Archive for July, 2012

As you read this, there is a large, full-color billboard standing at a street intersection in Caldwell, Idaho. On the left side, there’s a picture of the murderer in Aurora, Colorado, and the words “Kills 12 in a movie theater with an assault rifle and everybody freaks out.” On the right, a picture of a smiling President Obama and the words “Kills thousands with foreign policy; wins Nobel Peace Prize.”

Disgusting and abhorrent as that large advertisement is all by itself, my anger is more personal because I know the history of that billboard which, over the years, has been a source of amusement and – more than occasionally – political irritation. Some background.

Many years ago, a Libertarian named Ralph Smeed erected that sign board and, for years, plastered it with politically incorrect thoughts reflecting his own rightward views on politics, religion, marriage and just about everything else. Politics, mostly. Some of his output was considered shocking at the time. Yet nothing – NOTHING – he ever put up there was as disgusting as the image today.

Ralph and I “discussed” many a subject over many a libation over many a year. Though he often made my intellectual – and often physical – blood boil, I occasionally sought him out just to have one of our animated political discussions. The reason was one unusual trait Ralph possessed. While adamant in his Libertarianism, unlike most other zealots of any political position, Ralph would make his case – then listen. Actually listen to my points. Sometimes he would probe with a question; sometimes go tit-for-tat. But he’d always let me make my point. Then I’d listen as he made his. I learned more of debate from Ralph Smeed than in my formal education.

That brief history is to make two points. Ralph’s gone now. But I believe he would be angry and disgusted with what is on that billboard today. The intellectual jabs and humor of his often slightly outrageous postings never had anything as vile or as insulting. Those two adjectives could not be used by anyone to define the man or his public expressions.

The second point is the larger one and is something that has been deeply angering me for several years. I’ve written before of the massive amount of anonymous, hate-filled, often racist material on the Internet that has flowed into my inbox. More than that, it has flowed into our national psyche for so long it’s become commonplace and – too often – acceptable to the recipient.

Some months ago, I decided to stem that river of hate on my computer by telling friends and correspondents it was no longer welcome in my inbox and I didn’t want to see it. That caused several exchanges of “Oh, don’t really feel that way.” “It’s funny – interesting – good information.” “It’s what’s happening.” None of which is – or was – true. I said “No more.” In the end, I’ve stopped hearing from two very good friends whom I respected. Two educated, conversational, articulate friends.

While I miss their other exchanges, I’ve learned to live without the racist-tinged, intellectually fraudulent charges and baseless, too-often hate-filled missives from the Net that they passed along. Innocently enough, of course. Maybe. But wrong.

While some may think I’m overreacting to a bunch of Internet flotsam, I would strongly argue that’s not so. That billboard – that mentally pornographic billboard – standing in Idaho is exhibit “A” that we live in a nation that has either become jaded to insults directed at our political system or – if we don’t condemn it – we’ve become accomplices.

Hate – unbridled, blind, ignorant, mindless, angry, irrational, stupid anonymous, vile hate – is playing more of a role in our national life than most will admit. We’ve become a nation polarized not by issues but by hate. And anger steeped in hate. Our political system has ground to a halt because the historic congeniality of civilized partisanship has been lost. Where participants used to argue their positions fiercely, then socialize together, they now are divided politically, socially, geographically and – most of all – personally. Very, very personally.

Like nearly all national phenomena, hate is a grassroots issue. Hate does not start at the top and dribble down. It starts at the bottom – inside a few people – spreading outward and upward as more participate. It’s fed by the irrational fire underneath – a fire stroked by hate radio and the anonymity of Internet perversion. The loners who used to be unaffiliated and shut off from spreading their ignorance now have more direct access to our lives than all the commercial media in history. They’ve taken on a kind of sick “legitimacy” to poison our national thinking. Their sickness is now being exposed to people who would normally reject it but to whom it has become commonplace. And it’s being exposed to too many people who don’t know how to deal with it

No good can come from the spread of this mental cancer. None. On issues requiring common ground, we’re hopelessly divided. Politically, we couldn’t get a quorum to support motherhood. Economically, we’re losing a middle class we’ve always cherished to an oligarchy of a few billionaires with resources beyond everyone else. Narrow tenets of minority religions are being codified as law for a majority. Division replaces commonality.

Do I make too much of those anonymous Internet messages of hate speech? Do I protest too much about the hate of the broadcast talkers who keep up the incessant pounding on our sensibilities? Do I put too much emphasis on the sickness of division which has become our daily diet?

Maybe. But then there’s always that billboard in Caldwell, Idaho.

Many citizens of this country – in my mind far too many – have little to no
idea how it operates, don’t understand how the institutions of government function or relate, don’t apply daily news stories to their own lives, find politics boring/distasteful and go about their own business thinking someone else will handle it. Until something goes wrong or adversely affects them. Then they holler.

While that sounds a bit arrogant, I don’t mean it to be. Evidence supporting that thesis is all around us. Even in Congress. Maybe especially in Congress. Just a few days ago, I was involved in another example of this too-large civic vacuum on my Facebook page. Someone is linked to that page; someone I don’t know but it appears we have a mutual friend or two. I don’t like that feature because that immediately makes your “friends” my “friends” and, in life, that’s not always the case.

But back to the Facebook evidence. This person seemed honestly motivated to start a discussion by asking if Mitt Romney should produce more tax returns than the one he already has and the one he’s promised to. I thought the answer was pretty obvious – he must – but the several dozen answers that came in over the next few hours showed how little some people really know about the important issues implicit in that question.

For the record, most of the respondents clearly had some good education judging by spelling, sentence structure and coherent thought. They seemed interested in saying their “piece” and – whether you agreed/disagreed with their position – did so with some apparent conviction. Problem was, some of those convictions just didn’t square with knowledge of the subject.

About half said Romney should put up several more years of tax returns. The other half said he shouldn’t have to. Now, that’s fine as far as personal opinions go. But some of the “reasoning” for not doing so clearly showed those “opinions” were not based on real knowledge of the situation, were short on fact and not offered with any real political understanding.

“He made his money and it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.” ”He’s entitled to his privacy like the rest of us.” “I’d rather see Obama’s college transcript than Romney’s taxes.” “I don’t have to show mine so he shouldn’t have to show his.” Many opinions along those lines. To my mind, responses not based on the facts of the issue.

The problem is that the Romney tax returns question has taken on a larger life than it ordinarily would have and has produced more than one legitimate reason to press for their release. And Ol’ Mitt did this to himself.

While not required by law, it’s customary for candidates for President, Vice President or appointees to national office to open several years of financial records as a matter of transparency. Again, customary but not required. But I like the exercise. Romney – for whatever personal reason – won’t do that. His wife even said during a media interview “We’ve given you all we’re going to” then suggested more tax information would just be more ammunition to be used against her husband. I found that rather interesting.

What has taken this from just a matter of Romney making a decision contrary to recent custom to a major, legitimate issue is the evidence piling higher and higher that he has not been honest about his career, his sources of income and connections with the business world which he has made a cornerstone of his campaign. Government filings of corporate ownership, public statements of non-involvement with Bain Capital when he swore on official affidavits he was still the major stockholder and CEO, interviews in which he said he was making major Bain decisions that don’t match his recent disavowal of such actions, then saying he wasn’t making those decisions when public records show he did. Too many things don’t add up.

While Romney is perfectly within his rights to keep his tax information confidential personally, his recent public statements and claims don’t square with legal filings and his past history. His unwillingness to open these returns and offer the transparency necessary to reconcile his statements with facts has created the largest single problem of his candidacy. He’s put himself in a “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” box and given his opponent fertile campaign ground that could’ve been easily avoided at the start. Leading Republicans from left to right are telling him to “get them out there.” No matter, really. Whatever he decides now will cause him problems.

The absence of factual information is raising all sorts of questions about his campaign and his personal integrity. Has he been lying about his business background? Has he made millions but not paid taxes? Has he been investing overseas? Did he have personal Bain income after public claims he was not there? If so, why? Is he involved in other businesses that have not been identified? How did he get $20-million into an IRA when laws allow only a limited annual deposit amount – laws he would’ve had to violate?

What the recent Facebook exercise showed me anew is that many people apparently don’t make the connection of these returns with the honesty we seek in anyone who wants to be President of these United States. They equate Romney’s refusal as being the same as their own “right-to-privacy” and don’t see how the information within those documents has become more than just so many forms we all have to fill out. The real meaning of what, in recent days, has become the largest single issue of the Romney campaign doesn’t register.

Then, there’s Ann Romney’s statement that release of more tax information would give Mitt’s opponent “more ammunition” to use against him. Now he’s said the same thing. Those statements alone make alarm bells go off in my head. Is there official information or documents within those returns that wouldn’t look good for someone who’s running for high public office? Are there omissions that would constitute false filings? Is she saying the refusal is based on campaign strategy that it’s better to deal with questions of the unknown than to publicize facts that may damage Mitt’s chances? I think Missy Ann – and ol’ Mitt – have lobbed grenades into the story with those words.

I’ve seen at least two reports that Mitt has privately said to friends if he’d known he would be faced with full tax disclosure he wouldn’t have gotten into the race. If he did say that, it speaks volumes to me about his reasons for running and a lack of depth in commitment to the job. Also an odd thing to say when his own father made more than a decade’s worth of his tax information public during a presidential run and encouraged others to do the same.

The Romney tax story is important. More than it should be. But he made it so. He’ll have to live with that no matter the outcome. Still, it distresses and alarms me that the people who expressed their support for Romney’s decision on that Facebook page the other day seemed to know so little about why the story is very important. It makes me wonder if the nearly 50-50 split on that page is indicative of how the nation feels.

If so, it’s more evidence that far too many Americans know far too little about America.

I’ve made it a practice over the years not to use this space to deal with reader comments about previous “SECOND THOUGHTS” – good or bad. In doing so now, I’m breaking that practice because someone has made a very important comment on the last column. One you should hear. The value I’ll leave to you.

The gist of my comments a few days ago following the Colorado massacre was that the entire NRA is not a bad organization – that most of the membership is much more responsible than crackpot leader CEO Wayne LaPierre and those at the top who’ve covered his butt for years. I also took some members of Congress to task for being afraid of LaPierre who – given many of his public comments – has departed from reality and now lives in a world of anti-gun conspiracies and devils the rest of us can’t see.

It was that congressional part the knowledgeable reader commented on, based on first-hand experience. The posted thought was this: responsible members of the public – voters like you and me – have not stepped up to give “cover” to those members of Congress who do tell the NRA to go to Hell. When someone has cast a vote opposing some outrageous demand by the NRA, that person has often been quickly turned out of office for voting his/her conscience when he/she felt opposing was the right thing to do.

That’s a very valid criticism for all of us, especially if you feel your member of Congress is otherwise doing the job you sent him/her to do and want to keep him/her there. I personally know a couple of Northwest members of Congress who don’t buy the entire NRA line and who do have policy differences. I also know – personally – neither has cast a vote opposing NRA positions they thought were wrong because they were thinking of the next election and felt alone out there on that limb.

Now you might say, “Well, they need the courage of their convictions to vote for what they think is right no matter the cost. That’s why we sent them back there.” That certainly would be appropriate. In a perfect world.

But politics is not conducted in a “perfect world.” I think many members do cast a majority of votes in line with personal philosophy and a sense of right and wrong. But the most common definition of politics is “it’s the art of the possible” meaning compromise and often trading your support for someone else’s position because you’ll someday ask them to do the same.

There’s also the personal and possibly family economic considerations. A single vote of conscience could mean an end to your career, being forced to sell your home and dislocate a family a couple of thousand miles. A single vote. We who don’t carry that little plastic voting card members of the House are issued don’t often think of those kinds of things. We can intellectually argue those should not be factors in a decision affecting national policy. But they are. Often. Because those folks are human, too.

What the reader was saying is you and I share some responsibility to oppose LaPierre and the more lunatic gun policies he advances by directly offering our members of Congress who DO stand up for what’s right more support at the polls. Some “cover,” as it were. And I agree.

Machine guns and other automatic weapons don’t belong on our streets. Or in our homes. Neither do ammunition clips that hold 20-100 bullets. There is no legitimate private need for such equipment. None. But when LaPierre and his mad supporters shout “gun control” at the top of their sick lungs, they create an immediate, cohesive and nationwide response which gets the attention of every member of Congress. Can you say we create “an immediate, cohesive and nationwide” response supporting that member of Congress at the polls at the next election? Well, we don’t.

You and I – and even responsible gun owners – can shout vile epithets when the NRA scores a victory over some dangerous, senseless issue in Congress. But do we back up our anger by supporting our representative when he/she votes against some of the more egregious and senseless NRA demands?

Often our most pressing national issues are viewed depending on what hat we wear. Whether a voter or a member of congress wanting to do the right thing, we see issues through our own personal prisms and our responses are limited to what we alone see. Standing up for someone who stands up for the right thing to do takes seeing the entire issue through more than our normal view.

Putting a foot on the neck of LaPierre and his mad cronies is largely beyond the reach of most of us. But it can be done in Congress. If we’ll do our part by demanding action. Then supporting those that do what needs to be done.

Here in the aftermath of the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, I’m trying to blame the National Rifle Association for more needless murders. Murders of the innocent. I’m trying. But I can’t. The media and lots of people will – but I can’t. There are villains here. But not most members of the NRA.

Full disclosure – I own a couple of guns. Neither has been fired in more than 20 years. But I own ‘em and I’m a pretty good shot. I don’t belong to the NRA and never have but several friends do. Good friends. Good people. Several are licensed to carry concealed guns.

Being a Westerner, I’ve grown up living around firearms all my life. Like most of us with similar roots, guns and shooting are part of my human environment. A rifle across the back window of a pickup would get you jailed in New Jersey. It wouldn’t be noticed almost any place in the Northwest. Even if we don’t own one personally, we’re used to ‘em.

One reason I don’t blame the whole NRA in this latest slaughter is because the psychopath who did the killing probably never gave the NRA a thought as he amassed his armory. He was intent on murder – consumed by what he was planning as the booby-trapping of his home proved – and a membership card in a gun association really had nothing to do with it. He was out to kill no matter what.

As for the NRA, it’s been a reputable organization of Americans who have firearms in their lives. Shooting schools, gun safety classes, media contact point for firearms issues, national source of information for those interested in firearms – just like any other professional association you and I belong to. There are many good reasons for such organizations. Most are very helpful and quite professional. To blame an entire group for what happened in Colorado – and all the other killing fields before it – would be wrong.

You want to blame somebody start with another psychopath – Wayne LaPierre – the CEO of the NRA. LaPierre and the small ring of supporters that have kept him in power far too long. It’s not necessary to finger the whole membership. That lets the really guilty off far too easily. Start at the top with the guy who is the face and the voice for the real trigger pullers.

And when you finish painting them in bloody red, take what’s left in your brush and bucket up to Capital Hill and use them on every simpering member of Congress supporting the NRA to save their own worthless skins.

LaPierre went “round-the-bend” years ago. Wrapped in diatribes about Second Amendment “rights” and bogy men plotting to make America “an unarmed society,” he’s become the lightening rod and “exalted one” for others who’ve lost touch with reality and still see this “wilderness” country as needing guns to protect us from God knows what.

Here’s an example of LaPierre’s twisted mind. Some months ago, he made a speech to his membership and blanketed the media with a new alarm about the government being ready to confiscate personal firearms. A lot of media ignored it because what he said made so little sense.

Now stick with me here. This gets a little weird. LaPierre charged President Obama is to be greatly feared and must be defeated because he will make confiscating weapons a major national goal if re-elected. He’s already got the plans drawn up and is just waiting for January, 2013.

When it was pointed out to him that President Obama has not proposed any such legislation or even made any public references to gun control over the last three years, LaPierre was waiting for them. “That’s just the point,” he said. “The fact that Obama’s done nothing dealing with gun control in his first term is absolute proof he’s waiting to go after guns in his second.”

That kind of sick “thinking” is what the NRA has become known for. LaPierre and the people around him who’ve covered his ass are to blame for what the NRA has become in the non-shooting public’s eye – not representative of the majority of members who pay the dues, run the gun safety classes and the kid’s shooter’s programs.

Most Americans are not gun owners. To them, the NRA is just another organization they don’t belong to. But to those of us who watch it and are concerned, the NRA has become something I’m sure it’s founders didn’t visualize. It’s one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington – well-financed and a serious threat to the longevity of too many members of Congress who are scared to death when somebody from the NRA shows up in their office waiting room.

You want to assign real blame for that Colorado theater massacre? You want to find out why we’ve had 9,000 gun deaths in the last year? More than 100,000 since 2000? You want to know why this country – on a per capita basis – leads all “civilized” nations in violent gun deaths?

I invite your attention to the members of congress cowering under that table over there. The ones to whom personal job safety is more important that your safety. The one that can’t – or won’t – make the connection between Wayne LaPierre’s ignorant and inflammatory speeches and gun fire in the neighborhood shopping mall or movie theater.

To be clear, we cannot stop psychopaths and other crazies from doing what they do. Laws on the books are powerless to stop any demented soul intent on mass killings. But we can listen to professional police – to those who too often have to face these irrational killers with their own lives on the line. We can do a lot about limiting availability. We can make the creation of a personal armory in the hands of crazies more difficult if not impossible. We seem to be able to take what we call “pornography” off the shelves at the store but we make no move to stop people from selling 100 bullet ammo clips for assault rifles. What sportsman – what hunter – needs an assault rifle and clips like those?

The assault weapons ban we had on the federal books has lapsed. Why has it not been renewed? Which members of Congress are refusing even to whisper the words? Why are gun shows and Internet sales not controlled? Why are people getting away with selling machine guns out of the backs of their cars? Why have we not done what nearly all civilized nations have done to make themselves safer countries in which to live?

Two answers. Wayne LaPierre and those around him who protect his employment – the real crazies. And members of Congress who put a higher value on their continued employment than your life – your right to public assembly free from fear. Your right to go shopping or to a movie tonight and not wonder “what if it happens here?”

The blame – the sick, gutless sponsorship for Colorado and other murder sprees – you can assign that to a handful of people you wouldn’t want to go to a movie with.

Several recent polls I’ve seen put a positive evaluation of for our U.S. Congress at 20% or less. Put another way, only one in five people you meet – walking down your street, in your church or in a restaurant – only one in five thinks the national legislative body we elected to serve us is doing so. The percentage of people who support the Boston Red Sox is higher. Even in New York.

Never in my long life have I seen respect for institutions of governance lower than it is today. Especially the U.S. Congress. Break those polls down and you’ll find the least support for the House of Representatives. Less than 15%. Makes no difference which party the poll respondent may – or may not – belong to. The electorate has lost confidence congress will do its work. Our work. I’m ashamed to say I’m one of the four.

At no time has there been a group so hellbent to destroy that confidence – and in the process the basis of how we’re governed – as House Republicans. Blame for that must go to Speaker Boehner, though not him alone. Since the election of 2010, he has not had a day when he could set an agenda and count on his troops to carry it out. Just the opposite. He’s been mercilessly pounded on by screwball members of his own caucus to represent the self-interests of a minority so intellectually vacant they should not be allowed driving privileges, much less a vote in congress. They’ve held a gun to Boehner’s back. So, the Weeper – a man enjoying the limousines, massive suite of offices, huge staff, higher paycheck and all the other trappings of House leadership – has become their willing shill.

The most recent attempt by Boehner and his wrecking crew to repeal our new health care law – the 33rd such attempt – the 33rd such completely impossible attempt – places a high water mark on the old congressional wall for political arrogance and ignorance that will likely go unequaled. With absolute disregard for the economic mess we’re all in right now, they’ve done so at a cost of nearly $50 million of our paid taxes. Just for that. Just for THAT!

CBS News Nancy Cordes did the research. The results of her work are stunning. And – in my mind at least – amount to criminal conduct by a lot of elected fools. Since 2011, Boehner and crew have taken up 80 hours of floor time in fruitless attempts to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act. In a normal working schedule – certainly not a congressional work schedule – the Congressional Research Service calculates it costs $24 million per week to operate the full House for those 40 hours.

So, two weeks (80 hours) times $24 million totals $48 million. $48 million!

On top of that, the Associated Press makes several valid points. First, there has never been a doubt – even if the House passed a repealer – that it would get to the floor in the Senate. Not one doubt. Either party. January, 2011, was the first date tried. They did it 32 more times. Nothing’s changed.

Boehner publically maintains “The American people overwhelmingly want us to repeal Obamacare.” He’s lying and you know it. Some politicians may not be able to walk and whistle at the same time. But all of them – including Boehner – know how to read polls. And polling has been consistent for months. Some show slight majority support for the health care law, many are evenly divided. But none – none – show “overwhelming” public support for repeal. None. Buehner knows that.

Additionally, the GOP has included in those 33 votes such things as denying salaries to government officials who enforce the law, abolishing an official board charged with holding down future Medicare costs and attempts to repeal taxes on medical equipment. All tucked inside their repeal votes but largely unreported in the media. All passed, then died.

Then there’s this from that same independent Congressional Research Service. Introduced by 112th House Republicans starting in 2011:

## 46 bills on abortion
## 113 bills on religion
## 73 bills on family relationships
## 36 bills on marriage
## 72 bills on firearms
## 604 bills on taxation
## 467 bills on government investigation

To that list you can add one more completely GOP action: unanimously blocking the American Jobs Act

At the same time, no bills -not one – on job creation, fixing our failing national infrastructure, budget setting, redeeming our national credit rating (which they lost), addressing our national deficit. And on and on and on.

You may ask “What about Democrats in the House?” Well, Virginia, those Democrats don’t control the House, have no voice in bills taken up for a vote and have not been allowed to introduce much of their own legislation. Control is all a game of numbers and – at the moment – they’re shut out. The agenda, such as it is, is all Republican. And that agenda has been crap.

Will all this make a difference at the polls in November? Will the miscreants be voted out? Will the next Congress address our problems? The answers are – in order: probably not – doubtful – not likely.

The cretins who control the House are not smart enough to realize the damage they’re doing. They’ve drunk from the Potomac. That lethal liquid has mixed with – and fed – their ignorant ideological drive to undo 225 years of what they perceive as being wrong with this country. And to do so in a year or two. So far their major achievement has been to stymie the better minds who really want to improve our national conditions. They’ve achieved nothing.

They’ve also cost our national governance system the confidence of a lot of the American people for whom it has existed for centuries. For whom it was created. And they’re too damned dumb to know it.

The other day, someone said to me “The 2012 national election is going to see a housecleaning in Washington. We’re going to put a bunch of those freeloaders and nuts out of work!” I nodded and changed the subject. That was preferable to starting an argument.

Ain’t gonna happen. Not now. Not ever. Under our current system of voting, it’s just flat not gonna happen!

Sometime ago, I used this space to describe the “good guy-bad guy” syndrome and the effect it has keeping incumbents – no matter how looney or undeserving – in our national congress. Now, the Gallup polling organization has reaffirmed that theory in spades! Again.

The latest finding is the anti-incumbent attitude among likely voters is the highest it’s been in 19 years. That time period is important for purposes of comparison because, 19 years ago, there was a Republican wave that put the GOP in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years and sat ol’ Newt in the Speaker’s chair. From which he was subsequently forced to resign by his own party for numerous ethical and legal violations. But that’s several other stories for several another times.

Gallup’s latest sampling of voters found 76% – 76% – believe most members of congress deserve to be fired. Posthaste. That’s the highest point of dissatisfaction since – wait for it – 19 years ago. As for the 20% who’d keep the same bunch, that’s the lowest percentage since – you know.

Among Republicans, a surprising 75% believe a clean sweep is due. Democrats agree by 68%. But Independents want to clean house by more than 80%! All those are new highs.

Now, back to the “good guy-bad guy” thing. Most of us have a target or two in congress we call “bad guys” and we’d like to see them gone. My list starts with two-thirds of the Texas delegation and expands nationally from there.

Then there are the “good guys.” We never seem to have enough of them. Those are the ones swimming upstream against the current tide of ideology, ignorance and self-service fouling up our congress. Good guys in both parties. Showing up for work and even getting some things done. We want more of them. We NEED more of them.

Problem is, as this new Gallup sampling points out, though most answering the questions said a majority of current members should be thrown out, 53% said that didn’t apply to their own guy who they felt was doing a great job. In other words, “My guy’s the good guy and your guy’s the bad guy. I want to keep mine but I want to get rid of yours.”

Therein lies the reason we won’t get rid of the “bad guys.” Oh, there might be some shifts in party numbers one way or the other. Maybe even a different party in the majority in one house or the other. Or both. But many “bad guys” have been there for 30 years or more, surviving previous voter efforts to clean up the place. They hang on like a stubborn bathtub ring.

So, while we out here in the hinterlands can’t expect a new wave of sanity and cooperation to overcome congress in January, 2013, it’s worth noting what happened in 2010. We had a 63-seat change in the U.S. House from Democrat to Republican. And at that time voters were less unhappy than they are now. Less mad.

Does anti-incumbency work for Democrats or against them? Does anti-incumbency threaten more Republicans or help them? What effect will the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court decision (Citizens United) allowing unlimited and anonymous hundreds of millions of dollars loose in the political system have on the process? Questions without answers. For now.

But some things we do know. There’ll be no “housecleaning” to use a friend’s word. There’ll be no exorcizing of the “bad guys” en masse. While there may be less ideology and dogma, there’ll be no great shift to immediate action to solve our national ills. Getting rid of deadwood doesn’t automatically mean replacements will be any swifter or surer to act.

Maybe the best we can hope for is a few more good guys taking the place of some of the bad guys. My good guys, of course.

Recent dismal audience ratings for the output of our friends at CNN may be surprising only to them. Ted Turner’s driving presence is no longer there and the Atlanta-based kingdom has lost its way. It’s devolved into a schmaltzy mess of inane trivia with output presided over by bean counters and not the hard news drivers such an undertaking desperately requires.

That opinion from this small, remote, forested spot in SW Oregon comes from my own experiences in the “non-stop” broadcast news business in another life. In the late 60’s, even the concept of 24-hour radio news was in its infancy. Against the advice of wiser friends, I went from Idaho to Washington, D.C. in one jump and got lucky. Very lucky.

Post-Newsweek corporation – Washington Post, Newsweek Magazine et al – was giving birth to the concept of “non-stop” news on WTOP Radio. Day-to-day, there’s no greater national location for origination of as many news stories than the banks of the Potomac. Fertile ground to test a new news concept. The station was also the prime political news origination point for all CBS owned-and-operated radio stations from coast to coast.

The news operation was presided over by Jim Snyder, a literate Prince of Darkness. All these years later, my body and mind continue to bear scars inflicted at that time. But he was precisely what was needed to make it work. And, under his verbal whip, I learned more about broadcast news – real broadcast news – than from all other influences in my professional life.

The whole concept of radio news available at any hour seemed simple enough. It was right there no matter when the listener wanted information. How could that go wrong?

Well, it almost did. Ironically, the flip side of that “simple concept” was a key reason why. The audience didn’t know “how to listen.” The most frequent complaint heard in those early days was “All you do is read the same stories over and over.” People were used to setting a radio dial to a favorite station. Music mostly. So what was wrong with WTOP?

The answer was all-news, all-the-time was never meant to be listened to “all the time.” People were supposed to tune in for short periods, get the news, then go about their lives. Of course stories were repeated. Rewritten. But repeated. Information would be there when listeners wanted it. Other major market attempts with all-news experienced the same problem. It took years for listeners to realize such stations were to be listened to for short periods rather than the “set-it-and-forget-it” practice for music stations.

Then came Ted Turner’s money and the television version of “all-news, all-the-time.” In the beginning, feedback to CNN was much the same as it was in the early radio days. “You guys keep repeating.” Well, duh? Again, listeners had not grasped the concept of “all news” and were treating CNN like the entertainment channels. And, in far too many ways, they still do.

But now there’s a deeper, more systemic problem. As bean counters and stockholders replaced news professionals in the business during the 80’s and 90’s – and as “personalities” replaced real reporters – CNN and its copiers lost their way. They devolved into less news and more features to fill time. Remember, repetition was the original concept. The original value. News – real news – would be there when you had time to watch. Anytime.

As for Fox and MSNBC – neither started with the “hard news” format. Both went straight to personalities and info-mush. They got better ratings so CNN did what most “creative” minds do in all of broadcasting today. They copied what appeared to be a more successful format. And news – real news – was the first casualty.

Fox and MSNBC originated the despicable format of news people interviewing other news people. Because, when both networks discovered the true, very high cost of covering news for television 24-hours-a-day, those costs were suddenly deemed prohibitive. Based solely on dollars, output became more inane features, surface coverage of people and events that deserved far more research than they got, studios were filled with rotating “experts” and real news slowly sank into the verbal swamp. In another burst of true creativity, CNN followed suit.

From where I sit, news – the quality and amount of news – doesn’t have a thing to do with ratings. Viewer numbers have become issues of production values and political philosophy. CNN is stodgy and often aimless. MSNBC is newer and still trying to find a persona.

Faux News ranks highest in both currently. Production is colorful, lots of screen activity coming from various electronic sources, pretty people being “overheard” in conversation rather than reading the news. Pleasing to the eye and ear. Softer touch. Seemingly “personal.”

Problem is, repeated studies have confirmed several very bad things over at Faux. There are fewer hard news stories per hour – any hour – than the other two. Stories are routinely rewritten to reflect a political point of view. People who watch are often misinformed, less informed, ignorant of real facts, history and content of world affairs. Many more Faux viewers can’t pass national surveys of world affairs than those of the other two networks.

CNN, meantime, has adopted the rotating personality concept and trimmed both staff and hours of broadcast news. Sunday evenings, for example, the last “live” newscast is at 8 pm (PDT) with features running until 6 am. Such newscasts as there are on weekends at CNN are filled with meaningless studio interviews with meaningless people. On July 4, there was no “live” news on CNN after 4 pm (PDT). MSNBC on the weekend is even worse. A few morning interview shows but usually no newscasts after about noon (PDT).

Though CNN makes a slightly stronger pretext of broadcasting news, I’m not surprised at the lower ratings. The news business in broadcasting – the real hard news business – has been replaced by conversation, arguments among political hacks, vacuous personalities talking fluff rather than substance. Ironically, that network boasts one of the best news minds on television today – Fareed Zacharia – and can’t get significant numbers of people to watch him. So he’s “thrown away” on Sunday mornings.

Too many Americans seem to now want news packaged as entertainment. They call it “infotainment” – another bastardization of our language. Network executives are – as they have been since the loss of news pre-eminence by the old CBS news – slaves to stockholders and corporate accountants. Anyone wanting to be today’s Ed Murrow couldn’t get past security.

I’m not surprised by CNN’s low ratings. Only by the management malaise that followed Ted Turner’s exit. I’m disappointed MSNBC won’t summon up the resources – budget and reporters – to get both feet into the television news business.

But the ratings success of Faux News is more than disappointing. It’s output is shameful and a prostitution of what Americans need today – a source of reliable, fact-based, opinion-free information. Fox has created a cancer of misinformation which is sickening the body politic. In a nation where people find criticism of news media routine, Fox has managed to live down to its low reputation among professionals. And much of the public.

Something’s going on in this country. Something dark. Something cancerous and destructive. No single media is reporting it. But it’s our media that carries the message. It’s continuous. All around us. Yet appearing nowhere as a warning of danger.

I’ve had thoughts of serious concern for this country for some time. But it took an opinion piece by David Gergen of Harvard’s Kennedy School to help me focus. His bottom line: “By a number of objective measures, America is not No. 1. We lead in some things, but, as a nation “America is not No. 1.”

That was followed a day or so later by an interview of Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz at the end of his first year in that job. Speaking of conditions in America, Schultz said a lack of political leadership, incivility and gridlock have made things worse – not better – during his tenure. He talked of a downward drift toward mediocrity. Schultz took care to say he was not criticizing the President or the Republican Party. But if not, why did he feel it necessary to qualify his statement?

The fact is, this country is NOT #1 in many ways. Quoting his talks on the subject with academics, politicians and business leaders, Gergen said “Acknowledging flaws is not the same as acknowledging failure.” Citing a number of familiar business names now gone (Atari, Pan Am, Woolworth) his point was if government doesn’t emulate successful businesses by adapting, changing, using new technologies and keeping up with events and times, it will diminish in stature and former leader nations will become followers.

After reading Gergen’s piece and the Schultz interview, they confirmed what I’d been thinking. I asked myself how we got into this mess. How did we become 27th in math, 22nd in science, 178th in infant mortality, 49th in life expectancy and more? We no longer even have the top national credit worthiness we’ve always had. What happened to all that national pride of country and our world leadership we learned about in school? Why is it so easy to summarize a long list of current American failings that have cost us our position as the country all others have traditionally looked up to?

There are many factors: social, educational, economic. And political. Unlike Schultz, I have no problem blaming the actions of political parties in Congress and some of the inactions of the President. Any unbiased observer – reviewing the last 20 months of conduct by Republican “leadership” in Congress – could only conclude there has been no leadership and such actions as there have been were simply to stall, defeat or delay any steps to solve our national dilemmas. The evidence is overwhelming. Both in what has been done – and what hasn’t.

As for the President – who has been subjected to more anger, vilification, blame and lies than any in our country’s history – he has often not taken charge when he should have. Blessed with a fine intellect and superb education, his desired approach to confrontation is too often that of a conciliator. He has not practiced – if even learned – the one trait common to all successful presidents: the ability to painfully twist arms, kick some congressional ass and unilaterally lay down the law. As a constitutional lawyer and a trained negotiator, he too often opts for lengthy efforts to move people in the same direction as opposed to taking a stand and bringing others to his side. Good practice for making friends. Lousy practice to be a successful leader.

Adding to the constitutional failure has been another cancer: hate media. Whether it’s blatantly racist anonymous Internet traffic – coupled with other anonymous lies created to sow distrust and hatred – or the continual deliberate attempts by hate radio to foster confusion, stimulate anger and spread outright lies, a phony but destructive climate has been manufactured. Rather than focusing on the absolute necessity for a bipartisan political atmosphere to accomplish what a democracy can do when all work toward a common end, millions of Americans are being fed a constant broadcast and Internet diet of misinformation and deceit to drive us apart.

These and other factors have nearly brought this nation to a point of being totally ineffective in anything we attempt. Pick a public issue – pick one of dozens – and you’ll find citizenry polling split right down the middle. We live in a deliberately manufactured climate of stalemate. If one side can’t have it’s way, rather than compromise to make progress, our current national trend is to obstruct and delay. We will “cut the baby in two” before we try to find common ground. King Solomon would be ashamed.

All of our institutions – all of them – are under attack or failing their tasks. Teachers, fire and police personnel are being vilified. Many churches have crossed the line from doing Christ’s work for all to promoting political positions and candidates while condemning those who disagree. Banks have come to represent greed, self-service and dishonest practices at the expense of trust and reliance. Hundreds of millions of Americans have turned off politics and political parties rather than getting involved to help shape national change. The parties, themselves, must share a good portion of blame for that by taking positions far outside the mainstream and for electing people ignorant of their responsibilities and being obstructionist ideologues in a system of democracy that requires compromise and conciliation to be effective.

We’ve become a nation politically obsessed with social issues while ignoring obviously critical tasks of shoring up our economy and fulfilling the American dreams for fellow citizens. Digging out from under our national burden of debt, creating jobs for people who are floundering through no fault of their own, getting people back into productive lives by which we all profit – these have been swept aside while our politics are filled with forcing government into matters of abortion, trying to limit access to the guaranteed American franchise of voting, blocking efforts to expand health care access to millions who need it and trying to margainalize anyone who doesn’t agree with us on every issue.

Imagine this. Look at our national government as a business. Simply as a well-run, successful corporation. Is it functioning? Is it operating as though it will survive changing economic times? Is it efficient? Technologically up to date? Is the board of directors involved and promoting innovation that guarantees a successful future? Is the corporation operating in such a way that it will thrive and provide security for all?

Now, look at Congress and our current political climate. Anybody got a single “yes” answer to those questions?

Well, as David Gergen has effectively pointed out, we’re not No. 1. And we’ve got to get over the hubris and phony “patriotism” that keeps us from saying so. Because that’s the reality. In many things, we’re No. 25 or 30. We are divided, stymied and – at the moment – seemingly incapable of doing the work that must be done to get ourselves and this nation back on a productive track. It’s doubtful November elections will improve that.

I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist. But – as a nation – we’ve much that needs to be done and we’re not doing it. We’re faced with huge tasks that need to be addressed and we’re avoiding them. We’ve allowed ourselves to be divided when our strength is in our unity. We’ve let extreme minority thinking replace majority collective wisdom that’s always served us well. We’ve allowed our collective purpose to be diverted by self-interest and a minority that does not reflect our best.

As a nation, we cannot afford to go back a single step. But – at the moment – that’s what’s happening.

Sitting here in the shady Southwest Oregon forest, something has recently been pushing its way into my consciousness that seemed implausible at first – if not downright impossible. It’s this: for Oregon, the Northwest and about 40 of the 50 states – the presidential election of 2012 is over. Finished. Kaput.

Many factors point to that conclusion. Presidential candidate polling in our multi-state neighborhood is one indicator. The numbers haven’t changed much in recent months. Not since Romney became the Republican nominee-apparent. Things move a point or two depending on who had a good week – or a bad one. But overall, pretty static.

Another factor has been all those fancy computer projections showing where the races will be won or lost nationally. Oregon and its neighbors have been put into the “red” group or the “blue” group, meaning statistical sampling has shown each state is in the column where polling and past voter trends have put us and the “experts” don’t expect enough of us to change our minds between now and November to be reassigned. I hate that! Though it’s often pretty accurate.

Then there’s the fact the whole shebang will be decided in about eight states where none of us live. And where it’s still up for grabs. That makes us supporting players. We’re irrelevant. So, again, the election is really over for us. Nobody will care when our fat lady sings.

Fourth, seems to me last week’s U.S. Supreme Court upholding the new federal health care law sort of put a cap on it. For those who think that law is a good thing, they’ll line up behind B. Obama ‘cause they don’t want to take a chance of anyone screwing with it. For those opposed, they’ll likely go with M. Romney who has promised to repeal it. He can’t. But that’s what he’s promising.

Finally – and most distressing personally – most Republicans and Democrats seem “locked in” regardless of the real issues beyond health care or, like a lot of Independents, they’re mad at one or the other of the major candidates and seem destined to vote against one by voting for the other. Useless and a poor way to run a democracy. But I’m picking up a lot of that.

Now, you may disagree with all this. After all, that’s your right under the Ridenbaugh Press Reader Contract Agreement. Says it clearly, right there in digital black and white. But, before exercising that option, let’s take this theory of mine one step further.

Suppose – for the sake of conversation – that I’m on to something. That most minds are made up, voting trends will continue their inexorable paths and the vast majority of the electorate is about locked in. What, then, about all those hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by the SuperPacs? Who are they appealing to? Whose votes will they capture with all that bloviating? How many minds are still open to persuasion? Who’s listening to the gaseous hate of the Koch brothers, VanderSloot and that guy who uses women’s knees and aspirin for birth control?

If I’m right about trends, computer projections and the blind, unreasonable hatred extant in our nation’s politics, seems to me the billionaires are going to get an awfully small return on those hundreds of millions of dollars invested – cost per vote as it were. If I’m right, Frank and Charlie et al could have bought Forever stamps, waited a few months for the next postal increase, cashed in and been further ahead.

I’ve bashed that damned Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court giving corporations the rights of individual free speech more than most. It stands alone in modern jurisprudence as the most wrong-headed ruling five justices have come up with in our lifetimes.

But maybe – just maybe – there’s an irony here that has been overlooked. It just could be that in this election – this one polling of a most divided electorate and the monetary excesses wrought by a bad legal decision – the ability of corporations and billionaires with their own ideas for a radical change in our social and business climates – could yield the poorest return on a buck they ever got.

That is my hope. Until someone – or many someones – are successful in neutering Citizens United.

In the meantime, let’s watch that “cost-per-vote” tally. Could be the worst investment those bastards ever made. Wouldn’t that be great?

An article the other day in our local shopper – masquerading as an almost-daily-newspaper – confirmed again that Mitt Romney either lied about an issue or is more ignorant about government than the late Sarah Palin.

Pounding on the President for wanting government needs to hire more fire and police personnel – teachers, too – Romney said “The federal government doesn’t hire firemen, policemen or teachers. Didn’t he (Obama) learn anything from Wisconsin?” That last part about Wisconsin was Romney’s apparent ignorant read of the results of a failed recall election. A two-fer in one shot. I’ll get to Wisconsin in a minute.

Despite Rommey’s claim, the story in our local “shopper” – right there on the front page – rightly said a local fire district had received $1.4 million from the feds to specifically rehire six laid-off firefighters. The feds do that a lot. Pay communities to hire specific people on the public payroll – police and teachers, too. In Massachusetts as well. Feds put up the bucks to hire local people for periods of time to do specific local government work.

For Romney to say the feds don’t hire such professionals tells me he didn’t pay a lot of attention to the four executive budgets he authored while governor of Massachusetts. Or, as the governor who famously – and repeatedly – said he wanted every single federal dollar that could be scrounged up for his state, he played very loose with the truth. Again.

In fairness, the Obama campaign and Democrats have also stretched some things. Republican party, too, of course. But if you want to see political fact warped out of all recognition, check out those Super PAC ads. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth. And a lot of ‘em won’t pass your smell test.

I’m a big fan of Dr. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The Center’s most public role is operation of FactCheck, a nonprofit devoted to examining the factual accuracy of political campaign ads. And candidate claims like that B.S. of Mitt’s. ( She’s written 15 books on such issues and published over 90 academic articles. She knows her stuff. I watched her in an interview the other day. What she said – given her level of expertise – should be heard by every American. It won’t be. That’s a national loss.

The Annenberg Center uses dozens of “fact checkers” to do its work. Dr. Jamieson said she’s had to put on additional people to verify or debunk claims being made in the current campaign season but hasn’t enough resources to cover ‘em all. They need to be covered – every damned one of them – because, she said, there are so many distortions, out-of-context quotes and outright lies being passed off as televised truths.

She cast her expert’s net over all participants – candidates, political parties, and especially the Super PACS. It’s this last category that’s the most dangerous because so many millions of dollars are being spent to create ads for which there is neither accountability nor control. Nobody – repeat – NOBODY behind them can be held responsible for any claim or accusation, no matter how wrong. No matter how false. No matter how deliberate.

Jamieson then pinpointed the worst part of this whole shameful business. The accusations – the wrongs – the lies – that too often eventually work their way into news stories in one form or another. Even if it’s just a reporter detailing how wrong the ad is. The real problem, she said, is most people have no way of knowing what’s real and what’s not. Even if she and her team could fact check and report every distortion and lie, their output would be lost in the sea of campaign stories. And those damned ads. Far more people, she said, will see the misleading ads than will ever see the truth. Or hear more ads than ever hear the factual challenges to them.

The sad fact is, I receive nearly daily proof she’s right. Once in awhile, it’s a friend asking me to check out a campaign or political claim. Or a scurrilous and too often anonymous email. Using FactCheck and other sources I’ve developed, I”m glad to do it.

Then, there’s a second case when a friend supports a claim or candidate with an argument I’ve found to be false but who refuses to accept the truth. Or someone who will accuse me of not accepting his claim of “fact” in something I’ve already checked and found to be untrue.

Here’s a real fact you can go to the bank on. People most often accept a new fact as truth – whatever the source – if it conforms to beliefs they already hold. If the new truth challenges a position or belief previously held, new facts are often rejected.

That is the basis for the popularity – at the moment – of Faux “News.” By accentuating – read distorting – many political negatives in stories it rewrites, “Faux “News” plays to that fact alone. Which is why so many recent studies done, involving Faux viewers, find them unaware of many real facts in current news stories, hold views contrary to proofs and are unable to answer correctly so many questions about current world events.

The work of the Annenberg Center is terribly important. But it’s only one finger in a large, leaky dike. As Dr. Jamieson so correctly puts it, we are being inundated with false claims, half-truths and outright lies in our current political campaign. And that includes hundreds and hundreds of legislative, gubernatorial and local contests as well. Too many candidates, motivated by self-service, are playing to the ignorance of people who may vote but who’ve only a passing knowledge of issues and candidates. If that.

Like the bogus Romney comment about the meaning of the Wisconsin recall election that failed. His take: voters supported union-busting and firing government workers. But actual exit polling showed many folks did NOT so approve, instead voting against the recall itself as wrong regardless of union issues and a majority of those questioned said they’d likely vote for Obama in November. Romney has to know that. But he said what he said and got the applause he wanted. He got the crack all over the national media. Cheap shot. And a lie.

From no less an authority than the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center – with decades of experience – we’re being warned of a lot of “cheap shots” out there. And lies.

Sometimes this nation pays a steep cost for protections of speech under the first amendment. Our U.S. Supreme Court upped that price outrageously with the tragic Citizens United decision.

Maybe the best admonition for anyone seeking to be an informed voter this year is “caveat emptor.” Buyer be very, very aware.