Archive for January, 2014

Homophobic trash

Author: admin

“No one should watch sausage or laws being made.”
That old joke has been around for many, many years. It was probably funny when first used. But time and wide-spread law making incompetence have proven at least the second part of the phrase too often very unfunny. The latest example of that has cropped up in the Idaho Legislature.

Idaho is often called the nation’s “most red state.” It’s probably not. I’d call it a “mooshy crimson.” But the current, right wing edition of the Republican Party has been in nearly complete control for a long, LONG time and shows no signs of fading. Want to get your collie into Idaho politics? Call it a Republican and it’ll get elected to something.

Comes now proof that not all the players in the political game of Idaho legislative politics have 52 cards in their personal decks. This week’s award to someone a few cards short – who’s managed to wrap homophobia, paranoia and irrational thought into legislative sausage – is one Rep. Lynn Luker. Republican? Certainly. By today’s standard. Responsible and wise? Not by any measurement known to rational people.

In what he calls a “pre-emptive strike” for God-knows-what, Mr. Luker has scraped two bills off the sludge at the bottom of the legislative barrel – HB426-HB427 – deciding citizens of Idaho should stand squarely behind new laws codifying homophobia and discrimination. Absolutely. Put ‘em on the books.

One would keep the state from revoking any professional license if the licensee withholds services – or refuses services – on the basis of a “personally held religious belief.” So, if a cab driver cited “personal religious belief” for not transporting a gay couple in sub-freezing temperatures, said driver could just say “My religion keeps me from taking these people in out of the cold.” And that would be that. They might freeze to death by the side of the road, but the cabbie would – in his head – be square with God. And – in Mr. Lukerls world – the State of Idaho.

Luker’s other badly tarnished gem of ridiculousness is in a similar vein. It would amend the Idaho Religious Freedom Act to allow an employer to fire someone for being gay, then hide behind a claim of “religious belief.” “I can’t abide those people,” he/she could say. And that would be that.

Luker – who somehow has his own license as a lawyer – says he’s worried about the future and wants his legislation adopted now because “this is pre-emptive – the issue is coming.” He cited a Gresham, Oregon, baker sued because he wouldn’t bake a wedding care for a gay couple. And the New Mexico photographer who wouldn’t take pictures of a gay wedding, arguing “free speech” and some sort and “artistic freedom” – whatever that is in this instance.

Rep. Luker’s backup in this trashy effort is something called “Cornerstone Family Council Advocacy Group.” A spokesman for the “council” claims governments are increasingly passing or interpreting laws to “keep people from living their faith” – a double standard against people of “traditional religious faiths.”

Luker claims he wants to be fair. So he’s not trying to keep people from being fired if he/she deserves it. He just wants to make sure the bigot – er, employer – doing the firing doesn’t lose his/her professional license for doing so. Well, sure. That seems only “fair.”

If this trash became law, it would have quite an effect on a lot of Idahoans. The Bureau of Occupational Licences involves 29 occupations. We’re talking doctors, nurses, police, fire, teachers, real estate salespeople and on and on. A whole lot of folks.

Lots of really creepy things could happen. Suppose a friendly Realtor refused to show a lesbian a certain house because friendly Realtor doesn’t want that gay client moving into his/her neighborhood. Suppose a Muslim pharmacist wouldn’t fill a prescription for a Christian dying of cancer. Or, the barber that told a Hindu he’d have to go someplace else for his haircut or, a school principal fired a gay teacher for no other reason than some “religious belief.” Or, a Catholic landlord wouldn’t rent to Methodists. Or, a Pentecostal fishing guide wouldn’t guide for Mormons.

Oh, the worms would just keep falling out of the can on this. Big time!

My history of being around the Idaho Legislature goes back nearly 50 years. I remember a lot of very fine Republican men and women who gave honored service to the State. Democrats, too, when they were allowed to participate. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the people in all those years who might buy into this piece of garbage.

But that long experience tells me the current crop – when asked to do so – could easily exceed both fingers and toes. Whether there’s enough of them who’d get behind Luker is difficult to say. One would hope not. But to say it’s not certain, also makes quite a statement of how far the Idaho Legislature has fallen from assured responsibility of the past. Various editions have done some very un-responsible things in recent times.

As someone who’s seen both sausage and bad legislation made over the years, I’d vote to grind up Mr. Luker’s “handiwork” and drop it in the nearest landfill.

Government by fiat

Author: admin

Secrecy has its place. Often – as in the case of national defense – secrecy can save a nation. But in matters of our political affairs, secrecy can destroy our liberties and guaranteed freedoms like a cancer. Such a political disease now exists in our country. If not stopped, we’re soon going to be living in a very different nation.

An important request here. Put aside your personal political leanings for a few minutes and look at what’s happening in several states with as unbiased an eye as possible. Though only one political party is currently conducting this onslaught, it could easily be the reverse with a different outcome at the polls in recent elections. The issue of the moment is the dangerous, freedom-killing tactic – not the perpetrator.

In recent months, legislatures in half a dozen states passed major bills affecting millions of lives. They did so without public notice -without public hearings – in more than one instance without even participation of the other political party. Those bills were promptly signed into law by the respective governors – some such executions without advance notice of any kind.

Now, if you’ve been unable to put aside your political makeup – and if you’re a member of the state majority party that has used these treacherous tactics to put laws on the books you agree with – you may just say “Good for our side.” But suppose you were opposed to what happened and you’re now saddled with these new laws. Still feel good? Still happy? Suppose the roles were reversed.

In each instance, the major topics being legislated have been cutting voting access for minorities and direct threats to women’s health care – specifically availability of abortion services. But that’s just today. And maybe you agree with the outcome. But what about tomorrow? What about the next topic? Substitute such things as new taxes, gun controls, discriminating against YOUR ethnic heritage or race, blocking YOUR ability to vote, creating challenges to YOUR private use – or even ownership – of real property. And dozens of other issues. What if new laws YOU vehemently oppose directly affecting YOUR life were being conceived, passed and executed without your participation or even knowledge? What then?

The four states indulging in most of this dictatorial use of political majority at the moment are Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas. They’re doing what can best be described as “government by fiat.” The laws are conceived, passed and executed, then those subject to them are told.

Other states are watching this process. States with similar lopsided political majorities and a willing governor of the same party. If these laws – conceived and executed in the dark – pass expected future constitutional challenges, our nation’s formerly open process of legislating could be drastically changed. One state at a time.

The people committing this attack on our freedoms are freezing out the opposition. And proper debate. They’re doing it in the wrong-headed belief they were elected to do just what they’re doing – that “right” is on their side. I remember an old political pro telling me once “When you’re on the outside, they do it to you and when you’re on the inside, you do it to them.” That was bad philosophy 40 years ago and it’s wrong-headed today.
While winning an election certainly carries with it advantage and even privilege – as it should – that doesn’t authorize attacks on the freedoms we are each specifically granted. The irony here is these actions – all of them – are being done by people who swear by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights while they trample guarantees contained in those documents.

At the moment, women’s health care may not be important to you. You may even agree with the actions taken. And this warning of a dangerous plague growing in our two-party political system may be just a bunch of words. Seeing dangers where no dangers exist.

But – what if this political perversion of government checks-and-balances continues because no one tries to stop it? What if future laws come only from a handful of people doing their work in secret? What if the issues on the table suddenly become yours? Who will speak for you?

“Government by fiat” is currently a fact in at least five states and at the hands of one political party. But it’s more than a political issue. It’s a challenge to the rights of everyone in this country. The citizenship of all is as stake.

It’s happening. Now. So what are YOU going to do about it?

Poorer than we thought

Author: admin

A statistic hit the media during the last few days – a statistic so startling and unbelievable that I read right past it before doing the classic “double take” and reading it again. And again. And again and again!

Here it is. Just 85 individuals hold HALF THE WEALTH of the entire world! Those 85 versus the rest of us! Those 85 versus more than 300 billion of us! Just let your head play with that immense statistic. Take a couple of minutes. I’ll wait.

Let’s just deal with our own little country of the U.S. of A. Of course, you know the wealthy are much wealthier than the rest of us. But did you ever think they’d be 288 times wealthier? That much? Yep. That much. So says the Economic Policy Institute in its newest survey of how rich we are – or how much poorer we are.

In 1962, the top 1% – you remember them – well, back then they had 125 times the worth of America’s median household. Jump forward to 2010 and it increased to that 288!

Two reasons, actually. The rich really did get richer. And the middle class really did get poorer. While the 1% saw its average wealth grow from $9.6 million in 1983 to $16.4 million in 2010, we in the middle class saw our household net worth drop from $73,000 to $57,000 during the same period.

And here’s something more depressing to think about – while you’re still thinking about that previously depressing statistic. If middle class income had grown at the same rate as the top 1% during that 27 year period, yours and mine would have gone from that $73,000 to – wait for it – $119,000!

All of this is based on a lengthy statistical examination by EPI of income, jobs, mobility, poverty, wealth and a few other factors.

While that wealth gap has been widening for a decade or more, it was the “Great Recession” starting about 2008 that really changed the picture. From that point to 2010, median income of the wealthiest households declined about 15.6%. But, for all the rest of us in the supposed “middle income” grouping, we lost 47.1% during that same time.

I hate talking about statistics. But I gotta throw in a couple more. At the end of that same period – 2008 to 2010 – the typical black household ended up with a median net worth of $4,900! And the median net worth of Latino families plummeted 86.3% to about $1,300. $1,300!!!

Biggest reason those two groups fell so far off the economic cliff is because of the much smaller net worth before the bottom dropped out, so the percentages were more adversely affected. That – and the fact that their home ownership rates grew faster during the housing boom but fell further when things collapsed.

So, will all this affect future elections? You damn betcha. I’ll leave all the really tough brain twisting to more scholarly types. And, believe me, you’re going to hear a great deal from them about how this huge disparity still affects all our lives in many, many ways. But here are a couple of thoughts – off the top of my gray head – based on some lengthy experience.

With neither political party conducting the policy and vision discussions they should have in recent months, the most-heard stories of past campaigns were about money. Not who had it – or didn’t – but about who was spending it, how much and for what. Billionaires. PACS and SuperPACS. Unions. Republican and Democrat campaign committees. Congressional PACS. Candidate campaigns. A hundred million or two for this state. A few million more over there. Dollars were constantly being tossed around in amounts most of us couldn’t fathom. More than an “embarrassment of riches” it was a “prostitution of riches” when compared to the current economic lives – and economic experiences – of the rest of us.

When the value of your home is gone – or underwater – it’s hard to get worked up over some stranger’s political future. When your job is gone, feeding, clothing and housing a family block out nearly all the extraneous noise emanating from campaigns. In fact, a few recent conversations I’ve had reveal most of us folks in the middle – or at the bottom – had damned little time to listen to – or much inclination to get all involved with – anyone’s candidacy. Too busy and/or couldn’t relate.

In times like that, billionaires and millionaires – whether trying to win an election or buy one – don’t get our full civic attention. Nor – under normal priorities – should they. So, without new, updated and personally meaningful information about policies and visions from major candidates, our national voting patterns typically revert to what they’ve been before. Even though Democrats ran far more programs to reach out to minority groups, they couldn’t possibly have reached all the millions of ‘em who marked that side of the ballot.

So, black and Latino communities defaulted to the Democrat Party as they have historically. With talk of “self deportation” and “I won’t support the Dream Act” and “Arizona’s tough deportation law should be the pattern for the nation” and “Medicare and Medicaid spending must be reduced” – well – in the absence of more positive and welcoming news from a candidate or a campaign, it’s not hard to support the “home team.”

Over the last 40-50 years, Republicans have not been good at spending money on the poor. That’s just fact. Now, we have a GOP crowd in Congress carrying out that tradition by vowing more tax relief for the folks that are 288 times richer than most of us. They would do so by cutting programs like Medicare and Medicaid a lot of folks who voted Democrat are concerned about. The ones with the $1,300 and $4,900 household median net worth.

Will the Republican Party become more appealing to the large blocks of voters who sank so many of their candidates last time around when we get to 2014? And 2016? Or even 2020? Not likely at this point.

When someone piles all the data on my kitchen table that says the top 1% is 288 times wealthier than the rest of us, the depth of my feeling is not with them but with the family at the $4,900 and the $1,300 net worth levels.

And I’m not alone.

Doug Fairbanks he ain’t

Author: Barrett Rainey

Someone – we don’t know who just yet – but someone has pulled back the curtain on that pudgy little fella working the controls in New Jersey politics. And what we see back there is he’s just a real – and flawed – little guy like the rest of us. He’s really not “larger-than-life.” He’s really not a “different kind of politician.” And he won’t be on the presidential ballot in 2016. He’s lied. Several times. And it’s been proven.

Though a follower of things political, I’ve tried to avoid getting into this Christie mess. In the first week or two of disclosures of the abuses in the George Washington Bridge story, the whole thing seemed like a tempest in a Jersey teapot. Disgraceful actions by an overzealous staff run amok. Just the usual B.S. But Christie himself, a New York media blitz, the purely amateurish and irrational actions of some of his Republican political travelers and pictures – those damning pictures – have made it impossible to “walk on by.”

When this whole thing blew up a couple of weeks ago, I said to myself “Self,” I said. “This guy’s a pro. He’s tough. He’s a straight shooter. He’ll ream out his staff, throw out the garbage and put the whole thing to rest. Nothing to see here. Go on to something else.”

But Christie has become his own worst problem. At first, he hunkered down. Silence. Then he decided spending two hours on his feet with New York and national media would put the whole thing to rest. It didn’t. For two reasons.

First, answering questions from 60-70 reporters while staying “on message” for that time is impossible. You’re going to get the same questions 12 different ways. And, if you stray from the absolute truth just once, you’re going to screw up and contradict something before it’s over. Christie thought he could beat that. He didn’t. He screwed up several times.

Second, his lengthy appearance “on camera” was probably the longest continuous stretch he’s stood before the national public to be looked over. What he showed was not the image of a controlled, even-tempered, intelligent and wise decision-maker in command of his duties. Presidential material, as it were. He was alternately churlish, apologetic, humble, over-bearing, articulate, inarticulate, knowing, unknowing, aware of detail, unaware of detail and obviously reaching to find new answers to questions already answered. He lost me when he tried to make himself a victim going through the “cycles of grief.”

Compounding his problems has been his Republican “friends.” Rather than trying to find something honest and positive to drum up public support for Christie in his time of trial, Giulani, Santorum, Huckabee and the Republican scribes at Fox dragged out Benghazi and the IRS – trying to use the oft-disproved lies of the loony right to divert attention to the White House. And those guys want us to put them back in public office? Really?

On his own, Christie has shown himself to be a chief executive either out-of-touch with his own top-level staff or he’s created a staff that freelances with the governor’s name and image – and he allows it. He’s either ceded control of affairs of the State of New Jersey to others while pursuing his national political ambitions or he’s too isolated to know what’s going on in the office next door. Either he’s the jovial, wise politician he tries to depict or he’s the bully using the powers of his office to punish those who don’t follow his line.

Those two hours in front of the cameras could well have been the single, most self-destructive turning point in Christie’s political fortunes as he tried to win back an increasingly suspicious media. Or, maybe there’ll be many smaller turning points – the ones accumulated over the years in which it seems he or his renegade staff punished perceived New Jersey political non-adherents to the Christie management style.

It’s not possible to believe Chris Christie didn’t know – long ago – of the bridge debacle and the resulting multi-government and citizen reaction to it. There’s proof of that already. It’s not believable that his staff kept an ambitious politician so successfully sequestered from events that so impacted the very voters he needs as his political base for further national successes. We’ve got proof of that, too.

Chris Christie today may be the same guy he was 30 days ago to New Jersey supporters. But he’s not the same guy he was 30 days ago to a national audience that had little knowledge of his more earthy persona. And of his hardball political proclivities.

The only guy I know who could stand in the breech and take on a hundred swordsmen successfully was Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Chris Christie is no Doug Fairbanks!

Failure guaranteed

Author: Barrett Rainey

In terms of useful work accomplished, the recently ended session of Congress was bad – worst ever. The new session that began last week will strive for – and likely surpass – that historic low. The square earth cancer existing in the House for several years has spread to the Senate, guaranteeing already single-digit voter approval ratings will slip even more.

Grim forecast? Yes. Without basis? No. Indicators are all over the place. But here are three that resonate with me.

First – the longer-than-usual list of members quitting. But not just that. What makes these departures more problematic is the political leaning represented by many in the exiting group. Moderates. Many from the middle who’ve historically cooperated with that “other” party. Some who’ve had to beat off primary challenges from the tinfoil hat crowd in the past because of their willingness to “get-the-job-done” using the politics of compromise. Punishment for statesmanship. Attacked by the ignorant for doing the job they were elected to do. At some point, a guy gets fed up being clobbered for doing the right thing.. At some point, he quits. We’re seeing it this time in spades!

Additionally, even some of those who’ve carried water for the far right have somehow slipped into disfavor – encouraged the wrath of the foil folk – finding themselves “primaried.” You won’t find that word in Webster’s or SpellCheck. It means the nuts have put up someone further right-of-center than you and you’re going to have to spend big bucks to win your own primary – then more big bucks to battle the other party in a second election.

Rep Mike Simpson (R-ID) comes to mind as a prime example. Sen. Minority Leader McConnell, (R-KY), too. Though hewing to the square earth Republican line – even when that line was a guaranteed loser – both men are raising money to battle their own party folk. Then still more bucks if a Democrat shows up for the November general election. Gotta have “purity,” dontcha know.

The exit of moderates – especially GOP moderates – assures the mess we’ve endured in recent years will get even messier. A victory here and there for newly minted extremists will simply further foul a bad situation.

Second – both political parties are shrinking in membership. Large numbers of people who previously considered themselves Democrats or Republicans are abandoning whatever’s left of those organizations and moving to the Independent banner. But that’s a very, very sharp two-edged sword.

While one might feel personally and philosophically rewarded by being politically free to pick and choose, the problem is there is no viable “Independent Party” with any clout. Many states don’t allow candidates who aren’t Democrat or Republican on the ballot. So what you get in many cases is the recognized two parties put unacceptable candidates on the ballots for the disenfranchised “Independents” to chose between.

Unless – and until – enough people can create a real Independent Party made up of truly fed-up former Democrats and Republicans, there’ll be no real change. The third party folk will simply have abandoned the recognized and lawful system and have no clout to change anything. The choice really amounts to being disenfranchised or going back to the political party you’re trying to escape from while trying to change it.

Third – there are 534 members in the current Congress. Right? How many would you guess are millionaires? MORE THAN HALF! Yep. At least 268 had a documented 2012 net worth of a million. Or more!

Used to be easy to look it up. But the Center for Responsive Politics that researched those figures says Congress quietly changed the rules recently so you can’t tell how much over a million they might really be worth. Chief Obama hater Rep. Issa (R-CA) is generally judged to be the most well-heeled at about a billion. Even Idaho’s little Sen. Risch is up in the multi-million range.

So, next time you consider the Republican cut to food stamps of $40 billion, ask yourself this:”With more than half the people voting who should eat – how much and when – being millionaires, what do they really know of hunger? How in touch with people trying to keep their families fed are these guys?

Or, that old Republican bugaboo – unemployment benefits. What do Issa and Risch and the 266 other millionaires really know of being unemployed while trying to keep a family together? What do they know of the absolute need of $200 or $300 a week to survive? When more than half the folks writing our laws and determining benefits have checkbooks with seven or eight or nine figures in them, how concerned are they about the necessities you have to deal with on a daily basis?

Is the new Congress going to be worse than the last? Will there be more partisanship and stalemate? Will the foil hat crowd continue to sabotage democracy? Will the more than half the Congress worth over a million apiece remain out-of-touch with today’s reality at your house?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

Happy New Year anyway.

Snowden and pornography

Author: Barrett Rainey

Dealing with my feelings about the Edward Snowden story creates some of the same thoughts I have about pornography. As an issue, I’m opposed to porn. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take a quick look if it pops up unexpectedly on a web site I’ve happened across.

What Snowden did – stealing and distributing U.S. government secrets – is abhorrent – a clear violation of oaths he took when granted a security clearance to work with classified documents. He’s no hero. He’s a criminal and should be punished as such. He betrayed the trust granted by his civilian employer – and the entire nation by implication – and he may be a source of lasting damage to our national security. So far, that’s doubtful but not all the information he purloined has been published.

With that said – like porn – we’ll all take a look at what stolen details come out of the electronic stash of documents. And they’re coming. Some boring – some interesting – some downright scary and unsettling. It’s certain there will be more revelations, like the ever-present surveillance of the National Security Agency in all our lives. It’s likely to be an even bumpier ride.

Like it or not, what we’re learning about “big brother” and the gaze on us all by the “eye that never sleeps,” is alarming – yet fascinating – stuff. Kind of like that brief, occasional glimpse of porn. Those doing the surveillance are pissed because we now know. But – as the surveilled – we need to know. We have a constitutionally guaranteed right to know.

I hear many people say, “Well, so what? I’m not doing anything wrong. Go ahead and look. They won’t find anything.” Two things scare me about people who say that. First, they’re probably licensed to drive on the same highways I use. Second, the issue is not what we’re doing but rather why should our government be watching us?

This is not a political issue for which this administration or the previous one – or the one previous to that – can be solely criticized. If it’s true the neo-cons of the first Bush years started this, it’s equally true all subsequent administrations have approved it.

In the days after 9/11, there may have been sufficient reasons for ramping up surveillance of electronic traffic. Or, it may have been an overreaction to fears raised by that terrible attack. Makes no difference now. What does make a difference is we’ve had a dozen years to see if such government snooping on its citizens is warranted or is simply being continued because it “may” be effective to identify terrorists. Operative word there is “may.”

There’s been plenty of time to assess the value of such surveillance. The question is, has anyone done such an assessment? If so, what were the results? If not, why the Hell not? One agency says, “Well, we don’t look at these messages from those sources” and another says “We only look at these people.” Is there any coordination here? Who’s in and who’s out? We need to know.

As happens so often when we or a corporation or a government try to operate secretly, the word will get out eventually. The cat’s out of the bag now on this national “secret.” We know – in at least some vague ways – our privacy is being violated by a government trying to do due diligence in matters of national security. But we don’t know exactly by whom, how or what the results are. The fact that no one has flown another airplane into another building is not the answer we deserve. That’s simply a political brush off.

The question of whether Edward Snowden and Bradley – oops – Chelsea Manning were motivated to betray the national trust placed in them is for another time and other discussions. Assuring necessary security in the field of classified national information in the hands of millions of people needs to be addressed now. And safeguards – such as there may be – instituted immediately.

This administration – and whatever intelligent members of Congress we have left – need to make a “full court press” inside government and out. Why do we have these programs? What kinds and how many? Run by whom? Effectiveness? Are there adequate safeguards? Are there other, less invasive ways to get the same results? How are we screening those who are allowed access? And we – you and I – need to be told PDQ the answers to those and other pertinent questions.

Now that the “surveillance cow is out of the national security barn,” we need to know how it got out and what went with it. Even NSA doesn’t seem to know what Snowden took, how he took it or where it is. Those are the folks we’re supposed to rely on when we put our heads on the pillow each night.

Can’t speak for you but I’ve been sleeping with one eye open lately.