Archive for August, 2012

Stories these days dealing with your money almost always have to do with details of why you have less of it – and how much less. I’m afraid this little outburst of mine will continue that experience. But it might still be interesting because it’s reliable. And quite clear. And quite bad.

When it comes to making just so many statistics out of all of us, our many friends at the U.S. Census factory are the best and the most accurate. So it is with this tale of the monetary decline in nearly all our lives using comparisons developed in the 2010 nose counting.

Our national median household net worth went straight down about 35% between 2005 and 2010. No steeper drop in modern times. But here’s the kicker. If we ignored the wise advice of our parents to buy a home as an investment for our future as they did, your median income went UP – about 8%. That’s right. If you bought a home during that period, thinking you were setting a good example and building what we euphemistically call a “nest egg,” your little “egg” dropped your income more than your friends and neighbors who rented. Damn!

And you know what else went against the common wisdom of previous generations in the personal financial business? Another wise savers “must do” that probably cost you more than you made? Buying stock. Either through outright purchases in the market or in your I-R-A, 401k or other investing. That, too, added to your overall losses. The census folks don’t make this stuff up, regardless of what your broker says.

People who lost the most net worth during that period were older Americans. In absolute terms, median net worth for those of us 65 and older decreased from about $195,000 to about $170,000. Net worth is the value of your assets after subtracting what you owe.

No matter what your educational level, the losses were across the board. In 2010, those with graduate or professional degrees had a median net worth of $245,000 and those with only a high school diploma had about $42,000. With a bachelor’s degree, the median net worth was about $142,000.

And yet another interesting statistic. In 2000, if you had a bachelor’s degree, your median net worth was twice as large as those with only a high school education. But, by 2010, that disparity went up to almost to three-and-a-half times as large.

Finally, the group who lost the most. Homeowners ages 35 to 44. For those folks, median net worth dropped 59%. Largely because the value of their real estate investment went down so much. And in whatever savings plans they had.

While I’m sure there are some exceptions to all this – because there always are – the numbers reflect pretty much what life has been like for the last several years for most of us. We may feel our incomes have been pretty steady or even increased a bit. But the unvarnished fact is – no matter how hard we work or at how many jobs – our purchasing power is less and our standard of living is lower.

Regular followers of these SECOND THOUGHTS rants know I hold a low – make that VERY low – opinion of most of our national politicians. Especially the current crop in both parties who’ve have made finding solutions to our problems all but impossible. If you want to know what fuels my anger with these bipartisan enemies of their own constituencies, go back and read those numbers again.

As these fools cover their own butts and behave as if their election to public office gave them divine right, each of us in what used to be the proud American middle class is being sucked backwards by their refusal to govern. By simply not solving the economic problems that are severely wounding this country, the upward American elevator we’ve historically taken to new levels of middle class security has been stopped and reversed.

When home ownership and investment in the markets of commerce in this country cause us to go backwards in our personal economic status, something is terribly wrong. When figures as reliable as the census folk show us renting someone else’s property – and not investing in the nation’s economy for all our benefit – are better pathways to improving our personal economic status, that too, is terribly wrong.

These are not aberrations. These are not output from a political party with something to win. These are facts taken from numbers that are as real and statistically impersonal as it gets. They prove absolutely that our personal losses in income and net worth – as participants in America’s middle class – are not losses caused from unwise purchases or the vagaries of our investment system. They are caused by a national government that refuses to govern. They are the open sores on the body politic created by people in office who either don’t know what to do, or – if they know – refusing to act.

If these tragic numbers adversely affect your life as they do mine – as well as those we love – do what I’m going to do. Make a note of these statistics and – when the ballot is in front of you – refer to that note as you make your mark. ‘Cause if we don’t change this soon, we may not have the chance to do it again.

We are an angry nation. Angry. Frightened. Confused. Distrustful. Nearly five years of national and personal economic loss and turmoil have cost most Americans some of the sense of individual security we’ve enjoyed – and taken for granted – nearly all our lives. At the moment, Mitt Romney, the billionaires supporting him and many Republican leaders are doing their level-best to feed the insecurities. The anger. With a lie.

Our country’s political history is littered with examples of distortions, twisted truths, tortured logic and wild claims. All that can be found in abundance in the politics of today as well. But something else is out there now that I’ve never seen used in such a bald-faced way. A lie. A lie debunked by nearly all with the power of research to show it for what it is. A lie so completely and clearly expressed repeatedly that it can’t be written off as some “over exuberance” or “misquote” or “misunderstanding.” Debunked. Challenged. Disproved. Yet repeated over and over and over. Romney – and now House Speaker John Boehner – and others who know the lie for what it is – are swearing to it. Repeating it. Lying.

There’s no proof – not a word – that President Obama has approved giving welfare payments to people without the requirement for recipients to work at least part time or be actively engaged in looking for work. What he’s done is grant the requests of a number of governors to allow states to redesign their own welfare programs using the federal dollars now available to them. One of the federal requirements for such localized programs is that they show at least a 25% reduction over time in the number of people receiving state welfare support.

Romney is currently running a fifth ad in a continuing campaign accusing the President of removing work requirements for welfare recipients. It’s a lie. Romney knows it. And he’s repeating it daily.

“How does he know,” you ask? “How can you be so sure, Rainey?”

The proof is amazingly simple. When he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney and four other governors made the same request for the same federal waiver to do exactly the same thing: exercise control over welfare programs at the state level. They got it. Romney got it. They know they got it. Romney knows it and what the restrictions were. And are.

This isn’t conjecture by some old fella out in the forests of Oregon. This isn’t just a rant or some excuse. Romney is lying. Boehner is lying. The Romney campaign and the billionaires putting up millions of dollars for the SuperPACs are lying. Top Republicans and their pundits are lying. Call it for what it is. If you want to fact-check me, do the same search of State of Massachusetts and federal records I did. It ain’t hard.

The Romney campaign has been showing these ads to focus groups made up of middle-aged men and women. White men and women. Each ad shows whites working and blacks in government office lines. Or doing nothing. There are variations of whites and blacks on the same theme. Focus group response – white focus group response – has been acceptance of the intended message that whites are working and blacks are not. The acceptance level has been very high – especially with whites with no more than a high school education. Since results of other groups and polling show Romney is not doing well attracting white women, they’re trying to do so with the welfare lie.

What the President did was no different than in granting similar waivers for other government programs. “No Child Left Behind” from the Bush years is one. States asked for – and got – permission from both Bush and Obama to vary from the federal education rules in their use of federal dollars. And that permission came with similar requirements for accountability – mainly improved test scores. States weren’t given control of those dollars to drop underperforming kids out of school. They had to show improvements.

Here’s another thought: would the current President – or any President- make it possible for people already considered “deadbeats” by far too many to make money for doing nothing during an election year? Kinda like a President – any President – making sure gasoline stayed at $4.00 a gallon during the campaign. From a political standpoint, not terribly smart.

Mitt Romney has two major problems with voters thus far: his inability to take a public stand on any major political issue and stay with it – and his reluctance or inability to show who he really is and what his core values are. So we’re left to look for clues for ourselves. To try to construct the man.

Voters want to know his stand on tax issues important to them based on how he’s conducted his own affairs. They don’t know because he won’t document what he’s done. Voters want to know what unchangeable, personal positions he has. They don’t know because he won’t say. Voters want to know why many of his published statements have been challenged by public documents showing just the opposite from what he said. Voters want to know what makes the guy tick.

People who might support him if they knew him – if they knew some of these things – are left questioning. Yet, instead of opening up about the truths of who he is, the Romney campaign – and Romney himself – continue to perpetuate a well-documented lie as the lead issue in the campaign.

Pushing the truth envelope in political campaigns happens so often we just expect it. It’s doubtful anyone has been successful in the pursuit of public office in the last 200 years or so that didn’t have a bit of fudge left on the old fingers. But lying. Then lying again. Then again. And again. And again. Same lie to the same people. Absent information from the candidate personally about who and what he is, we are left to construct – as best we can – the man as he and those around him portray him.

Even if the welfare lie were to disappear from the airwaves this hour, there are still nine weeks to the election. That’s a long time to continue trying to keep one lie alive. To keep it effective with the narrow group of support the campaign is trying to attract and hold. Will there be another? And another?

We don’t know. But we know this. There’s one lie out there now. It’s out there to feed fear and distrust among just enough of the electorate to tip the scales. Not knowing any more about the candidate than I do, I’m gonna vote based on what I know. And that’s the truth.

Every family has embarrassing stories of moments when various members weren’t at their best. Because I spent a lot of years in the public eye and ear of the mass media, I’ve contributed a few.

Like the time I stepped on Neil Armstrong’s foot.

Yeah, that Neil Armstrong. Yeah, that foot.

I was a young reporter at WTOP Radio-TV in Washington, D.C. in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Completely over my small town Oregon head in journalistic capabilities and training. But, with the arrogance and confidence of youth, I felt totally at home.

Until, that is, the day editor Fred Farrar threw me a battery-operated tape recorder and told me to get my butt down to the Smithsonian Museum for a presentation of moon rocks by the Apollo crew who had scooped then up during their July, 1969 trip.

Now there are moments in your life when you are destined to mess up. This was one of mine. I don’t remember the tortured drive downtown. Partly because the D.C. traffic and the screwy design of the road system there makes most crosstown drives torturous. But soon I stood with shaking hands – unsure whether the batteries in my recorder were good – in one of the Smithsonian exhibit halls with dozens of other media. And dignitaries. Lots and lots of dignitaries.

This is a good point to break into the story to tell you of one of my quirks. Over the many years I was in the media, I interviewed presidents – cabinet officials – heads of state – celebrities and a host of famous – and infamous people. Many were one-on-one interviews where there were actual conversations. Sometimes. For some reason, celebrity and notoriety have never bothered me. Not a moment. Not one nervous twitch. Until then.

I mean, these were the guys who went to the moon! Two of them actually went up – or down – there and walked on that dusty surface where today – 43 years later – their footprints are still as pristine as the day they were made. These were THOSE GUYS!

That day, Mission Commander Armstrong – Yes, that Armstrong – was to hand over a rock about the size of a softball to the president of the Smithsonian. Whoever he was. After all, he didn’t go to the moon.

As the TV camera guys crowded in for a tighter shot of the rocks, I stepped aside. Professional courtesy. Something I never did again after that day.

Because I had just tromped on Neil Armstrong’s highly polished class “A” uniform shoe! Yes, that shoe! I mean, my Tony Lama riding heel scarred that sucker side to side. He muttered something and stood his ground while I began looking for a hole in the perfectly poured floor of the Smithsonian.

I found no escape. And I was fixed by Armstrong’s stern, military-trained gaze. Consequently, I have no idea – absolutely no memory – of what happened next. I can’t remember a word of the voice report I did on-air live within minutes on WTOP Non-Stop News. A report listened to by everyone in the nation’s capital. They heard it. And later on CBS Radio from coast to coast. They heard it. I didn’t.

I never saw Neil Armstrong or the Apollo crew members again. At least in person. They have all popped up in various media again and again over the years. And I have silently thought many, many times about the miraculous trip they made. How they did it. What it meant to an entire world.

But, I’ve got to confess. Whenever that closeup shot of Armstrong’s footprint on the moon comes on the TV screen, I actually see a mark – side to side – and relive that moment. And cringe.

I mean – those guys walked on the moon! And I walked on one of them!

God speed, Neil Armstrong. I hope you’re not still mad.

The fact that we are – at the moment – an angry nation has been widely reported. The fact that we are also an apparently disconnected electorate not so much. But we are. And examples are all over the landscape.

Let’s start here in the SW Oregon trees. It hasn’t been widely reported but the lumber business is looking up. Not far up. But up. In recent months, the number of trees cut hereabouts has risen. More important, the figures on board feet processed and shipped are up. Steadily. Our little local almost-daily newspaper had ads for a number of timber job openings in the Sunday issue. Has had for a several weeks. Some companies are adding another shift or more workers per shift.

But – talk to people on the street or the gas station or bar and you get angry responses about how “the economy is going to Hell” or “that damned Obama.” Angry. Looking for a target. Any target. Disconnected from what’s really going on around them. Much less the nation.

We have a little fella in the Congress. Been there 25 years as a Democrat in a largely Republican district and now he’s also in a minority in the House. Still, this year, working across the aisle, he managed to come up with several million federal dollars to keep at least one county in his district from near-term bankruptcy and to ease an immediate loss of federal income that was driving several others to the brink. Tucked it inside a transportation bill and got it through. Surprised a lot of us.

He and I have had words several times and you won’t find one of his re-election stickers on my bumper. But – he deserves a lot of credit. Credit he’s not getting on the street. His opponent this year – as it was last time around – is a guy totally unfit for public service, a screwball misfit with a high I.Q but failed common sense and a level of understanding of governance not seen since that Palin woman. He couldn’t get a volley ball through the marble halls of Congress if he had help.

But – letters to the editor in newspapers hereabout boast support for this guy. There are more of his yard signs and bumper stickers out. Talk on the street is the little fella who saved the district’s bacon should be ousted. Total disconnect.

On the national level, more of the same. The federal bailout of GM and Chrysler worked. Both are not only healthy but GM is setting record sales numbers, reopening plants, building at least one new one and hiring in several states. All three major car companies are producing far better products than when they were at the edge of bankruptcy. The industry is on the road again.

But Mitt Romney – who wanted to let GM sink – and congressional Republicans continue to damn the administration that stepped up and helped put it all back on track. Some of those naysayers will likely be re-elected this time because conditions in their home districts are healthy again. Can you say “disconnect?”

There are several dozen new programs on the market designed to help homeowners refinance or rewrite mortgages that were in danger of costing thousands of Americans their homes. There’s a new federal consumer agency forcing consumer-oriented changes in the credit card and lending markets. Some of the bad guys are already gone and the big guys have had to cut some fees and make lending more transparent.

But hate radio and the right wing keep hollering “SOCIALISM” and “throw the bastards out!” All they see is “government interference” and not the figures that show the slow-but-steady improvements in the economy. Again, the disconnect.

I am NOT deliberately campaigning for the current administration. Many people – many government agencies – many private corporations – businesses large and small – have been part of the turnaround that truly is taking place. Help has come – and will come – from many places and for many reasons. We’ve still got a long way to go and much needs to be done. The important point is it’s happening and we’ll make it!

But anger is clouding common sense for too many people. There’s a widespread belief the “system” has failed – that we need to “throw the whole thing out.” A lot of people are scared. And being scared, they’re not looking at facts, not seeing real progress and not accepting the one real fact that whatever their comfortable situations were before, they’ll probably not see again. Ever.

Try to talk to someone about why financial conditions in Spain or Greece are raising Hell with our stock market; creating shaky world conditions within and beyond our borders that we can’t control. Try explaining the international connectedness of nearly all of the world’s economies that affect the little bank down the block and the interest rate on your last car loan. Try discussing why riots in the streets in France immediately cut 200 points off the markets in New York. For far too many people you talk to, you won’t communicate. You won’t connect.

Anger. A lot of it in older people. Anger that things aren’t as comfortable and predictable as they were in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Fear because they lack control in their lives that they believe they had in an earlier time. They’re alarmed at the inability to keep up because things are moving so quickly and often without any apparent reason. Change upon change upon change.

Anger feeds the disconnect. I hear it every day. A recent Gallop poll showed six out of 10 people who’ll vote for Romney explained they would really be voting against Obama. Six in 10! That’s anger. But at what? For what definable reason? Why? They can’t tell you.

Disconnect. An angry electorate is one thing. Anger will eventually cool. But the disconnect is – in my mind – worse because it can be a lasting thing. Education – or more properly re-education – is a two-step process. The first is to “unlearn” what you think you know. The second is to learn the new fact(s). That takes time. And effort. For some, it never changes.

Ironic, isn’t it? Here we are in the middle of an electronic world where information and facts are at our fingertips more than ever before. Yet so many people won’t pursue them. Disconnect.

Gypsies, I’m told, use tea leaves to peer into the future. Here, in the Southwest Oregon woods where logging is king, we’re short on tea but long on sawdust. If you have any gift for prescience at all, you can get just about as good with sawdust as soggy tea leaves. Herein, what this scribe sees on the sawmill floor.

With the more important – and reliable – polling numbers not moving more than a point or two from week to week, the presidential campaign appears to be over. It’s certainly devolved into mud wrestling. Everybody’s getting caked. But even with Mr. Ryan on the ticket – maybe especially with Mr. Ryan on the ticket – the Romney team can probably get ready to close the offices and buy the hard drives on the computers. Again. And from this point on, the billionaires on both sides could do better financially in cotton futures.

The debut of Ryan on the GOP ticket got almost no bounce at all in polling. Now, a guy who’s led all his sheltered adult life at the public trough, is finding out the national media is a more curious animal than the Wisconsin branch of the family he’s been used to. Skeletons are coming out of closets not opened previously and thorough examinations of his voting record in Congress are uncovering his Vlad-The-Impaler political philosophy.

His “bold political leadership” has also taken a hard hit upon close scrutiny. Seems in a dozen years of “service,” his total accomplishment getting bills passed is two: one naming a post office in his district for his predecessor in office and one getting rid of excise taxes on bow hunting equipment. Mr. Ryan, it seems, is an ardent bow hunter but certainly no personal parallels should be drawn there. Not that we need a bunch of new laws. But if someone is proclaimed a leader, it would follow he would “lead” by using his legislative tools and prowess to make a better world. Not so Mr. Ryan.

In a few days, the blood bath formerly called the Republican National Convention will take place in Tampa. Expect a slight polling bump there, too, though not as much as if Ms. Palin made a speech in the parking lot next door or did something else to steal the spotlight. Her numbers would be higher. Bet on it.

Inside the hall, it’ll likely be mayhem. Republicans currently have more splits than a chorus line and a slate of speakers guaranteed to ignore a lot of those present while boring the rest of us. The Ron Paul folks – few as there may be – will likely be on their best disruptive behavior. And others in the Party base, unhappy with the Romney-Ryan eventual nomination, seem poised to raise Hell. Sounds more like Democrats than the trusty old GOP.

Speaking of the donkeys, look for lots of love and attempts at inclusion in a few weeks. No challenges to the ticket and lots of Kumbaya. I’d prefer to see a little kicking and scratching but nothing on the schedule portends that.

For the rest of the electorate, the mud wrestling is not likely to have a positive effect and many will probably tune out most of it until November. By then, the four major contenders will be unrecognizable.

Already, the talking heads are using Ouija boards to pick the winner. And they’re looking ahead to 2016 with more top-of-the-head projections trying to be the first to name the next candidates for president. In your scribe’s ever-humble opinion, that’s a useless exercise. Until November 7th – the day after the election. Then the sawdust may reveal a hint of the future.

If Obama wins, he and Joe can go back to the office, Romney can go back to making more millions and Ryan can go back to – whatever. If Romney wins, he and Paul move into the White House, Obama joins Clinton as an elder statesman and Joe can build that model railroad he’s always wanted.

To project the 2016 presidential race, you’ve got to look to the other end of Constitution Avenue. If the dam of obstructionism in the House and the filibuster barrier in the Senate are broken by new majorities of sufficient size, then 2016 may be a lot clearer. If one party gets all-out control of both houses, the entire national political scene is a new ball game. If not, it’s four more years of the same and I seriously question if our national political system can sustain itself in that case.

If the current congressional splits aren’t eliminated November 6th, the do-nothingness will continue. In that case, only the Bachman’s, Paul’s and Gingrich’s of the world will want to run again. Republicans of more mental substance will likely do the same as they did this time – steer clear of the whole thing. Same for talented Democrats.

But if voters get rid of most of the ideological riffraff and the stage is set for some action to solve our national ills, better talent in both parties might come to the surface. Could be – as the Democrats are wont to sing – “Happy days are here again.”

So the outlook for 2016 will likely stay hidden in the sawdust until we’ve all trooped to the polls. It’s in our hands now.

And November 7th? Well, keep an eye on those Romney hard drives.

Living to die in far Southwest Oregon

Author: Barrett Rainey

One of the smallest counties in Oregon – both in population and landmass – is Curry. It borders California to the South – Pacific Ocean to the West – the coastal range of mountains to the East. It also is apparently the unhealthiest county in the state. By quite a bit.

Because of moderate temperatures, mild winters, on-the-ocean-shore living and isolation from larger communities, the county has long been a favorite for retiring seniors. So that pushes up the mortality rate, right? Doesn’t appear so. Death counts for the elderly are quite comparable to elsewhere. The largest age range for the highest number of deaths in Curry is 40 to 60.

Here’s something else that jumps out of the county’s health department statistics. The number of people who’ve considered suicide is 35 per 100,000 population. For the rest of Oregon, it’s about 15 per 100,000. There you are with all of nature’s beauty, moderate weather for more comfortable living conditions, a lot less people to have to contend with than living in more populated cities and the folks who want to kill themselves – or have – is more than anywhere else in the state on a per capita basis.

If the numbers in that category are extrapolated, eight people of the 22,000 or so who live there will think about or kill themselves this year. No other county is close in per capita comparison. The report doesn’t speculate why this fatalistic condition exists in Curry. But it does point out some factors that may contribute to the numbers.

Geographically, Curry is a long, narrow county. It has only one small hospital and it’s 25 miles up a winding coastal highway from where most of the people live. There’s a second one about 35 miles South in California.

Oregon is one of only two remaining states requiring state approval to build a hospital and it appears such approval will never be forthcoming for the Brookings-Harbor area where most of the people in Curry County live. From a business standpoint – which is the basic decision point for certifying a new hospital – it doesn’t make economic sense to put one in the middle of the 60 miles which separate the existing facilities.

Brookings does have a new urgent care clinic. But the only permitted role for it is to receive patients – heart attacks, strokes, car wrecks or otherwise – determine the emergency, stabilize and arrange transportation to an appropriate hospital elsewhere. It can’t add a few patient rooms and play like it’s a small hospital. It’s really a glorified M-A-S-H unit.

So, does the lack of a hospital figure in to those outsized suicide statistics? Hard to say. But some other factors may contribute. Unemployment is higher than most Oregon counties. There really aren’t many good-paying jobs and the lumber company that’s the largest area employer isn’t running a full staff. Affordable housing is scarce. Lots of transients like the county because of the moderate weather.

The health – or unhealthy – report cites cancer, heart disease, strokes, respiratory problems and diabetes as the major factors killing Curry residents at a rate twice the state average. Alcohol and drug abuse, too. And of course, those suicides.

Another anomaly exists in Curry. Many years ago, a health district covered nearly all of it. Brookings had it’s own district then but, after a few years, it went out of business. The remaining district – headquartered 25 miles North in Gold Beach – doesn’t cover Brookings. So the most populated area the county has no official voice in health care decisions or planning.

The closest hospital serving the area where the most people live is 25 miles away up a winding highway. And, as the author of the public health district report points out, that Gold Beach hospital is 60 years old, falling apart and is in a tsunami zone.

There’s a trite, severely overused saying in that part of Oregon: “No hurry in Curry.” It’s become part of the local culture. Sadly. Having lived there for several years – then deciding to leave largely because of the lack of sufficient health care – I’d opine that phrase may have something to do with the sad health and medical profile of the county. A lot of things just don’t get done. Like establishing a new health district. Or joining what exists.

The local political climate is heavily “conservative.” An outsized number of retired folks have limited incomes which affects their willingness to get behind bond issues and the like. Many go regularly to Grants Pass, Medford, Coos Bay or Northern California care providers. They do so because the Brookings health care market is so small and remote that it can’t attract many physician specialists or more specialized clinics. Tele-medicine has been tried but hasn’t really caught on.

In sum, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope medical care will expand much in far Southwest Oregon. Sooner. Or ever. A remote location and a convergence of economic and social conditions seem to have put a cap on things.

Which leaves the local Chambers of Commerce a difficult message – one of trying to attract people to a beautiful part of Oregon. Where the suicide rate is more than double what it is in the rest of our fair state.

SuperPAC? SuperPAC? What SuperPAC?

Author: Barrett Rainey

Many editors have told me “never lead a column or a story with a question.” “Poor form,” they said. So, I’ll put the stodgy editorial advice in the lead and the lead in the next paragraph.

Did you know four in ten Americans say they’ve never heard of a SuperPAC? “Nothing at all” were the words in the results of a Washington Post/Pew Research survey summary. Here we have the largest cancerous growth on the body politic since Jim Crow voting laws and 40% of us have “never heard” of this billionaire threat to democracy? Really?


Another 35% said they’d heard “very little” about SuperPACs. Nine-percent said SuperPAC was the committee in Congress working on the budget deficit. Another four-percent said it was a term for cleaning up hazardous waste sites while one-percent said a SuperPAC was a “video game for smart phones.” If you’ve ever watched Jay Leno’s interviews on the street, none of this is likely a shock.

You and I know what SuperPACs are. But for those who may’ve been surfing the I-Net and ended up here by mistake – SuperPACS are so- called “independent” political action committees composed primarily of the very, very rich and their corporations, able to pour unlimited millions of dollars into our electoral system while remaining anonymous and unaccountable. Nobody has to identify participation or have the guts to admit what they’re doing. Secret, well-heeled attempts to bend democracy to their particular mindset – most of which seems to be antithetical to the rest of us. And it’s legal ‘cause the U.S. Supreme Court says so.

Now, here’s the kicker! Those were “prompted” responses. In other words, the questioner gave the respondent those choices from which to chose. Suppose the question had been asked with no choices offered. Just “What is a SuperPAC?” Given the outcome here, can you even imagine what the results of that sort of exercise might have been?

I’ve long believed Americans are the most poorly educated populace about their own government of all industrial or developed nations i.e. courts – laws – elections – candidates – government structure – etc. The evidence is overwhelming. Unless the next pickup payment is threatened or someone tells a landowner he can’t do something with his property, Americans have been proven time and time again to possess a high level of ignorance about the system under which they live. Everybody has an opinion. But far too many lack an adequate knowledge of civics to back it up.

Indeed, recent national elections – and often legislative – have seated many folks who have absolutely no idea what the Hell to do once the election is over. “Now I are one and here I am” seems sufficient for some. Look no further than the “Class of 2010″ in our Congress.

The most trusted guess I’ve found of how much the SuperPACs have paid into the national elections -as of the first of the month – comes to more than $150 million. Since SuperPACs operate with great secrecy and financial reporting requirements are foggy at best, no one really knows for sure.

One thing we do know because there are requirements for advertising disclosure. Last week – just last week alone – $50 million was spent on ad buys for the presidential sweepstakes – $50 million in seven days! The saturation of mostly negative ads in markets in swing states is sickening. In fact, video stores are doing very well in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. So are the cable and satellite pay channels as residents try to escape the noise and lies.

So, according to the results in this poll – and many, many others – voters are not only not being educated about candidates and issues, they’re actually being force-fed an around-the-clock diet of phony claims and propaganda. Anger and fear they may already feel is on an electronic diet of steroids of misinformation.

Buried in that Washington Post/Pew poll was a bit of information that didn’t make the headline but it caught my eye. While not being sure – or not even knowing – what a SuperPAC is, just over half said they didn’t think SuperPACs had helped one presidential candidate over the other. I agree.

Think what that could mean for a moment. It may be – sweet irony of sweet ironies – that all the of the millions being secretly spent to undercut our democracy may not be making a major difference. Just over half the respondents – well-versed in our government or ignorant of how it works – say they think the self-serving billionaire excesses aren’t changing people’s minds.

Now wouldn’t that just be a kick in your old Supreme Court?

As someone who has been involved in politics and media nearly all my long adult life, I get really pissed when others who practice either craft use it badly. Last week was a two-fer.

First it was Harry Reid – Senate Majority Leader – as he spoke on the Senate floor. The gist of his remarks – for the official Senate record – was that an unnamed someone – who may or may not have been involved with Bain Capital – told him “privately” Mitt Romney had not paid federal taxes on his huge income for a decade. The media dogs pounced on the unsourced red meat rumor and created the second chapter of my – until now – silent rage.

For the record, it’s my understanding any member of Congress can say damned near anything on the floor in either house and be exempt from any charges of libel or slander – that there is immunity for whatever reason. History in both chambers is replete with such groundless, baseless and totally crazy statements and accusations from day one. Even a death threat or two and challenges to a duel or two. I’m sure authors of such rules had their reasons in the name of “liberty” and “free speech,” but common courtesy, respect for the rights of others – and too often truth – suffer in such an environment. Especially now with near-immediate, worldwide reproduction of the words.

Rules of exemption to the contrary, in my backwoods judgment, Reid was dead wrong and practicing rumor-mongering of the highest order. Had I been a Republican on the Senate floor that day, I would have asked to be recognized, then said “an unnamed source” told me recently that Sen. Reid was a principal in a shadowy company which owned several brothels in his home state of Nevada. Imagine the response!

While Reid’s fact-free charge may have been “acceptable” under the aforementioned rules of congressional speech, it was inflammatory and senseless. In a political climate already aflame with lies and damned lies by all, Reid just poured gasoline on the mix.

My guess is he was being the “bad cop.” With four-plus years to go on what’s likely his last term in the Senate, Reid has a certain “protection” so he can be a bulldog for Democrats top to bottom. He can make groundless charges in a protected congressional environment to needle Romney and other Republicans – put them off their game a bit. Maybe he CAN do that. Maybe that’s his role. But it certainly is wrong by any standard you and I practice in our daily lives.

As I said, this was a “two-fer” week for my angst. After Reid came – wait for it – the national media. I read several political columns daily – watch a number of TV political opinion squawkers – see several newscasts. It’s like eating sawdust without asking for water but it’s what I do.

In none of the viewing and reading – none – did I hear anyone right, left or middle castigate the Senator from Nevada for his irresponsible speech. Not O’Reilly. Not Cooper. Not Mathews. Not Burnett. Not Maddow. No one. All of them walked right past a direct challenge to try to ferret our Reid’s source – if such source exists – to focus instead on what Romney may be hiding in his unreleased tax returns. Each failed a basic journalistic tenet of confirming fact, opting instead to wallow in a swill of unsupported charges.

It’s not your father’s journalism.

Romney has a self-inflicted, bleeding gash on his candidacy that may well doom it. While not absolutely required to follow the tradition of financial transparency expected of national candidates – or even appointees to high political office – Romney has single-handedly created a viable issue that will not go away. Any point he tries to make from now to November – every statement – every major appearance – every debate – he will be dogged by legitimate charges he is “covering up.” Early on, he might have developed an argument for not revealing his tax information. Not now. Not next month. Never. The absence of fact for so long – read truth – has created an ocean of doubt, conspiracy, illegality and God knows what else. And it’s his own hand on the dagger.

In my view, Reid took the low road and should be embarrassed by his irresponsible charge. The current campaign is low enough without someone deliberately shoving it into a ditch. He may be playing the bulldog role but he should do so without cheapening the dignity of the Senate. There are already enough idiots in Congress undercutting our democracy – not to mention dignity – two words which escape too many of ‘em.

The media deserve significant criticism as well. The institution of journalism – like Congress – has its unprofessional, career-chasing, factually illiterate wannabe’s with little regard for the responsibilities they signed up to carry out but have forgotten or ignored in their pursuit of gold. Not all, certainly. But one would be too many.

So maybe it’s just my old, moss-covered Oregon thumb alone which is turned down in both cases. The rebukes may never be heard by more than a few old-growth trees. But – DAMN – nobody else has taken up the axe to censure. I feel better after the swing.

A severely damaged economy. Thieving Wall Street financial corporations. Home mortgage failures in numbers unseen in our lifetimes. Watching our retirement savings disappear as those who pushed us off the cliff take their millions and live the good life. Record unemployment of educated, talented workers through no fault of their own. A congress severely infected by a near-terminal strain of ignorance. A political system poisoned by cash and doomed ideology. Hate and anger infecting an electorate not sure what it’s angry about or whom it hates. A national atmosphere of distrust and fear.

Not phrases or adjectives a person likes to use to describe a native country but – all too sadly – they fit conditions we have come to live with daily. As the man said “If stress were adrenalin, I could bench press a Buick.”


Along comes 115 pounds of teenager nicknamed “Frog” and all that doom and gloom fades – if only for a moment – while we’re focused on sheer athletic talent in a dynamite-filled package. Gabby Douglas. And four other teens that make you proud they – and you – are Americans. With many others doing equally amazing things.

We’ve been inveterate Olympics watchers at our house this week. Who could not be? Thrills – talent – tears – athletic excellence – enough drama to fill every theater on Broadway – record-setting performances from kids not old enough to vote – time after time after time! I haven’t seen any Olympics – summer or winter – in the last 60 years that could top what’s on the ol’ telly right now. Every night! And more good stuff coming!

Phelps and Franklin and Lochte and on and on and on. Swimmers, divers, rowers, tumblers, dancers, wrestlers, volleyball warriors, fencers, badminton, table tennis slams, shooters, archers. We’re not even to track and field where it’ll just get better!

And the technology we’re watching. Absolutely amazing! I remember when each swimmer, for example, had a judge at both ends of the lane. Each held a small flag. A trained human eye and the reflex of a quick arm decided the winners. Not a computer spitting out victors and vanquished by 17/100’s of a second. Or less. And the up-close-and-personal access for watchers. Overhead. Underneath. Along side. Sometimes even inside. And you can see it again and again – even in very slow motion.

Most of us don’t have a lot to cheer about these days. So what’s on our TV screens each night may be the best prescription for a weary national body. It’s not possible to watch these kids and dwell on our problems at the same time. I’ve tried. And the kids always win.

But I do have a short, very personal message to deliver to some vocal malcontents who seem to have nothing else to do in their lives but bitch. To those voices who’ve filled the “social” media with complaints about Gabby Douglas’ hair – shut the Hell up! What in the world are you looking for? That young lady personifies the absolute best the Olympics have to offer – talent by the barrelful – beauty – grace – style – charm – personality – athletic perfection. She could be bald and you’d still have all that. What’s wrong with all of you? Get a life!

As for the rest of us, the Olympics are offering some absolutely wonderful opportunities for all of us to feel proud to be Americans – to feel good about our country – to temporarily escape our troubles. I say grab it while we can. And if you don’t get much done for the next week, that’s fine. Everything that’s been weighing us down recently will still be there when the Olympic flame is extinguished.

Damn it!

“Kiss my ass!”

As I opened the Internet screen this morning for my daily political “fix,” those were the words that greeted me. “Kiss my ass.” They were written in very, very large orange type and that last word was spelled “A$$.”

Regaining my elderly composure while adjusting the old tri-focals, I read more of the Huffington Post to find those were the very public words of a Mitt Romney staff member to the American media traveling with the candidate in Poland. Seems Romney staff people – blaming the media for reporting their bosses’ “hoof-in-mouth” statements to European leaders – have been trying to keep him and the media separated. Another ignorant Romney staff move.

A related story on political pages today had Romney surrogates all over national television and talk shows, blaming the media for reporting all the candidate’s poor grasp – and misuse – of not only the English language but the lack of diplomatic niceties required when interacting with heads of foreign governments. As if Romney had said nothing out of the ordinary.

I am not a fan of Mitt Romney. Based on his many, many miscues in this never-ending campaign, his inability to lead even in his own party, his public intransigence when it comes to revealing issues of his personal history relevant to seeking high public office and his own conflicting stories regarding his time at Bain Capital, I see almost nothing in him which suits him for the presidency. Many in his own party either rejects him outright or holds their collective nose.

That being said, Romney has to personally accept the failings of his campaign thus far. One reason: he’s surrounded himself with people who were either confidants of – or at the top of – the Bush campaigns in 2000-2004 and McCain’s 2008. Many from the neo-conservative wing. The often hawkish advice they’re giving him is wrong for the 2012 campaign. Militancy, sword-waving rhetoric is not what this campaign is – or should be – about. Times have changed. This is not 2000. Not 2004 or ‘08. But Romney has given them his ear. And he’s being poorly served.

Another failing: he has built a senior staff of seemingly the most incompetent people available to him. Many major problems he has can be traced to poor staff work. He’s been badly briefed on issues time after time. Those responsible for giving him working documents on European matters he’d surely confront failed as well. You don’t go into the Middle East – a part of the world where working solutions to centuries old problems have eluded all sides – and say the things he said. He appeared outright stupid. While he should have known better, that type of gaff can also be blamed on failure of key staff. Their job is to compile, outline and brief the candidate on all relevant issues. They failed. Or he didn’t listen.

Romney is exhibiting professional and personal character traits that are undercutting whatever his motivations may be for seeking the presidency. Rather than address the future, offering some sort of vision, putting some verbal meat on several key issues – economy, jobs, repairing national infrastructure – he’s pounding on his opponent and offering at best “I’m not him.” His opponent has a record. Some good. Some not so good. But Romney has failed to point out the “not-so-good” and offer his own ideas for improving things. That’s poor staff work. And his own poor judgment.

NBC’s Chuck Todd says this year’s political battle is one of “campaign smallness.” Instead of debating major issues which rightly differ between the parties – instead of offering solutions to our many national problems – instead of projecting some sort of more positive future for the country – we are lost in tax returns, contradictory Bain employment issues, candidate fog that displaces transparency, campaign trivia and dancing horses.

Have Democrats contributed to the problem? Certainly. The President is not without his faults. But he’s in a different place than Romney. Obama must defend a record while addressing issues still unresolved. But – his campaign is largely staffed by the same people who won in 2008 and who seem to be working just as smoothly in 2012. Like ‘em or don’t like ‘em – they’re pros.

It’s Romney who can’t clear the hurdles. His lengthy and steadfast refusal to provide his tax returns for 10 or so years is cancerous. Even some in the GOP are wondering why and speculation is replacing fact. What is he hiding? What does he mean when he says “I won’t give the opposition more ammunition to use against me?” What ammunition is in those documents? Details about what?

The European fiasco. Bad staff work. Missed opportunities to talk up both his candidacy and his country. A fast trip to Afghanistan or some other place where we have military under fire. Waving the American flag and not ballyhooing his run for office. Opportunities missed.

His basic campaign tone of negativity is costing him base support. He needs several very positive themes to repeat and repeat and repeat. He has to develop some optimistic talking points on the real issues and hammer them over and over again. He’s got to offer some solid reasons for changing horses. Dancing or otherwise. As in boxing, the challenger has to be better than the champ to take the title. At this point, he’s not.

The best thing Romney could do immediately to improve his chances in November would be to shut down the campaign for a week, clean out some of the neocons that have been giving him bad advice and fire several key members of his top staff. Talk to Republican pros – Gergen – Schmidt – Rollins – and bring in some “top guns” who know a goal line when they see it and how to get there. Put his fate in the hands of people he may not know well but who know how the game is played. And how to win. Then publish those damned returns.

But I’d bet he won’t. And the reason I’d offer is the same reason why I believe he would not be an effective president. Romney thinks of himself as his own man. He’s done what he’s done and achieved what he’s achieved being his own counsel. He thinks corporately – not politically. He’s what George Bush termed “decider-in-chief.” People of that mindset aren’t prone to relinquish control, put themselves in other people’s hands without a lengthy relationship and don’t readily accept advice from strangers.

No. I don’t think he’ll accept advice from here in the Southwest Oregon woods. No matter how sincerely offered. All I can do now is just steel myself for that impending email. The one with the very large orange letters. And those three words.