Archive for April, 2012

When I periodically fill this space with some of the weird political goings-on in my Oregon neighborhood-in-the-woods, I nearly always get the same response: “You’re making that up” or “That can’t be true” or “Damn!”

Well, Virginia, I’ve never written anything fictional about the fringy political world of Southwest Oregon. It’s all real. Too real at times. Scary. And here’s another one.

We’ve got a county clerk election here in the trees. In January, the longtime clerk resigned so her deputy could take the job and run as the incumbent clerk. Nothing new or really strange about that. In fact, the deputy – now the clerk – is a right smart lady with four years of on-the-job experience. Seems like keeping her would be a no-brainer.

Speaking of no-brainers, the lady now has two challengers. From their public pronouncements thus far, well, let’s just say they offer no reason for change in that particular office.

One has run several times: Fourth District Congress four years ago. She lost. Ran again two years ago – lost to a backwoods, flat-earth pHd home-schooler who makes money selling – among other things – racist-tinged home school materials and posits public education is a crime against kids. Used to be when people ran for something the first time, they started low and worked their way up. All that changed when the Republican party hierarchy around here seemed to decide experience could be a handicap. Clinging to that goofy policy, I doubt she’ll triumph this time, either.

But it’s the third face that has my attention. A former Californian, he began a couple of moderately successful small businesses hereabouts a few years back – sizeable and well-run coin laundry; a bottled water company A solid citizen in many ways. No previous political experience to live down, either.

What sets Jock apart from almost anybody else running for county clerk in any county in America is he wants to dismantle – yea, destroy – the very workable computer system that’s the heart of the clerk’s office. Yep, his platform is hire more people, give ‘em lots of pens, pencils and paper and go back to “business-as usual” – if by “business-as-usual” you mean 1954.

Says Jock, “Computers are subject to upgrades, hacking, worms, viruses and power failures.” My response would be that “humans are subject to heart attacks, strokes, measles, mumps and whooping cough.” Oh yes, worms and power failures, too. But – no mind.

Over the last 25 years or so, our local county clerk’s office has become a paragon of backwoods efficiency, thanks – in part – to a computer system that’s occasionally upgraded. The incumbent clerk is gradually ridding the office of bound books, maps, marriage and divorce papers, and all the other assorted paper documents by going fully electronic. Just like the big guys.

But Jock says he just doesn’t trust ‘em. He points out – in a lone voice – that “all this electronic storage will last only 50 years” and he wants to avoid that disaster. So, too, I would guess, does the State of Oregon, the federal government, General Motors, the Pentagon, Wall Street and Dish Network. It’s just that they don’t seem as upset about it today as Jock.

Jock says he actually has a little computer in his business – just one. But he doesn’t like “modern technology. Doesn’t trust it.

In some ways, I share Jock’s wariness of my own little machine, the confounded keyboard and occasional memory lapses. I don’t trust the damned thing, either. But, as my teacher-of-teachers wife points out, my handwriting is so bad and I do it so slowly when compared to typing that I could never work in the county clerk’s office Jock envisions. Sort of a Charles Dickens atmosphere without the oil lamps.

Frankly, the politically weird nature of this part of the state is gradually become more acceptable to me. And I even found myself thinking that maybe ol’ Jock was more of a prophet than I thought. Until I did a few loads of laundry at his establishment.

Well now, know what? He’s got 50 or 60 commercial washers and huge dryers in there. Big ones. All over the place. And you know what? In all of ‘em – every spit-and-polish one of ‘em – there’s a computer. A little brain box that runs all the cycles and timers. Every damned one!

Well, Jock’s lost my vote. Just another wannabe politician with feet of clay. “Do as I say – not as I do.” I really thought he was different. He is. But he isn’t. Well, you know what I mean.

Oh, one more thing. My Oregon election ballot came this morning. The name of the previous clerk who resigned in January is still on it. Maybe Jock’s right. Damned computers!

Some of my more conservative friends – and even a nut or two with whom I have friendly relations – will likely take offense at the musings herein. I know they will because they have before. And I’m sorry when they do. But their knee-jerk criticism is always the same: “Well, what about Obama?”

When I’ve taken a verbal swing – or even the slightest shove – critical of some Republican, one or the other of ‘em comes up with that challenge. Not as a question that must be answered. No, it’s more a defensive reflex in lieu of thinking through what has been said. Or written. Like this.

A writer for CNN Money analyzed what four of the Republican presidential candidates have spent on their campaigns up to March 1st. The numbers are startling, thought-provoking and a source of my renewed anger directed toward the U.S. Supreme Court and its terrible decision resulting in unlimited and anonymous corporate campaign contributions.

To March 1st , the Romney campaign and its PAC partner had spent $76.6 million. Not only is that an all-time record, it’s more than the Gingrich, Santorum and Paul campaigns. Combined!

And what did Mr. Romney get for that obscene amount of money? He got 4.1 million votes and 607 delegates. Put in shocking perspective, that’s $18.50 per vote and $126,000 per convention delegate! Those numbers – at least to me – are mind-blowers.

In comparison, the Gingrich campaign spent $10 per vote and $150,000 per delegate won; Santorum spent about $6.50 per vote and $71,000 per delegate; Paul $32.50 per vote and $485,500 per delegate.

In an effort to keep my friends well-informed, I sent several of them the original story, hoping they’d not only be enlightened about the cancerous effects of that SCOTUS decision but also alarmed at the amount of money being wasted which could go to other, far more purposeful needs. Boy, was I disappointed in the next few minutes.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Three emails hit my desk. “Well,” they asked, “What about Obama?” “What’s it costing us for Air Force One and all his entourage?” “Why should the taxpayers foot that bill?” What I thought would be an eye–opener for them turned out to be yet another reflexive effort to drag the President of The United States – a Democrat – into a story where he wasn’t even mentioned.

Before getting to the original subject of outrageous spending, we’ll divert a moment to take care of the faux angst. Many years ago – many presidents ago – the feds and the two major political parties established an agreement. When the president – any president – is campaigning, direct costs of the trip will be billed by the government – the Federal Election Commission – and reimbursed by the campaigns. In fact, passenger travel costs are reimbursed at first class rates!

The Secret Service determines how the president will travel and what sort of security and equipment are necessary for the president, staff and others in the entourage. Presidents have nothing to say about it. Because a president is always a president, a certain amount of expense is always official. But if he flies from the White House to Chicago to campaign for example, a formula exists to bill his campaign treasurer for that portion of travel deemed electioneering – by the F-E-C. He doesn’t decide; the party doesn’t decide. The federal agency decides. Always.

Now, back to the outrageous amounts of money spent so far. When SCOTUS granted corporations all the rights of citizenship as individuals – the Citizen’s United decision – that allowed them to make unlimited campaign contributions. The floodgates opened. Using so-called “independent political action committees” (IPACs) as vehicles, any corporation – or foreign country – could funnel unlimited amounts of money to candidates. The “independent” requirement was all but ignored as former staff members of candidates lined up to run the “independent” PACs.

Many lobbyists use a line: “Best government money can buy.” That’s now been expanded to absurdity by our Supreme Court.

At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna to my conservative friends, I think wiser heads in both major political parties are seeing the corrosive fallout of that decision and it wouldn’t surprise me if the next congress came up with some ways to either rein in the deluge of bucks or challenge the decision some other way.

On the other hand, new legal challenges may come from the private sector – with or without the blessings of the two major parties. As these campaigns wallow in greenbacks, more people are seeing the terrible effects of what has been wrought. Santorum and Gingrich, for example. Thanks to having a billionaire in his pocket, each was able to defy loses at the polls and continue stretching out failed candidacies to an end that was apparent – and which should have come – months ago.

Finally, to my very conservative friends, I still love you. But my every challenge to something Republican does not deserve a swift “What about Obama?” Come up with a G-O-P candidate for president who’s got some ideas – some valid proposals – a vision – a plan for how he’d govern and a history of steady, well-chosen positions on major subjects and I’ll say something nice about him.

Maybe 2016?

For some time now, I’ve opined the Tea Party would eventually go away. Oh, its whining, and that of others equally pissed but unaffiliated, helped make a bigger mess of Congress and have gotten a lot of excessive media attention. But as a force – as a movement – as a meaningful voice for constructive change – it wasn’t – it isn’t – it won’t be. Seems to me it’s very near the grave.

Our little neighborhood group already has one foot there. They had a well-publicized gathering in front of our courthouse the other day. About 300 showed up. And one well-mannered voice of opposition. Horrors!!!

A little perspective here. Our corner of beautiful Oregon is heavily populated by folks calling themselves “conservative” or “ultra conservative” – as others see them “flat earthers.” Seceding from Oregon and starting the State of Jefferson is one of their favorite subjects. Got the picture? Within 40 miles of the courthouse live some 40,000 people. Many easily fit into the description above. A lot of the “media” around here give them too much attention because – well – what the Hell else is there?

So, after many media announcements of the planned gathering – and the 4×8 plywood signs at many intersections – 300 show up. Amounts to far less than one-percent of the available attendance pool. Still, the almost-daily local shopper – masquerading as a newspaper – gave them a picture and full border-to-border coverage above the fold on the front page. Two days later.

The lone voice of opposition was a guy from the Occupy Roseburg movement which – at the moment – amounts to little more than him. Without threats or foul language, he challenged speakers about issues. Made some so mad they called the cops who rushed right over. Now, hold that picture. 300 to one.

Some months ago, a dozen local Democrats had a small, private discussion meeting at a couple of tables in a public park way out in the county. Most attendees over the age of 60. A dozen or so “flat earthers” showed up to picket, shout obscenities, call some of those seated “communists-socialists-etc.” – and proudly videotaped their intrusion on other folk’s liberty for their right-wing web site. When the seniors got in their cars and left, the F-E’ers followed to their new location across town and tried to get on someone’s private property. Hold that picture.

Where these two pictures come together is that many of the foul-mouthed bullies who crashed the earlier senior gathering were attendees and/or sponsors of the courthouse gathering last week. Right there in the crowd. So threatened, it seems, by the lone voice challenging their stand on several “issues” they had to call law enforcement.

This microcosm of lunatic sterility – in a geographic area where their supposed “message” would fall on fertile ears – indicates to me, at least, that whatever glory days the T-P may have had are behind it.

Some special elections across the country in the last year or so seem to carry the same thought. Most T-P-backed candidates have not done well since 2010. Polls indicate a lot of ‘em elected to congress last time are in trouble this time. Partly because they haven’t changed anything in Washington; partly because a lot of the rest of us are sick of ‘em for their unreasoned – and often ignorant – antics there.

Then there are those statehouses where some of their ilk took office in governorships and legislatures. Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Maine, Florida and some others. Funded by billionaire ideologues and furnished with duplicate handouts containing societal changes demanded by those billionaires, the dash to the right in the desire to create more invasive government while gutting its regulatory powers, raised Hell across the country. So much Hell, in fact, that slowly but surely a lot of people – especially women – began to realize what had been turned loose at the last elections. Even started some recall elections.

Predicting the political future is something reasoned people won’t do. So saying, my guess is, while vengeance may be the province of The Lord, something close to it will happen in a lot of states in November. (Dis)organized into many small groups, the T-P’ers don’t have the “fire in the belly” they did 24 months back. And a lot of other folk, who either shared some of their anger or weren’t paying much attention, are taking more notice of what’s been happening. Or, as in the case of congress, what’s not been happening. And why. And who. Or whom.

If the national media – and its local offspring – would give the GOP-TP extreme minority the same nearly nonexistent coverage it does to other small fringe groups, we wouldn’t be hearing much about it. If it got the media attention it really deserves, members would have to buy advertising to be heard. Not a bad idea, that.

“We, the People” have been poorly served by this phony “grassroots” movement. Its membership has waned. Hangers-on are splitting into new groups just as the right wing has done historically for centuries because of the same distrust and fear that brought them together in the first place. The air has gone out of their balloon.

Well, it wasn’t really their air to begin with. Eh, Brothers Koch?

Now, THAT’S funny, right there!

Author: Barrett Rainey

Much as the fringy right of our national T-publican party makes me feel like bathing more often, when one of their number comes up with something that makes sense, I like to give ‘em their due. Such a rare occasion has happened.

One doesn’t expect something politically accurate – or politically amusing – to come out of the mouth of Rep. Louie Gohmert in the Texas First District. Most of his quotes are pablum for the far right and his attendance in our Congress is thanks to them. Before his move to D.C., he was a judge. For someone whose political opinions often remind one of an intellect 10 points less than moss, his ascension to the Texas bench was a source of amazement. Until reminded of “Judge” Roy Bean. Another Texas “jurist.” Then it became clearer.

Gohmert is a “birther” whose public pronouncements sometimes have a tinge of racism. His grasp of anything political seems filtered through Tea bag philosophy along with his friend and fellow fringer Ms. Bachmann. Still, on this one occasion, in Texas yet, his accuracy was surprising.

Gohmert was talking to a couple of hundred souls of like mind at a district meeting. He was asked – as a Santorum supporter – if he would endorse the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. In the name of party “unity,” of course.

Gohmert’s answer is one for the ages.

“We should all support him,” he said. “After all, during his campaign, he’s agreed with each of us on at least one issue.” Biddy Bing – Biddy Bong!

Now, that’s what I consider a ringing “endorsement.” If the Romney camp is happy with that, Gohmert could be in the running for Mitt’s Secretary of State. Unless the “black helicopters” stage of his life left him too scarred.

There’s too much “busy-bodyness” in the world today. Seems to come from a lot of people having too much time on their hands and not enough use of their energy in doing something worthwhile. Some of this nonsense has flowed into my inbox lately and the time has come to deal with some of it.

In recent days, I’ve had emails from a couple of friends and their thoughts on gay marriage. Why it’s suddenly become a topic of their correspondence is beyond me. One talked of the “evils” of it and detailed supposed “harmful effects” it was having on society. The other supported a federal court’s overturning of Proposition Eight which attempted to ban same-sex marriages in California. “Damned good thing,” he wrote. “Oughta be legal for everyone.” In both instances, I was asked my opinion.

I don’t have many thoughts about gay marriage. But, when asked, I’ll speak up. I neither support nor oppose it. Marriage between two people – any two people regardless of anatomical plumbing – is between those two people. As my kids grew up and decided to marry, I was not asked who their partner(s) should be. Nor should I have been. They made selections based on whatever criteria they felt appropriate and not because I had a preference. God love ‘em. And most of them did far better at it than I did. Besides, if I love my dog too much, that’s nobody else’s business.

I do have trouble when someone says “Well, it’s O.K. for people of the same sex to live together but they shouldn’t be allowed to marry.” Should they be allowed to sleep in the same bed? Have kids? Name each other beneficiaries in insurance policies? Eat red meat? Have oatmeal for breakfast? If we decide who can live together – with our approval – where do we draw the line of what they can’t do together? With our disapproval.

Attempts to drag dogs and horses and goats into the conversation by some of the aforementioned busybodies tell me those folks are scared of what’s different more than anything else. As long as whatever cohabitating people do doesn’t affect whatever I do, doesn’t force me to change my lifestyle or interrupt my life, I’m O.K. with nearly anyone else’s marital choices.

Another busyness interruption of late is chatter of why we’re not having a New York City parade for our returning military folks. Some people on the right and left are in a sweat because we’re not throwing tickertape. (With due respect to CNN, MSNBC and Faux News, that word “tickertape” is not hyphenated by the way.) Apparently the Pentagon brass – for reasons unknown at my low paygrade – want to wait until ALL troops are home. Something about terrorism and fairness. New York’s Mayor has acceded to the brassy wishes. Works for me. We’ll get to it.

But the clamor continues. To the clamorers, I’m a Korean vet. No returning parades for many of us because we “lost” a “police action.” “Just come home and be quiet” was much the sentiment. Well, Virginia, we didn’t lose anything. There was a military decision to pack up and leave. And it was a WAR in which thousands of Americans died; not a “police action.” It wasn’t barricades and yellow crime scene tape. It was killing and dying and wondering what the Hell was so important about capturing that next barren hill on which our friends had died taking it twice before.

Viet Nam vets had much the same experience. They hadn’t beaten some other military into bloody submission so they “left the field of battle with their work undone.” The Hell they did! Same damned political decision and same damned message when they came home. Oh, they got a few parades. But it left me feeling somebody felt we HAD to rather than a nation that WANTED to.

You go find a vet. Shake his/her hand and tell them you’re proud of his/her service. For most, that’s all the recognition they want. They served for the service. Not some march down some Main Street when it was over. Nice but not necessary.

I’m getting emails stewing about the price of gas and the “Socialist Obama hirelings” behind it. From ignorant busybodies. Many of the same ones who tell me “If Newt can bring back $2.50 gas, that’s proof Obama’s just keeping the price artificially high for his gas and oil buddies.”

That’s proof of nothing! Except that Gingrich – a disgraceful and disgraced, lying, quasi-intellectual who knows better – was appealing to the unknowing and the Obama haters to back his dishonest political fortunes. Another busybody with his own coffers in mind and not the concerns of his country.

Busy-bodiness abounds in our society. People in politics, media, the grocery store or the coffee shop with time on their hands, concerning themselves with affairs of others of us who have better to do. Telling us what to think or feel about this or that subject. Passing on speculation and faulty information without using some of their spare time to check the facts.

A lot of it comes from the crackpots hollering they want government out of their lives when it comes to decision-making or telling them what to do. Yep, the same ones who are doing the same to us and our lives.

Ironic isn’t it?

One of my I-net correspondents has been jabbing me with some “I-told-you-so” missives about Faux News – er, Fox News – winning some cable TV ratings in the month of February. He’s right. But he’s also wrong.

Without going into reams of statistics – ratings points, share, demos, etc. – the fact is Faux News – er, Fox News – got the top 12 hourly spots rated overall. All 12. So everybody else should just shut down and go home, right? Well, not exactly. If you delved into piles of boring statistics, you’d find some interesting facts that make the outcome a bit less definitive.

For example, the show that finished next highest was MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow followed by “PoliticsNation” with Rev. Al Sharpton. Now, that’s odd. A couple of left-of-center opinionists? All Fox – then Maddow? Then Sharpton? What about all those CNN heavyweights like Cooper, King, Blitzer and Morgan? Well, they finished further back.

Fact is, MSNBC got the most total viewers and CNN got what advertisers want most – best demographics or “demos.” Not Fox. More older people watched Fox. We seniors are less desirable viewers to the ad folks. A lot of folks watched MSNBC but more in the ages 25-45 watched CNN. Two February news events boosted CNN’s fortunes – at least temporarily – wall-to-wall coverage of Whitney Houston’s death and the GOP debate hosted by John King. Without those, MSNBC would have won both categories.

Now, let’s do head-to-head comparisons aside from those numbers. Doing so will show why my crowing conservative friend is right – and wrong.

We start from the basis that Fox tilts to the right. Not just my view. It’s fact. Then there’s the leftward lean of MSNBC. Another fact. As for CNN, folks there try to stay in the middle of the road. And do so fairly successfully with the use of guests and a stable of regulars that well-represent both sides of the political highway.

Of the three, CNN and Fox have been in the news business the longest. MSNBC -though backed by NBC News – is developing more news coverage but is still dominated by talkers and opinion. On the political spectrum, CNN and MSNBC share more common ground than either one does with Fox. Said another way, if Fox viewers are wanting to stay in their comfort levels putting up with the Fox spin, they aren’t interested in the other two networks.

So, in ratings, CNN and MSNBC are more likely to split the available audience pool than they are to attract Fox viewers. And that means the single network with fewer but more hardcore viewers can win a ratings sweep. It’s exactly like trying to get Gingrich, Santorum and Paul out of the GOP presidential primary so Romney can win. Romney’s potential voting pool is being split.

I wish I were able to just congratulate Fox on the February sweeps win and go on to something more worthwhile. But, as a longtime reporter, I can’t. For two reasons.

First, there is no denying Fox tilts and spins its coverage and reporting. I’m not talking O’Reilly or Hannity. Neither is a regular reporter. I’m talking about run-of-the-mill, daily people on the street. Owner Murdoch has made no secret of what he wants his media empire to report or the flavor he wants in that output. Fox’s Roger Ailes is the tough ringmaster to make it happen. Each day. All day. Most Fox watchers know it and, for far too many, it reinforces whatever their view of the world might be. Correct. Or not.

And that leads to the second reason for my lack of congratulations. At least two comprehensive independent studies of Fox News viewers have reached the same two conclusions. One is they are far more likely to be poorly informed about facts in nearly any national or international story. And, two, the majority of Fox watchers – not all – are poorly versed on civics, financial issues, world affairs, government and the mechanics of how our nation works. Two studies. No connection. Both with large, nationwide samplings. Each with nearly identical outcomes.

Imagine a national survey that showed more people ate fudge than oat cereal every day. Great for the fudge makers. Until the American Dental Association points out the long-term damage being done.

Lots of folks might like the “taste” and the “flavor” of their daily Fox fudge consumption. But the fact is, like the dental folks say, “look at the long-term damage being done.”

One of the many hats I’ve worn in life has been that of a small business owner. A couple of times. So, when others who’ve rowed the same boat complain about government regulation and paperwork, I’m usually sympathetic. Usually.

But this incessant whining about over-regulation by corporations large and small, their trade associations (who wouldn’t exist without their dues) and politicians (mostly Republican) often is just so much noise. And just as often – wrong. There is a case to be made for government oversight in much of business when conducted reasonably and not excessively. Both the regulated and the regulator.

My general rule of thumb for the need of regulation is nearly always tied to (a) issues of citizen protection (financial, natural resource, health, food safety, environment, etc.) and (b) when talking about a monopoly (electricity, drinking water, communication, transportation – especially airlines) where the holder of the monopoly should have its business practices regularly reviewed by a third party. And audit of business practices if you will Pretty simple.

Removing regulation, especially on a blanket national basis, has often had catastrophic results. Remember Judge Green and the telephone monopoly breakup of the 70’s? How’s that been working out for ya? Or, consider airline deregulation? More choice? Cheaper fares? Wider selection? Safer?

Suppose, where you live, the only electrical, natural gas and cable TV companies available should suddenly be regulation free? Deregulated and without competition. What would happen to your rates? How about availability? Reliable service? And environmental concerns? Think all that would be “as is” or better? Don’t bet the farm!

Let’s throw a few words in here about banks, investment firms and mortgage companies. The people who’ve taken your money and who, recently, haven’t had it. As one to whom that has happened, I don’t just want regulation. I want the tightest, most comprehensive financial oversight a government can muster! And I want legal teeth to take a large bite out of the butts of those who abuse the authority granted by government licensing to bankers, investment advisers or mortgage brokers. Less regulation? No regulation? Hell no!

When a politician of any party spouts off about too much regulating, too much government interference stifling business entrepreneurship and wants to reduce/eliminate oversight, you need do only one thing. Go check out his/her list of campaign contributions. Works every time.

There are many reasons why appropriate regulation is needed in all these and many other areas of our lives. But the one that rings most important to me is the human element. Maybe human failing is more appropriate. When we assign our money, property and even our lives to someone’s care – be it airlines, banks or natural gas, electricity and drinking water – we like to think those responsible are honest, decent, caring folk. Like us. They’ll exercise diligence, do an outstanding job and protect us and our personal resources.

Do the words “Wall Street” fit those expectations? Have we gotten diligence, good work and protection there? From some, maybe. From all, no! A few – but apparently enough – bad actors to send the nation’s economy to the edge of a very tall cliff! How about Countrywide Home Loans? Diligence and honest dealings there? Feel good about how it did business? Before it went out of business in a hail of lawsuits?

I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to most of the people who work for these kinds of companies and utilities. Most. Not all! And that’s when and why regulation is necessary. I’ve had regulated business people tell me regulations can also have a positive side, assuring others in the same business everywhere are adhering to legal and lawful business practices.

Speed limits are not there for those of us who drive at or below them. Laws dealing with murder, robbery or graffiti are not there for most of us who don’t do them. Laws against any sort of crime are not on the books for the 90% of us who never break them. We are a society governed by laws designed to punish the small minority of law breakers while protecting the law abiding. You and me.

The Wall Street catastrophe, the Deepwater Horizon ecological destruction, Countrywide Financial, A-I-G, the loss in value of your home and retirement account should be red flags that wave brightly and briskly when some politician complains about regulation.

In most cases, it’s not likely more regulations are needed. We’ve probably got enough on the books right now. But we need to be sure what we have are appropriate. If not, fix ‘em. And use ‘em! What we need is thorough and complete application of those requirements by honest regulatory people being our eyes and ears. Yours and mine. Not sharing the same watering hole and bed.

As for political voices decrying government “intrusion” in the affairs of business, well, volume controls are regulators for that. Use ‘em! Turn ‘em down.

“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——————————————————————————————-
Lincoln’s quote has been on my mind lately as I’ve watched what should be an honorable campaign for the highest office in our land devolve into a mishmash of contradiction, division and outright lies. It’s sickening.

Those of us who follow some of the better political opinion professionals are seeing more of them holding one of three views: our political system MAY be broken – IS broken – is IRRETRIEVABLY broken. Count me among them. I’m with the second group. For the moment.

The totality of evidence suggests the two party democracy we’ve relied on for a couple of centuries is collapsing under a daily onslaught of bitterness, division, anger, self-service, obstinance, ignorance – especially elected ignorance – arrogance, obscene amounts of money available to certain people and self-centered celebrity seekers out to make a buck.

Congress is gridlocked, daily demonstrating complete impotence in handing our affairs. The national election – 10 months hence – will not, I’m afraid, do anything to change it. In fact, when the next group of 535 is sworn in, we may very well be in even worse shape. That is likely to happen because of the oft-proven “my-guy’s-the-good-guy; your-guy’s-the-bad-guy” syndrome. It happens every election. It’s getting much worse.

I have a friend who’d like to see Nancy Pelosi tarred, feathered and dropped off the edge of some square earth. She’s his “bad guy.” He finds no redeeming qualities in the California congresswoman. But he lives in Oregon. Her home district is in the Marin County area of Central California – some 400 miles South of him. He may wish her gone but she’ll be re-elected in her district because, to a majority of those voters, she’s “the good guy.”

That scenario is repeated hundreds of times each election cycle. In my opinion, fully a third of the Texas delegation can’t put up a collective I.Q. of mold. To me, they’re “the bad guys.” But my Oregon ballot is of no consequence in their political futures. They’ll be probably re-elected. Again.

There are dozens of reasons for my political pessimism. But four really stand out as keys to what I believe is corroding democracy.

First: money. Too damned much money! It’s been eating away at government like a cancer for a long, long time. But it fully metastasized with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision assuring corporations all the rights of an individual including free speech. While there are many legal niceties to understand fully what that means, the short version is it gave multi-national corporations the open door to dump unlimited dollars into “free” elections. Dollars that outstrip the abilities of any individual or group of individuals to counter and which make some members of Congress little more than paid corporate employees. Or an honorary citizen of some foreign country.

The second erosion – in my view – is creation of a class of professional politicians in jobs meant to be “citizen-filled” on a short term basis. I’ve lived on the “other side of the fence” in Washington, D.C. and can attest to the isolation from reality you can experience if you stay there for a long time. It’s a far different world with far different values. A couple of weeks “home in the district” now and then doesn’t alter that effect. When members of Congress are “home,” they spend most of the time courting money. They give lip service to constituent concerns but many don’t feel them in their gut. Don’t know them in their bank account.

The third reason: an absence of good candidates for public office at all levels. In both parties. Many bright, intelligent people will not submit themselves to the torturous path we have constructed for candidates, especially for national office. For example, two reasonable Republican possibilities who wouldn’t run: former Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Their demurring was the same: how such a campaign would affect their families. These are just two who have said it, so you know there are many others who have felt it. In the personally poisonous atmosphere we’re created, the negatives of political campaigning often outweigh the positives such good people could bring.

Add to that, our seeming intoxication with “celebrities.” “Beautiful people” who “look good” who, we find out later, are not up to the job. Do I hear the names Edwards, Ensign, Palin, Bachmann, O’Donnell? But once in, they are nearly impossible to root out. (See money above)

And fourth, we have created a fractured society of people living apart from each other instead of in the melting pot we used to be. Rather than value our differences and utilize them for our national good, we’re too often separated by them. I find it increasingly hard to have a serious political conversation with someone without having our differences outweigh our shared beliefs. Intolerance of each others views has created a political climate of fear, distrust, anger and, too often, ignorance of real facts.

We’re inundated with media bias left and right, points of view masquerading as news, an Internet chock full of distortions, racist rants and outright lies – a willingness to distrust and turn our backs on politics and politicians rather than take the time to find out what (who) is real and what (who) is not. Too many people would rather accept what sounds “right” and not take time or individual initiative to unearth what the facts really are. Many Americans simply don’t know how their government operates and still others don’t care. We are, I’m afraid, a nation of too many ill-informed or just plain uninformed voters. To that extent, there is validity in the proverb “we get the government we deserve.”

There’s more than enough blame to go around. Many, many factors have brought us to this dangerous situation. Our system of government seems overcome by a convergence of pressures we’ve never experienced before as a nation. What I’ve detailed here are some; there are others. Many others.

Some to whom I’ve expressed these thoughts say I’m a pessimist who underrates the greatness of this nation and the ability of its people to weather any storm. Maybe. But it seems to me we’ve found ourselves at the center of too many storms for too long a time. Nearly all of them from within. Continuing, merciless pounding of storm waves can erode the rockiest shoreline.

Which is why the danger described by Mr. Lincoln won’t leave my mind.

There’s a catch phrase used by political junkies like me that’s probably unfamiliar to most folks. It’s “down ticket.” It means any – or all – of those folks running on a political party’s slate of candidates on your ballot, seeking offices lower than the name at the top. This year, that would mean anyone below the office of President of the United States. Congress, legislature, county commission or dog catcher. All would be referred to as “down ticket.”

The national media – by virtue of the word “national” – doesn’t often mention these junior offices. Too many to keep track of. Many so-called “local media” don’t say much about “down ticket” because a lot of them don’t understand how our elective or even the two-party systems really work. They just report numbers someone gives them.

But people in politics – especially those lower on the party ticket – know what the phrase means. And how important it is to their futures to have a strong candidate at the top. Or in the slot just above their name. “Up ticket” as it were. Because there are still too many voters who go top to bottom on their ballot – never changing to the other party. Thank God, there are fewer of them. But they’re still out there. And there are the Independents and moderates who pick and choose. Like me. A lot of ‘em.

If your local legislator, county commissioner or dog catcher is a true Republican, they may be very concerned this year. Oh, they might not say anything about it. But, trust me, many of ‘em in this country are worried. Because no matter how competent, successful or proficient they might be in the conduct of their respective offices, they’ve got a mess at the top. Above their name.

Democrats had problems “down ticket” during Bill Clinton’s re-election run. Several state legislature’s saw Republican gains as Democrats were tied to a top-of-the-ticket candidate with personal “issues.” He won but some county courthouses changed hands. Legislatures, too. I’d guess it even affected a dog catcher here and there. The phenomenon is not exclusive to either party.

No one – repeat no one – is going to come through the omnipresent GOP presidential mess unbloodied. Whoever comes out of the Florida convention will be damaged goods, wounded from head to toe and you’ll have heard all the bad stuff he’s said, has been said about him or what he’s advocated a thousand times over. That’s not good news “down ticket.”

This year, Republicans have created many of their own problems. They did it when state committees changed primary dates and strung out the campaign far too long. They did it when they couldn’t produce a single candidate at the top with voter appeal to anyone but the zealots who control the national party machinery. They did it several years ago when moderates allowed themselves to be expunged from national – and most state – GOP party control.

Oregon and Washington’s GOP legislators probably have less to worry with the “down ticket” phenomenon. Both groups are moderate enough to attract the necessary Independent and other swing voters. And in Idaho – ah, Idaho – Republicans come in only two flavors – right and right-er – though they did stick their foot in a bear trap or two this year with women.

But in big states – California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Florida – you’ll likely see some of this “down ticket” influence if you check out legislative and local races. Could change party control in some statehouses and more than a few courthouses. GOP to Democrat.

If all this seems a bit arcane or unimportant consider: where did all the sudden legislative anti-abortion action come from in so many states this year? Why do more than three dozen states have bills in process requiring women to have ultrasounds or vaginal probe exams if considering an abortion? How was all this coordinated to sweep the country in the same three month period?

My guess: the American Legislative Exchange Council and a one-size-fits-all bill matrix. And how do states get representation on the board of that national group? To run it? To decide things like what party agenda items get promoted coast-to-coast? Check ALEC Board’s majority party: GOP. And the ALEC Board’s current political flavor? Right. Very far right.

If “down ticket” fallout over displeasure with the 2012 presidential candidate at the top is widespread, some statehouses and legislative majorities could change from Republican to Democrat. And, in a year or two, that would affect the outlook – and political views – of that ALEC Board where a lot of this nation’s legislative bills are born. You’ll excuse the word.

“Down ticket.” You might not be familiar with the term now. But on November 7, 2012, it might seem a lot more important. Especially close to home.

Alas, Tea Party, we knew ye well

Author: Barrett Rainey

The announcement of a death is not always a bad thing. The demise of Osama bin Laden for example. In my social circle that was greeted as good news. Some of us even hoisted a few to the anonymous members of Seal Team Six. And to the guy who said “go.”

Now, comes news of the death – or impending death – of another terrorist disorganization: the Tea Party. With the backing of a few billionaires out to redesign our nation to their own warped views, a lot of frustrated, angry and mostly innocent citizens were led into a dead end. Now, like stampeded cattle in a box canyon after a storm, they’ve no place to go but back to the main herd.

You say you want proof – evidence that the T-P is on life support? You say you want to know the exact moment of initial death throes and the weapon that laid ‘em low?

Well, it came about a few days back in the plush office suite of House Speaker John Boehner. Actually, it was Boehner himself who administered the coup de grace. The weapon was his appointment of a special committee to bring back – wait for it – earmarks. For T-Pers, that strikes the death blow. It’s just that most of them haven’t heard about it. Yet. They will.

Earmarks – allowing members of congress to personally scoop up billions of our tax dollars for favored projects in home districts. The re-election milk-and-honey is coming back! Oh, Boehner’s “special committee” may find a new name for the legalized graft. Might even design a new way to get it attached to otherwise proper legislation without exposure in the committee process. May create a separate conduit so members can shovel more and do it quieter. But earmarks are coming back. Tea Party be damned! The straw that apparently broke the camel’s back was when Boehner couldn’t get enough votes to pass the massive transportation bill with billions in pork attached.

Boehner’s decision to again spread the oil of our tax dollars on the troubled waters of his caucus is the bluntest of warnings to the recalcitrant therein that obstructionism by T-P-supported members is over. He knows full well that cutting dollars rather than adding is what those folks have been screaming about – why many of his own leadership efforts have been torpedoed by a loud minority. He’s tried dealing with them. He’s tried letting them have their say about some things – no matter how screwy. He’s put a few on select committees. He’s tried about everything to get their cooperation and that other T-P anathema – compromise.

The fact that he’s now resurrecting the dreaded earmarks is a sign he’s going back to what works and the dissidents are going to be ignored. He knows, when it comes to pork, most members of his party will scratch each other’s backs and run right over the outliers.

While I agree with some others that Boehner is not good at his job, he’s no fool. He may not be the effective leader he’d like to be, but he’s a political pro who can read polls, count noses, read votes and accurately judge which way the electoral winds are blowing. The strident, uninformed and often ignorant opposition by a few of his 2010 class has eroded not only public support for the GOP that we’re seeing in national polling, but also angered the traditional corporate base. Not all corporate voices have the same goals as the Koch brothers and their ilk. Boehner’s been reading the tea leaves. And – my guess – getting pounded by some major voices in his party for failing to produce. Especially those desiring incumbency.

I haven’t been a Tea Party supporter from the get-go. While I share some of the tenets – debt reduction, reduced spending, slower growth, etc. – it’s been clear from the outset the group was being funded and used as a Trojan horse by people with their own quite different agendas. Once those people and corporations behind the curtain were exposed, a lot of folks dropped out. If such be the case with the Occupy movement, it’ll die on the vine, too.

National policy is very, very hard to direct from the streets. Only twice in my lifetime has it been done: the civil rights and anti-Viet Nam marches and demonstrations of the 60’s and 70’s. Goals and messages were few and simple to understand. And the numbers became overwhelming.

Aside from the decay in Tea Party support when the Koch brothers and other billionaires were exposed, the group lacked focus. It needed one goal. Maybe two. But, like its noisy, undisciplined – and often race-tinged – public persona, the T-P charged off in too many directions with no simple, definitive message around which folks could coalesce. The Occupy folks appear headed for the same fate. Oh, you’ll hear about them locally from time to time. But effective? Make more significant inroads at the polls, No. Not any more.

The elections of 2012 may be more game-changing than our national trip to the polls in 2010. The T-P folk have had their turn at bat and stuck out. Some of their goals for the original movement are still with us. But we’ve learned their approach doesn’t work in achieving them.

I’m hearing other, mostly younger bi-partisan voices – more moderate, more focused on fewer and more definable goals. Reduce national debt. Honest efforts to create jobs. Meaningful finance reform. Less talk of wholesale changes in this and that with more discussion about what and where. And how.

Republicans, as a body, don’t represent all the loud, ineffective and destructive voices in our politics. While leadership of the national GOP and many state committees is currently in the hands of the far right fringe, there are far more out there who still subscribe to the old party basics: thrift, honest government and compromise to achieve common goals. If, like Boehner, they’ve had enough of the temper tantrums and intransigence of the far right and – like Boehner – decide to reassert leadership, we’ll all win in November.

Seems to me we’re standing by the open grave of the Tea Party crowd. And I don’t sense a lot of grief.