Archive for June, 2012

Mitt Romney and I obviously share some confusion over the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Arizona immigration case. Mine stems from some previous SCOTUS rulings while Ol’ Mitt’ seems to have missed the whole point of this one. Speaking charitably, of course.

Let’s deal with Mitten’s seeming confusion first. To do so, you have to remember another ruling which also came this week. The good justices told Montana there is a limit to state’s rights when it stuck down a 1912 Montana law curtailing the political involvement of large corporations. That statute was put on the Big Sky books a century ago to keep large mining companies from polluting Montana politics with campaign contributions large enough to buy the kind of office holders they wanted.. Sort of Citizens United in reverse – a seemingly prescient move by our ancestors.

Summarizing the SCOTUS Montana ruling, states can’t come up with laws contradicting what the 2010 Citizens United decision allowed – that being unlimited access in financing of political campaigns because corporations have the same “freedom of speech” rights as individuals. (Editors note: DAMN, that’s dumb!)

In other words, there really are limits to the “rights” of states to do certain things. Right?

Well, Ol’ Mitt thought and thought – then thought some more – about the SCOTUS decision which struck down most of Arizona’s new immigration law. The one giving the state’s law enforcement agencies expanded powers to find, identify and ship out illegal immigrants. I’d bet he even talked it over with his campaign staff.

After taking far too much time to address a topic he had to know would be at the top of the media’s question list that day, his response was this. First, President Obama has been ineffective. Well, Duh! Then: “I believe each state has the duty and the right to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law.” Huh?

Hold on there, my friend. I know you graduated Harvard Law. But let’s think about this. If the other SCOTUS ruling of the day said states can’t adopt laws conflicting with federal statutes, how can they do just that by putting their own laws on the books regarding immigration? All 50 of ‘em? Mitt, my boy. Think it through!

Well, so much for his confusion. Now here’s mine.

The only portion of the Arizona immigration statute left on the plate after the justices chewed on it was Section 2(B) of SB 1070. That’s the part which says law enforcement officers are to determine the immigration status of those they stop, arrest or detain if there is “reasonable suspicion” of unlawful presence in this country. That part is pretty damned clear, even to me.

So, here’s my confusion. In a lot of other Supreme Court decisions over the years, law enforcement has been barred from profiling – interrupting someone’s life because they look or sound or in some way appear to be someone they may be looking for. That’s a legal “No No.”

So what is “reasonable suspicion” when it comes to determining who may or may not be a citizen? How do you become “suspicious” of someone whose vehicle you’ve pulled over? Accent? Appearance? Dark skin? Mexican license plates? Mexican driver’s license? Dice hanging on the mirror? Low rider car. Isn’t that profiling?

Now, I’m just an old fella here in the Oregon woods. Absent a law degree or special law enforcement training, it seems to me those high court people have created a Catch-22 situation. Unless the officer on the scene demands citizenship papers from every white, 80-year-old woman who’s never been outside the borders of Arizona. Or because he’s stopping every car on the road. Might get away with no conflict there. But I seriously doubt that’s the way they’ll go about it.

So there you are. Mitt’s confusion and mine.

What I’m not confused about is my anger with the makeup of the current high court. Credential and intellectual levels may be high. But the gauge on the old common sense meter is down around zero. The evidence is prima facie. That’s Latin for “all over the place.”

I’m not anti-Republican. I’m not. I swear. I have friends who are… well, you know. But – from precinct to national level – more and more stories dealing with Republicans are filled with examples of ignorance of politics in general and the workings of all levels of government specifically. They’ve elected some goofballs to Congress who’ve proven THEY don’t know how it operates, either. State groups continue to advocate party positions with no forethought of reality. All in all, what’s left of Grand Old Party leadership, in many states, is some old John Birch types with official titles they worked so many years to get.

The near-rabid GOP stalwarts in Idaho have provided the latest evidence of such ignorance, meeting in Twin Falls this month in state convention. As they do each session, they created a party “purity” platform with the usual impossible planks of going back to the gold standard, taking away the vote for U.S. Senators from fellow citizens, etc. But they topped themselves this year. They really did. Here’s just one example.

Idaho Republicans continually express contempt for all things federal. So, last week, convention delegates renewed their bid to blow up the federal Department of Education. Get rid of it. Officially. “Get out of Idaho; let us teach our own kids our own way and leave us the Hell alone.” Or words to that effect.

“So, what’s wrong with that?” you ask. “Several other state Republican parties feel the same way and, even though it probably can’t be done, what’s the big deal in Idaho being on that list?”

Well, here are some facts. Distasteful as it may be to make the point here, they’re federal facts from that damnable bunch of federal ‘liberals’ in the Bureau of the Census. (Public Education Finances: 2010) They may be feds but I still trust ‘em.

When you look at the 50 states – from the standpoint of how much money each spends per pupil for K-12 education – Idaho comes in 49th. The only one that spends less is – where else – Utah, where Republicans also want to deep-six the Dept. Of Education.

“Well, that’s not good,” you say, “But they still ought to be able to do it without the federal intrusion.” Oh, sure. No problem.

Let’s see now. Idaho – at 49th place – spends about $7,106 per pupil K-12. And 20.4% of that amount for each kid is – wait for it – federal bucks! Yep, even if Idaho Republicans are proud of their 49th place on that per-pupil spending list, without the feds they’d have to ante up another 20% just to maintain that national next-to-last ranking. Each year. Every year.

How many more bucks? Well, Idaho K-12 population is about 278,500. So total expenditures would be nearly $2-billion. If 20% of that goes away with the feds, Idahoans would have to make up $396 million just to remain 49th. Just to stay in the basement. Piece of cake! All it would take is a sizeable state tax increase. “A WHAT???” Yep.

In the northern part of the state, feds – read EPA – have spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of those damnable federal dollars trying to clean up Silver Valley which is terribly polluted by mine tailings and other debris. They’re still working. Helluva long term boost to the sad local economies.

But, hey, Idaho Republicans at convention still wanted to kill the EPA and rid themselves of all that federal largesse. While permanently keeping all that pollution, of course. Or maybe another state tax increase of hundreds of millions to take over the job. Sure.

Again, I’m not trying to castigate all Republicans. I was raised in a fine old Republican family by fine old Republican parents and grandparents. I’m not opposed to the idea of voting for an occasional Republican and telling my neighbors I did so.

But – in recent years – activities among those controlling the party have – more often than not – disregarded fact, shown ignorance of how government operates and seem to have not a clue how to advance their political position. When you select a Republican primary candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, for example, who says “the time for cooperation and compromise is over” – well, the evidence becomes prima facie. If he prevails in November – if others of similar mindset do as well – the already shameful status of Congress will be a very real disaster threatening our national survival.

Despite idiotic ranting condemning all things federal by the Republican rank-and-file, many have been taking those federal farm and land subsidies, enjoying the in-lieu tax dollars for all those federal forests around their little communities, openly using federal dollars to subsidize state education monies, begging for more federal timber to cut and federal highways and bridges to get to those federal trees. Or mine in the federal ground. Or use EPA cleanup millions to prop up the local economy.

And in Idaho, they conveniently overlook the fact the current governor of their own party will eventually retire with a good chunk of federal dollars in his monthly check from his lengthy federal service in our federal congress. Along with the other four guys from their own party currently back on the Potomac. All of whom will be re-elected until past retirement age. Like their predecessors. To live out their lives enjoying their federal dollars.

Just more inconvenient facts. Sorry.

It’s never a good idea to believe the “common wisdom” of the day. ‘Cause – more often than not – it’s wrong. Today’s challenge to common wisdom “wisdom” is on the subject of immigration and a couple of realities therein that you might not be aware of. Or, more properly, “of which you might not be aware.” (Thank you, Mrs. Kirk – 4th grade)

Did you know you can buy American citizenship? I had not been so informed until something crossed my path this week about “investor visas.” Thousands of wealthy foreigners are using that side door to immigration each year. It’s called the “EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.”

Here’s how it works. EB-5 allows overseas investors conditional visas – for them and their families – to live, work and go to school here. The fine print is this: they must invest $1 million or more in a new or recently created business or put $500,000 in one in a rural or high unemployment area. The investment must create or preserve at least 10 full time jobs for American workers within two years. Any conditions unmet can mean deportation. But – if all goes well – EB-5 investors get permanent resident status and can apply for full citizenship in three years.

One such fellow who did this is a Canadian – Jordan Gagner. His wife had health problems which required her living in a warmer climate. So he bought a small Washington State assisted living facility, put it in the hands of a good manager and moved himself and family to Arizona. Now they have green cards and the kids are back in school.

Since 1990, about 12,000 well-fixed immigrants have used this form of entry and 39% eventually got full citizenship. With the rise in wealth in parts of Asia in recent years, affluent Chinese alone accounted for 70% of the 3,500 investor visas issued in 2011. The State Department expects the program’s quota of 10,000 visas annually to be filled for the first time in the next year or two. Not exactly migrant workers we hear so much about.

And that leads to a second fact not getting much attention in today’s common wisdom immigration story. We hear all the dire warnings that we are at risk of being overwhelmed by Hispanic and Muslim newcomers. Well, Virginia, the “common wisdom” needs to yield to fact once again.

The largest group of foreign-born coming into this country is neither of these. In 2010, 36% of newcomers were Asian compared to 31% Hispanic. And the percentage difference is widening. A decade ago, 19% of the incoming were Asian and 59% Hispanic. The number of new Muslim immigrants hardly moved the needle.

Two facts to consider here. First, far, far more people are entering this country legally than not. And most of them are not Hispanic. Which makes dealing with issues of immigration more complicated and diverse than just rounding up illegals and shipping them home. ‘Cause “home” can involve a lot more countries than Mexico. A lot more politics. Most newcomers are here legally and coming at a much faster pace than ever.

Second, future immigration policy is more likely to be shaped by the effects of Asian immigration than any other single factor. There will be more of them at the polls this November. And next November. And the next and the next and the next. Narrow-minded politicians who want to play fast-and-loose with immigration policy, using simplistic answers to complex problems, do so at their own peril. Voices of the voters at home are coming increasingly from people who speak our language with an accent.

Then there’s this. In recent days we’ve heard lots of outcry – mostly Republican – faulting President Obama’s decision to allow children of illegal immigrants to stave off immediate deportation by meeting certain requirements. As in so many other issues in these unnecessarily partisan times, those voices are not listening to the voices that really count. The voters at home.

A Bloomberg Poll out a week after the President’s announcement found 64% supported the immigration change. And those Independent voters – the ones everybody is trying to attract – well, those folks went for the idea by – 64%. That ain’t no whisper, guys.

As in abortion, women’s rights, union busting, foreign wars and all the other politicized, oversimplified subjects being tossed around these days, the matter of immigration – what to do about it, how to control it, how to deal with lawbreakers – is a far more complicated than it appears. Those who continue their “America for Americans” rants, the “English only” and “close the borders” crowds need to be ignored. None of that is going to happen. Not now. Not ever.

We are – as we have always been – a land of immigrants. As long as our flame burns brighter than any other country’s, that won’t change. What’s necessary is a legitimate, legal and flexible immigration program so people coming and people already here are playing by the same rules. ‘Cause they’re going to keep coming.

Whatever your heritage, we are a nation of rules. The shouting right wing and other protesters opposing immigrants wanting what we have ought to shut up. And read some of those rules.

Possibly the most ignorant statement made by anyone seeking political office is the campaign “pledge” to not raise taxes. That one is followed closely by the winner of whatever the office in question, who makes the equally false claim he/she “didn’t raise taxes.” Only proves in both cases the statement maker is either lying or – well – lying.

Like it or not, government operations from city hall to congress – and everywhere in between – are paid for by levying taxes on the governed. That’s how it works. The only variance is who levies what and on whom.

The other given in this tale is that government does have costs. More often than not legitimate ones arising from the furnishing of services which we require and/or expect. That leaves the only room for argument (a) what services and (b) who pays how much at which point in the tax food chain.

In the late 1960’s, Idaho had a one-term Republican governor. While being an all-round nice guy, the most forgiving way to sum up his approach to government and governance would be that he was “challenged.” Very “challenged.” His previous state senate years – coupled with four more as governor – did nothing to help him understand the requirements of governing or the nuances of politics. He left office as ignorant as he came in. But he WAS a nice guy.

At the start of his first year in the state senate, he wanted to be on the Finance Committee – a plum job not usually open to freshmen. So he made what he thought was his best selling point to those doing the appointing. He would never “NEVER” vote for a tax increase – no matter what.

“Great,” you say. “Politically naive,” you say. “Lack of experience showing,” you say. “So what,” you ask? All true. And here’s the “what.”

Each level of government with taxing authority is legally bound to use that power to fulfill requirements charged by law – schools, roads and bridges, law enforcement, airport operations, water and sewer plants, health and welfare programs and the like. Often in the past, funding was acquired from other sources i.e. federal to state to county to municipal, in which case government acts as an agent.

Taxing authority is used to fund obligations. So, when one level of government doesn’t pay all the bills, those obligations will fall to someone else for payment. The obligation remains. And someone – somewhere – has to pay. Often fees are charged – or raised – to make up for lack in tax support. You and I pay more but – wait for it – nobody raised those pesky taxes. Stupid promise made. Stupid promise kept. And who lost? Again.

All of this is being played out in our Northwest neighborhood at the moment in public education. For years, school districts have used a tool called a “supplemental” levy to pick up slack when faced with an unmet need. An operating budget is created. But maybe the district has several buildings falling apart or needs more equipment or teachers than planned. Any sort of legitimate need that can’t be budgeted within existing income. For years, districts have taken those situations to local voters in “supplemental” elections to raise cash over periods of several years. And voters have been pretty supportive by coming up with the extra bucks. But we may be approaching a crisis point.

In our Northwest, for example, many school districts already receive supplemental funding from previous pleas to patrons. But local property taxes – or state and other sources – make up much of the base of regular operational income. With declining real estate values, less corporate taxes and – where it exists – reduced sales tax income, districts have essentially incorporated a lot of previous supplemental levies into established budgets. Now, with still more reductions in tax revenues – local, state or federal – districts are beating the bushes for new – wait for it – supplementals or trying to renew those expiring.

Most voter overrides are legitimately based on emergencies. But some – and we are seeing more of these – are because the level of government a step or two above has not had resources to fill all the needs below. Or, in some cases, states have diverted dollars into savings – or “rainy day” – accounts or given tax breaks to one or more favored groups. But the tax obligations remain.

I’ve had two members of the Oregon legislature tell me they voted against tax increases this year. They speak as though that’s a badge of courage. I’m supposed to tell them how grateful I am. Well, it’s not and I’m not. Nor am I proud of them, either. In our little troubled vale of some 21,000 people, the school board may have to close one or two elementary schools, fire still more teachers and create classrooms of 35-40 students without new supplemental dollars. Which patrons may not approve..

Our community college recently asked for what amounted to a supplemental levy for some very legitimate reasons. Voters said “NO” overwhelmingly. Two nearby school districts have severe problems if voters in our very high unemployment area won’t say “yes” at the polls. Our library district is on life-support and needs immediate help. Surrounding counties are in the same condition. Curry County would like to have voters approve a 3% local sales tax before it declares bankruptcy. No chance..

That long-ago Idaho governor was my first experience with the tragic mindset of a politician determined to own a horse without feeding it. Unfortunately, others have survived him beyond the grave. The charge to those who want the perks and “atta boys” of public service is to recognize legitimate needs within the area they are lawfully charged to serve and come up with a comprehensive plan for dealing with them. Nobody said it would be easy. Nobody said just any old person could do it. But the law – and certainly the ethical responsibility – are what they are.

The public office deadbeat who ignores both and tries to be the good guy by “not raising taxes” violates both.

Should a death sentence be for life?

Author: Barrett Rainey

The State of Idaho executed someone this week. Whether you support or oppose the death penalty, I’m familiar with the crime this guy committed and – in my opinion – it made him a poster child for backers of the needle. Maybe.

When I was a young, I wasted a lot of time debating state-sponsored executions – in one watering hole or another – with other similarly young colleagues. In your 20’s, with a raised alcohol content for artificial intelligence, it’s easy to be “for” or “against” nearly any subject – depending on the ebb and flow of the meaningless conversation. To this day, I can still argue pro-con about legal executions but – with a few more rings around my trunk – most of the debate is with a sober mind. I’m still conflicted.

I was a crime beat reporter for many years. Hanging around the “cop shop” was part of the job. Drinking coffee with officers in the break room, making regular visits to the jail and an occasional flower or two for the gals in the office were part of “fitting in” if you wanted to get some good stories.

I learned a lot about the life of a cop. And that came from a practice almost no reporters do today: riding “shotgun” in a patrol car – mostly at night. That you did on your own time and for your own reasons. For several years, I did a lot of it. And I saw a lot of bad things.

Fatal vehicle wrecks – and the bloody aftermath often created – were shocking. At first. Then not so much. It surprised me how quickly the sight of a separated head sitting in the middle of a dark street was not personally jarring. There were mangled bodies in mangled cars, death in a house fire, industrial accidents and an occasional plane crash. You stayed out of the way and did your work. You didn’t forget the sight – or the smell – but death by accident became just part of the job. You got used to it.

Homicides were different. Death by accident was just that – an accident. Someone drank too much or made a bad driving decision or had mechanical failure or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Accidents.

But murder – the taking of someone’s life by another – no matter the reason, was something I didn’t get used to. Especially violent, bloody, ritualistic or dismembered. The kind the guy in Idaho died for. The dead were often innocent. Had made no bad decision. Had not been an accident victim. They died – often violently and painfully – at the hands of another person. Sometimes killed by someone they didn’t even know. All these 40-50 years later, the memories are still too vivid.

So, yes, I can argue that the guy in Idaho deserved to die for the violent, dismembering, bloody murder of an innocent girl asleep in her bedroom at home. The evidence was overwhelming. Nobody involved with the case is wrestling with doubt about whether the right person was killed on that gurney by a state executioner. Maybe.

What I have difficulty accepting is it was more than 30 years from the crime by a kid in his 20’s to the state killing of a middle-aged guy in his 50’s. I know our legal system is filled with safeguards, checks, double checks and multiple chances for appeal or even new trials. Intellectually, that’s desirable and acceptable. Especially now that we’re seeing DNA evidence clearing people on death row. I fully understand. All well and good. My objection is the time from crime to punishment. One Idaho inmate has been on death row for nearly 50 years!

Was the person executed last week the same person who committed the crime? Think back in your own life. Back 30-35 years or so. Are you the same person you were then? Did you do something you weren’t proud of back then but were never held accountable? Would you risk what you have in your life now – and the person you are now – to publically take your punishment 30-40 years later? Are you still the same person? Really?

A lot of years following the cops around convinced me there are some really bad people who will never change, will commit horrible crimes and should be separated from society until they die. They’re not the ones who bother me at this late date. My concern is whether the person who may become an entirely new individual while the wheels of justice grind slowly is the right person we should kill.

I have no legal background. Friends and other readers that do are probably saying right now “Well, you’ve certainly proven that!” But my questions remain. Is it right to kill a person 20-30-40 years after the crime? Is society exacting the extreme penalty from the same person who committed the crime? After a period of 10 years or so of legal work on the case, should society accept the concept of the death sentence being automatically commuted to life without parole instead?

The subject of capital punishment is much like the subject of abortion. If neither has touched your life, it’s much easier to have an opinion. But if it’s your son on the gurney – or your daughter in the doctor’s exam room – the exercise in both cases stops being philosophical and becomes a most intimate, personal matter. Sort of like how Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich differ from the common, hardline Republican orthodoxy on gays. Having a daughter or a sister who’s a lesbian can produce loving acceptance even though otherwise faced with political pragmatism.

And that’s the root of my angst about death penalties carried out several decades after the crime no matter how heinous the crime may have been. With all our technology of DNA and other scientific options – with legal and law enforcement information data stored and readily available – can’t the appeals process in capital crimes cases be shortened to something more reasonable that 30-50 years?

Seems to me – if only for the sake of innocent family and friends seeking closure from the tragedy of murder or state-sponsored killing of a loved one – legal and other societal minds could devise a system assuring the rights of all concerned that would shorten the crime-to-punishment interval. Yes, the rights of the convicted, too. Could we do it in 8-10 years?

Many states have already eliminated the death penalty. The subject is on the table in a lot of others. While much of the debate is about the level of punishment in crimes of murder and the humanity of that punishment, maybe more of it should be about whether we – as a society – are fulfilling our purpose of exacting the right punishment for the right reasons but maybe on the wrong person.

When 30 or 40 or 50 years have passed, I have my doubts we are executing the same person who committed the crime. Serious doubts.

When an old fella living in the backwoods of Oregon decides to disagree with respected opinionist George Will, he faces either a long, uphill battle or risks being just another voice lost to the wind. Aw, what the hell. Let’s go for it.

I am a loud, vocal foe of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision granting corporations free speech protections heretofore believed reserved for individuals. Others participating in this chorus of opposition do so for the same reason – believing that deeply flawed decision allowed the floodgates of unlimited – and much of it anonymous – cash into our political rivers. The balance board of free speech versus corporate influence has been severely thrown out of whack – deliberate or not.

But Mr. Will has written this week “Reasons for the Supreme Court to reconsider Citizens United are nonexistent.” Indeed, Will writes “There is no evidence for their (opponents) assertion that 2012 has been dominated by corporate money unleashed by “Citizens United.” He then tries to make his case by using total contribution figures compiled as of March 31. Of the total – at that time – $96,410.614 or roughly 86% is believed to have come from individuals and about 13% from corporations. Too bad he didn’t wait for the final figures which – I’m certain – will show a much different split. And don’t forget: a lot of those ”individual” contributions are, in fact, tied to corporations being funneled through employees. You betcha.

Will even accuses the American Bar Association Journal of falsely claiming “These multi-million-dollar PACs were made possible by“Citizens United.”

Then Will drops the “S” bomb, trying to make the same irrelevant charge my correspondent friends on the right so often cite: “SOROS.” Will says there was no” media or liberal anxiety” when George Soros spent $24 million supporting Democrats in 2010. And right there – right on the “S” word – is where Mr. Will’s argument rests it’s case on pillars of verbal sand.

There’s a vast difference in the long-time contribution activities of George Soros and what the Koch, VanDerSloot, Friess, Ricketts crowd has done. The major difference: for all his years supporting causes and candidates of the Democratic Party, Soros has done so with his name on the check and a very public voice acknowledging what he was doing. That’s not the case – repeat NOT the case – with the others who are using the “Citizens United” freedom to a fare-thee-well. These folks have been trying to operate under the radar and were mostly successful until some investigative reporting put the spotlight on their activities. VanDerSloot is exhibit “A.”

A second difference between Soros and the other billionaires: what the givers want for their giving. Certainly Soros has some philosophical and/or political goals he wants to support. It’d be very naive not to think so. I’ve no idea what they might be. But interviews and writings of his I’m familiar with speak to a society of inclusion – of the “American dream” of equality. His philanthropy has been along that line, too. Not terribly specific but not really self-serving, either.

Such is obviously not the case with the Koch’s, VanDerSloot et al. A close look at the individuals and the causes in whom or in which they’ve “invested” shows a very different picture. More de-regulation – especially of industries or business by which they make their money. Eliminating various agencies of government – mostly regulatory – their choosing. Union busting. Anti-abortion. More restrictive women’s health care. Support for people and causes that would change fundamentals of our national society to be more exclusive – not more inclusive.

Maybe Mr. Will’s more conservative approach to politics and his greater exposure to a world of experiences I’ll never know make him the voice to listen to – not the amateur ramblings of an old fella in the forests of Oregon.

However, for what it’s worth, I’m not nearly so comfortable with the “Citizens United decision and the political effluence created by the affluence it has so far attracted. While we’ve historically had billionaires and their money in our politics – yes, even (gasp)(shudder) UNIONS – we’ve always been aware of their interests and the goals desired in their participation. Pretty easy to understand and either support or oppose.

But these other folks – the ones that have tried to exert their considerable influence to alter our society – the ones who have tried to achieve their ends in secrecy and seem afraid of putting their mouths where their money is – the ones whose ultimate goals seem self-serving for them and potentially destructive for the rest of us – these people scare me. Really scare me.

They’re using their riches to hire people – in office and out – who’ll help them achieve their ends for a few pieces of silver. They would do so by avoiding the public stage – and the accompanying public accountability – while trying to change a nation’s social structure to their liking. They’ve exhibited efforts to control more than a political office here and there. They’ve made it clear they’re using politics as a means to other ends. In total, that’s damned scary.

Mr. Wills’ last wrong-headed thought on this subject: “The collapse of liberals’ confidence in their ability to persuade is apparent in their concentration on rigging the rules of political persuasion. Their problem is that the First Amendment is the rule.”

No, Sir. The rules have not been rigged by liberals – most of whom believe the First Amendment is still the rule. The problem is a Supreme Court stacked with minds of your persuasion that believe as does your presidential choice for president – Mr. Romney – that “corporations are people, too, my friend.”

The most curious S-O-B I ever knew

Author: Barrett Rainey

Perry Swisher died the other day at the age of 88. Older Idaho media and political types have been publically reminiscing about that otherwise obscure event for the last few days. Since I knew him for more than 40 of his years, guess I’ll join the chorus.

To most of you, the name Perry Swisher won’t mean anything. But, to some of us who knew him, he’s been a constant – or a constant irritant – in all our lives. For better or worse. Read on and you’ll know why.

Swish was the most curious son-of-a-bitch I ever knew! Bar none! This description of the man purloined from the Lewiston Tribune by Ridenbaugh Proprietor Randy Stapilus tells you why I say that. “As a journalist, legislator, gardener, guru, crusader, advisor to the mighty and the molested, critic, bard, counselor wondrous, administrator, confessor, orator, pundit laureate and consummate pain in the posterior…” Well, you get the idea.

If something – anything – caught his attention that he was unfamiliar with, the next time you saw him, he’d know more about it than you. It might be a radical new scientific theory or a new species of bug in his garden or anything in between. People with that kind of personality trait are rare. You can’t teach it. You got it or you ain’t. He had it in abundance.

It’s hard to say if the man was your friend. Or you were his. It was a word he almost never used and he didn’t act like one much of the time. In the traditional sense. Drunk or sober, he’d jump all over you during one encounter, then support your point at the next. He had no patience with people he thought were fools and – when alone defending some arcane “fact” – he thought most around him fit that description on occasion.

In the 60’s, he’d often come into a Pocatello watering hole late in the evening, followed by a couple of local sycophants, take up his station in a corner booth and hold court till closing. Local politicians or media types wandering through the place during his “office” hours would almost always stop. For the uninitiated, that scene could give you the wrong idea of what the guy was all about.

He ran for office as a “D” and an “R” and an “I” with various success. He served in both houses of the Idaho Legislature and ran for governor. That run for governor as an “I” was one of the few mistakes in his political life but he did it because – at the time of his decision – neither major party candidate would support a sales tax referendum he and others had worked for several years to get before voters.

When the Democrat candidate was killed late in the 1966 campaign, his chosen replacement had also labored to get the tax issue on the ballot. A real believer. Swisher was asked to withdraw lest he split the vote and cause the Democrat to lose. But by then, Swish would not back down. Commitment? Maybe. Ego? Maybe. Swish lost. The Dem lost. But the sales tax won.

That moment seemed to be a turning point in his life. Though he later served another term in the legislature, he seemed to pay more attention to his journalistic career than being active in politics though he wrote many political columns and editorials, served as a political appointee and kept his lifelong interest in all things political.

Swish had the most permanently unchanging personality of anyone I’ve ever known. If you knew him as I did – from his 40’s through his 80’s – his frontal attack on issues and the passion of his views never changed. If he DID go from one side of an issue to another, he’d defend the new view with the same outspoken zeal. Whatever the subject – whatever the point – he was into it 110%.

Perry Swisher was one of those few people you run across who left an impression on everyone. Good or bad. No shades of gray. In my experience, he seldom sought out anyone to associate with. But many of us sought him out. We did so because we always learned something. He was brusk and sometimes rude. He was short-tempered and could be riled over something simple. He could – and often did – say things others might have thought but also thought better than to say. He could wither someone with profanity-laced anger if he thought you were a fool.

But, especially in his later years, he could teach. The man could teach. If you wanted to learn – really wanted to learn – I never saw anyone more anxious to keep pushing a person to learn. A new skill. A new experience. A new viewpoint.

Whether we said so – whether we even admitted to ourselves it was so – many of us looked to Swisher for help in understanding more about the world around us.

I think he’d be proud if we added the word “teacher” to that list of adjectives used to describe him some 30 years ago. And that’s a pretty good legacy.


I’ve avoided commenting about the abortive Wisconsin recall election that’s dominated our news for a year. Not because Scott Walker is to my liking. He’s not. But, more than that, I’ve never liked recall elections. Nearly all I’ve seen were begun for the wrong reasons, most failed and the people who beat ‘em back were stronger in office than before.

Like me, you may be sick of hearing about the mess. But there’s a backstory about this $70 million – and possibly more – wasted. It’s worth discussing.

If one reads a selection of statutes regarding recall. – something I don’t recommend for entertainment value – you’ll find most are pretty specific about when and why recall can be used. Words like “moral turpitude,” “malfeasance in office,” “felony conviction” and the like appear in most. Things that are provable and serious deviations from acceptable society.

What you won’t find are references to not personally liking decisions or policies of an officeholder, displeasure with official actions that otherwise fall under his or her jurisdiction, anger because you may have been personally affected or offended, lousy personality or poor personal hygiene. Yet these latter categories of personal disdain are often at the bottom of such efforts when you get right down to it. Wisconsin certainly was.

I don’t like what Gov. Walker did to public employee unions. I don’t like some of the lies he’s been caught passing off as truth. I don’t like his cozy relationships with the Koch brothers and other billionaires who are willing to put money in him to do their political dirty work. I don’t like the difference between the face he shows the public and the very different face he’s been proven to have with the rich who’ve financed him.

BUT – at this point – I can’t find any legal reasons for recall that apply to the guy. That may change if he’s dragged into the current court case involving his previous staff’s apparently illegal activities while he was in another public office. That could be a whole different deal. But, as governor, the most I can see he’s done at this point is piss off a lot of people who probably didn’t vote for him anyway. People who wanted revenge.

And apparently, I’m not alone in my views. In fact, enough Wisconsites seem to have felt about the same as I do and voted more on the principle of recall than on the issue of what Walker did or didn’t do.

Here’s some exit polling you might have missed. After voting, just 27% said recalls are appropriate for any reason. Those people went 90% for challenger Tom Barrett and 9% for Walker. Then there was the 60% that said recalls are legitimate only for misconduct. More than 60% of them voted for Walker. And the third group of about 10% said recalls are never necessary and Walker got 94% of those.

And here’s the cherry on top. Almost 18% of those voting for Walker said they would vote for Pres. Obama in November!

There’s the backstory. While, in the eyes of public service union members – and the people who support them – Walker was a bad guy, a lot of people who may have agreed with them felt recall was not the answer. And it wasn’t. It almost never is if the legal reasons for it are not present.

There’s some merit to the claims billionaire backers of Walker outspending the challenger seven to one influenced the outcome. Somewhat. There’s some justification for believing Walker got into office with an unannounced (I hate “secret”) agenda to do just what he’s done. There’s even evidence Walker has a significant problem with truth-telling.

But Wisconsin voters – at least a good number of them – had made up their minds months ago that the recall was a bad idea. CNN showed some exit polling that about 4% of voters made up their minds how to vote within the last week; 8% during the last month; 80% in April – or before.

That tells me a couple things. First, all that obscene amount of money really did was fatten wallets of broadcasters, newspaper companies and some political pros. And probably forced some Wisconsites to experiment with life without TV for several months. It didn’t seem to greatly affect the outcome because a big majority of people already had their minds made up.

Second, a lot of voters went to the polls with the element of fairness in mind rather than what the Governor may have done to anger so many folks.

Now that Gov. Walker has won, I predict he’ll redouble whatever his slash-and-burn agenda is with renewed vigor. He’s going to feel vindicated and he’s got a recall election victory in his pocket he can wave under the noses of those who went after him and failed. They swatted at the bee and missed. That’s the downside of a recall built on – and fueled by – anger. If you’re going to take a shot, you’d best not miss. They missed. They lost the passion.

I often worry – well, more than often – about how uninformed the majority of citizens are in this country about elementary workings of their system of governance. With considerable evidence to support that angst. But, while the outcome in Wisconsin may not have been the result of a high level of understanding of the civics involved, it appears there was considerable thought given to whether the underlying reasons for the recall were valid.

Maybe, in this case, fairness was an acceptable substitute for knowledge.

I have a dear friend whose outlook on things political is very different from my own. Our near-daily emails remind us often of that, but I’d be disappointed if he surrendered his bias to mine. I’d miss the challenge to review my own points-of-view and the chance to reassess the values I hold. He keeps me on my mental toes. That’s a good thing. You betcha!

My inbox is too often filled with messages of hate, racial division and outright lies. And, yes, occasionally my friend and correspondent sends me one of those. But some thoughtful exchanges usually result in setting the record straight, debunking the bad or agreeing to disagree. Among other values, there are those marvelous words “That’s what friends are for.”

The other electronic missives, though, the ones that are passed along as “fact” are becoming more and more a sense of very real concern. Because, fact is, most of them are not fact. They either go unchallenged or send me to research sources to debunk the majority. But the hate, the lies and anger continue unabated. Except for a personal “delete” key. Used often.

Here’s a selection of recent examples. Got one this week claiming Barack and Michelle Obama had their law licenses suspended by the State of Illinois and both were under criminal investigation by a special committee. There were even several “websites” included so I could see for myself. One thing I’ve learned about such emails is to never – NEVER – go to the websites given. Go to a third party site for verification. Because, in this case, someone had gone to great trouble to create phony sites that would substantiate the phony claim. One lie leading to another. More hate.

Using that third site approach damned the email. The fact is the Obama’s placed their law licenses on an inactive status under Illinois law. Had they kept the licenses active, they would have had to meet various Illinois requirements for continuing legal education, carrying several types of insurance and other normal professional stipulations. Other members of Congress have done the same. Some doctors, too.

Got an email claiming “the President had passed a law” (something Presidents can’t do) that would “steal” a percentage of the sales price of every home sold in America “to finance Obamacare.” A third party check showed there is such a stipulation (passed by Congress where laws begin) for a very small percentage on transactions over a million dollars. Not something that should alarm most of us. But the lie was out there.

Got one that said the President had required all federal agencies to hire more black Americans; even set a Department requirement for no less than 40%. Never happened. Got another with massive quotes from a former “missionary” to Kenya about the President’s personal involvement in Kenyan politics. Never happened. Got one that said the President would not salute the American flag or sing the national anthem. Not true. The Obama re-election campaign is being funded by Hugo Chavez. Really?

Another claimed the President was a “faith healer” and had “cured thousands of people with his touch.” Where was he during my last headache? How about the one claiming student Obama received “massive education aid from foreign governments?” Maybe he wished he had back then. And the one claiming Michelle was pregnant again and her husband was so mad he “angrily – but privately – has dismissed her from her role as first lady.” Or the one that said the President is using a Social Security number of a guy who died in 1890. Since Social Security didn’t exist before the 1960’s, that one was pretty easy to ferret out.

The common thread here is the President. And the emails are always – ALWAYS – negative. Some are ridiculous on their face. But, my friends, someone out there – many someone’s out there – believe them. Like the woman who told John McCain in 2008 that “Obama is an Arab.” Or the woman who told Mitt Romney a few weeks ago “Obama’s a Socialist and should be tried for treason.” There are thousands of folks out there – millions I’d guess – that believe what most of us know is not true.

But – when people I’ve known for years – people whose smarts I am familiar with – send me this crap with their endorsement that “this is absolutely true,” the seriousness of this divisive and often racist garbage is personally sobering.

No other president of either major party in our history – not one – has been the subject of such massive amounts of unfounded rumors, vile charges and racist rants as this one man. While presidents – all presidents – are often targets for wild charges and phony accusations, Obama has become the centerfold for more hate-mongers, race-baiters and extremists than any other figure that comes to mind. Legitimate websites (Snoopes,, etc.) are filled with thousands of such examples of garbage they’ve received – and debunked. .

Millions of false and hate-filled emails out there are all over the Internet. Before its invention and easy availability, the haters and the ignorant used to send letters to friends or like-thinkers with the same crap. Or printed flyers. Even used telephones to wallow in their verbal ignorance. But now – with the push of a key on the keyboard – all of these bogus “facts” and the often accompanying racism can be shared with hundreds of millions and become part of the ethernet to have a life of their own. Forever. Believed by millions as “fact.” Debunked by only a few.

I’m sick of the anonymous, racist, baseless material out there on the I-net. Many of the problems this nation faces are all too real. But our political system has been overcome with ignorant people seeking simplistic solutions to complex problems the like of which we’ve never seen. Voters have – in too many cases through ignorance of their own – sent people to congress and many legislature’s who are making a shambles of our democracy.

I value my correspondent friend’s differences. Many of those differences I celebrate and will defend. More often than not, I appreciate other friends asking me to research something because they‘re concerned with truth. The anger and outrage I save for those idiots who waste their lives creating this anonymous garbage and polluting our nation with divisiveness, racial hatred and trying to set Americans against one another.

For them, I pray there is a special place in Hell.

Two stories collided on my computer screen this week causing a smile and a loud “YES!” One carried words of wisdom from an old and greatly experienced jurist. The other contained indignant words of some rich S-O-B’s who’ve been given a taste of unwanted but entirely warranted public exposure in our democratic system that they didn’t expect. The irony here: a U.S. Supreme Court decision was the connection.

First, it was retired Justice John Paul Stevens predicting SCOTUS will probably have to review it’s monumentally disastrous decision in the Citizen’s United case. That’s the one giving corporations the protections of free speech granted to individuals – a ruling millionaires and billionaires have been hiding behind to pour big bucks into our political system, warping democracy into nothing more than a huge dollar sign.

The original decision was that the First Amendment “generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity.” Stevens wrote a 90-page dissent. Later, SCOTUS decided in another case – without briefing, argument or written opinion – to uphold a ban on campaign contributions by non-citizens.

“Taken together,” Stevens said “that persuades me it’ll be necessary for the court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that’ll create a crack in the foundation of the Citizen’s United majority opinion. In doing so, it’ll be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to campaign speech by some non-voters (domestic corporations) than to that of other non-voters such as the Canadian Harvard law graduate who has sued but remains barred from making such contributions.”

Stevens logic seems to be the court has made two classes of “citizens” in two rulings while maintaining in Citizen’s United there was only one and it was made up of corporations AND individuals. We are seeing the political economic prostitution wrought by that 2010 action. Several major challenges are being worked on and even some of the smarter political professionals of both parties agree. Stevens thinks the inconsistency he points out may be one place to start. I pray he’s right.

My other smile producer was one of those “careful-what-you-wish-for” moments I find especially enjoyable. Some unhappy billionaires who’ve been pumping obscene amounts of money into the campaigns – all Republican complainants so far- are howling because their names are being made public which has brought unwanted media attention and some claim to have lost business because of the publicity.

One of the louder voices has been that of Idahoan Frank VanderSloot who, for the record, put himself in the limelight when he became a finance co-chairman for the Romney campaign. VanderSloot has always craved the darkness of anonymity in which to work his right-wing activities. He’s used threats of legal action to intimidate small market media people. But no more. Now, it’s the major networks and the largest print media. People with much greater resources to ferret out his backdoor dealings and shine the light of publicity all over his now-public affairs.

The Obama campaign put out a fat cats list – even included some Democrats – and circulated it widely. VanderSloot has put $1 million of his corporate cash into the Romney campaign and has raised between $2-5 million more. For this, he says, he has been “publically humiliated.” “Lost business.”

“Not true,” sez I. But even if it were, it’s about time!

Joe Ricketts – billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade whose family owns the Chicago Cubs – says the backlash to shining a well-deserved spotlight on him “isn’t fair.” Ah, makes him wish for the bleak anonymity of old. Even as he’s putting up $10 million to back a vicious, totally false anti-Obama movie written by a thoroughly discredited nut. The subject is how Obama’s father is “controlling him from the grave.” The same father the President met once when he was 10-years old.

Foster Friess, the mutual fund tycoon who kept the Santorum campaign alive longer than it would have been without him, is another. Remember, Friess was the guy whose experiences with birth control included “women putting aspirin between their knees.” He’s “puzzled about all the frenzy.” Now he’s onboard the Romney campaign.

The Koch boys – Charley and Davy – claim “irresponsible coverage by the far left media” has brought on death threats. Oh, really? Give me a break! That’s like Jesse James claiming the sheriff used real bullets! Of course, those several interviews they sat for on Faux “News” couldn’t have brought on any of their discomfort.

Now that these guys are squirming in the glare of publicity about what they’ve been doing anonymously for years, they want to “fight back.” So, they’ve put up a website listing fat cat donors to Democrats. That’ll show ‘em. I’m a little fuzzy about how that’ll put the toothpaste back in their tubes.

They may call that “getting even.” But I think all the exposure is great. Our political system has a huge and potentially fatal “money cancer” being fed by both sides so let’s get ‘em all out where we can see ‘em. All of ‘em! C’mon, guys. Don’t be bashful.

Our nation is awash in billionaire-sponsored political trash – er – cash. Facts are being mixed with lies and damned lies to be repeated over and over and over and over. It’s easy to blame a lot of candidates of either party for all this. That goes unsaid. To me, the blame rests primarily on rich extremists – very rich extremists – who are using their fortunes to shape our political system as they want it to be so it can be used to their benefit. On them and on a U.S. Supreme Court that has furnished the match for their destructive gasoline.

Koch’s, Adeleson, Ricketts, Friess and the rest have been background players for years. Their grimy fingerprints are all over bad legislation, efforts to suppress voter access to the polls, unwarranted corporate tax breaks, reduced regulatory oversight of the industries that created their largess, secretly financing spineless hand puppets to legislative and congressional seats and more destructive handiwork.

If the glare of publicity causes their reach to shrivel like so many exposed cockroaches, my next cash contribution will be to the guy who owns the brightest spotlight.