Writings and observations

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Bear with me faithful readers as I combine two disparate strands of thought that sheds light on current events.

First strand: Everything in life is political. The differences are only in degrees. Second strand: Executives should never let lawyers drive policy matters.

Note the key words are political and policy, both having the Greek word polis as their roots. Too often the root word is interpreted narrowly to mean a city-state. Its larger meaning is community, people coming together to live in peace and harmony.

From that comes the need for laws to regulate human behavior, to protect the weak from predators, to seek the greatest good for the greatest number.

Unfortunately, we create myths that belie the above absolutes, such as the supposed separation of church and state. It is an ideal embedded in the Constitution. The reality is it does not reflect reality.

Incontestably, churches, because they are entities that help serve to regulate human behavior, are deeply involved in what ultimately are political issues and public policy matters. Even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints makes no bones about the spiritual and the temporal being combined, though it too pays lip- service to the notion of a church and state separation by claiming it doesn’t engage in partisan politicking.

Is there anyone walking who seriously believes the leadership of the LDS Church has not in a dozen ways quietly – and fully within its First Amendment rights to do so – lent indirect support to Mitt Romney’s campaign? Was last year’s national television ad campaign aimed at expanding America’s familiarity with the LDS Church a mere coincidence?

Get real.

What prompts this essay, though, is not the activities of the LDS Church on behalf of a favored son. Rather, it is the action of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane suing its long-time Spokane law firm for malpractice in representing the diocese both in settling a number of abuse-by-priest claims and in the resulting declaration of bankruptcy.

Some are shocked the diocese would turn on its long-time outside counsel, one of Spokane’s venerable, old law firms. Cynics are smiling at the actions of a corporation – which the diocese most assuredly is – with what they suspect is a bet Paine, Hamblen will settle out of court with its insurance company on the hook for perhaps half of the $12 million in damages sought.

Part of the escalating cost of health insurance is the high cost of malpractice insurance doctors and hospitals have to obtain in our highly litigious society. Now the ultimate irony is coming about: Law firms must obtain hefty malpractice insurance to protect themselves from unhappy clients.

It is the consumer, however, who pays in the end. Insurance premiums are cranked into an ever increasing hourly rate which, even in Spokane, averages $400 an hour.

The cynicism comes about when religious entities wrap themselves in piety and claim the high moral ground while acting in a political and or business-interest manner. The public rightly sees hypocrisy in such actions. No one should be surprised that it further undermines what little credibility the Spokane diocese possesses these days.

Fault both the diocese and its attorneys for not keeping their eyes on the diocesan mission. If there was an initial mistake, it goes to the second absolute postulated above, i.e., the executive, the Spokane bishop, William Skylstad (a personal friend), allowed lawyers to drive an issue that went above legal tactics. It breached the broader arena of the policy position a church is expected to understand.

Lawyers love to run things and to tell executives what they can and cannot do. They ought to tell their clients if and how they can legally do what they want to do.

In the case of the Spokane diocese, the initial error by its lawyers was convincing the bishop to go against his better instincts and invoke the statutes of limitations defense against many of the abuse claims. Rather than focus on what was right – in this case righting through an admission of guilt and making amends for the wrong that had been done – the diocese resorted to a legal defense that undercut its moral authority.

District Court Judge Kathleen O’Conner correctly handed the diocese its head on a platter. Even the Vatican’s chief legal authority, in a speech in France earlier in the decade, had called on bishops not to resort to legal legerdemain to escape responsibility for the sexual-abuse wrongs.

The result is further erosion of whatever moral authority the diocese has left. The rudder is again being held by different lawyers who counsel a questionable path to extract money from an insurance firm that otherwise would have to be hijacked from the faithful in the pews.

So the end justifying the means looks political and legalistic, doesn’t it?

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Carlson Washington

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

At our house, we voted this morning. As I write this, nearly all of you in other states have another 10 days or so before traipsing to the polls. For us, the campaign is over. It ended with the slight swishing sound of two Oregon vote-by-mail ballots sliding down the intake of the ballot collection box. No stamps. No extra envelopes. No mess. It’s a great feeling!

Oregonians have been taking care of their most valuable labor of citizenship this clean, trouble-free way for 31 years. First, on a test basis for state elections starting in 1981; then permanently for all state elections since ‘87. By ‘95, federal races were added. In ‘98, Oregonians overwhelmingly voted by referendum to continue the process and make it permanent for all elections. We do it all by mail. The single question about the process that remains with me – why doesn’t everybody do it this way? It works!

All the skeptics – believe me, there were some – have long been muzzled. Oh, there are still a few of the “aluminum foil beanie crowd” mumbling about fraud and lost ballots. But even they have used the system successfully and their numbers are vastly reduced.

It works!

Oregon’s statewide elections are run on a shoestring budget because they can be. The six and seven figure costs in other states are gone for us. We don’t need poll workers, poll watchers, volunteers of any stripe. Even shut-ins or other folks who can’t physically get to the polls can vote. And do.

A statewide survey done in 2003 showed 81% of us felt the process was great and should be continued. Not that there was any serious talk of quitting. But just to reassure the “powers-that-be” that we still overwhelmingly supported the idea. Actually, Democrats approved by 85%; Republicans by 76%. And a full 30% said they voted more often and more regularly since the mail idea started. All together now: “It works!”

“And voter fraud? Gotta be some fraud in the process,” you say.
Well, if there’s been such skullduggery, it hasn’t shown up in any great amount. Our Secretary of State says the process is as clean – or cleaner – than states that still use in-person polling places. It just works.

Oh, we still have a booth or two at our county courthouses so the diehards and the purists can make the trip to town to vote the old way, then hand their ballot to a real live person. But, soon, even that will disappear. Especially if gas stays at four bucks a gallon.
Living in a state in which our elections are considered well-run and honest, I’ve been damned disgusted with the Republican-sponsored efforts to keep Americans from polling places elsewhere. Yes, Virginia, it’s all been Republican-sponsored. Not one state legislature with a Democrat majority has tried to limit voter participation using the phony excuse of “voter fraud.” Not one. It’s been the Republican National Committee pushing this “fraud” scheme, trying to keep minorities from voting. At first, behind-the-scenes; then more openly once exposed. Fortunately, court tests of these partisan efforts to discriminate – especially against minorities – have been shot down one by one.

And the irony is this. So far, in 2012 alone, there have been more reported examples of Republican efforts to cheat the system than all the cases of voter fraud prosecuted in the 50 states following the 2010 election!

Study after study – sponsored by reliably independent groups – found there have been no large-scale cases of voter fraud. Period! All this Republican-backed fraud business is another example of trying to apply fixes to problems that don’t exist. Or more properly said, attempts to steal elections. According to such surveys, no state – repeat – NO state is reporting serious, sizeable examples of voter fraud. In fact, when the top Pennsylvania elections official testivied in district court in defense of that state’s new, needless voter fraud law, she admitted she knew of no cases. Not one!

Further, she said she’d not even read the law. This is the same state in which the legislature’s Speaker of the House famously told a GOP audience the new fraud law would “guarantee the election of Mitt Romney.”

North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and a few other state Republican parties and Republican-dominated legislatures have led despicable attempts to disenfranchise many Americans at the polls. A Pennsylvania district court decision to uphold that law was struck down on appeal. All others lost at the first hearing. As they should have.

But in Oregon. Ah, Oregon. Republicans and Democrats – and all those in the other, smaller parties – wait by the mailbox about two weeks before the national voting day. Taking time to peruse our ballots at home, talk with each other about the election, make our selections and sealing the envelopes, we join political hands, walk to the mailbox and put ‘em inside. Done!

And Oregon’s voter fraud cases? You gotta be kidding.

For all parties! For everyone! IT WORKS!

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Rainey