Archive for August, 2013

It’s just ol’ common sense

Author: Barrett Rainey

Lots of folks have told me through the years “the only things certain in life are death and taxes.” As an official senior now, I know they forgot about Social Security and Medicare.

Several years ago, I reached the age when those two “certain” government programs became part of life. We had no choice. Happened rather seamlessly and both have provided the support they were governmentally supposed to. Adding a Medigap insurance policy – for those always necessary senior health needs excluded from Medicare – has about covered our situation. We’d really hate to be without ‘em.

I realize the wisdom necessary to authoritatively discuss Medicare and Social Security is supposed to come from our “experts” at the top – in Congress. Only “they” have the depth of understanding to conduct a thoughtful discussion of how these major programs should be redesigned and/or nearly eliminated. So any suggestions that might come from the ground up our here in the woods are likely not welcome. Ignoring that “wisdom” here are a couple of ideas from a satisfied senior experienced in both programs.

Without being armed – read “burdened” – by thousands of pages of statistics and ancillary reports from all sorts of government agencies, insurance companies, AARP and other outside sources – and the baggage of either political party – it seems to me there are really just two major things that need to be done to put both programs on a better financial footing. And both can be accomplished in one meeting lasting less than 30 minutes.

First, stop using a mortality table developed in 1964 to determine Social Security eligibility. We’re 49 years down the road from then and two major societal changes have taken place. We live longer and we work longer.

Today’s national insurance mortality numbers have Americans living closer to age 80 than 60-70 as was the case in 1964. No insurance company showing a profit today is using 49 year old data. Only our government.

It should be politically acceptable – meaning a no-brainer – to increase the beginning eligibility age to 70 over a period of 10 years or so starting in 2014. One year up in age each two calendar years or some such. Just cold, hard fiscal reasoning equitable for Republicans and Democrats alike. Us Independents, too.

The other change that must be made is to “means test” Social Security eligibility i.e. the more you make in later years, the less the monthly government payment. For example, make full eligibility for those with a joint retirement income of $150,000 a year or less. Maybe $80,000 single income. Then use a sliding scale of eligibility for reductions in increments of $50,000 joint income up to a point when there’s a cutoff. Maybe $500,000 or so.

The idea that Warren Buffett or Bill Clinton or Jay Leno and their multi-millionaire peers draw the same Social Security amount I do is ludicrous. Under a “means tested” plan, they might not get a cent. So? Where’s the hardship?

Swift adoption of both these ideas is doable. Get rid of all the useless discussions and bickering of what services to cut or who’s not eligible for what. Bickering – pardon me – discussions and amendments can always be made incrementally over the life of both programs. The immediate need is to assure solvency in both. Just adopting these two approaches could provide some stability before we hit the wall.

Those two changes are absolutely necessary. And one moer. Stop Congress from using Social Security trust funds as a private piggy bank to pay the bills members run up! STOP! Both parties! The bandits in Washington have been taking out dollars and writing IOU’s for years. I’ve often wondered why there haven’t been some class actions or other legal challenges for using lawfully dedicated funds for other purposes. Any other purposes. This prostitution of Social Security funding has been an open secret for years. Why hasn’t it been challenged? Damned if I know.

While these suggestions may contain too much common sense and come from the unwashed, non-elected, my guess is both will eventually be on the discussion table in some form. There’s too much at stake for too many of us not to solve the Social Security and Medicare issues.

I’m not convinced the current Congress will do anything. And it’s beginning to look like the makeup of the next Congress won’t be a whole lot different. Voters over the age of about 45 need to look at who we send there. These two issues need answers. It’s up to us to send folks who’ll find ‘em.

So far, we haven’t. And they haven’t.

Zealots costing Idaho taxpayers

Author: Barrett Rainey

Zealots costing Idaho taxpayers

In eight states, governors and legislatures are putting new laws on the books that are – no other words for it – damned scary! People’s guaranteed rights being abridged – especially women and ethnic minorities – specific religious tenets being written into law, minority voters being hamstrung with new state-sponsored roadblocks to keep them from the polls and political oversight is being injected into matters of pregnancy . All of this by majority Republicans as minority Democrats watch.

North Carolina is at the front of current right wing purging. Poor ol’ GOP has been in the swamps there so long this new flush of absolute power – controlling both statehouse and governor’s office – has created a tidal wave of guaranteed court cases. Long, drawn-out court cases. Expensive, taxpayer-paid-for court cases.

Here, in our Northwest neighborhood, we have a state that’s cost taxpayers millions doing similar dumb things. It started doing so long before North Carolina’s legislature wandered off into nutcase lawmaking. As it says in the old state song “Here We Have Idaho.”

This is brought to mind by the latest – and yet another – legal slap in the face for those insisting on making bad law when told by competent legal authority not to do so. It’s happened so often in the Gem State most of us watching from the sidelines have lost count.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has now ordered Idaho taxpayers to pony up for yet another – excuse the term – abortive Republican lawmaking foray. Against the advice of a very competent attorney general, the ol’ Republican legislature – assisted by the ol’ Republican governor – put a new anti-abortion law on the books. With the judge’s rejection of the ill-conceived effort (sorry, just couldn’t help myself) came an order to pay $376 thousand in attorney’s fees to the plaintiff. Just this time around.

What’ s notable here is it’s the fourth attempt by the Idaho Legislature to legislate matters of abortion and the fourth time they’ve been blown out in court. The fourth time the narrow-minded handiwork has been thrown into the legal garbage dump. Total bill to the taxpayer: just over $1 million.

Idaho has been blessed with a long, unbroken string of very good attorneys general. Both parties. Several went on to become supreme court justices. The current occupant – Republican Lawrence Wasden – is no newcomer and has superb credentials up to here! He’s no hack. It was he who advised fellow Republicans on the third floor of the Statehouse not to do what they went ahead and did.

Since 2000, Idaho has run up about $365 thousand for its own in-house legal bills defending bad abortion laws the legislature was warned against. Add to that, $446 thousand for plaintiffs in three other cases. Throw this new court-ordered payment on top and you’ve got more than the million.

This is just for abortion cases. There are others. Ignoring competent in-house legal advice, previous Republican-dominated Idaho legislatures have tried to challenge Indian supremacy in various cases – tried to levy special taxes on non-resident commercial user’s of the state’s highways – tampered with various water issues and just generally run amok. The tab – all of it coming from Idaho taxpayers – has to be in the millions. Loss after loss.

Oh, yes. One other note about this latest fetal pain law. Even before first hearings on the bill, the A.G.’s office told fellow Republicans it was not consistent with national, legally-accepted viability standards and what they were trying to do would likely be unconstitutional. That didn’t stop ‘em.

So, when the promised court challenge came, the A.G. didn’t even try to defend what the legislature had done against competent legal advice. He simply tried to attack whether the plaintiff had legal standing to fight the law. The judge said she did. Pay up. The unconstitutionality of the law in question was so obvious it wasn’t even discussed.

One can only hope some of the equally bogus law making in North Carolina will suffer the same fate. Fact is, Attorney General Holder tackled a Texas voting rights case last week and made it quite clear there would be more in the pipeline. I’d bet on it. Especially in North Carolina.

If ignorance of the law is no excuse for we who must live by them, it would seem obvious ignorance of the law by those who create them would be equally unjustifiable. In Idaho – and probably North Carolina – zealots are costing taxpayers millions. With more to come.

I’ve been pondering

Author: Barrett Rainey

When you live in the forest surrounding a small, rural town in a somewhat isolated area – in a semi-retired status – you don’t feel the push and rush of everyday urban living. Absent the daily interruptions most people take for granted – and often ignore – you ponder a lot. About all kinds of things.

Here’s one. Reading new instructions from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to advocate – from the pulpit – for immigration reform, I flash back on previous religious tampering with issues political. Things like abortion and gay rights and voting for specific church-chosen candidates. I found it wrong then and, while agreeing we urgently need a well-thought-out overhaul of our immigration laws and policies, I take strong issue with the mixing of religion and politics even on a subject I support.

True separation of church and state is an ethereal matter that sounds good but will never be realized. Just as issues of politics sometimes influence our choice of a religious affiliation, our church affiliations often slop over into our political thinking. We’re not a compartmentalized society in either area. But to allow religion to influence national policy – or national policy to affect our religious choices – is unacceptable. And wrong.

Because Hispanics are our largest immigration segment at the moment – and because many Hispanics are Catholics – such instructions from Catholic leadership are not unexpected. But would immigration policy advocated by – and acceptable to Catholics – serve Jews, Asians, Europeans, Africans, Muslims and other groups as well? Maybe. Maybe not. Each group is distinct. Each is motivated to seek citizenship for different reasons – often for distinctly different religious reasons. Whatever policy is ultimately created, it’ll have to be impartially authored and evenhandedly enforced.

Then there’s what to do with Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. How do we deal with their kind? Despite unfounded political charges that both men have committed treason, it appears – at least legally – they have not. Treason is usually defined as attempting to overthrow a government or administration. Neither man did. What can be proven is each violated an oath of secrecy they swore to when accepting clearances to handle classified information. Makes no difference why. They did.

The point I ponder in this matter is, how does a government that must conduct some of its affairs in secret, guarantee its ability to do so? Literally millions of Americans have security clearances at some level, handling information classified from confidential to top secret. Some – for matters of conscience or money or fame – will violate the oaths they swore to when given classified access. You can bet the farm on that.

A sub-issue here is the proliferation of civilian – rather than military or government – employees handling the nation’s top secrets. That’s troubling. In the military, I had a top secret clearance . If I violated that responsibility – willfully or accidentally – it was dead certain the rest if my life would have been lived behind bars. Such direct – not to mention swift – reaction to some contractor’s nephew spilling the beans at a local bar likely can’t be guaranteed under the new civilian arrangements. It just can’t. The numbers are too large. There are other young, troubled Snowdens and Mannings out there. Whether for supposed conscious-clearing, patriotic or monetary reasons, we’ll see this violation of our national security again. And again. What do we do about it?

A third “ponder-ment” here in the deep woods: neither of the above concerns are on the radar of a lot of folks. A lot! And not just these two matters. From time to time, as I converse with people, I drop in a subject of current national discussion. Most of the time – far too much of the time – the other person either has no knowledge of it or says something like “Politics turn me off so I just ignore the whole thing.” It’s just that kind of willful ignorance that gave us the Bachman’s, Walsh’s, Gohmert’s, Broun’s, Rohrabacher’s, et al. And look what they’ve given us.

Lest you think I’m overstating, ask some of your friends questions like these: how many justices on the U.S. Supreme Court – how many rights in the Bill of Rights – what’s the current U.S. population to the nearest 10 million – the population of your state – who’s third in line to the presidency – how many members in Congress – which political party controls the House and/or Senate. Things any ninth grader should know. The answers will be both humorous and wrong in way too many instances.

What ties all these things together is a fast-changing society and far too many of us not keeping up. There are many more topics than these not being understood. How about our technology that can keep people alive long after they have no productive life but we haven’t dealt with the ethics of what to do when faced with life-ending decisions? We can create life in a petri dish but should we? Using a 3-D printer, we can “print” weapons that can kill us so how do we control that? If people can “print” objects on demand – including body replacement parts – how do we deal with copyrights and patents? We can “print” new body parts but should we? If we’re a nation under constant surveillance, who’s doing it and what’re the rules? And whose rules – if any – are they?

The speed at which these and other issues hit our society these days is mind-blowing. Just look at the last 15 years and gay rights and gay marriage. Has any other fundamental social change ever been dispatched so quickly? In the long history of social issues affecting an entire nation – if not the entire world – this one was settled almost “instantly” when compared to race and other challenges. And there are many, many more such life-changing and society-changing examples out there.

These are things for pondering by old men living in the forest. But they’re also part of the fabric of this nation we love. In your view, what shape is our fabric in these days? Ponder on that.

Out, Damned Fed!

Author: Barrett Rainey

There’s lots of craziness going on these days in states where the Republican Party is the dominant – really dominant – political game. No place worse than North Carolina where the governor and legislature are trampling civil rights, voting rights, personal rights, privacy rights, medical rights and about every other right you can think of to play to a diminishing crowd of white, nut-ball conservative, angry voters. Much of what the North Carolina legislature has done this year will wind up in the nation’s various courts. And a lot of it will likely be undone.

But Idaho and Utah are trying not to be forgotten in all the GOP excess with yet another run at a crazy idea wing-nut Republicans in those states have nourished for many a year – a takeover of federal land. They’re promoting it again with a new cast of characters hellbent on throwing the feds off the property. Every thinking resident of those states – of ANY party – should actively work to see this completely irresponsible idea fails yet again.

There are many, many reasons to keep such irresponsible efforts from being successful. But just concentrate on one – today’s terrible wildfires. Most western states have been badly burned this year. California, Oregon, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Washington and Idaho. Much destruction has been on federal lands – grazing, ranching, recreational and timber.

Let’s just concentrate on one state – Idaho. Suppose Idaho owned all the federal land within its borders. All of it. Whatever was done with those lands – whatever happened on those lands – it would be up to Idaho taxpayers to take care of it and pay all the bills.

Now, focus on just one of the issues all Idahoans would have to contend with – wildfire. If the State owned all of the property on which our August fires have raged, every dollar – every dime – every penny to fight those fires would come out of the state treasury. Millions – tens of millions – would be the responsibility of the good folks of Idaho. The feds could sit on their considerable resources and roast marshmallows on the glowing coals.

“Go for it, Idaho,” they’d say. “You wanted to own it. You got it. And keep your damned flames away from our federal trees!”

So, Idaho taxpayers would be faced with a double-edged sword. One sharp edge would be the money lost in millions and millions of federal dollars now paid to Idaho coffers in lieu of taxes and from resource sales. The other edge would be the nearly impossible-to-cover costs of fighting massive blazes, then repairing all the damage.

And this. About half of all dollars spent on Idaho K-12 education comes from federal lands; whether it be timber bucks, in-lieu monies, recreation or tourist dollars. Now, if Idaho owned the land and increased timber cutting, you could make up that amount and probably more. And you might do that for a number of years. Then what? While you’re waiting many, many years for replacement trees to grow, where does the lost K-12 money come from? Rather, whom would it come from?

Year ago, Idaho had a U.S. Senator known for colorful – if not intellectual – quotes. One of them was: “It makes no sense to sell the farm to buy a sports car.” Not deep thinking. But accurate.

Even ignoring the economics and overall saneness of the fire argument, there are the hundreds of millions of dollars the feds pour into Idaho for maintenance of all that land. Throw ‘em out of Idaho and Utah – along with all federal dollars – and you’ll have either huge state tax increases or forests, lakes, rivers and range lands in worse shape than they already are.

Legislatures in both states currently have committees meeting with “experts” of this, that and the other. Some “experts” claim it’s not only possible to kick the feds out but the world – inside Utah and Idaho – would be a better place. Other “experts” say you can’t and shouldn’t.

At the moment, most of the supporters of this “out damned feds” effort are Republicans who believe timber companies and other privately owned resource extractors would be better caretakers of all those lands. While it’s possible there could be some improvements, private companies operate on the sound business principle of cost-versus-benefit. While that’s an old, well- proven and quite workable rule for business, it can seldom be applied to tasks the government undertakes for which profit is not possible.

You can argue there should be income to the states from federally owned lands within their borders. But operating and maintaining those lands is not a profit-making situation.

Before these GOP legislators get all heated up to tell the feds to take a hike, there needs to be a sound economic reason to do so. And – so far – nobody has made one.

Art Robinson. Really?

Author: Barrett Rainey

Leadership of Oregon’s Republican Party has finally taken the fatal leap off the edge of its own square world, guaranteeing itself a place in obscurity for the foreseeable future. The inmates are in charge of the asylum.

Folks overseeing what’s left of our old Oregon GOP have put a knife to their own throats. That instrument is a guy totally unqualified to make the Party a viable choice for most voters. A stunning decision!

Art Robinson not only has failed multiple times as a candidate for office in our little piece of heaven – he’s also become synonymous with whacko philosophies and nut case ideas. He may have a PhD in some scientific field. But he’s repeatedly demonstrated – when it comes to politics and political philosophy – he’s totally uneducated.

From his little compound in the Oregon woods, Robinson has made a living selling home school materials containing many ideas sure to pollute the normal educational growth of the unsuspecting. He’s also challenged – without facts – two Oregon institutions of higher learning in more than one fit of perceived persecution of himself or his family. He twice failed miserably in his own runs to beat Rep. Pete DeFazio. He backed a ludicrous attempt to use one of his sons as a hand puppet to defeat DeFazio in a “Democrat” primary. “Lipstick on a pig” as has famously been stated by another Republican nut case.

Robinson’s made a fool of himself locally, statewide and nationally in various public appearances. Trying to trace his illogical thinking is akin to trying to follow strands of spaghetti on a full plate. He’s infamously written down some of his nuttier philosophy. Then, when challenged, falsely accused more than one inquisitor of quoting him out of context.

At risk to your personal comfort zone, here are a few of his most oft-expressed square world philosophies which can be found in his writings or on his website:

## Public education should be abolished.
## Public schools are no more than jails.
## Public education is a form of child abuse.
## Nuclear waste should be diluted and sprinkled over the ocean.
## Nuclear waste should be diluted and used in home building.
## Humans are not the root cause of global warming.
## HIV does not cause AIDS and AIDS was a “false crisis.”

There are more – many more – but you get the idea.

He’s accused two Oregon universities – without proof – of trying to block his offspring from getting their advanced degrees. Both challenges dismissed after third-party examinations. He accused – without proof – the Roseburg Chamber of Commerce of “fixing” a debate with DeFazio and of not allowing his supporters to participate. Again – B.S..

When you look at some of the crazies and whacko’s in state or national political offices, serious people have to ask themselves how they got there. The Robinson example is the most basic answer to that question.

Leaders of Oregon’s Republican Party do NOT represent the views of most of the Party statewide. They’re far to the right of even responsible conservatives. Robinson’s election is proof of that. The 99.9% of Republicans who go to the polls had no voice in his elevation to chairman. But his supporters – even though few in number – hold the top Party offices and they decide things.

In state after state, you’ll find this same situation of minorities-of-minorities running things. Slowly – over a period of several decades – party workers far out of the mainstream labored in the thankless “worker bee” jobs until they took over. Now they – not rank-and-file Republicans – control who runs the party. And, in many, many cases, who gets on the ballots in primary and general elections. Do you really think Art Robinson from the looney fringe was legitimately the lone Republican challenger to DeFazio in the entire Fifth Congressional District by choice of the Party at-large? Twice?

If you look at the Bachmans, Gohmerts, Walshs, Kings and other voices of craziness in Congress – really look at how they got there – you have to go no further than the state Republican central committees. Like Robinson, these folks came out of minority-of-minority nominating processes. The “worker bees” are now the “Queen bees.” And will be until they’re replaced by responsible Republicans fed up with ‘em. Many, many years down the road.

So, Oregon Republicans have a new Party Chairman. It’s hard to tell who’s happier – the little band of flat-earthers running the Party. Or Democrats.

In the words of that old Chinese adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Age that once was is no more

Author: Barrett Rainey

A long, long time ago … when I was just a pup … kids were told this country was a “melting pot;” that all sorts of people from all sorts of places had come here seeking a new and better life.

We were told that was “good.” It meant different religions, different skills, different beliefs and – most distinct of all – possibly different skin colors. We were assured America was supposed to be that way; that was what made us strong. Many contributing, unique histories, skills and talents while creating a “racial tapestry.”

I wish it were still true. If it ever was. But it isn’t. Now we bunch up and keep our distances. Race and religion can often determine what part of the city we live in. And next to whom. Even small Northwest communities have Black, Asian, Hispanic or other racial neighborhoods. Assimilation used to mean coming together to share talents, treasure and even our differences for the advancement of all. It didn’t mean losing your heritage or racial identity by becoming someone else. Somewhere along the way, we lost that ability to be similar but not identical.

I come at this issue like a mongrel dog. My genealogical background is Heinz 57; a mixture of half a dozen European countries. That’s OK. But I truly envy those who have a clear racial or ethnic identity. They have language, music, culture and history to celebrate. They have a straight line to their roots. But when they close ranks, separate and apart from the rest of a community, we are the poorer for not being able to share all that.

There is a culture in the West that does not divide itself from others: the Basques of Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. Whatever community they’re in, they are fully integrated into its life. And most do so while preserving the Basque language and heritage of who they are and where they came from.

As a non-Basque, I find the language impossible and haven’t figured out the often repetitive music. But both are fascinating when they have festivals and other celebrations and the rest of us can get involved. They love to share Basque foods, games, dance and stories of how ancestors came to America, most often to herd sheep.

Many Basque families go to great lengths to teach their children all these things to preserve their distinct culture. Some even try to pass on the nearly-impossible-to-understand Basque language. They don’t do so as a way of separating themselves from daily life in a non-Basque society. They are fully assimilated but not at a cost of their own heritage.

Most Basques long ago took it upon themselves to live this sort of dual citizen identity, even though it takes extra effort. I’ve often wished they could be ambassadors to other ethnic groups to teach them how you can be Americans without sacrificing whatever your ethnicity might be. We would be a richer country with far fewer societal and economic problems.

Our self-imposed divisions of race, religion and skin color are at the bottom of a lot of the hate and divisiveness in our current national politics. Some even portray all illegal immigrants as criminals. It’s not true but it plays to unfounded fears in hopes of generating votes.

Others are trying to divide by sexual orientation, questioning the manhood, womanhood or life style of an opponent. Again, generating fear and distrust to separate.

Maybe worst of all is that portion of white Americans that still can’t accept the fact that a black man is president of this country and that a black family resides in the White House. Hate-filled emails circulate daily by the thousands with race as the bottom line. Right-wing talkers call him a racist. Birthers and others have blatantly challenged him as they never would someone whose skin was white.

So we have societal groups separating themselves from others who’re different. To them, assimilation is just another hard to spell word.

I miss the “melting pot” description we were taught when we were young. It sounded so good. It sounded like something we could really be proud of. It sounded like a really good idea.

Wonder if kids are still being taught that phrase. Or are they too busy. Being different.

Problem? What problem?

Author: Barrett Rainey

In every recovery program, the first step is always to admit you have a problem, then proceed. Without that admission, any improvement will be temporary. No use continuing. First recognition. Then work can begin.

While both national political parties can fairly shoulder blame for the mess in Congress, Republicans have far longer to go to “recovery.” Neither party is willing to admit blame, but GOP minions keep adding to the stalemate with constant attacks. The political chattering class has repeatedly used the word “gridlock” to describe the stalemate. I beg to differ. It’s not gridlock.

Rather than seeking to tie things up – gridlock as it were – about 60 cretins in the two houses are waging direct assaults on government, trying to seriously cripple it – gut it – to tear down every thing they find onerous. To some of them, that means almost everything governmental. A friend noted recently that, if this were wartime, what some of these people are doing would be considered treasonous. And Limbaugh, Beck and cohorts would be nothing more than Tokyo Roses with male plumbing. Propagandists.

Recent polling repeatedly shows most Americans – way most – are looking at 2014 elections to change things. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll even shows six in ten want to replace every member of Congress. But that – despite media claims of “proof of voter anger” – is very, very misleading.

Further down in the numbers, you’ll find 44% of Democrats want their party running Congress – 44% of Republicans want their party in charge. In Democrat districts, 56% approve what the President is doing – 58% of Republicans disapprove. Throw in successful 2011 GOP gerrymandering in many large states to protect incumbents and you have a recipe for what? No change. Now, THAT’S gridlock.

I call it the “good guy – bad guy” syndrome. “My guy in Congress is the good guy,” sez I. “Your guy’s the bad guy.” While I’d like to erase the entire Texas delegation, near total domination in their home state obviously means they’re thought of as “good guys” down there. I’d throw out John Boehner and Harry Reid. But Boehner’s been in the House for 22 years: Reid in House and Senate since 1987. So a voting majority back home(s) considers both guys “good guys.”

Americans are mad at Congress. Damned mad! That NBC/WSJ poll found 83% – 83% – disapprove of what’s going on there. But, while those same respondents hold the absolute power to change things at the ballot box, change they won’t. Not as long as those other numbers show each side sees the blame for our political mess as the fault of the other side. No admission like “I’ve got a problem.” So no “recovery.”

But – something else may hold a little hope for improvement. If you follow voting patterns of Republicans in the House, you can count about 60 who’re the problem. While there are true conservative GOP members, moderates – and, yes, Virginia – even a few liberals, it’s these 60 or so that are the political disease. Any reading of that written record shows they want to strip government of much of it’s power – gut several departments – financially starve to death specific agencies they personally hate – spend billions to build military toys the military doesn’t want – limit voting access for minorities (specifically Black and Hispanic) – tamper repeatedly with women’s health care – kill Obamacare – and more. Check the record. It ain’t that hard. And they’re proud of that record. Those 60 or so.

The glimmer of hope for change is some of the folks at home who voted these miscreants in the last couple of times may show up in that 83% unhappy with Congress. Some part of that number may represent a goodly group who wanted change but not anarchy. Not destruction. People who were mad at “what was” but ain’t happy with “what is.” I’ve got some Republican friends who fall into that category. The change they wanted isn’t the change they got.

The basic cause of the muddy mess we’ve got in Washington is not – in my mind – the fault of either party per se. It rests almost completely with this group of 60 or so who’ve managed to clog the system. Both parties have good and bad ideas. Each has a long history of valuable contributions.

The only blame I truly ascribe to Republicans is the failure of leadership to clean its own house – failure to take this wrecking crew of 60 or so by their privates, go to the woodshed and do the political neutering necessary for the majority to work its will. The nation is not going to fail if we have a working two-party system. Fits and starts we’re used to. We always succeed. Somehow.

But we’re doomed to this interminable political “grave site” where all good political ideas go to die if Boehner-McConnell and company won’t purge the GOP of the cancer within it own body.

Responsible, God-fearing Republicans – heal thy self! Admit the problem. Then, let the recovery begin.

Religion and politics? Hell, yes!

Author: Barrett Rainey

A man-of-the-cloth friend asked my advice the other day. “Wait a minute,” thought I. “We supplicants are supposed to be the ones asking his advice when we have issues.” And I wasn’t prepared for his question.

“What do you think about a church study class dealing with politics and religion,” was his query? “I know both are touchy issues.”

“Touchy?” No more than cooking steak for a Hindu picnic. But what surprised me more than his question was the quickness and firmness of my response.

“Not only do I think you should,” I said, “I think it should be part of the faith programs of all churches that feel a responsibility to work in the worldly community of their parishioners. Not so those same parishioners are taught some obligation to vote or think a certain way, but so they can resolve issues of religion and politics that most of us have but are unsure how to reconcile.”

Then, in days following our discussion, I ran across an article by Rachel Held Evans who writes professionally about issues of faith and politics from an evangelical perspective.

Armed with a bundle of recent religious surveys, Ms. Evans concluded many young adults are turning their backs – especially on evangelical churches – because “they perceive evangelical churches to be too political, too exclusive, too old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

She wrote, “I point to research showing young evangelicals often feel they must choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness. The evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a set of rules when these same millennials long for faith communities in which they’re safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.”

Ministers wearing jeans, a fancy coffee shop in fellowship hall, larger worship bands and other current “style changes” are not what she means. She points out millennials were raised on advertising and rock bands and have a “sensitive B.S. meter.” It may be those “style changes” are some of the very things causing an exodus among the young.

Evans says many of her peers are being drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem unpretentious, unconcerned with ‘being cool’ and are refreshingly authentic.

“We want a truce between science and faith,” she wrote. “We want to be known for what we stand for – not what we re against. We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers. We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the Kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single (political) party or a single nation.”

One more thing from Ms. Evans: “Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from 40-somethings and grandmothers – Generation Xers and retirees. Their messages are clear: ‘Me, too!’”

Just after reading her latest work, the collective worlds of modern Christianity and politics collided full-on for me as Pope Francis stunned many Catholics and much of the rest of the world. When asked about gay men in the priesthood, he responded “Who am I to judge them?” There must be some new cracks in the old Vatican walls.

Just as many Americans are feeling their recent votes have brought them a political world they weren’t expecting, some are also re-examining recent religious swings away from mainstream churches. They’re looking a secpnd time at the newer, hipper, more flashy services that mask an unforgiving base of rigidity mixed with similar unforgiving political themes. They’re finding churches of the “you’ve-got-questions, we’ve-got-answers” approach to Christianity are more exclusionary than inclusive.

Many years ago, we were told of old-line Baptist – and even Mormon churches – where congregants were told to seat themselves on one side of the aisle if they were Democrats and the other side if Republican. I never experienced that but heard the stories too often to discount them.

A lot of more moderate, mainline clergy are hesitant to introduce the subject of politics in religious study classes. For good reason. Some have either been handed their walking papers after doing so or found themselves with a congregation splintered along political lines. If you wear a turned-around collar, mixing the two can be a career-changer.

But, as Ms. Evans writes, “millennials want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in care of our world and becoming peacemakers. You can’t hand us a latte, go about business as usual and expect us to stick around.”

At the end of any hour-long worship service, congregations walk back out into the other world where they’ll spend 167 other hours before meeting again next week. For one hour. Many will either find their belief system challenged by a world of politics or their politics caught up in their beliefs. Some will try to reconcile the two – some will simply be confused.

Without trying to convert votes like souls, churches have a responsibility of spirituality of citizenship for the family and body as they do for preparing us for life everlasting. We turn to religion for comfort, for perspective, for truth, for relief, for sustenance, for meaning, for the outreach it provides to make us more well-rounded creatures of God.

But our lives are lived overwhelmingly in a secular world. If churches don’t help us understand and become more comfortable with our surroundings and decisions in that world, they’re avoiding a responsibility to help us become better individuals. We don’t need to be told whom to vote for or what to vote against. We don’t need to be told what Jesus would do. We don’t need to be given lectures about political issues.

If approached in an open, moderate manner – if reasoned discussion can make us better informed – if acceptance of other’s views can be allowed as equally important as our own – if new associations can be made between our American systems of governance and our faith to create more informed, more intelligent participants – the worlds of religion and politics can be very compatible. And we may be better for the experience in both our worlds.