Archive for December, 2012

As a nation, it would seem the best we can say about the year 2012 is “It’s over.” I doubt few of us will recall it fondly. But the problem is it doesn’t look like 2013 is going to be much different.

I don’t recall another 12 month period during my long lifetime that whip-sawed this country so completely – top to bottom – as did 2012. Few of us have escaped being touched by events – being shaken by some – disgusted by some – traumatized by others. It’s been an emotional year. It’s been a time when the direction of this country was fundamentally changed forever. Even our weather seemed to repeatedly conspire against us.

Perhaps the largest change – one easily documented – has been a recognition by most of us in 2012 that we’re no longer a white, Anglo-Saxon majority nation – that the racial pot simmering for the last 200 years has finally boiled over and we’ve become a multiple ethnic stew. Evidence is everywhere. From our city streets to corporations to our nation’s presidency. We’re a nation of color – of different languages – of different traditions. That should be a good thing in a nation in which all of us are – or are descended from – immigrants.

But, in 2012, for some unexplained reason, this has come as a shock to a lot of folks. Maybe that should read “frightening shock.” Bigotry that used to be whispered is now shouted from the front pages. Acts of racial bigotry in some of our nation’s legislative bodies have resulted in laws attempting to stop non-white citizens from voting – from qualifying for government assistance – from receiving health care. Some things they’re trying to legislate out of existence are freedoms going back to the end of the Civil War and the adoption of civil rights and voting right laws of the ‘60’s.

In those states and elsewhere, we’re seeing fear on a scale larger than ever before as millions of citizens clean out the shelves at gun stores and arm themselves against some sort of perceived threat from people who look “different.” Homes that have never seen a gun are being turned into arsenals. Requests for permits to carry concealed weapons are at an all-time high. And you can bet the farm thousands and thousands more people are simply keeping a gun within reach – law or no law – permit or no permit.

Mass killings are no longer rare. We’ve got ‘em regularly in shopping malls – elementary schools – movie theaters – college campuses – city streets – police stations – neighborhoods – doctor’s offices – roller rinks – high schools – play grounds – churches. There’s no sanctuary. There’s no city – no town – no place safe from armed destruction of human life. And we’re doing nothing. Not in 2012. Since 20 children were cut down in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, more than 280 Americans have been killed. By guns.

Also in 2012, while that esteemed private enterprise politicians delight in talking about was beginning to restore our national economy, those same politicians spent much of the year doing their damndest to kill it. With one manmade crisis after another – ignorant attacks on government – personal political savagery directed at a president of mixed color – roadblocks deliberately placed to stop lawful efforts by those trying to solve issues – we’ve got a Congress actually undermining our way of life.

It’s also a Congress that’s turned its back on its own constituency and the majority instructions issued by that constituency in November elections. In 2012, we’ve found “representative government” is not that at all. We’ve told ourselves for 200 years those we elect “serve at the will of the people.” In 2012, more than any other time, we’ve found that is not true. The difference is influence in the hands of a few. The difference is money and terribly gerrymandered congressional districts.

We’re continuing an undeclared war for which there is no victory – only more killing until an artificial end date on the calendar in a year or two. We’re continuing to throw treasure and young lives into a bottomless pit for no national goal – with no rational meaning. Who will we send to be the last to die? And for what?

Our basic political system was under attack by monied interests hellbent on taking control to turn our democracy – our Republic – into some sort of “national supra corporation” they can control. In 2012. Though they’ve not been entirely successful, they’ve already “bought” voices in Congress and many state legislatures. They’ve secretly funded third-party groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and Super PACs and their influence is being felt in new state laws passed to achieve their ends.

In 2012, our nation came under sustained attack from within. On these and other fronts. Not just through the evolutionary change common in society. Our values, our economics and even our freedoms were assaulted. By people we elected. At a time when economic and employment improvements were expected – had been earned – we were held back and undercut – prisoners of a national Congress frozen by egos. By ignorance. By ideology. By fear. By money.

Pretty grim stuff. And in 2013? What lies ahead? Will we suddenly realize these and other dangers? Will we take steps to end them? Will the voices of fear spouting faulty ideologies fall silent? Will the outbreak of racial divisions and hate be stilled? Faced with the same players, will we return to truly representative government “of the people, by the people, for the people?” Will our liberties and rights as citizens trump the treasonous efforts to overcome them? The efforts so blatantly revealed? In 2012?

If pessimism is truly optimism with experience, hope for significant change seems very illusive.

We are one family despite the NRA

Author: Barrett Rainey

While trying to fight back my anger at the National Rifle Association’s contempt for civilization the other day, I got to thinking about the concept the demonic LaPierre was spewing. He didn’t use the actual words I was thinking of but there was no mistaking they formed the irrational concept he was spouting.

It’s called “Mutually Assured Destruction.” Or maybe you remember the utterly accurate acronym: “MAD.” The world lived with that MAD sword hanging over us for some 60 years. To some extent, we still do.

It began in the 1950’s when both we and the Soviets – at that time -had nuclear bombs. The idea was, if one of us decided to lob a nuke over the North Pole, the recipient would return the favor – plus a dozen, dozen additional. The concept was simple:” You kill me – I’ll kill you more.” It was taken to the lunatic extreme of us having some 2,000 nukes in the 60’s and they had about the same. So it got to be: “I’ll kill you a thousand times but you’ll only have time to get off enough to kill me 438 times.” I’d always thought being killed once was sufficient but – since I wasn’t asked to help with national security issues – I just sorta lived with it.

In the 50’s and 60’s, I was in the Strategic Air Command – the outfit that would do all the long-range killing for this country. Adding to the MAD irony for me was the motto of SAC emblazoned on the nose of every bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile: “Peace is Our Profession.” Looking back, you gotta admit that was kinda sick.

Stanley Kubrick skewered the concept in his movie “Dr. Strangelove – or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.” A far right SAC general – played by Sterling Hayden – got doped up on right wing paranoia and launched his planes in an attempt to flatten the Soviets before they could respond. One scene I’ll never forget is the U.S. Army storming his airbase as hundreds of machine gun bullets shredded that “Peace is Our Profession” sign at the main gate.

I’d like to say Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush light and Obama ended MAD. They didn’t. Despite occasional talk about “disarmament,” the Russians still have more than a thousand warheads and we have about the same. So, yes, MAD is still with us.

But now – now the National Rifle Association is proposing we introduce a new version of MAD into our local school systems. It’s so simple the rest of us should have thought of it, too. Put an armed person – police or principal or teacher or parent volunteer – just one person “carrying” – and it will send an immediate and stern warning to all who want to attack any second grade classroom. If that doesn’t work – if the attacker ignores his certain demise – when the shooting breaks out all the children will have to do to stay safe and out of the line of fire is “duck and cover” just like they do for earthquake drills. Damn!

The only thing making me more angry than the NRA’s stupidly arrogant self-interest is the chorus of voices being raised in support of such a mindless idea. Granted, it’s still a small chorus. And since nut cases generally are the first to speak before thinking, maybe we’ve heard from most of ‘em. I pray that’s so.

The proposal we adopt a policy of “you-shoot-me, I’ll-shoot-you-more” for the public school system reeks of the internal decay of reality so often represented by the NRA. In a nation where law enforcement has daily brushes with people creating a “suicide-by-cop” scenario on our streets, it’s entirely irresponsible. You think some dysfunctional person is going to stop on the sidewalk and suddenly say “Boy, if I take this assault rifle and these 300 bullets into that school they’re gonna hurt me. I better go home now?” You think a Connecticut National Guard tank would have changed the shooter’s mind in Newtown?

If no responsible element of the NRA – IF there still IS a “responsible element” within the NRA – doesn’t disavow the association’s current absurd stance articulated by LaPierre, solving indiscriminate mass murder incidents will be harder. But we have to do it. With or without the NRA.

As a nation, we are nothing more than parents, grandparents, great grandparents, brother, sisters and – well – you get the idea. While we are different – one from the other – we also share the need to care for each other. And each other’s children. We must end this.

As for LaPierre, sometimes someone like him comes along with no obvious parentage. In that case, we have a name for him, too.

They know not what they do

Author: Barrett Rainey

Within a span of just 14 hours, we’ve been exposed to two terrible examples of belligerence, selfishness, ignorance and behavior dangerous to who we are as a nation. One was a handful of carelessly elected zealots – hellbent on fiscal destruction of our economy. The other, a tone-deaf, arrogant, in-your-face example of the dangers the existing National Rifle Association presents to the civility of our culture.

For the record, what John Boehner tried to ramrod through the U.S. House was lousy legislation – ill-conceived legislation – bad for middle class Americans legislation. It deserved a procedural death. But not the way it happened. Or for the reasons it happened.

Boehner’s “Plan B” was DOA in the Senate and stood to get a stake in the heart at the White House if it accidentally got that far. It was proposed simply as a GOP “show horse.” Toss tax issues to the Democrats and make them fall on their swords. But it blew up in Boehner’s face. The faulty legislative grenade was triggered by about three dozen members – loosely called “tea partiers.” Small “T” and small “P.”

Make no mistake. These are not “Tea Party” people in the original meaning of that title which was believed a clever nomenclature for some disgruntled Americans wanting to make a political statement to the country a few years back. These people are vastly ignorant about the affairs and conduct of the government they espouse so much hate for. They know nothing of how it’s structured – how it works – or what’s expected from people who currently hold the elected offices they do. Single-issue zealots to the core, they routinely subvert their own “causes” by stepping on their own feet.

What they’ve done is treasonous. They’ve cut the throat of an entire political party. Giving Boehner absolute benefit of any doubt, his was the only voice of the entire Republican Party in that body that could’ve negotiated solutions to our terrible financial perils. If he and the rest of our national elected voices were to find common cause to deal with the thorny issues, his voice had to be supported. Sadly, it was not. And is not.

What the ignorant have done is cut the ground out from under him. In the process they’ve created something they profess to hate: a unilateral voice of one to create an agenda – or solution – as that voice sees fit. I don’t like government-of-one. We need the best of each of the two parties we send to conduct our national affairs. The tension of two knowledgeable, reasoned, intelligent sets of hands is needed on the rope to keep us from being pulled too far in any one direction.

GOP Rep. Steve La Tourette spoke for a lot of us at the moment of failure. “It’s unbelievable, this is horrible. I’m angry, sad for my friend the Speaker and I’m sorry for the country. We deserve better.” Hear hear.

What the GOP miscreants have done is effectively cripple the two-party system. Boehner will never have a chance to undo what they’ve done from this day forward. He will never again be regarded as the leader of all things Republican in the House. Through no special fault of his own, he’ll never be trusted to speak with an effective, unified political voice.

As for the NRA, the only response that comes to mind is – again – the word “treason” – the betrayal of one’s country. And of one’s countrymen.

I live in an area of Oregon where LaPierre’s obscene response to the killing of 27 people in Connecticut by semi-automatic weaponry will be looked upon by far too many as “the right response. ” I thank God our little place in the trees is often more an aberration than the national reality.

There are roughly 98,000 public schools in our nation. Rather than joining any reasoned search for solutions to mass murder – an end to mass murder – the NRA is simply proposing we place – and pay for – an armed police officer in every public school building. After a week to think – to plan – to propose a responsible course of action on behalf of gun owner members in the wake of the mass murder of 20 six and seven-year-olds and their teachers, LaPierre and the cretins around him have offered a plan that is simply mind-boggling. Hire more guns.

More than 30 years ago, I belonged to the NRA. I tore up the card and cut off the decals when association responses – even then – deviated from what I felt was the path of what responsible gun ownership interests were about. Never regretted the decision.

LaPierre’s outrageous statement has – in my mind – put the organization in direct opposition to our national values. The words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” come to mind because his chosen response seems to be a threat to all those. Unless, of course, you’re carrying an assault rifle.

I’ve no idea how many legitimate, responsible gun owner organizations exist in this country. Probably dozens. It is my fervent hope – it will become my nightly prayer – that their ranks double and triple and quadruple with former members of the NRA. Former members who’ve had a belly full of the intransigence, ignorance and arrogantly anti-social stance of the NRA and the new low it has reached in civic responsibility.

The NRA long ago lost any appearance of representing legitimate interests of the millions of its members. It’s become an organization of arrogance – of self-interest – a wielder of political power antithetical to good citizenship. It delights in destroying political careers of those who dare to cast their votes on behalf of constituents instead of the NRA. It has wrongfully used power to pervert national interest. Treason.

The subversion of a functioning two-party system in Congress by those ignorant of their responsibilities in elective office – the abdication of a national association’s corporate responsibility and necessary participation in trying to end our nightmare of senseless killing and mass murder by the NRA – these two events seem cause for our concern as a country.

And I am.

A daughter’s unanswered question

Author: Barrett Rainey

“…and a little child shall lead them”
Isaiah 11: 6

The Friday of the Newtown, CT massacre, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) was having dinner with his family. Warner has been a consistent supporter of 2nd Amendment rights and has an “A” rating from the NRA. He wasn’t prepared for the question from one of his three daughters.

“Dad, what are you going to do about this?”

That’s a moment none of us – even a U.S. Senator – is prepared to deal with. The moment one of our children cuts through all the garbage – all the B.S. – and goes straight to our gut.

Here, several days after the killing, the images of faces and the descriptions of the horrible wounds that wiped away all the childish smiles are haunting. They are – at least so it seems at the moment – unforgettable. I pray that will continue to be so. That no one forgets.

I long ago learned to never ask “why” when dealing with unexpected death. Because “why” directs attention to the past. The only acceptable questions at that moment are “What now” – “What is our next step” – “How do we continue?”

“What are you going to do about this?”

Most of us are mindful of the dozens of our brothers and sisters who’re killed by guns every week in this country. We’ve become inured to the news even as more Americans are being cut down. We hear the news without hearing and file it away in some mental drawer which we only reopen to insert more of the same when it happens again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

But my sense is things are different this time. The question from Sen. Warner’s daughter is in nearly all our minds – though still without good answers. Americans of good sense and reasonable thought are still stunned. We’re off mental balance these days later and many of us are admitting to ourselves that we don’t have the usual ready answer to a child’s question.

Even the NRA – the twisted bastion that has contorted the 2nd Amendment into a catch-all of imagined “liberties” unintended by the authors – even the NRA has kept it’s belligerent mouth shut. No angry press releases. No TV appearances. Corporate refusal of all ill-conceived requests for interviews. Removal of the NRA Facebook page and the usual incendiary rhetoric it contains. Nearly a week out and nothing. But LaPierre can’t shut up. He’ll talk shortly. And when he does, what he says will not erase the decades of hate and lies he has spewed at every opportunity. He can’t.

His 30 years of verbal garbage have helped create some of the crazies. To our Oregon backwoods shame, we have a demented voice – tragically in legislative office. He has loudly – and most ignorantly – intoned we should arm teachers. Good idea, idiot. Then our kids can cower under their desks while a historic re-enactment of the shootout at the O.K. Corral takes place over their heads. With live ammunition. He’s been joined by that intellectually ever-vacant Texan, Louis Gohmert, taking to the floor of the House of Representatives with the same crap for national TV consumption. And the other demented.

Still, for the rest of us, I get a different feel following Newtown. There seems to be a quiet determination building to tackle this shameful history of murder-of-the-innocents. More than just the usual “ban the guns” rhetoric. We’re hearing intelligent talk of legally getting rid of semi-automatics and other tools of heavy armament belonging only in the hands of the military and law enforcement. Same for the extended magazines for bullets.

More than that, prominent voices – voices of people who can make it happen – are adding thoughtful proposals for better mental health services to try to spot disaster before it happens. Those voices are louder and coming from new and different places than before Newtown.

There’s even talk of challenges to the mass entertainment and video industries by saner heads who want to stop the desensitizing of young minds to violence in the name of “fun.” We’ve heard that before. But not in the chambers and hallways where we’re hearing it today.

So far, most of this is still talk. Still just words. The TV satellite trucks are still overwhelming Newtown and the talking heads are still providing verbal “overkill.” We aren’t being spared any detail as they pry day-after-day into grief that should be private. Residents want the media out. Even some of the media want to end the siege of excess. That’s different, too.

But they’ll leave in a few days. Just as they left Aurora, Clackamas, Denver, Chicago, the Sikh Temple and the sites of all the other violent deaths. When they go – when Newtown residents return to a routine wrapped in grief, guilt and a terrible sense of loneliness – we’ll see if the words we hear today are followed through with actions tomorrow. And tomorrow.

“What are you going to do about this?”

The Senator had no ready answer for his daughter. We’ll soon see if any of us do.

Could you really shoot your neighbor

Author: Barrett Rainey

(The following was written a week before the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. It’s here today with no apologies.)

Imagine your neighbor has begun nailing all his furniture to the floor, has tied his pickup to a tree and put long ropes on all three kids. He’s convinced God is going to turn off gravity across the world and all he has and cares about will be drifting out into space. Soon.

Now, before you write the guy off as an idiot from our little burg-in-the-woods, hear him out. Listen to his reasoning. Here it is. “It hasn’t happened yet – which means it will.”

That’s right. You got it. Gravity still worked this morning and is likely to continue all day. But, in his world, gravity will end – everything and everyone will become weightless and fly off the earth. He knows it’s true. Because “it hasn’t happened!”

With precisely this same kind of anti-logic, thousands and thousands of Americans have been rushing to gun stores since our general election. They are cleaning off the shelves of rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic weapons, pistols and millions of bullets. Some stores have been cleaned out and the underground weapons business is going strong, too.

So what connects these two unrelated pieces of nutcase off-the-wall-ness? Well, two things. First, President Obama has been re-elected. And, second, he’s going to take away your guns and put extremely high taxes on ammunition. The same ammunition gun owners won’t need if he takes their guns. Oops. Just injected some rational thought there. Sorry.

Some stores sales are up 100% in a year. Seems lots of people “think” they will need more guns and ammo to protect themselves because government is going to take away their “absolute” rights and they need protection. Though it hasn’t happened. Which means it will.

But the REALLY deep thinkers promise the President may also end the food stamp program. And IF that happens, people will need a lot of firepower to protect themselves from the starving masses.

None of this – NONE of this – is made up. I swear. Except my ersatz neighbors tying down all their worldly possessions so they don’t float off when gravity ends – which they will because it hasn’t. But these gun nuts are sure what hasn’t happened is going to happen. Because it hasn’t. But it makes the point.

I’d like to say all these nutcases came up with this off-the-wall thinking all by themselves. But such is not the case. They’re simply regurgitating the twisted output of the National Rifle Association and of its demented CEO, Wayne LaPierre. Since President Obama’s first days in office, the NRA has sent millions of pieces of paper with this twisted message thereon. Too many of the looneys cleaning out gun stores today are simply reading from that script.

I’m a gun owner. Used to be an NRA member about 30 years ago. But no more. How this troll-at-the-top survives is a mystery. Many current members I know have no use for the guy or the direction he’s taken the organization. While the NRA does yeoman’s work with gun safety and young shooter classes, it’s gone off the edge of LaPierre’s flat earth politically. And philosophically. A force to be reckoned with on Capitol Hill? Yes. But no longer a healthy force dedicated to now-seldom-mentioned Second Amendment responsibilities as well as those Second Amendment rights. Now it’s conspiracies and PACs and lying to millions of people who mindlessly trail along behind.

For my money, that’s what the NRA under LaPierre has come to. Creating panic. Illogical runs on shooting stores are typical in many other states coast-to-coast. Using the “what-hasn’t-happened-yet-means-it-will-happen” school of illogic, cozy little fortresses are being restocked with multiple weaponry and piles of ammunition. That little cottage down the street – with window boxes brimming with geraniums – may be an arsenal inside, with AK-47’s and a hundred boxes of bullets.

The horribly sad part is this type of national citizen rearmament craziness has never occurred at such a level under any other president. Not even during wartime. But it’s occurring during the term of our first mixed-race president. So, has race something to do with it. Undeniably, yes.

But so does national fear abroad in the land. Fear of banks. Fear of strangers who look different and who speak different languages but who are Americans just the same. Fear on the part of people who have traditionally been in control now losing that control. Fear of changes – changes in nearly everything coming faster and faster. Fear separating us from each other.

For some, that means buying guns. And more guns. Stashing hundreds of boxes of bullets. To do what with? Kill your neighbors? Kill your neighbor’s kids? Kill someone you know down the block who might just be hungry?

Have the people who mouth this crazy “it-hasn’t-happened-which-means-it-will” trash thought about who they think they may have to shoot with their new weaponry? Have they looked at the faces of strangers and even neighbors with the conscious thought they may kill these people? Could they kill these people? For what? A meal? A drink of water? Could they put a familiar face on the fear that’s driving them to buy more guns and then pull the trigger?

Buying your gun based on some stupid, irrational B.S. is one thing. Putting the face of a neighbor or friend in the gunsight and pulling the trigger is a whole different situation.

Thanks, Wayne.

A week or so ago, a friend and I spent a few hours bell-ringing for the Salvation Army in our little burg-in-the-woods. It’s one of the annual activities of our Rotary club – one I look forward to each year. Not so much now.

My friend and I have stood in the cold outside several local “big box” stores through the years. We have time for good conversation and, for the most part, enjoy interacting with others during the holidays. My favorite moment is when a young parent puts a few coins in a small child’s hand and shows them how to put the money in the red kettle. Then quietly instructs, “Say ‘Merry Christmas’.” Touches my old heart.

What doesn’t touch my heart is watching what too many shoppers have put in their carts as they roll out past us to the parking lot. Oh, there’s the usual supply of small appliances, toys, clothes, lots of electronic stuff and a bit of groceries here and there. Just like the carts in your town, I’d guess.

But we keep seeing more. Cases of beer. Many per cart. Boxes and bottles of wine. Many per cart. And guns. And boxes of ammunition.

Now, I’m a tippler. And a gun owner. So my reaction to this annual scene is not one of moral judgement by the uninitiated. My own shopping could mean buying a firearm of some sort, maybe some ammunition and – more often – some spirits.

No, what I have trouble with each December is reconciling the armament and bulk alcohol with the real spirit of Christmas. Thinking of the birth of Christ as reported in the gospels – remembering tenderness, wonderment, joy and surprise we experience – filling our thoughts with Christmas.

And especially this Christmas – 2012 – when we mark the murder of 20 elementary school children who went to school one morning – looking forward to pageants, plays, singing carols, exchanging gifts and learning more each year about the true “reason for the season.” Doing all the “kid things” we did. They were anxious with fun and hope – doing projects they’d spent hours and hours practicing. Until bullets ended all that.

And the ones that didn’t die. There were more than 600 kids in that school. The ones who heard the shots and the screams. The ones who saw the blood and the bodies of friends they had ridden with on the bus or walked to school with an hour or two before. The little survivors who watched. The child survivors suddenly flooded with emotions and experiences far beyond their youthful abilities to cope. Christmas 2012.

And the parents. The young parents who will stand before small coffins and open holes in the earth. The ones who will go home to silent houses and empty bedrooms littered with all the things left lying around that Friday morning after the kids were gone. To school. To the safety of our public education system. In a small, usually quiet Connecticut community. What of them? What of their lives long after the Christmas of 2012?

And the parents who took their children home that day. The parents who came terrified onto the school grounds. The parents crying and screaming names of kids – not knowing if they would answer – if they were alive. Or dead. The parents who suddenly weren’t dealing with the same suburban realities they’d experienced just the day before. The ones now swimming in a sea of red lights, blue uniforms, ambulances coming and going at a dizzying pace. The noise. The sounds of vehicle engines and sirens mixed with the crying of parents who’d already received their tragic news.

And those kids who went home. The ones we’d call “the lucky.” The ones with heads filled with experiences and emotions they could not come close to understanding. The ones faced with trying to cope with things most adults can’t fully understand. The ones whose lives are invisibly scarred and who face lifetimes that will always be divided into “before Christmas 2012″ and “after Christmas 2012.

And the teachers. Mourning the ones – the friends – who died. The children they taught. The ones who died. Maybe they can cope. Maybe they can’t. What will their lives be like? Will they forever listen for noises they used to ignore? How will they react to someone walking or running past the classroom door? How will they view the next adult – unknown to them – as he or she walks down a hall? What will that first hour back in the classroom really be like? For the teacher.

I can’t help mixing those pictures – those questions – with several years of experiences ringing Christmas bells and watching rifles, shotguns and ammunition rolling out of our “big box” stores at Christmas time. The events of Connecticut, Christmas 2012 – with the cacophony of bells and seasonal songs – all that joy – and joy ended – keeps coming back to me in the form of questions.

When are we going to admit we’ve talked this gun business to death and make stopping the unabated slaughter a national commitment?

When are we going to stop declaring “wars-of-choice” and divert some of those billions of dollars into mental health research so we can identify and deal with potential assassins before they kill more of us?

When are we Americans going to tell the National Rifle Association to GO TO HELL and instruct our ever-cowering members of Congress to find the guts to create laws dealing with this armed insanity?

Christmas this year – in Newtown – will not be the same. Just as it was in past Christmases in Portland, Aurora, Tucson, Detroit, Durham and so many, many other places for so many, many other years.

A really unaffiliated political group

Author: Barrett Rainey

STOP THE PRESSES! HOLD THE PHONE! Or, as Wolf Blitzer would say, “We have BREAKING NEWS coming into the Situation Room!” Well, that’s what he tries to say – no matter how it comes out.

Have you heard of the “nones?” No, not “nuns.” NONES! Well, you’re going to get familiar with that label and be seeing and hearing more about that group if you follow elections. It’s the newest identifier word among political wonks and the Nate Silver’s of the world.

“Nones” are officially voters who have no specific religious affiliation. The “nones.” In the 2012 election numbers, “nones” accounted for 17% of the vote. Put in perspective, 17% is larger than Hispanic vote, 18-24 year olds or the hardest core of pro-lifers. Can you say “significant?”

The Pew Research Center says this new classification of voters is “politically important and consequential” and “one of the strongest Democratic constituencies in the population.” In 2012, Pew found about one in five survey respondents called themselves “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” All said they never attend church.

Now that attendance information might be unimportant if you figure there are probably a lot more “unchurched” folks out there who don’t vote. So what? But if 17% of the people who DO vote can be identified, the question for political campaigns is “how do we reach them?” ‘Cause they gotta be reached!

These folks are important. In 2008, for example, numerically they were as reliable a constituency for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants were for John McCain. Democrats didn’t identify the “nones” and go after those votes! There was no specific effort to target them. How could there be? And their number grew a full three percentage points from 2008-2012.

The demographics of “nones” make them hard to appeal to. They seem to be liberal on social issues – more likely to support same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. But half surveyed called their political ideology “conservative” and about 40% “moderate.” A real mixed bag. Still, they appear to lean heavily toward Democrats.

It’s not surprising that two-thirds of the “nones” believe churches and other faith-based organizations are too involved in politics while 70% say religious institutions are “too concerned with money and power.”

Remember – it’s the “money and power” factors that make groups like evangelical Christians and Catholics targets of political campaigns because they can plug into nationwide communications networks and fund raising. These “nones” don’t have a system of connection so, again, how do you find them and how do you reach them?

There’s a group called “Secular Coalition for America” that lobbies on behalf of atheists, agnostics and a few others. But membership in that one organization is nowhere near the 17% identified as a voting block.

Now, here’s where we wander off into speculation. The “what ifs.”

There are many, many disaffected Republicans out there. Their party has raced to the edge of the known political flat earth – leaving the moderates behind. Sort of “out in the middle of the political road,” so to speak. My own belief is there are more being left out than being included but the “included” ones have control of the party. And will continue to do so for many moons.

While the “controllers” will soon make some mealy-mouthed legislative overtures to Hispanics, Blacks and other target groups, it’s a good bet there will be nothing substantive enough to divert large numbers to the present GOP cause in the next few years. Bet on it.

So, “what if” that sizeable number of rational, more moderate Republicans reached out to this “nones” group? “What if” some of the more conservative-but-independent voters joined up? Could you put enough of these proven – and in some cases disaffected – voters together to make a political party?

Conversely, “what it” Democrats figure out how to communicate with this 17% of “nones” who really do go to the polls? Added to Hispanics, Blacks and other minorities beyond a serious Republican reach, seems you’d have a coalition that would keep the GOP elephants in the wilderness for several generations.

Well, as I said, “speculation.” But here’s a fact. When you can count those “nones” votes that make up as large a block as they do – and you know they’re out there and what they think – some smart political wonk is going to figure out how to reach them. And – more important – how to appeal to them and move them into a party.

So what’s your bet? Which more inclusive national political party do you think will be successful?

Whatever happened to the word “moderate?” You hardly here it these days. If you’re talking about someone’s politics, “so-and-so is on the right” or “so-and-so is on the left.” But no moderate. If you’re talking media, there’s “right” and “left” and “conservative” and “liberal.” But no moderate. If it’s congress, members are referred to as “right” and “left” but too seldom “moderate.” The word has almost disappeared.

My Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines moderate as: “avoiding extremes; observing reasonable limits; avoiding extreme political or social matters or behavior; reasonable; one who favors a moderate course.” Still sounds good to me.

I have friends on the right. And friends on the left. Over the years of my journalistic career, some of each have accused me of being a fellow traveler with the other. Right or left. And people I’ve never heard of who respond to these opinion pieces often start out by labeling me one or the other. Right or left. After so many years of this, I’ve learned to immediately discard whatever the response if it starts out “You are obviously a right winger – or left winger……” Or “nut.” Or “crazy.” Or worse.

For reasons I don’t fathom, we seem to have to label everyone. Assign them a space on some imaginary line that runs from right to left, left to right or some other extreme. Or put them in a box with a label on it. We do it with movie stars. George Clooney is obviously on the left while Sylvester Stallone is a “rightie.” We do it with musicians, rock stars, economists, scientists, the homeless and – at times – God. I’ve heard Jesus described both right and left. We do it with churches. Presbyterians, of course, are “always” left – Baptists and fundamentalists are “always” to the right. Whether true or not.

Political candidates often dodge the word “progressive.” That same dictionary defines it as “making use of – or interested in – new ideas, encouragement of self-expression, moving forward or onward.” Sounds not only reasonable to me but highly desirable. Especially in a government.

At our house, we’re registered Independents in political fact. Deferring again to Mr. Webster: “not affiliated with a larger controlling unit (read ‘political party’); not looking to others for one’s opinions; showing a desire for freedom.” What’s wrong with that?

But, you know, in today’s “everybody-must-have-a-label” society, I’ve been called “cowardly” for not being a member of either “major” party. I’ve been told I have no political voice in our democracy. I’ve even been called “un-American.”

These three words – moderate, progressive, independent – have either disappeared from most of our nation’s political discourse or have been redefined in some twisted ways to make them seem distasteful and repugnant. Our national camp is, for so many people, defined narrowly as “right,” “left,” “conservative,” or “liberal.” Anything else is not acceptable.

In the words of Col. Henry Potter: “Road Apples!!!”

It’s been my lifelong experience that the most noise, the most distortion, the most divisiveness come from the – wait for it – right and left. The majority of us – the moderates or independents in the middle – the great politically unwashed or unaligned – seem to endure as we make political decisions guiding the country. Doing so surrounded by the extremist clamor that defines two loud minorities. The two major political parties.

Yes, as a nation, we veer a little to one side or the other now and then. That’s a good thing. Because the middle – where most of us live – is wide enough and flexible enough – and smart enough – to accommodate the noisemakers and name callers while staying on course.

Even now, with tough economic conditions, high unemployment and wars, we “keep on keepin’ on.” Swings too far from the center line are largely avoided and those that occur are always – always – corrected sooner or later. May take an election or two. But, despite the rancor and occasional outright nastiness of the labelers, the moderate, progressive, independent center is where the most important decisions are made. The ones that endure.

Now that Nate Silver has achieved the title of “Most Accurate Pollster To Ever Poll A Poll,” I’d guess he’s deeply involved in negotiating a new, well-earned deal at The New York Times for considerably higher wages. Wonkish to the top of his little bifocals, he called 49 out of 50 state congressional races and gave the Obama administration reason to sleep well during the late stages of the presidential run.

With campaigning over for awhile, young Nate should be taking time off to peddle his book or teach advanced statistics at Columbia. But, NO, not the Prince of Polls. He’s writing his almost-daily column and still digging around in discarded reams of other people’s polls on the campaign floor. His findings are interesting.

Mitt and many of his former gang are in various stages of seclusion. A few – at the top of what has to be the least informed and least effective presidential campaign staff in history – are speaking out about their hammering. Some are proving conclusively – on Faux News and CNN and in various op-eds- that they were bad at their jobs. Likewise, the GOP is searching blindly to see what it all means. So far, it’s clear they don’t know. All of ‘em should be talking to Silver. He knows exactly.

It’s important to remember Nate doesn’t do polling. He carefully selects data from those who do. Not all of it fits his needs. Sort of like scoring at the Olympics – throw out the top and bottom – take your numbers from the middle. Plus some mumbo-jumbo only Nate understands while adding his own “secret ingredients.” As he has said, “avoid the passion and stick with the numbers.”

While Mitt was contributing almost daily to his own electoral demise, Neal Newhouse and his other polling elves were blindly assisting. They were living in a data “cone of silence” exclusive of outside information. When that happens, and you have even one error, it becomes a part of the base data and is perpetuated in everything that comes after. Simple as that. Like getting ALL your news only from Fox. Or MSNBC. Any one source.

Also, consider this from Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman, testifying under oath at last year’s federal trial of his former boss, John Edwards. Hickman on his own interior campaign polls: “I didn’t much care if they were accurate. I didn’t necessarily take these as for – as you would say – the truth of the matter. I took them more as propaganda for the campaign.” That from a political numbers guy who’s been around for years. How?

Campaigns – aside from being susceptible to bad information – can also fool themselves, according to Silver. “Our self-perceptions are very often more optimistic than reality. For instance, 80% of people think they are above-average drivers.” Perception versus reality.

Silver adds, “Honest self-assessment for business is one reason outside management consultants are engaged – at considerable expense – to provide corporations more objective data.” Romney, Ryan and their own people admitted they disregarded outside polling in favor of their own “internals.”

Silver also blames “group-think.” Pollsters in campaigns face many perverse incentives competing with their ability to produce accurate results. They may worry about hurting the morale of a candidate – worry about telling the candidate bad news – may be worried that bad news could end their services if the candidate feels the race is hopeless.

A political campaign shielded from reality – accepting only its own data and operating without independent information – is doomed from day one. The Romney campaign believed all the outside “independent” polling showing Obama in the lead was flawed because its own internal numbers were so different. So strong. So consistent. Political hubris and ignorance were significant contributors to the campaign’s downfall.

I’ve posited for a long time those on the right – true conservatives all the way out to the funny hat crowd – who get their news ONLY from Fox, Limbaugh, Beck, Larson, Medved et al – are oblivious to reality. Particularly political news. For those of you whose feelings I’ve just hurt, throw in MSNBC or CNN or any other single source you perceive to be left of your position. Same thing. Any omission of fact – deliberate or not – any misstatement of fact – deliberate or not – then becomes part of the “truth” – the “true facts” for the “true believers.” It’s self-perpetuating. Guaranteed!

Without checks and balances of other facts – other realities that may make you uncomfortable – you’re operating in the same “cone of silence” as the Romney campaign. In the end, the value of your thinking will be just as faulty as Mitt’s polls.

Trusted professional political friends on the national scene tell me they’re doing a complete “autopsy” of Obama’s team and tools. Already they’re in awe of the depth of data, the expanse of information acquired about supporters and voters-at-large, the motivating tools used to keep volunteers in their base interested and involved, locations of their grassroots workers network and how all of this was compiled into such an excellent, useable product. In “real time.” What the professionals are discovering is that our just-completed campaign has broken all the old molds and set a standard for any politician who wants to be successful from now on. Data. Hard data. Reliable data. “Real time” data. Useable data.

So, believing their own “facts,” were Mitt and his minions staying in touch with reality? Or were they simply drinking the Kool-Aid of their single source “experts” while feeling completely informed of their own “reality?”

Which begs the question – “When you turn off Faux News, are you in touch with things the way they really are? Or are you simply – well, you know – drinking that stuff? What’s in your reality “glass?”

Fiscal Cliff? Or some backroom poker?

Author: Barrett Rainey

A magician’s best weapon to fool you is “misdirection – a word, a gesture or a movement to make you think or look at something different from what the guy’s actually doing. When the really good ones master the concept, you’ll be fooled every time. Works well in politics, too.

All our national media is awash in “fiscal cliff” hysteria. Will we go over? Will we be saved at the last minute? How bad will it be? Who’ll be to blame? All this “cliff” business is drowning out just about everything else. To me, all that noise is misdirection. You gotta keep your eye on what they’re doing – not what they’re saying.

Both sides are dug in. Really entrenched if you believe the talking heads. “Absolutely no way they’ll get together on anything before the end of the year” all the “experts” say. Maybe. Maybe not. A little piece of news out of the U.S. House this week may have more to do with that “misdirection” analogy than the media thinks.

Speaker Boehner jettisoned four of his soggy tea baggies off two important committees. Huelskamp of Kansas and Amash of Michigan are no longer on House Budget. You remember that group? Paul Ryan chairs that one. He of “Ryan Budget” fame. Medicare vouchers and all that. The other two – Schweikert of Arizona and Jones of North Carolina – no longer have keys to the House Financial Services Committee men’s room.

All four were abruptly dropped – apparently told by the media before being officially informed – for what House leadership said was “failure to be team players.” And what had these miscreants done? Well, three voted against the Ryan budget in committee or on the House floor. And Jones openly challenged leadership by opposing the war in Afghanistan. Defiance of orders to “get in line and go along.” Plus – he’s a budget “hawk.”

While such punishments are not normally worth noting outside the inside pecking order, these four get my attention. They share a common connection – three contaminated by tea baggerism and a fourth spouting anti-war sentiments. All are bedrock hard opposing new taxes. Of course, they’re not the only ones in the House. But – when pushed to a vote in the “official” House budget process – these four have been among the loudest naysayers. They want more and much deeper cuts in the national debt and no – absolutely NO – tax increases of any kind. Not likely they’re going to change. For any reason. These are not the kind of guys you want in positions of authority behind your back if you’re Boehner and trying to compromise with the rest of your caucus and the White House.

That’s why I label this interior shuffling “misdirection” and give it some importance. Boehner’s team is going to lose some votes on the House floor no matter what the final meeting-of-the-minds compromise turns out to be. He knows that. He also knows if he can’t get enough votes from hardliners in his financial committees to get any compromise out for a full vote, all Republicans are going to get pounded in the 2014 election because the public already perceives them as obstructionists. Polling in recent days has run as high as 58% against them if there’s no deal.

Boehner – who’s been a real underachiever in the Speaker’s job – wants desperately to compromise. But, to do that, he has to do some House “cleaning” or any agreement he signs onto will die before it’s born.

At the same time, in the Senate, eight members from both parties have been secretly trying to build a budget deal. Idaho’s Mike Crapo is one of ‘em. Using the Simpson-Bowles report as a starting point, this little group has been cutting, shifting and whittling numbers for a couple of months. And – with rumored “unofficial” input from the White House. Scuttlebutt is they’ve made significant progress. Enough so their discussions have turned to how to get whatever their final plan is through the House. If this group of “four+four” is successful, odds are good their compromise will be approved by the full Senate. But, what about the House? What if all their work winds up dead in some House committee because the extreme minority of goofy tea baggerists can keep it bottled up?

Despite public chest pounding and ultimatums, I think Boehner’s trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. He’s got to be aware of details that Senate group is talking about. He has to. And you can bet there’ll be some “revenue enhancements” – read “tax increases” – because nothing works without ‘em. It’s his job to make sure whatever lands on his desk gets a true “up-or-down” vote. He’s got to count each nose in his caucus to find the necessary “yes” votes. About 218 total – give or take a nose.

But take all this guessing one step further. The budget deal is just the first step. There will be many more very important issues/votes in the early days of the new Congress. If Boehner can isolate some – not all but some – of the baggers, the House may be open for business. And if Harry Reid can get those filibuster rules changed, a simple majority will remove the logjam in the Senate. You accomplish both those things and a congress – now rated lower than used car salesmen by the public – may be able to do business.

Is all of this conjecture? Maybe. Maybe not. But Boehner, Reid and all the others in leadership positions didn’t get there because they showed everybody at the poker table all the cards in their hands. A little bluster. A little bluff. And, often, a good helping of misdirection. Watch for yourself.