individually; a true “bottom up” situation. When it reaches a certain point – and it seems to have done so – it becomes national. Not before.

Some of my well-educated, successful and life-experienced friends were mad when they went to the polls in ’10. Votes were cast not “for” someone but “against” someone. Now, several have told me they will do so again in ’12. Because they’re madder now than in 2010. Makes no difference how unqualified, ignorant, ideologically unfit or politically clueless the name on the ballot is. That’s the one they’ll mark. They’re mad as Hell! No lessons have been learned.

Being angry when voting explains – more than any single factor – why our Congress is deadlocked and completely ineffective. Rather than calming down, thinking through what’s best for the country, really learning the issues and making a reasoned decision, millions and millions of folk fell for the road apples of people they’d never heard of and knew nothing about. But those “candidates” – just like the voters – were expressing anger and promising to “fix” things. Well, did they?

The four remaining Republican presidential candidates are heaving anger by the shovelful. They’re promising to “uproot” the three branches of government. Make all sorts of changes. As if there were no Constitution and no constitutional division of powers. They’re appealing to people who are ignorant of how our government works and who will support them because that’s the way they feel. Mad. Angry. Frustrated. No thought of the consequences. Believing what they want to hear.

Some Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina citizens interviewed recently make the case. Time and again, the phrase “I want someone who won’t compromise” was all the reason given for voting for someone. That’s all. “Won’t compromise.” No understanding of politics. Of the value of compromise to achieve success. They’re mad. Unreasonably, blindly, ignorantly MAD!

So, the advice. Don’t vote angry. Acknowledge that almost all of us feel the same for many of the same reasons. Calm down. Study up. Vote informed.

If you think you’re mad now – really sincerely mad – Santorum, Romney, Gingrich and Paul are not going to return confidence and trust in government. Which we absolutely and desperately need. They’re running angry. We can’t afford to vote angry.

I’ve made up my mind about which presidential candidate I’m going to vote for in November. I’ve done my research, checked the facts and made what I consider an informed choice. Now, if I share the name and give my solid endorsement, will you vote for him too?

I didn’t think so.

Which begs the question, “Do endorsements of candidates BY anybody make any difference TO anybody?” According to your answer about mine, I’d guess not. Seems we’re in good company.

A Pew Research poll has looked into the issue, using supposed GOP “stars” endorsements in the current Republican presidential primary. Suppose George Bush, Sarah Palin and John McCain all said you should “vote for so-and-so.” In Bush’s case, 59% of respondents said his endorsement meant nothing to them and 11% said they’d go the other way! In Palin’s case, if she blessed a candidate, 60% said “So what?” Another 15% would be less likely to vote for that person. Same for McCain.

I ignore political endorsements as an outgrowth of some very bad dating experiences many, many years ago. In those times, friends would often recommend one of their friends – or a friend-of-a-friend – to date. It only took an outing or two to decide what appealed to them often created little or no interest in me. Not because the young lady was not a kind, pleasant, fun person. Maybe she was. Just not MY idea of a “kind, pleasant, fun person.”

Later in life, other instances of recommendations proved equally unreliable. Take movies, for instance. I’m a fan. Not of any one particular “star” but just the movie-going experience itself. Friends would often recommend – or not recommend – a film. They’d do so with what seemed to me to be good intentions. “See this one.” “Don’t waste your money on that one.” For some time, I thought they were doing so based on what they knew about me – about my likes and dislikes.

Not so, I eventually learned. Their “endorsements” or “non-endorsements” were usually based on their own tastes and not mine. So, unless we were very similarly inclined in most things, their entertainment value judgements were often different from my own. Lesson learned. Do your own research and make your own decision.

Restaurant recommendations – especially Italian – proved equally unreliable. What one friend thought was “the best Italian food this side of Genoa” sometimes seemed to me as if his Genoa must have been in Utah. More often than not, the endorsement wasn’t valuable and sometimes not edible.

I’m not opposed to candidate endorsements. But neither am I a follower of same. An important endorser for major politicians is labor unions which usually support Democrats. Not always. Just usually. Still, even then, union leaders pick a candidate but later the political floor can be littered with bodies of former favorites who found rank-and-file not always as unified as was once the case.

National Chamber of Commerce and National Rifle Association political picks, for example, are most often Republican with the same mixed result. Not the unanimity of membership they once represented.

So, if you chose not to follow someone else’s recommendations in your love life, movies, Italian food or politics, what’s a guy to do? Well, that’s sort of my point. I used to try to get to know a girl before I asked her out. I went to movies and made my own decision. I learned what good Italian food was and how to find it.

When it comes to picking a political candidate to support, it’s pretty much the same. Do your own research. Read. Listen. Compare. Check ‘em out. Become the informed voter that says to a friend, “I’m voting for `So-And-So’ and you should, too.” They may be like me and think your pick is not for them. But you’ll have cast an informed ballot. And that’s the important thing.

If, like finding a good Italian restaurant, you still wind up with political indigestion, well, next time do better research. It’ll be good for your digestive tract. And for the country.

Oregon school districts are on the cusp of a twilight zone of sorts. School boards and superintendents, already trying to stay above water with nearly unprecedented revenue losses, are about to get hit with a new state law that could make accurately predicting student enrollment numbers a crap shoot.

Last year, our legislative friends threw this time bomb into all districts by passing House Bill 3681 by sizeable majorities. The bottom line: starting next school year, students will be able to transfer to any school they – or their parents – want, losing districts won’t have to give permission and neither the new nor old district will be able to stop them in many cases. How would you like to set your next year’s budget with that moving target?

As is so often the case with legislative – or congressional – action, the bill became law without instructions for implementation. Or even a clearly written intent. And – as is also so often the case – confused districts asking the state education folks for explanations have received conflicting answers. Or no answers. What else is new?

In Oregon, each public school student is worth about $8,900 per year paid through the Oregon Dept. Of Education. Sometimes a little more or a little less and sometimes a few federal dollars get mixed in. But that’s a good figure for planning when budget setting is done. A year ahead.

The problem is – and this is a huge problem for the losing district – the dollars go with the kid. If 60 kids suddenly go elsewhere when schools open, that’s a $534 thousand hole in the budget. Right now!

And there’s this. Suppose the district the kids all want to go to – your district – is close to full? What happens to classroom sizes or special needs students? How do teachers cope with all those new faces?

So do school districts get into open competition for students – read “dollars” – to stay afloat? Some superintendents think that’s possible and that sort of gamesmanship could create some major problems. Nearly all districts are waiting to see if the state comes up with more guidance. So far – it hasn’t.

The law allows districts three choices: admit everyone incoming who wants to transfer, set a ceiling to stop excess flow or stick with the case-by-case policy most have now. But that $8,900 per head could be persuasive to keep the doors – and the policy – open.

There’s also the matter that the losing district gets a double whammy here. First, it doesn’t get a voice in students leaving and – second – if there’s an attendance hemorrhage, that’s $8,900 per head loss to make up somewhere.

There’s more. If your enrollment policy is “open door” to catch those per-head student dollars, can you reject someone who has been a major discipline problem elsewhere? Or several “someones” if the whole gang wants to come? What if you can’t handle more special-needs kids? By federal law, you can’t pick and choose. And special-needs programs can be a budget-buster in small districts.

When I was a kid, nobody said “When I grow up I want to be a school district superintendent.” Well, a lot of us are all grown up now and I still don’t hear anyone wanting to change career fields. Superintendents and all those unpaid school board members are faced with closing schools, firing teachers, dropping whole curriculums, selling off school busses, turning down the thermostats and whatever else they can do to keep the doors open and meet all the state and federal standards on the books. We’re not even talking about new buildings, old buildings falling apart, updating text books, buying computers or even buying current software. And, of course, that competition from more and more charter schools draining dollars.

Now, your friendly legislator – the one who campaigned about “local control of our schools” – has added another state straw bale on the already overburdened local administrative camels.

My gut tells me this “everybody-goes-where-everybody-wants-to-go” concept came from some large districts looking for more dollars who lobbied hard for HB 3681 which was just one “housekeeping” part of a large education package. And they got it. But the people casting the votes apparently didn’t think the idea through – or more likely didn’t read all the package – and now their friends and neighbors in more rural districts at home are facing what could be a major problem.

It’s hard to teach readin’ and writin’ if the folks doing the votin’ don’t read all the writin’.

“Change is expected, normal and necessary,” we’re told. “Change is good,” we’re told. But, while the sea change taking place in American political campaigns today is “expected,” it is neither good nor necessary. And it’s undercutting our democracy in very dangerous ways.

Many of us in the “political junkie” media have been warning of the repercussions of the badly flawed “Citizen’s United” decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. It allows anonymous individuals, corporations and assorted political money machines to flood our political campaigns with unlimited amounts of dollars. For emphasis, the key words there are “unlimited,” “dollars” and “anonymous.”

At the moment, only two states have had primary elections. But ten’s of millions of dollars have already been spent – anonymously – with more states – and more anonymous millions – yet to come. Thanks to SCOTUS, we are awash in huge amounts of uncontrolled cash from special interests trying to buy God knows what. And God knows who. At the moment, it’s Republicans. But that’s only because Democrats haven’t had their turn. It is a bi-partisan problem and – in my opinion – a serious national threat.

Chris Matthews – one of TV’s most outspoken talking heads – called such spending in the first two primary states a “Dresden fire-bombing.” He was referring to the World War II Army Air Force’s merciless bombing of one of Germany’s large industrial cities which was eventually reduced to rubble by the relentless pounding.

I’m one of those who think Matthews nailed it.

Unless you live in Iowa or New Hampshire, you haven’t seen it firsthand and you haven’t felt the relentlessness of it. Billboards, yard signs, direct mailers, Internet and wall-to-wall radio and TV ads that block out the sun. Makes the normal, not-terribly-political citizen envy a groundhog.

While there’s been the usual candidate outpouring of campaign messages, the largest share of what Iowans and New Hampshirites have endured in these first two elections since “Citizen’s United” has been the “Super Pac” products. From the ones I’ve seen, in my judgement, those anonymously-financed propaganda pieces have been – for the most part – negative, shrill and many without factual messages or content.

And therein lies the major flaw. No accountability. Whether far right or far left or smack in the middle, the one certainty of this mess is the donors/sponsors are spewing self-serving messages. Anonymously. Claims made can’t be checked. Facts – if any – can’t be verified. Names of those willing to part with personal or corporate millions can’t be discovered.

They can look just like regular political ads but can say anything about anyone – make any claim without basis – sabotage any campaign with impunity. They can influence millions of people with lies and damned lies. And they can’t be held accountable for liable, slander or any other legal recourse.

Suppose someone was paying for advertising in your local paper making unfounded charges about your character. Accusing you of saying things or doing things you hadn’t. Suppose the paper owner wouldn’t tell you because a court decision said he didn’t have to. Make you mad? You betcha! But that’s what’s being done for your vote.

Mass media messaging works. A good chunk of our nation’s economy rests on that premise. Ask any car company, soap-maker, department store or cell phone carrier. Millions of Americans buy their products – without more information than they see in advertising- because names are familiar, messages are convincing, they want something new. Happens hundreds of millions of times. Every day. Day after day.

If it works to get you to spend money for a certain product, it’ll work for your vote. That’s what they’re paying for.

In the two states that have voted thus far, tens of millions of anonymous dollars have already been spent. Dozens more states will have primaries or nominating conventions. What will be the final dollar total be? Likely, hundreds of millions. And for what? To buy what? To buy whom? Bought by whom? Why?

Money and politics are inseparable. Always have been Always will be. We’ve survived thus far. But the “Dresden fire-bombing” of uncounted – and unaccounted for – millions of anonymous dollars is surely undermining our electoral process. It’s no longer “one man, one vote.” It’s “one ABC Super Pac, one president.” One senator. One representative. One congress.

No individual – no citizen group of individuals – can change what the Supreme Court did. Not this time. The damage is done. And more will be before the November election. If “Citizens United” is to be overturned – and it must be – resolution has to come in the courts. It will never – repeat never – come if left to politicians.

The late Rep. Mo Udall – one of my political heroes – once told me “Every member of Congress got here by learning the rules and winning by them. Don’t look for anyone there to change them.”

I hoped he was wrong when he said that 30 years ago. But 30 years hence, I’m afraid he wasn’t.

Overreach can be political suicide

Author: Barrett Rainey

A recent legal action in Idaho has gone largely unnoticed with only an occasional media mention. Put in a national context, it ought to be given more prominence.

Federal Judge Lynn Winmill has thrown out two new laws birthed by last year’s Idaho Legislature. Simply put, the badly flawed statutes were union busting – no more – no less. When in pubescent bill form before the heavily Republican Legislature a year ago, Idaho’s Attorney General warned neither one would likely stand if challenged. He was ignored. As Idaho’s GOP legislators are wont to do. Often. So more tax dollars were wasted in yet another losing defense of bad legislation.

Two items here for background. First, the Idaho Legislature is virtually a Republican body with not enough Democrats for a good food fight. Been that way for years. Put an “R” on it and someone will be elected to office. Put a “D” on it and someone’s political career often is over before it starts.

Second, Judge Winmill. He’s no bleeding heart liberal. He was put up for a federal judgeship by a Republican Senator, nominated by a Republican president. Standard Idaho fare.

Yet, faced with two more Republican attempts to keep stomping on labor unions in an already right-to-work state, unions were the victor. Knowing Judge Winwill a bit, I’d guess he used solid legal grounds without considering how the laws got on the books or who put them there. A legal issue. Pure and simple.

Winmill stopped yet another Idaho GOP attempt to circumvent or ignore federal law. In this case, the National Labor Relations Act. He said Congress had previously created parameters under which construction employers and unions could bargain, influenced only by their own economic power and the free play of economic forces. From his opinion, the faulty Idaho Republican effort “..upsets that balance.” And that, as they say, is that.

But there seems more at play here to me. Consider other stories from other states with heavily Republican legislatures. Ohio comes quickly to mind. New GOP laws there to kill union rights for state and local employees. A public referendum to overturn seems likely to pass. Wisconsin did the same. Now three Wisconsin GOP legislators have been recalled and the GOP governor may be. Michigan, where petitions are circulating against GOP legislators and the GOP governor. Indiana where GOP Gov. Daniels has a package of bills to end public employee bargaining.

More states with heavy GOP legislative membership will likely be heard from in the next few months. More bills will be brought in going after unions in one form or another. And I’d bet – if you tracked back where they came from – you’d find American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) fingerprints on all.

All states belong to ALEC. Originally formed as a resource exchange base for legislators, it has become a conservative GOP clearing house to create master bills, copies of which are sent to all states requesting. Pick one of several subjects – abortion, sex education, home schooling, charter schools, unions and the like – and you’ll find wording from state to state remarkably similar. Duplicate is not too strong a word. ALEC, of course, denies this. But any good legislative bill reader can make a strong “clearinghouse” case.
So, what’s the point here? How does all of this connect? Glad you asked.

A little research shows – more than likely – the public sector union busting bills came from – ALEC. The similarity in wording of the new laws in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio is striking. Also striking is public reaction. And not just by union folks. Even many who have no union affiliation are signing petitions and carrying signs. Some legislators have already been recalled and unions alone don’t have that much clout. Especially politically in a Republican-dominated state like Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s GOP governor is already running scared and chances for a recall there seem better than usual. Ohio’s GOP governor is threatened and has offered a “let’s-talk-it-over” olive branch to petition carriers who seem to be getting lots of willing signers. Petitioners said “No thanks” and continue unabated. Thousands of petitions going around in Michigan, too.

Tied together, Judge Winmill’s decision, far-flung referendums and recalls and even non-union citizens involving themselves in union matters by the hundreds of thousands in several states seem to have one thing in common. The overreach of Republican office holders to remake society in their own image. To the way they see things. The way they want things to be.

As noted in a previous “SECOND THOUGHTS” I was struck by how little partisanship appeared among Iowa caucus voters a week ago when interviewed on their way home. Most simply wanted better employment possibilities. They wanted civility in politics. They wanted a normalcy in which to raise their kids. None mentioned the so-called “social” issues presidential candidates have been hammering. Not one – not one – talked of union busting or abortion or gay marriage or any of the many GOP hot button topics monopolizing so many Republican-controlled legislatures.

To me, the great irony here is the overreach of so many officeholders who want smaller government, less government, fewer laws, less regulation and more personal freedom, who then spend their time in our state capitols creating more government control, more government intervention and more government restrictions on the governed.

Overreach. It’s a very sharp two-edged sword.

“…told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5 – Willie Shakespeare.

It’d be easy to bury the whole Iowa GOP primary experience with those words from the fictional fellow. Easy but not without a thought or two.

Nearly $18 million spent by eight people with questionable qualifications to pursue a presidential nomination. Charges and countercharges – some entirely outrageous. Lies and damned lies trying to influence a lot of people – many of whom pride themselves on their Bible, their religion and, thus we would think, on truth. Claims of political righteousness with no efforts to propose anything, stand for anything or even do anything. All quite forgettable.

The talking heads hashed, rehashed and left a lot of what passes for “wisdom” scattered on the ground in the aftermath. Much of it also quite forgettable. The late hour of the final outcome created a black hole of unplanned programming length so the “heads” proved once again no vacuum goes unfilled.

And, finally, there was no clear electoral outcome. A statistical dead heat between two candidates not likely to ever see the inside of the White House without a tour guide. The guy who couldn’t break 25% in all pre-polling couldn’t break 25% in the balloting which means 75% voted for someone else. He got only 14% of caucus participants who called themselves “very conservative.” Also got six – yes SIX – votes LESS than he did four years ago. No winner there.

The other guy- the one who got the bulk of those “very conservative” folk – picked up six in 10 calling themselves “evangelical Christians.” Socially interesting in Iowa but statistically not significant without a wider general election base – which he won’t widen. And the first guy won’t likely get their eventual general election votes because those folks won’t compromise.

So what did it all prove? If you’ve already made your mind made up – or listened to the talking heads – not much. And that’s where a lot of us non-Iowans are. If we’re dead set to redecorate the White House with a new occupant, Iowa didn’t come up with anyone. If we’re in the bunch that’s not going to make a change in the Oval Office – again – it didn’t mean much.

My takeaway from the whole experience was found in the very brief but consistently sent message in interviews with many of those who voted. Going in, we’d all been told of the “conservative” nature of Iowa and the tendency of the caucus process to produce very “conservative” – if not far right – participants. And there were plenty of those.

But I was struck by how little of that showed up in interviews. Many questioned were downright moderate and certainly not extreme. They talked of wanting the deficit reduced. And they wanted the economy to improve for them and for the country. There were even some who just wanted more civility.

While mass media and politicians have to attach labels to everything and everyone political, I found a lot of those people fit no particular pigeonhole. Though some were more than a bit uninformed about the candidates and their backgrounds, they were really just family people who wanted improvement in conditions in their lives. Just like the rest of us.

The candidate busses and the satellite trucks are in New Hampshire now, then South Carolina, then Florida. We’ll be treated to more of the same cacophony – the noise of claim and counterclaim – the screech of TV ads pounding all the other guys for one thing or another – the relentless appeals to possible voters containing more outrageous political blasphemy – the same media frenzy of more smoke than fire. It ain’t gonna change.

But I’d like to think the largest ignored story out there will come from some New Hampshirites, South Carolinians and Floridians who troop silently to the polls with the same simple desires as those Iowans who went largely unnoticed. Just folk – neither right nor left – who want some job security and some national check book balancing. People who are less interested in whether their particular horse wins but that a better – and more equitable- race is run.

Stories like that – real as they may be – get lost more often than not.

Sometimes, some important details of the day’s news aren’t in what was said but what wasn’t. Often, words left out speak louder than those heard. These thoughts seem especially true when reading or hearing stories regarding President Obama.

Yes, PRESIDENT Obama. Despite personal – rather than political – utterances by those opposed to him, and sloppy journalistic practices to the contrary, the man is PRESIDENT Obama.

It’s not the man we’re talking about here. It’s the Office of the Presidency. Not the large oval room any president spends a lot of time in. That’s just an office. No, I mean the position as head of state. The institution we were all brought up to respect. The one that, since President Obama has occupied it, has been vilified by members of Congress and been reduced to chatty references in what passes for news coverage of the Office of the President.

When I was a member of the national press, Richard Nixon had the temporary honor of being president. From his days as a California congressman to his eventual banishment from public office, I disliked the man. Disliked, distrusted and felt revulsion when in his presence. He represented to me, personally, a career politician with no scruples, marked race and religious intolerance, a pathologic need for power and a willingness to do or say anything that would give him more of it. A treacherous bastard. History has confirmed my gut.

During that part of my life, I found myself in his presence on a number of occasions. To say those personal feelings were not in my mind at those times would be untrue. They were. But so was something else: the power, prestige and reach of the Office of the President. And the respect I had been taught early and often for all that represented. Richard Nixon be damned. The office to which he had been elected was the important thing. I behaved accordingly.

That sense of respect for the office from all citizens of this country has been eroded in recent years. Some will say we’re a more informal nation with less use for protocol and institutions; a contemporary style of “relating” to each other in a more “personal” way. Road Apples!!! These days, such informal “relating” is when a kid in a fast food joint – with an earring in his nose and blue hair – ignores my 70+ years with “Whadya you guys want?”

Members of Congress, especially, have attacked the power of the presidency more in the last 36 months than I’ve seen during the terms of 11 predecessors. Often, just little things. Like the recent effort to revoke the powers of the president to create national monuments on federal lands. Something all presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have done without question. But, no, we can’t let our current president continue the tradition.

Sometimes, larger. Like shouting out “Liar” during an internationally televised presidential appearance before a joint session of Congress and being proud of yourself. Or calling a press conference to announce you won’t attend such an event because you don’t want to “dignify it” with your presence. So whose “dignity” is affected?

Sometimes, even larger. Like proclaiming on national television “our main goal is to make Obama a one-term president” as the Senate Majority leader has done repeatedly. Your aides telling the media you’re not going to vote for anything to improve national job creation because “we don’t want to give Obama a victory.” So who loses? How many million?

Is there some racism in these direct confrontations with the President? Possibly. He’s often referred to as “our first Black president.” Not really true. The fact is, he’s half white which makes him our first president of mixed race. Maybe.

Racism is often too subtle to prove. I certainly can’t here. But the number of attacks on the powers of just this president – the types of efforts to limit just this president’s abilities to act – the in-your-face and very public disrespect by some of our elected “representatives” when dealing with just this president – the attempt to blame just this president personally for everything from zits to the absence of world peace – the blatantly racist depictions of just this president circling the Internet by the hundreds of millions – much of this IS new. And the man is our first mixed race president. Connection? Who can say?

But I really wish every American – every one – could stand in the Oval Office. Even when no one else is there. I wish each one could feel the solemnity and the sense of real power, stand where many hundreds of world leaders have stood and world-changing decisions have been made, experience the awesome silence of being separated from the world, be fully aware of the weight of the trust placed in any occupant of this often lonely place, look at that huge desk and understand the person who sits behind it has been handed the highest honor and responsibilities we give as a nation.

When you’ve done that – and I’ve done that – you will walk back into life with renewed respect for the Office of the President. You may still harbor your individual feelings about any temporary occupant. You may still be committed to replacing him/her with a new face for whatever reason.

But you will never look at the presidency the same way again. The experience ought to be required for each American. Especially just before we vote.