Archive for March, 2013

Headlines we could have done without

Author: Barrett Rainey

The first headline:


A day or so later, the second headline appeared:


The next day, another:


Taken individually, each of those headlines stands alone as events in today’s news. Taken together, they tell a different story of a nation stagnating under political failure, citizens arming themselves against their own government and each other and a society where fear of lawlessness – steeped in ignorance – interferes with the conduct of our daily lives.

While the first story seems to be about the top general in the Marines passing along some common sense combat philosophy – probably already learned in basic training – it’s really more a tragic statement about our current national political failures.

The real reason for the general’s admonition is the sequester! The self-inflicted “let’s-play-political-chicken-with-our-national-economy-and-our-national-defense” idiocy our “representatives” have created in Washington. What the commandant was really telling the troops was “We’re running out of money to buy the ammunition and other weaponry you need to beat the enemy while trying to get yourselves out of that damned country alive.”

In fact, all our military services are being crippled by politicians – not all politicians – just the idiots who’ve absolutely no idea what the hell they’re doing in elective office. The army is cancelling training maneuvers and other preparedness activities. Including weapons use. The air force has curtailed training missions and many routine operations. The navy has called some ships back to port, limited flight operations because of the costs of aviation fuel and is foregoing certain readiness activities. The coast guard has reduced its sea-going drug interdiction missions. All services have begun laying off civilian support workers. Because our Congress has taken a meat axe to make indiscriminate cuts in our entire national budget.

The second headline is also a dreadful commentary on this country at the moment. A country slowly being paralyzed by paranoia and fear. Gun sellers are running out of weapons and the ammunition for the first time in our nation’s history because a bunch of scared people are hoarding it all to use on their government. Or their neighbors. Or each other.

New polling shows most Americans don’t own a gun and they’re not the one’s out there buying one for the first time. Today’s buyers are more likely to be people who already have guns and now are buying still more while putting dozens more boxes of ammunition into the crawl space under their homes.

The third headline – Michael Vick and his book tour – is really connected to – and an outgrowth of – the gun craziness and speaks to irrational fears and our personal safety. For all of us.

I’m not a big fan of Michael Vick. The savagery of his dog fighting years is repulsive – a stain he’ll carry for life. But he was convicted – served his time – has engaged in some extensive charitable work regarding animals – has rededicated himself to responsible animal care – and has resumed his professional football career in fine manner. The way I was raised, he did the crime – he did his time – he’s trying to make amends. That should square him with society. Those are our normal expectations of someone who’s done something wrong. As the anti-gay crowd is fond of saying “Love the sinner – hate the sin.”

Now he’s written a book about his experiences – and his growth – as a lot of people in public life have done. But his publisher has had to cancel all his book-signing appearances because of repeated anonymous threats to kill him if he appears in certain cities. For a book signing? In a book store?

In nearly all instances, threats against Vick are anonymous. That’s the curse of the blessing of technology today. The Internet. Cretins with the mental acuity of moss can lob their threats with no personal responsibility. But several police departments have taken it seriously enough to ask Vick to stay away. So he has.

Is it too much to connect the dots here? From cowards among us who use anonymity to foist their irrational hate on the rest of us so our normal behavior is changed to avoid violence? To national paranoia and more irrational fear that causes thousands of Americans to create personal armories to use against any of the rest of us who might appear to be a threat to them? To our very national defense which is hamstrung by politicians irrationally who fear the size of their own government and, in that fear, are putting our national security and those who provide it in jeopardy?

I don’t think so. Fear seems to have become our common national theme. It’s manifest in nearly everything we do. We’re being consumed by it nationally – in politics – in our personal relationships – in groups trying to divide themselves from the rest of us in what used to be a united country.

But if you really want to feel fear – to be afraid – put yourself in a fox hole in Afghanistan – 20-years-old – and your commanding general has just told you to be careful with your ammunition because politicians have made it impossible for the Marines to buy more.

Now THAT’s fear!

Several weeks ago, some new express lanes were added to the Washington D.C. beltway – not normally a point of interest or concern here in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods. Your neighborhood either, I’d guess. But, you might pay more attention if you knew who paid for those improvements and who owns them – private construction companies Flour and Transurban.

“And just why did those two private outfits put up the millions to add to our national transportation system?” you ask. “To make a profit,” sez I. “To own them,” sez I. And that worries me. A lot.

The new D.C. traffic lanes are for carpool use. But, if you’re alone, want to get out of the other four lanes and into the much lighter traffic, go ahead. After you pay the fee. For a few bucks more, you can just whiz to work alone with the carpoolers. And your money goes where? Why, Flour and Transurban, of course. After all, it’s their road now. Or, at least part of it.

One of the tenets of conservatism I’ve long agreed with is government should do the things government does best – private enterprise should do what private enterprise does well. Good balance. Philosophically and often fiscally. But the key is “balance.” And that’s too often hard to achieve.

We look to government for a sound military and conducting our national defense. But, over the last decade or so, we’ve turned over more of the responsibility for our military operations to private business. Housing, food service, construction and a lot of other formerly military-only tasks are now done in many places by civilian contractors.

You might be O.K. with that. But how about the same civilian contracting for security and fighting a war? How about the thousands of mercenaries we hire? Civilians. Is that just the same concept? Firing the bullets instead of cooking food or building a base? Killing on behalf of our government so the military can do something else?

As I said, balance.

In a more mundane way, this privately-owned highway business raises a lot of questions about who should be doing what. Historically, some level of government has always built all our highways. We have city, county, state and federal systems. We build ‘em and we maintain ‘em. We own ‘em.

But, as our various governments are pushed harder against the financial wall, they’re looking for help. Really big construction and engineering companies like Bechtel and Samsung are talking with the big – really big – banks. Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs are two – with billions in pension funds and all those insurance dollars just lying around. The idea is they put up large amounts of up-front funding, getting paid back – plus a lot of interest – by owning them and charging us for using them.

But if you and I don’t own the highways – and if those highways need fixing down the road so to speak – what recourse is there to see that private enterprise does its job? What if one of the big corporations – after making a few billion dollars – takes the money and goes out of business? Who does the necessary rebuilding? And who pays?

And just to add a little frosting on this conundrum, they’re talking using this private enterprise deal to build – and rebuild – bridges on our highway system. God knows, they need it. For instance, Bechtel builds a bridge here and a bridge there and a bridge somewhere else, then charges tolls which the company keeps. So, let’s say private companies like Bechtel build – or rebuild – and own 15 bridges from Seattle to Los Angeles. That’s potentially 15 toll collections along Interstate 5 going one way and 15 more going the other. On a route we now drive for free. Free, that is, after we put up the billions in tax dollars to build the whole thing in the first place.

Industry newsletter Public Works Financing (PWF) has identified a dozen projects hat were proposed in 2012 with a value of about $20 billion. Since 2008, 10 others were completed or are still underway. One is a tunnel linking the Port of Miami to an interstate. There are several toll highway expansions in the East. And, in Long Beach, Calif, one company built a new courthouse. And owns it. Charges the taxpayers rent.

PWF has estimated there are now over 100 private funds in place to do more of this kind of thing. But – so far – there’s more money available than there are projects. One reason – whether a courthouse or a road or a bridge – the project has to be high-use and in large populations areas so tolls or rents can exceed construction and operating costs. But, if more governments contract out this sort of stuff, someone will figure out a way to use it for more things – in more places. Even in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods.

As I said, “balance.” But there are so many things out-of-balance in our system of government right now -and society in general – that new ventures like these trouble me. While “necessity” may be “the mother of invention,” I’d hate to see our governments at any level jump into this private ownership of highway, bridge, public buildings idea while under today’s extreme financial pressures. Let’s regain our national balance and take some time to examine all the ramifications of these types of ventures.

Somehow, I just don’t think it’ll be comforting to drive across an interstate bridge built -and owned – by the folks who make Big Mac’s.

The change that won’t be

Author: Barrett Rainey

“Will they try to change the pizza inside or the box it came in?”

I’ve forgotten who asked that when Republicans announced shortly after the November election defeat they’d be trying to figure out what went wrong. But now the official GOP post-mortem has been published and the question is more relevant that ever. Also easier to answer. The box.

The apparent centerpiece of the Republican Party’s new effort for 2014 is the request $10 million to be set aside to hire more staff to do “fieldwork.” The idea is to put more GOP staff on the streets and in neighborhoods to spread messages of inclusion and cooperation. Of meaningful change. Create converts, as it were. Normally a good plan.

Leadership also wants to hire a technology guru – with support staff – to try to catch Democrats in the use of polling and social media. Reince Priebus and company want a reduction in the number of presidential debates and to move the national nominating convention earlier in the year than August because the races are pretty much over by then.

I’ve read the autopsy report at length. As a plan to redesign the box the pizza came in, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. The problem is, I can’t find any recommendations for a more positive message or to eliminate the social issues that’ve angered voters and cost the GOP recent elections. No new plans for improving the quality of candidates fielded or concrete steps for real inclusion and outreach. Nothing to improve the pizza inside. It’s all remodeling the box.

There’s no mention of ending Republican-sponsored efforts to erect barriers to minority voting, for example The report talks about “connecting” with minorities. But how do you do that truthfully when the Party has been proven to be the sponsor of congressional and legislative attempts to keep minorities from the polls?

You won’t find a new, more moderate position on gay marriage, either. How do you tell the LBGT community you want to include them for their votes but you deny them access to CPAC or other Republican programs?

I found nothing about outreach to low income families with messages of how the Party can be a “home” for them. Hard to do that when you’re the political party trying to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and even women’s health care. What kind of “home” is that?

Respected political writer Charlie Cook has been looking at Republicans and their plans for the future. He’s come up with an intriguing finding which could really sink what the Party is trying to do to attract minorities. Congressional Republicans used the 2010 census to gerrymander election districts. Fact. Democrats probably would’ve done the same if they’d had a majority.

When the GOP set up new, redrawn districts to assure Republican protection for current officeholders, it twisted the lines big time so the Republican base would be inside and would exclude those likely to vote for a Democrat. Minorities were cut out wherever possible. Problem with that, according to Cook, is inside those lines you have a lot of older, white voters and very few minorities. The GOP base. So, as a future candidate of a party trying to attract minority voters with a new message, even if you convince them, they can’t vote for you. They’re in the heavily Democrat districts the GOP created. And the old, white base is shrinking quickly. “Hoist on your own petard” as the saying goes

The new “autopsy report” isn’t good news for thinking Republicans who want their party’s fortunes to improve. It’s new paint and new recaps on a 1983 Plymouth. No matter how good it looks outside, the running parts inside are all 30 years old. Add what this report proposes to the gibberish, rejected candidates and one-liners from the CPAC meeting, and underlying messages aren’t going to appeal to more voters than they did in 2012.

About all the money spent on this Republican plan has done is give Democrat professionals even more reason to look for major party gains in 2014. And 2016. And 2020. And???

What if the Kochs were Democrats?

Author: Barrett Rainey

The saddest people I know at the moment are my Republican friends. The ones who watched the CPAC convention last week. Eager to again be proud of the good ol’ Republican brand, they were looking for some hint – some small clue – that all this talk of recognizing the Party’s recent electoral failures and the expected new efforts to heal the badly wounded elephant would result in some good GOP news for a change.

What they saw was a parade of the same oft-rejected faces living in another time and certainly another world. They heard the same old mantras voters have ignored before. Looking for substance that Republicans at the national level were hard at work banishing defeated voices of the past while offering a glimpse of a new, more positive future, they saw time-warp presentations of same-old, same-old. All harbingers of more time to come in the political wilderness.

Thinking Republicans were treated to three days of ample evidence that those who control the GOP administration and the nominating process nationally are more committed than ever to a course of public destruction. Even with the heavily gerrymandered congressional districts and Republican-sponsored voter restrictions we’ve witnessed in many states, 2014 looks even more promising for Democrats. If the many threats heard at CPAC about challenging Republican incumbents from the far right are carried out, that’ll be the cherry on top.

I came away from the CPAC experience with such an unworldly, disconnected feeling of political fantasy, I came up with some of my own.

Suppose – just suppose – the Koch Brothers, Foster Freize, Adeleson and the other billionaires were – gasp – life-long Democrats. What if they had bankrolled the other side of the aisle 30 or 40 years ago when they began to surreptitiously worm their way into the political woodwork of a national party? What if they’d poured those hundreds of millions of dollars into candidates and causes representing the poor, educational improvements, new energy development, climate change, a redesigned military for today’s conditions, veteran’s care, mental and physical health research and … well … many other things?

If those ubber-rich guys – with their vast resources – had been behind people and movements devoted to those and other important issues, would we be in the mess we are in Congress right now? With all the terribly important problems that need to be addressed in the House and Senate, would the Republican angst be as high as the one emergency national issue they’ve complained about the most? Discontinued tours of the White House?

Had that fantasy been reality for several decades, we would be living in a far different country. As a nation, we’d be working on those and many other issues. And, when people are working, they do a lot less bitching and become part of the team. And, with more people working, deficit reduction is less a fantasy and broken political promise and more a reality.

If you really looked and heard the craziness and otherworldly activities of CPAC last week, you know – you KNOW – cooperation, working together, dedicating national resources to facing and whipping our most important problems had no place in the discussions. You saw absolute resolve to repeat past failed experiences with the same failed faces and their rejected arguments. You heard lies trotted out as fact. You heard messages of division and exclusion. You heard false messages of “change” and “inclusion” while attendees deliberately dis-invited some of the best people the GOP has to offer. Excluded people they need to make “change” and “inclusion” more than feel-good, happy talk.

The reason why the failure of CPAC to offer anything new and positive is so terribly disappointing is that this crowd represents who you’ll see on the ballots in many states in 2014. Many of these crazies control the nominating procedures in their states. Those who “think” like they do will be the names offered you’ll see in too many cases.

Rather than “change” and “inclusion,” they want purity. Winning is less important than adhering to deeply flawed tenets which have produced too many deeply flawed officeholders. CPAC offered no immunization from past political sickness. It was simply an over-ballyhooed booster shot for continued ailments.

Check any dictionary in any language and you’ll usually find these two definitions for the word “politician” among the several listed. One will be “a person holding political office.” The second will use the word “devious” in some way. A descriptive word you’ll never find there is “love.”

While historically an honorable profession, our recent experiences have made us use other words to define politicians. “Self-serving.” “Deceitful.” “Dishonest.” “Uncaring.” “Ignorant.” “Out-of-touch.” And worse. Too often, they are apt.

I’d like to see that word – love – used in politics more often because it can be a great “leveler.” In recent days, it publically appears so for Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), father of a gay son. Long an outspoken conservative voice opposing gay marriage and any other homosexual recognition efforts, Portman is now getting a lot of sympathy for changing his gay marriage stance. It’s no longer just another “safe” political topic to include in speeches to his “conservative” base. It’s become a personal issue dealing with a loved one. Well, good for him. Let’s show the Portman’s – father and son – a little love. But not too much for the Senator.

Portman is only the most recent ardent Republican foe of gay marriage to seem to have a “come-to-Jesus” moment on the matter. Probably the most notable figure to be similarly affected is former VP Dick Cheney. Early in his career in Congress, neo-con Cheney’s was just another contemptible voice loudly damning the country’s gay community. Then – BANG. Suddenly he had a teen lesbian daughter who “came out.” Cheney quickly did a 180 and said marriage should be allowed for “any two people who love each other.” Very similar to the Portman “conversion.”

Except for one thing. When Mitt Romney looked around for a vice presidential running mate over a year ago, Portman’s name was right there near the top of the list. To Romney, Portman was the quintessential, very compatible candidate. Experienced. Squeaky clean. Popular with the GOP base. Represented a large swing state. Matching positions on all the major issues. Including Portman’s oft-pronounced opposition to – wait for it – gay marriage and other issues of homosexuality.

Romney’s search team called him in many months before the election. He was vetted in all possible ways. It was then – over a year ago – that Portman told Romney’s people his son was gay. He was immediately dropped from consideration. Banished.

Which is why I said hold up a bit for all that love stuff. Because Portman’s high-profile and very public voice of opposing homosexual issues has been constant all these many months. Unchanged. Until March 14, 2013. When his son’s sexual orientation became public. But Portman admits his son “came out” to him more than two years ago.

Now the Senator is making the talk show rounds – portraying himself as a loving, understanding and accepting father. Which I’m certain he is. But he’s also “deceitful” and “dishonest.” And “devious.” The other words that too often describes today’s politicians. Because – in all those months – for more than two years – he maintained his public, anti-gay positions in the public conduct of his office. His “Damascus Road” conversion came only when the family secret was suddenly media fodder. March 14, 2013. But it was something he’d known for two years.

Whatever your views on gay marriage or any other issue, they’re your views and a part of who you are. You’re entitled to them. But – if you hold yourself out for elective office – if you repeatedly try to win public support to get and keep you there – if you espouse positions on issues political and social directly contrary to your personal practices – all those negative words apply. And more. Portman’s conduct during all that time had less to do with love and more to do with covering his political butt.

I applaud Sen. Portman for loving and supporting his son. But there’s a bit of hypocrisy here that taints the story. Given the length of time he knew of the situation – while keeping his crafted public image of being a staunch opponent of the same reality he knew at home – that undermines the media trek he’s now on.

Change or die

Author: Barrett Rainey

Something’s happening here in our little Burg in the Oregon forest. Something distressing and disappointing. A damn shame. I’d bet it’s happening where you are, too.

Our little Rotary club is slowly disappearing. More people going out the back door than coming in the front. The other two local Rotary clubs are in the same trouble. So, too, are the Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, VFW and other business and social organizations. Our problem’s not unique. It’s an international issue. Times have changed. We – and they – have not..

Take Rotary. Founded in Chicago over 100 years ago by business leaders to share business news, gossip and professional tips while doing good works, it’s been a highly successful civic group in many a community, eventually going international. To its everlasting credit, Rotary has nearly wiped out polio in the world. If that’s all it ever did, Rotary would have earned everlasting honor in world social and medical history. Great job!

But times have changed and too many organizations have not. For instance, take those “business news, gossip and professional tips” reasons for Rotary’s creation. In too many local clubs, heads of business no longer participate on a regular basis. Most people who belong now can’t write a company check or commit corporate resources to a given community project. Many members have been “appointed” to Rotary or other civic groups by an employer rather than joining voluntarily out of a personal commitment to local volunteerism. Others are there because they genuinely want to do the “good works” but they don’t bring the resources – financial and corporate – that traditionally made clubs viable. And valuable.

As for “business, news and gossip,” small “tips” clubs have sprung up in every city and town. They’re designed to share member news for the benefit of others. A commonality. They meet – share – and go to work. They don’t usually undertake community projects as service clubs have done historically. They’re linked electronically. For their own welfare. It’s a “network” by definition. Business oriented. Not community service.

Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, Masons, Eagles, Moose, The Grange and other business and fraternal groups – like Rotary – have done similar good works and are important parts of the fabric from which this nation was crafted. And – like Rotary – they’re suffering membership losses because – in too many cases – they’ve not changed with the times. Some are already gone.

Just as we aren’t driving the vehicles we did 50-60 years ago – aren’t flying airliners with propellers – aren’t tied to the mail for written communication – aren’t driving state-to-state on two-lane highways – we aren’t conducting business and social affairs the same ways. If we haven’t kept up with the times and adopted the new things that come along, we’re out of business.

I don’t know the long term answers to save these valuable community resources. But it’s patently obvious they must change. In our little Burg, for example, the VFW recently closed two of its three struggling Posts and combined resources into one viable group. Returning military vets from Iraq and Afghanistan wars aren’t joining the VFW in large numbers. They’re founding new relationships in newly-created organizations based on common – and current – experiences to work for their special needs. The VFW has memberships of 70 and 80-year-olds. The new vet organizations memberships are 20-30-40-somethings with much different needs and interests. Which clubs are relevant? Which will grow?

Three local mainline churches – faced with declining memberships and older congregations – have combined three struggling youth groups into a single and more well-attended program. Just reality of the “marketplace.”

Our little community of roughly 20,000 doesn’t need three Rotary Clubs with declining membership. It needs one viable Rotary Club with today’s community service as the basis for membership. As the basis for existence. Same is true for Lions, Kiwanis, Elks and others who used to be valuable community resources. It’s not that they’re no longer appropriate. It’s not that they can’t be important resources for today. And the future. But – just as all of us have done to cope with change – they can’t continue to be important without reshaping their reasons for existence to today’s needs.

What roles they should play must be determined by each. There are still needs and there are still good people willing to serve. But needs changed as communities changed. More important, the business we do – and how we do it – is dramatically different. Not over the last 100 years of Rotary. Just the last decade or two.

Without change – no matter how drastic – some of these groups won’t be around. In a decade or two. And that would be a shame.

Clinically proven politics of fear

Author: Barrett Rainey

I’ve long believed fear drives most of our politics on the right. But it’s been more an unsupported belief than a provable fact. Until I came across some interesting work by Dr. Rose McDermott of Brown University, that seems to show there really is a direct connection. She and several colleagues published their research in the American Journal of Political Science.

Using a large sample of related individuals, researchers first assessed their propensity for fear using lengthy, standardized, clinically administered interviews and tests. In subjects who were related, Dr. McDermott and her crew identified influences such as environment and personal experience and discovered some had a genetic propensity for a higher level of baseline fear. In fact, they experienced fear at even lower levels of threat or provocation than the rest of us.

The primary research finding? “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful; it’s that fearful people are more conservative.”

In one area, there was a strong correlation between social fear and anti-immigration and pro-segregation attitudes. Individuals with higher levels of social fear exhibited the strongest negative attitudes to those two subjects. And there were others.

“People who’re scared of novelty, uncertainty – people they don’t know and things they don’t understand,” McDermott said, “these people are more supportive of politics that provide them with a sense of surety and security.”
The team also found direct links to how political campaigns can be designed to manipulate some people more than others. To make a sizeable group more fearful. Deliberately.

One of the most predictable political certainties of the far right is – and has always been – that it will always frustrate its own efforts. Step on its own feet. It always goes just so long before it splits into smaller factions. Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, Americans For Freedom – you name it. Their origins were with people who were frightened, distrustful – fearful – of conditions at the time. But soon, something in the new group sparked new fears and new distrust. And, amoeba-like, there was a split. Pick a fringe group – research its history – you’ll find a breakup. Maybe two or three. Or more. Time after time after time.

The other factor always found in that scared societal segment – certain people will step up to manipulate the fear. As McDermott’s research pointed out, “political campaigns … designed to manipulate.” I give you Karl Rove, Dick Armey, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Ron and Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Wayne LaPierre. And the most skilled master of political manipulation based on fear- the shameless self-promoter – Newt Gingrich.

Take just Rove as an example to prove the point. What’s happening in his foxhole world right now? A new split, of course! Capitalizing on more moderate Republican fears of losing even more political clout than was lost in November, 2012, Rove has split himself and his billionaire backers into yet another fringe group. The motivating factor again? Fear! Fear the Republican Party will be even less a factor in coming elections than it was in November. Fear there will be fewer Republican faces in Congress to carry out what the Kochs and Adelsons and other billionaires with deep pockets want done. Fear – on Rove’s part – his oversized income will be cut off. Fear! Fear! Fear!

As for Congress, McDermott added, “We get frustrated at Congress for being paralyzed if we apply rational perspectives. But we have to recognize what’s driving paralysis and disagreement has to do with emotional factors not necessarily amenable to or easily shifted by rational arguments.” Fear.

Conversely, what keeps more of us from joining Rove and his minions out there at the end of the limb far to the right? The simple answer is – we’re not the fearful. We may be unhappy. We may be frustrated with our government. We may even want to kick a few asses along the Potomac. Unhappy? Yes. Frustrated? Yes. Want to kick some ass? Yes. Alright, more than a few. But not because we’re afraid. Not because we fear.

“It’s not that conservative people are more fearful – it’s that fearful people are more conservative.”

They fear government. They fear our monetary system. They fear people of color. They fear loss of majority status. They fear fluoride. They fear change. They fear any issue they believe they can’t control.

The rest of us may be angry with them. But we don’t have to fear them. Because – in the end – they will fear each other more than us.

Our problems may soon be yours

Author: Barrett Rainey

While you’ve got enough national crises on your plate at the moment, there’s a new pile of ‘em building up in our little corner of Southwest Oregon that you need to keep up on. You almost never hear the subject mentioned in normal conversation. But we’ve got a county with one foot in a bankruptcy hole and others standing very close to the edge.

The Oregon legislature is wrestling with what to do about this mess but, so far, no bright ideas. There are several pieces of legislation floating around the marble halls in Salem. But no consensus. Yet.

A combination of the loss of millions of dollars tied to federal timberlands and some bad county management has Curry County going to the voters in May for a property tax levy. Asking Curry voters to approve any increase in property taxes for ANY reason is like playing Russian Roulette with six bullets in the chamber. DOA.

All 18 counties who’ve been drawing the federal O&C lands millions for decades are hurting. While several of our congressional hired hands are trying to get yet another extension through the “Congress of the Walking Dead,” don’t hold your breath. In all likelihood, the State of Oregon will have to be the hero that saves the day. If it can.

Several counties swilling at the federal timber trough all these years have managed to put some bucks away – figuring the whole O&C business would end someday. A couple of reduced dollar amount extensions have kept the budgetary wolves at bay for several years. But those days are over. Unless you can picture John Boehner and his posse riding to the rescue with more federal bucks. Yeah.

Curry is in the worst shape primarily because of bad – or maybe gutless – elected mismanagement for many years. Curry collects taxes at about the lowest assessed values in the state. That often happens in a low population county where everybody knows everybody else. A few years ago, Curry had its back to the wall because the Coos-Curry Electric Board refused to regularly raise rates to pass along increases from power suppliers like Bonneville. It was piling up debt while its transmission system was being held together with duct tape. The Board simply tried to absorb increasing costs rather than raise rates on rate payers. The neighbors. Finally, the feds stepped in and said – to the effect – “Start paying back your loans or you won’t be getting any more.” Rates went up. Ratepayers bitched. But the rates went up. And some old board members (neighbors) were defeated.

That same scenario has been playing out with several Curry County commissions refusing to increase property assessments to keep up with costs of county operation over the years. Just bein’ neighborly. Faced with a brick wall straight ahead last year, Curry voters said “NO” and things started going to Hell.

Same in Josephine County where the crime rate is up 50% in Grants Pass and 45% in the county this year. Prosecutions are down 42%. At least two armed civilian groups have been created to keep the peace. There aren’t enough deputies to man the jail. So, unless you’re Jeffrey Dahmer, you plead and go home. Or go back to breaking-and-entering.

Thanks to Sheriff John Bishop in Curry, things aren’t quite that bad. But even he says he’ll have to lock things up if voters say “NO” again.

Meanwhile, back in Salem, there’s House Bill 2206. As law, it would allow the state to take over all or part of county operations if the governor declared a fiscal emergency. Local offices considered most critical for continued operation are county clerk, assessor, treasurer and tax collector. That’s because they set the amount of taxes due, then collect and disburse them to taxing districts and cities. The state would grant some dollars to the county and take tax dollars from cigarettes and liquor sales. It would take dollars from county taxing districts and disburse what’s left to those districts such as fire, library, cemetery and cities.

And that’s where the Oregon League of Cities is objecting. What if there’s nothing left? Which is likely. What if the dollars run out before the cities get theirs? So, HB 2206 is stuck in committee. They’re workin’ on it.

Separate bills are trying to patch up county prosecutors offices, law enforcement and others to keep counties open for business. Rep. Bruce Hanna has HB 2924 on his desk. As law, it would allow counties to formally file for bankruptcy. No county ever has in Oregon history. So, a lot of folks are trying to figure out what would happen if Curry or Josephine or Lane or some other county were forced off the cliff.

So, consider. Highways are not patrolled overnight in many locales. Gun sales are at a peak. Two armed vigilante groups are roaming the roads in Josephine. Crime rates are going way up. Roads are going to Hell. School districts, water, sewer, highway districts and more can’t keep up with repairs as infrastructure hereabouts cracks and breaks. Our school district is talking closure of at least one elementary school with all the problems that creates. Many city and county employee job vacancies aren’t being filled. So we have problems keeping some services while our already high unemployment- and crime – rates go up.

Unless you live in Southwest Oregon, all this may seem irrelevant to you. Interesting. But not your problem. Well, here’s something to think about. Suppose the folks in Salem decide the only way to bail out SOME countries is to rearrange formulas for state and federal grant dollars to ALL counties. Suppose they decide re-opening jails, fixing broken water supplies and putting more cops back on the highways are necessary for the public well-being. If our county revenues won’t do that for some, where will the state look for other funding?

Like all governments, the State of Oregon has just so many places to hunt for dollars. Taking a few bucks from one pocket to put in the empty one is about all there is. The question is: if one pocket (or more) has the need, which pocket (or more) can spare the bucks? Maybe yours.

Support your local police chief

Author: Barrett Rainey

Over the last couple of months, several hundred sheriffs in this nation have made some ridiculous, self-serving public statements, passing themselves off as self-appointed arbiters of what’s constitutional and what’s not when it comes to the very public issues of guns, gun ownership and gun laws.

Here in the Oregon woods, our guy was one of the first to sound the “Barney Fife alert,” announcing he would not enforce any gun laws he “believed unconstitutional” nor would he “allow federal law enforcement to do so” in his jurisdiction. Absent a law degree or a judicial appointment – while ignoring the fact that constitutional determinations are the sole province of our court system – his unwise and certainly politically motivated announcement played only to the far right while undermining the respect a number of us previously had for him. Gun owners or not.

He certainly was not alone out there on his chosen limb. There were some others – in Oregon and elsewhere – who got on the bandwagon to play to the right while making the rest of us wonder about their suitability for the job.

Making the sheriffs appear all the more blatantly political – and all the more out of step with what all polling is suggesting the majority of us want done on these issues – are long-held official positions of the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police. The IACP has over 21,000 members and has formed a number of official positions on guns, gun ownership and gun safety.

Here are some of those IACP statements:

ARMOR PIERCING AMMO: Prohibit the sale of such ammo tested and found to fit the armor piercing description by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN: Opposed the sale since 1992 and members have re-authorized that position several times and currently still do..

CONCEALED WEAPONS: Opposes any federal effort to allow concealed weapons carry in states other than where a permit is issued without new federal requirements. Applies to all citizens – including former law enforcement people.

FIREARMS ENFORCEMENT: Increase federal resources to better allow local enforcement and greater prosecution for Brady Act violations. IACP supports Project Safe Neighborhoods and others local programs because they work.

FIREARMS OFFENDER REGISTRY: Supports a federal registry for offenders convicted of felony or misdemeanor firearms violations similar to the sex offender registry.

PURCHASE WAITING PERIOD: IACP supports legislation creating a mandatory five-day wait- or “cooling off” period – prior to completion of a handgun purchase.

GUN SHOW LOOPHOLE: Wants Congress to close person-to-person gun show sales loopholes. Make all gun registry laws apply as they are supposed to.

ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING AND TRACING: IACP opposes all legislation that would weaken current federal laws dealing with law enforcement’s ability to trace illegal firearms.

These are some of the positions on guns of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Contrast them to the bombast and vote-chasing noises emanating from many of our local sheriffs who’re holding themselves out to be deciders of all things constitutional.

I know who I’d rather have watching my back.

The unfunny far right cartoons

Author: Barrett Rainey

Have you noticed that comics in what’s left of our newspapers aren’t funny anymore? They’re really not. Some deal with families and kids. Others have weird characters appealing to narrow audiences. Even my favorite – “Doonesbury” – uses mostly unfunny political issues – but does so with wit and savagery. I love it.

I was brought up with “Dick Tracy,” “Terry and the Pirates,” “Smilin’ Jack,” “Li’l Abner,” “Smoky Stover,” “Little Orphan Annie” and dozens more. Funny and adventurous and memorable for well-drawn characters and good storylines. Even some laugh-out-loud stuff. All gone.

So, what’s a guy who likes daily doses of the humorous do for giggles? Well, I turn to the right wing of what remains of the old Republican Party. If you don’t take the characters therein as seriously as they take themselves, you’ll get lots of laughs. And much of the time, those characters are no more real than a good comic strip. But nearly always laughable.

I used to watch folks on the Democrat left, but they weren’t much fun. Even going back to the ‘60’s, they’d pick a spot and usually stay put. Maybe anti-war. Maybe anti-Wall Street. Things like that. Pretty predictable stuff. No fun.

Ah, but the GOP right. The far right is the amoeba of American politics – always moving, shape-shifting, splitting, re-splitting. Then splitting again. Always predictable – but always different – because that’s how the right was born. Folks who were afraid and distrustful. It hasn’t changed in decades. Fear and suspicion are in the DNA. People drawn to the right move far out on that political limb because they fear government – they fear foreign countries – they fear the United Nations – they fear any monetary currency except gold – they fear people of color – they fear chlorine – and sooner or later, they come to fear each other. Always! More predictable than gravity.

And, because they’re the most fearful of any of our native political movements, easy pickin’s for the Karl Roves, Rick Perrys, Gingrichs, Bachmans, Koch Brothers and all the other hustlers that come along. Full of fear, the far right’s accepted them But, then, they’d trust anyone who talks like they do or “thinks” like they do or says things they want to hear.

Take the Tea Party scam. “Grassroots,” right? “Just we ‘average’ Americans in the street,” right? Yeah, right. Wrong! In spades!

The whole scheme was created several decades ago by the Koch boys and others in the tobacco and fossil fuels businesses. National Institutes of Health – in particular it’s National Cancer Institute of all places – discovered the long-term strategy to promote anti-science and anti-government agendas going back to 1971. Here’s a direct N-I-H quote from the research.

“In 1971, a prominent tobacco lawyer – Lewis Powell – wrote a plan for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to shift the balance of political power to favor corporations. Two months later, Richard Nixon appointed Powell to the U.S. Supreme court. There he worked with other pro-corporate justices to interpret laws in favor of corporate interests – especially corporate ‘personhood’ in several decisions”

Does that last sentence sound familiar? Remember the “Citizens United” decision from the SCOTUS ascribing “personal rights” to corporations? Remember Romney’s “Corporations are people, too, my friend?”

Back to the federal report.

“Corporate lobbying exploded from $100 million in 1975 to $3.5 billion in 2010. Corporations made voluminous donations to pro-corporate candidates at all levels of government and created “think tanks” to influence public opinion in favor of market fundamentalism. The Tea Party was a clear extension.”

I would add American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and several other groups created by corporate money to infect state legislatures.

There’s a lot more in the N-I-H research. It clearly details what the Koch’s and others of their corporate ilk have been doing for more than 30 years to neuter government in various ways and to get their hands on what’s left so they can reshape it. You can find the N-I-H study online and it is damned interesting – and utterly factual – reading.

“What’s this got to do with the GOP far right,” you ask? “Everything,” sez I. Because T-Party is not some cockamamie “grass roots” movement that captured several million people on the right. It was a “top down,” very well-planned assault involving corporate billionaires, members of Congress, professional political hacks and even the U.S. Supreme Court. Money no object. They just needed “cover.” Voila! “Tea Party” was born.

The T-P scam was just the latest incarnation of big monied interests “hiring” the country’s GOP far right to create diversions. The John Birch Society. Liberty Lobby. Americans For Freedom. Freedomworks. Americans For Prosperity. And hundreds and hundreds more. Like phony TV “evangelists,” the Kochs, Dick Armey, Karl Rove and others pick the minds and pockets of people who’re afraid. They count on the inbred paranoia and fear of all things new and different. They know those folks will turn and turn again to follow whatever looks familiar and patriotic and reminds them all the rest of us are taking the country to Hell.

No, my friends. These aren’t the comics of old. And there’s damned little funny about how they behave – how easily they’re “captured” by others with truly sinister motives. Not funny at all. Look at what they’ve done to the U.S. Congress in a couple of decades.

Still, watching the far right in place of daily doses of cartoon humor ain’t so bad. You just have to remember two things. One, paranoia, fear and suspicion of each other will be the cancers that’ll keep these nuts from ever being truly effective. And, two, they and their movements contain no more substance than the funny papers. They’re never what they seem.