Archive for June, 2014

This pork is a hog

Author: admin

For many, many a moon, it’s been hard to say anything positive about our miscreants in congress. Especially those in the Grand Old Party of “NO.” About the time you think they’ve reached the bottom, one of ‘em digs a little deeper and any thoughts of saying something positive about recalcitrant elephants are immediately dashed.

But one fella – Idaho’s Second Congressional District part-time dentist – has acquitted himself with more positive job performance than a majority of others in the herd. Mike Simpson can be honestly castigated for making a number of wrong-headed votes in the name of Republican “unity” – a phrase rapidly becoming inappropriate for anything GOP. He’s gone along with his leadership on some things unnecessarily partisan. Still, on the whole – as far as his folks at home are concerned – he’s been quite helpful.

But now, he finds himself doing something for the sake of some of those same home folk that may be politically smart but it’s also politically abhorrent to a lot of us – and maybe even him – because it’s wasteful of our tax dollars and is little more than pork wrapped in the old American flag.

The brass hats in the Pentagon maze have been trying for years to thin out our inventory of obsolete, costly and no-longer-effective weapons systems. Things change. We move on. Technology keeps getting better. We can kill more people with less. And, sometimes, we can even kill them one-at-a-time from 5,000 miles away – if everything operates properly. So, some of the deadly toys we bought many moons ago should be retired or recycled.

But – when the folks on Capitol Hill – the ones who think holding elective office is a tenured “career” regardless of performance – hear such talk, there’s an immediate reaction of sphincter puckering and a rush to head off any loss of defense spending in the home district. One of the leaders in this embarrassment of pork preservation has been the Speaker himself. The Army has been telling Congress for years it doesn’t want any more copies of certain models of current tanks – wants to stop building ‘em – and it wants a particular company to stop refurbishing the ones damaged on current battlefields. Stop, already!

Ah, but the company that does all that tank rebuilding is where? Where? All together now – OHIO! And that district is represented in Congress by whom? All together now – SPEAKER BOEHNER! And in his mind, we’ll never have enough tanks – especially not enough rebuilt tanks – until Hell freezes over. It’s called “pork,” boys and girls. P-O-R-K!

So, what about Mike Simpson? Well, he’s now caught up in something very similar. He’s “going to the mat” to save a flying weapons system the U.S. Air Force doesn’t want anymore – the A-10 Thunderbolt. Or, as it’s more informally known, the “Warthog.” The “Hog” first flew in about 1976. It’s been called an “airborne tank” because it can take a lot of punishment and keep on flying. It’s a twinjet craft used in close support of combat troops for strafing, rocket launching and putting a lot of hurt on those threatening our people. It’s been a great airplane and the most effective aerial weapons carrier for such work.

But times have changed. Technology has improved. We’ve got new planes – drones – better ground weapons. USAF equipment buyers want to phase out the old “Hog” and spend our tax dollars on better, newer and more effective killing stuff. And therein lies the trap drawing Mike Simpson’s “Luke Skywalker” over to “the Dark side.” Fight for the folks at home. Support that pork!

Gowen Field is a small Idaho National Guard base on the South side of Boise’s busy commercial airport. It should have been moved years ago. One of the prime reasons it exists is to be Idaho’s home for “Warthogs.” A couple dozen of ‘em. And all the support personnel, local payroll and purchasing power it takes to keep ‘em flying. So you just know any USAF decision to disrupt that flow of federal dollars is going to bring instant screams from Idaho And that’s where our GOPer Simpson is caught.

I’ve known Mike for years. He’s a good head. And he’s done his share of pork banishment. But now the pork on the political spit is his. Gowen Field is about the distance of a Peyton Manning pass inside his congressional district. Just inside the line. So, after years of campaigning on the old Republican lie – er, line – of “lower taxes” and “an end to unnecessary spending,” our legislative tooth fixer is hoist on his own pork petard.

His chances of winning are very slim without some pork-passing help. The defense bill has cleared the House and is buried in the Senate. Of course, there’ll be some amending and some cutting and some pork added. But the lift to pull the aerial pork out of the fire is gonna be a heavy one. Unless senators from Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and Utah jump in to help. They’ve got “Hog” bases, too, you see. Or “Hog” maintenance facilities. Got to spread that tasty “pig meat” around, don’t you know?

Given his long-standing, squeaky-clean conservative record, Simpson’s in a strange place. He’s waging a good fight. But whether he’ll have his whole Republican “cost-cutting” heart in the battle is another question.

Still, seems to me quite fitting that the pork at the center of Simpson’s political conundrum is a “Hog.” And remember, boys and girls – pork is always – ALWAYS – in the eye of the beholder.

Time for house cleaning

Author: admin

Last week’s shameful, amateurishly conducted, unbelievably arrogant and utterly unnecessarily divisive Idaho GOP convention was – is – and always should be – looked upon as the state’s absolute low point in political history. But – it should not be remembered as a surprise.

Those of us with a lifelong interest in things political can’t help but look upon that horrendous display and want to think – to say – to write something thoughtful and meaningful in it’s wake. Anyone who tries to do so will embark on a fool’s errand. But that won’t stop some of us from trying.
There was nothing in the raucous display of political throat-cutting upon which to base any thoughtful review. It was an expensive embarrassment for the party. And, as word spreads through the national political networks, equally as embarrassing for the state.

Idaho’s Republican Party has been headed off the cliff for a long time. Like the party nationally, it’s been organizationally kidnaped by narrow-minded absolutists in no way representative of either the long and honored conduct of the GOP or the mainstream of its historic membership. Both groups have created platforms filled with homophobic, racist, close-minded and hurtful language. Both are exclusionary. Both have espoused political goals antithetic to good government. Both have turned their backs on historic accomplishments of past Republican leaders who worked in the best interests of the country at-large rather than some imagined utopia of better days.

When a handful of party “loyalists” meets ahead of convention, voting to disenfranchise some 30-percent of the delegates who were to attend, it doesn’t take a great deal of political acumen to see who’s in charge and how the experience will end. This particular convention was not only doomed from day one, it was doomed years ago as unity, comity, accommodation and compromise were drummed out of the party vocabulary. The Idaho GOP has been walking along the cliff’s edge for a long time. The convention finally proved to be one foot out in space. There will be a fall. In fact, it’s started already.

Republicans have become more divisive – more likely to exclude those who differ in thought and word. The GOP has become an intolerant, narrow-minded group. Nowhere has that been on display more arrogantly than in Idaho in the past week. If one or more sheep differed on any subject from the single-minded theology presented, such sheep were quickly cut from the flock. The aforementioned organized effort to exorcize nearly a third of voting delegates was proof positive. Three entire counties were targeted for elimination in the convention process.

Idaho Republicans – and too often national Republicans – do not close ranks after the type of failed purity debacle seen last week. They either withdraw from further participation or immediately begin efforts to further institutionalize their divisions. One Idaho county has birthed four Republican central committees. Four. Compromise? Comity? Unity?

Many years ago, Gov. Robert Smylie – himself a long-serving Republican – gave me some good political thought. He said, after a certain length of time occupying power, both parties would do well to “open some closet doors and air the place out.” Despite his own failed effort to try holding onto power too long, he was right. And Idaho’s political climate has reached the point some thorough house cleaning seems long overdue.

And “house cleaning” there may be. Already there’s talk in the state of disaffected – or even embarrassed – Republicans getting behind Democrat gubernatorial candidate A. J. Balukoff in November. Republican reasoning seems to be – if elected – he would face the usual solidly Republican legislature which would hold him in check for four years. That would give Idaho Republicans time to do some philosophical “house cleaning” and be in better shape to take back the governor’s office in 2018.

Risky reasoning, that. But that’s how bad things have gotten in the Idaho GOP. That’s how badly things went in the state convention last week. And that’s just what could happen because the Republican dog looked off the bridge, saw what appeared to be a bigger bone and dropped the one he had.

Old as Aesop. As fresh – or as despoiled – as Idaho’s Republican Party.

I’m going to advance a theory about Sgt. B. Bergdahl that I suspect you probably haven’t seen anywhere else. The fact that you likely haven’t means I’m probably crazy as hell. But, hey, those of us who write on the old I-net machine aren’t real writers and thinkers anyway, right?

This kernel of digital thought is based on my own years in uniform and the thousands of people I met while doing so. Because many of those years were spent in locations with personnel from other services, I got a pretty good look at people in all branches. Sans uniforms, we were a good cross-section of American life. Some very intelligent individuals – others that had to be reminded daily which foot was the left and which arm was the right.

A basic fact I learned is not everyone in uniform should be – whatever their motivations for joining. But, in my day, a lot of folks were either drafted or so scared they would be that they jumped into one branch or the other just to have a choice. The topic of an “all volunteer” military was never mentioned. You gambled the draft wouldn’t get you or you went off to “march” in the military.

Regardless of which branch, you’re immediately thrown into a lifestyle of life-changing experiences with people you’d never meet any other way. If you were from a small, all-white Oregon town, you quickly learned there really were others who didn’t look, talk or act like all the folks back home. Not that you weren’t intellectually aware of that. You just never showered with ‘em or ate with ‘em or – if you were a bit social – got to know ‘em.

If you were a “normal” heterosexual male, you found not every other guy was. In those days, that meant a quick discharge. If you were of a race with a learned hatred of the other, there were new social techniques to learn – quickly – to deal with that. If you had no patience with those whose hygiene skills weren’t up to yours, you had another learning experience. In fact, service in any military unit was – and is – a constant “learning experience.”

Even back then, not everyone “made the grade.” We had “washouts.” Guys who couldn’t adjust. Or wouldn’t. The primary goal of basic training in any of the branches has always been to quickly whip recruits into at least a basic military unit for further training. Almost as important has been the need to find those that can’t make the transition and weed ‘em out. Even in today’s all-volunteer military, not everyone who does so – regardless of motivation – should be accepted.

Given that background – and extensive reporting of Bergdahl’s days in the military and of his family’s lifestyle – my hunch is the sergeant is one of those and that he slipped through the cracks.

Hailey, Idaho, is a relatively isolated community of some 8,000 souls Though only about a dozen miles South of Ketchum/Sun Valley, Hailey is a more rural town with a slower and more local flavor – the sort of place rural South Blaine County folks go to buy necessities. Compared to Ketchum/Sun Valley, Hailey is definitely not in the “fast lane.”

Bergdahl’s family seems not to be a “fast lane” bunch, either. His father and mother talk more like some of the more liberal crowd in the area. Some of their words bring memories of what were called “hippie-types” about 45 years ago. Their descriptions of Bowe, and quotes of many other locals who’ve said something of his background, talk of a “good kid” – one who was sort of quiet – who didn’t have a lot of problems with school or other local authority. A kid with conscience. And a bit of a dreamer. A kid who kind of kept to himself – not part of the popular crowd – pleasant enough – smart enough but not outstanding.

Some reporting since Bergdahl’s release has told of a few times when he just wandered away from his army duties. In basic training, he once said he just wanted to go see a sunset. In Afghanistan, he had gone – unarmed – on more than one foray into local areas to look around. In an email to a friend, he talked to wanting to walk to China into “the artist’s painted world, hiding from the fields of blood and screams- hiding from the monster within.” He’d also repeatedly expressed concerns to fellow soldiers about what the American military was doing to the native population and of h is serious concerns about it.

Dig a bit deeper. In 2006, he “washed out” of the Coast Guard for “psychological reasons” before he joined the army.

“O.K., Rainey,” you say. “Where the hell are you going with all this?”

Well, here’s where. Given my own military experiences and adding what we now know of Bergdahl’s, this sounds like a guy who should’ve been “washed out” in basic training. Or rejected by a recruiter. Especially with the previous Coast Guard “psych” discharge which was certainly on the record. He sounds like a serious-minded kid, just out of his teen years, raised in a rather liberal family by parents who’ve expressed similar concerns about the war in Afghanistan. I don’t know enough about them to call them “conscientious objectors” but they’re certainly more forthcoming – and articulate – with their reservations about the war than most folks. His father’s gone so far as to learn the local Afghan dialect and grow a beard common among Afghan men. Those things also speak of someone with more than casual feelings about events. You ever hear of anyone else in a similar situation going that far? Me neither.

Seems to me Sgt. Bergdahl is a guy who should’ve never been in uniform. He sounds like a good kid who certainly would have never made “Soldier of the Month.” He sounds like a bad civilian “fit” in army fatigues.

Bergdahl – or any captive American in a war – should’ve been rescued. All else is political B.S.. The rescue was right. Now, if a subsequent military investigation finds what Bergdahl did by wandering off fits the Uniform Code of Military Justice definition of “desertion,” take the proper steps to administer punishment as specified. That’s the “army way.”

Still, it seems to me the army bears more than a little responsibility for Bergdahl being in Afghanistan in the first place. His background – his upbringing – his family beliefs – his repeatedly expressed concerns about what war was doing to other human beings – the previous discharge for “psychological reasons” – all of that should have raised red flags. He had a history before his capture. A history that was well-known to those around him in the military. A history that seems to have been ignored.

Sometimes that, too, is the “army way.”

This week’s results of the secession votes in Northern California have been posted. The score is two to one: two deciding to continue their established relationship with this country – one opting to join four other counties that previously decided to pioneer a new “State of Jefferson.” Butte County, California, voters will decide the issue for themselves come Tuesday next.

Now, to some it might appear all this “smoke-in-the-California-woods” is just that: people blowing smoke. But, if you clear the air a bit, you’ll see there are some “flames” to all this and some real problems – maybe more violent problems than voting – could be ahead.

In Del Norte and Siskiyou Counties deciding to stay with the union, the count was roughly 60-40. Tehema County voted to go, and it was about the same ratio to leave. About six in ten. In other words, no terribly lopsided majority either way. So, the secession question isn’t going to disappear, regardless of how impossible such a move might eventually be. The discontents and the malcontents still equal 40-60% of the residents. They’ll continue to create very heated political situations in anything those counties try to do. Anything.

There really is some “beef” to all this secession business. Watched a spot on the T&V the other day showing several dozen kids with dummy wooden rifles being marched across an open field ala the British in 1775. They also were getting lectures from old guys in uniforms – astride old horses – about “freedom” and “personal rights” and all that. In other words, prepping the next generation of Northern California kids to carry on the fight when the old guys and the old horses are long gone. That’s dangerous.

When you have 40-60% of the local population getting onboard this secession train, the reality is not all these folks are on the loony fringe. Several I’ve heard support leaving California express some very legitimate concerns i.e. political and economic dominance by large cities, unequal distribution of government assets and programs, little representation in matters of government, etc. All fact maybe, but also all legal.

The U.S. Supreme Court put us on the “one-man, one-vote” highway in the 60’s. Soon, rural sections of all states found themselves losing their grips on the levers of government and commerce. Power began shifting to metropolitan areas. Idaho may be one of the last states where this isn’t necessarily true. And that’s only because the legislative bunch from Ada and Canyon Counties – where a third of the population lives – have clout in numbers but keep fighting among themselves over political B.S.. So less populated regions of the state still kick their butts in the legislature because the rural communities have learned to stick together.

The California secession contingent also has the possibility of lighting fires in other places. Josephine, Jackson, Curry and Douglas Counties on Oregon’s side of the border have voices singing the same song. And have for many years. Doesn’t take more than a few beers to get those voices raised.

Is all this going anywhere? No. If 90% of all the folks living in these unhappy counties decided to leave, could they? No. Is secession from a given state even possible? Not likely. And it certainly wouldn’t be smart.

But a lot of the folks at the root of this movement are much like that Bundy fraud in Nevada. Not all, certainly. But many. Filled with questionable knowledge of our nation’s history, spouting half-truths and no-truths about “individual rights,” “constitutional rights,” “government oppression,” opposed to any government program that doesn’t benefit them and hellbent on getting on TV. They sound “good” to the uninformed, the angry, the outcast residents on the edge of society and the professional haters who’re looking for a larger voice.

These pockets of angry people are a distinct minority for sure. And the possibility of them fulfilling the empty promises of “greener pastures in a 51st state” is nigh impossible. But, in this instance, they just happen to be geographically connected – separated only by an invisible state border. There are those among them not motivated for anyone else’s welfare but their own. There are already well-established drug routes through the forests that sit astride the Oregon-California border. There are informal but well-established trails of illegals and other illicit traffic passing back and forth through the trees. There are people in a dozen or so counties covering the two states with their own personal reasons for keeping the pot boiling.

“Secession” is how all this is referred to and the media truly gives it more credence than it deserves. So far. But when you have elected officials – county sheriff’s and supervisors and clerks – publically advocating the dissolution of bonds with established states, the subject is not going away. And, like that Bundy guy, there are enough opportunists with their own agendas who see profit in the situation to keep stoking the flames.

We have too much ignorant, anti-government sentiment in this country at the moment. Much of it sponsored by voices getting rich by keeping the fires burning. Secession from either California or Oregon by established counties is not going to happen. But I’d bet this business is going to get a lot stickier and a lot louder before it ends. And how it will end is an unknown at this point.

Failure to inform

Author: admin

The media’s outburst of sustained patriotism and flag-waving over the Bowe Bergdahl story in recent days seems symptomatic of that same media’s oft-repeated failure to report stories rather than announce events. Now, after the first 48 hours, nearly all of them have run the other way in a “rush to judgment.”

Bergdahl, of course, is the Idaho soldier released by the Taliban in Afghanistan a few days ago. For 48 hours, the media was ecstatic and breathlessly related lots of fluff without much substance. Rather than go back to the original reporting on file to flesh out details of his capture five years ago, the kids slathered viewers and readers with gooey gossip severely lacking in fact. Chasing crumbs on the floor while leaving the loaf on the table, seems to me.

Bergdahl may ride in a parade or two around Idaho. But there’s also reason to believe he could wind up in prison or, at the very least, be charged with desertion, given time-served as a prisoner-of-war and dishonorably discharged. Some of the things said by his parents at hastily called bi-coastal media events, could do their son more harm than good. To wit: his father’s decision to learn the Afghan language, comment about hardships caused Afghans by America and the war while growing a big, bushy beard like real male Afghans.

Then add some of the comments from soldiers who risked their own lives to find Bergdahl in the early days after his disappearance, the death of several soldiers on that detail and reports Bergdahl simply loaded up a canteen with water and walked off into the countryside – without his rifle – and you’ve got far less a wonderful story and more of another tragedy of war. And desertion.

The Bergdahl story is far from over. But, if the media had been doing any professional job at all, these details and a lot more could have been reported right at the top along with what was known about his release. The story wasn’t so much about his negotiated freedom as it was about how he was captured in the first place. The story has bookends. And – sadly – both were simply not included in all the reportorial B.S..

There was a time newspapers adequately reported these kinds of things. Lots of detail massaged by editors and proofreaders. Then radio came along. Radio wasn’t designed for long, fully-reported stories. You got the gist of things, then sought a newspaper for details. Then TV hit the scene. Facts gave way to pictures and pictures drove the coverage. TV newscasts had to have “graphics – pictures – movement – action.” Radio gave you the immediacy, TV showed you what happened (sometimes) and newspapers had the details. Now – not so much.

When Ronny Reagan’s Federal Communications appointees deleted all requirements for local radio news, we information seekers took a hit. When they knocked down barriers to same-market-ownership and cross-ownership of competing media, we were hit again. With the advent of the I-net, we turned to electronic data to satisfy our need for detail. That didn’t last long. Between reduced hours of staffing and interminable repetition, even the I-net – with rare exception – has succumbed to “flash-and-dash” coverage.

With brevity, understanding a story can be difficult. Today’s media kids – in all types of media – are being told to “write down.” In newspapers, a few paragraphs al la “Huffington Post.” In radio, standing network protocol is no more than 30 seconds! TV “packages” are supposed to be less than two minutes. With pictures.

Two factors complicate the issue of getting facts even more. One – too many of these kids can’t “write down.” They don’t know how. And it’s tougher than you think. Try this for yourself. A 30 second story read aloud is eight lines of 40 characters each. Take what you know of the Bergdahl story and write it for a stranger who hasn’t heard any of the details. Go ahead. Try it. Get it all in there. We’ll wait.

And two – our access to news is being cut. Have you noticed that CNN, for example, has no newscasts after four p.m. seven days a week? How many local radio stations in your area have newscasts? How many of those few that do simply read the local paper? Has your local newspaper gone out of business? Or, like the once great “Oregonian” simply been gutted – reduced in size with days of delivery cut? If you’ve got a local newspaper that still publishes seven-days-a-week, that’s the exception in too many places.

We live in an age where information has never been more plentiful. But we also live in an age where too many people aren’t exposed to accurate, basic, factual information in their daily lives when necessary. They either don’t search it out or accept the half-reported stories they hear and read. Like the Bergdahl story. Or the stories-mixed-with-opinion on MSNBC and Faux News.”

While accurate, none of this excuses the first days of “reporting” in the Bergdahl episode. We’re dealing less with a “patriot” here than we are a young fella from a small Idaho town – dropped into a shooting situation that most of us have mixed emotions about. I don’t want to condemn him for what he did or why. So far, the condemnation I feel is for a media that hasn’t done it’s job to inform.