Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Curry is in the worst shape primarily because of bad – or maybe gutless – elected mismanagement for many years. Curry collects taxes at about the lowest assessed values in the state. That often happens in a low population county where everybody knows everybody else. A few years ago, Curry had its back to the wall because the Coos-Curry Electric Board refused to regularly raise rates to pass along increases from power suppliers like Bonneville.

It was piling up debt while its transmission system was being held together with duct tape. The Board simply tried to absorb increasing costs rather than raise rates on rate payers. The neighbors. Finally, the feds stepped in and said – to the effect – “Start paying back your loans or you won’t be getting any more.” Rates went up. Ratepayers bitched. But the rates went up. And some old board members (neighbors) were defeated.

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

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

Thanks to Sheriff John Bishop in Curry, things aren’t quite that bad. But even he says he’ll have to lock things up if voters say “NO” again.
Meanwhile, back in Salem, there’s House Bill 2206. As law, it would allow the state to take over all or part of county operations if the governor declared a fiscal emergency. Local offices considered most critical for continued operation are county clerk, assessor, treasurer and tax collector. That’s because they set the amount of taxes due, then collect and disburse them to taxing districts and cities. The state would grant some dollars to the county and take tax dollars from cigarettes and liquor sales. It would take dollars from county taxing districts and disburse what’s left to those districts such as fire, library, cemetery and cities.

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

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

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

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

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

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Rainey

news

CLOSING RECORDS This seem to be, in each of the Northwest states and many other states, in ways large and small, an open season on public access to government. A guest op in the Seattle Times by Katherine George of the Washington Coalition for Open Government throws a light on an effort by local governments there – in a state where local governments have been losing a long string of court cases in attempts to keep records in the dark – to change state law to seal off records access. And the limitations it would allow for local governments (cutting back, maybe severely, on the amount of time governments could budget for finding records) isn’t even the worst of it. There’s this: “The same bill would allow either an agency, or anyone named in a record which you have requested, to file a lawsuit against you in order to block your request. A court could block the processing of your request if it finds that you made the request to “harass or intimidate” the agency or that your “records request will materially interfere with the work of the local agency,” whatever that means. Once you are sued, courts could consider why you want records, what requests you have made in the past, and whether a “burdensome number of records” is involved. SHB 1128 would destroy some of the bedrock principles of the Public Records Act, including that a requester’s identity and interests are irrelevant, that inconvenience is not an excuse to hide records, and that an agency can’t conceal a record unless it falls under one of the law’s narrow exemptions. Neighborhood groups, businesses, civic organizations and individual citizens could be dragged into court for being inquisitive.” This measure (Substitute House Bill 1128) is a good candidate for worst bill of the year in Washington – maybe in the whole Northwest.

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First Take

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CORRECTIONS V CORRECTIONS In most states, the operation that runs some form of correctional industries – making goods or products for sale – is integrated closely with the corrections department. Usually, and partly for that reason, you don’t find the two fighting with each other. In Oregon, that seems to have been happening, to the detriment of, among others, taxpayers. Solution would seem to be organizational, first and foremost.

INL SEQUESTER The biggest effect of the sequester in the Northwest may be in the military operations in western Washington. It’s possible that the second largest may be at the Idaho National Laboratory, where layoffs or furloughs could run to 230 or more.

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First Take

Menzel TOM
MENZEL

 
Washington
My Home

If Gov. Jay Inslee wants “lean management” to be a hallmark of his administration, the Transportation Department should be Exhibit 1.

It appears that we have a nasty case of engineers gone wild – and Inslee isn’t one bit happy about it. After months of media scrutiny, outgoing Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond finally revealed this week that engineers in her department blew it – big time. The pontoons for the new Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington are cracked and leaking, and the $4.1-billion project is likely to be delayed at least a year. Ouch!

Heads could roll when Inslee determines who’s to blame for what will likely be more than a $100 million fix – that’s right, now let’s see that number with all eight zeros: $100,000,000! This revelation hits the news at a time when our schools need an extra $1 billion, our state parks are on their hands and knees begging for every dollar they can get and lawmakers are considering a possible gas tax increase to fund yet more transportation projects.

Hammond blames the pontoon debacle on design errors by state engineers who she says did not follow “standards of good practice” and failed to run models that would have shown the problem. She also implied in an interview last week that someone, somewhere was pushing too hard: “Everybody wants you to take risks, until something goes wrong.” As top dog at the agency (for about one more week), she apparently doesn’t know where the buck stops.

Wherever the fault lies in this case, we can only hope WSDOT will clean up its act once Inslee’s newly appointed Transportation Secretary-straight-from-Oregon, Lynn Peterson, takes over next month. Inslee says she’s ready to do just that, and we wish her luck.

Former Gov. Christine Gregoire’s appointment of Hammond to head up WSDOT in August 2007 made me nervous from the start. An organization that large embarking on the most extensive capital improvement program in its history needed strong leadership, preferably someone from the outside with a wide range of management experience, tons of discipline and lots of new ideas. Hammond was hired as an engineer at WSDOT straight out of college in 1979 and rose up through the ranks. But putting an insider in charge of people she worked with for 28 years just didn’t make sense.

This latest misstep by WSDOT is just one of many in recent years, some of which predate Hammond’s five years at the helm.

Here’s a shortlist:

– On Feb. 7, WSDOT lost a public records showdown with Seattle’s KOMO 4-TV, which has relentlessly investigated the 520 bridge issues for several months. A King County Superior Court judge ruled that unredacted versions of documents related to the pontoon problems had to be released to KOMO and the public (kudos to KOMO and three cheers for open government). These documents were posted on WSDOT’s website Feb. 21. They’re not a pretty sight.

– In 2004, before Hammond’s stint as secretary, WSDOT had to abandon a massive pontoon construction site in Port Angeles when crews unearthed an Indian village and cemetery containing several hundred burials and artifacts. The site was being prepared for construction of replacement pontoons for another megaproject, the $470 million Hood Canal floating bridge. WSDOT paid less than $7,000 to an archaeologist who reported “no evidence of significant prehistoric or historic archaeological resources.” The result: About $80 million of public money up in smoke, and the pontoons had to be built elsewhere.

– In 2010 WDOT discovered a new highway off-ramp in Tacoma was built in the wrong place when it was nearly 90 percent complete. A design team working on the eastbound lanes of the new ramp added a third lane of traffic without informing the second team that was designing the westbound lanes. Oops, another $1 million down the drain. Hammond told the Tacoma News Tribune at the time: “This obviously is something we have not done right.” Ya think?

– In 2011, technical problems with the new tolling system for the Highway 520 bridge delayed startup for about eight months, costing the state millions in lost revenue intended for future highway projects. The contractor shouldered most of the blame for this one, but who selected them?

– Ongoing problems continue to plague the state’s iconic ferry system, ranging from declining ridership and bloated costs for new boats to a $300,000 fix for tilting ferries (more on this topic coming soon).

But enough of past problems. It’s now time for Inslee and his team to implement his promise of lean management. And one of the quickest ways to do that is to clean house at Transportation. He has begun
the purge from the top, which is a good sign. Next, he needs to find a new ferry director. Then he needs to take a close look at the rest of the 7,000-employee agency, where something just ain’t right.

Tom Menzel, of Hansville, Washington, is a communications consultant, community volunteer and former newspaper editor.

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Menzel

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

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

Here in the Oregon woods, our guy was one of the first to sound the “Barney Fife alert,” announcing he would not enforce any gun laws he “believed unconstitutional” nor would he “allow federal law enforcement to do so” in his jurisdiction.

Absent a law degree or a judicial appointment – while ignoring the fact that constitutional determinations are the sole province of our court system – his unwise and certainly politically motivated announcement played only to the far right while undermining the respect a number of us previously had for him. Gun owners or not.

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

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

Here are some of those IACP statements:

ARMOR PIERCING AMMO: Prohibit the sale of such ammo tested and found to fit the armor piercing description by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN: Opposed the sale since 1992 and members have re-authorized that position several times and currently still do..
CONCEALED WEAPONS: Opposes any federal effort to allow concealed weapons carry in states other than where a permit is issued without new federal requirements. Applies to all citizens – including former law enforcement people.
FIREARMS ENFORCEMENT: Increase federal resources to better allow local enforcement and greater prosecution for Brady Act violations. IACP supports Project Safe Neighborhoods and others local programs because they work.
FIREARMS OFFENDER REGISTRY: Supports a federal registry for offenders convicted of felony or misdemeanor firearms violations similar to the sex offender registry.
PURCHASE WAITING PERIOD: IACP supports legislation creating a mandatory five-day wait- or “cooling off” period – prior to completion of a handgun purchase.
GUN SHOW LOOPHOLE: Wants Congress to close person-to-person gun show sales loopholes. Make all gun registry laws apply as they are supposed to.
ILLEGAL TRAFFICKING AND TRACING: IACP opposes all legislation that would weaken current federal laws dealing with law enforcement’s ability to trace illegal firearms.

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

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

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Oregon Rainey

book
Beautiful Nate/Dennis Mansfield
Howard Books

Beautiful Nate: A Memoir of a Family’s Love, a Life Lost, and Heaven’s Promises, written by Idahoan Dennis Mansfield about the son who died four years ago, is as much as anything else about finding the beauty within a mess. Mansfield does, although doing that has meant rethinking much of what he once thought he knew.

Those who got to know Mansfield when he first moved to Idaho a bit over 20 years ago, when he emerged as a state leader of Focus on the Family and maybe the state’s most visible social conservative, encountered a person of near-total certitude. An activist on the abortion and gay rights fronts, and tightly connected through much of the Idaho (and national) evangelical community, he seemed easily defined by stereotype. In his personal life too, he writes, he had a definitive take on among other things how to raise children.

Then Nate happened, and if what followed didn’t upend everything in Mansfield’s world, it changed a great deal.

He still is a highly active evangelical Christian and a political conservative, and his faith runs through a book which feels written more for an evangelical audience, or at least within that framework, than for people of other persuasions. But it’s well worth reading for non-evangelicals too, partly for the insights Mansfield offers here into the mindset, and partly because the story at the heart of the book, Nate’s, is at its core a human tale of tragedy and hope, running well beyond limitations of religion or politics, a sequence of events that could happen to anyone and has happened to many.

We’re all of us complex people, but Nate Mansfield, Dennis’ eldest son, may have been more obviously so than most. A political conservative and an evangelical Christian – he evidently shared those things with his father, to some degree at least to the end – was both gifted and capable on a number of fronts (as a teenaged campaign manager, for example) but also rebellious, ferociously angry and driven toward drug abuse. The roots of this aren’t completely spelled out (Mansfield may here be telling as much as he knows about those origins), but before Nate left high school he had been arrested – creating a problem for Mansfield’s 2000 congressional campaign – and would be arrested repeatedly in the years to come. Periodically addicted to substances both legal and not, heroin among them, Nate died in 2009 of a drug interaction.

The story of how Nate and his parents related uneasily over the years to come is unfortunately not an altogether new tale these days. There is a notably breathtaking and wrenching section here where Mansfield and his wife have to decide whether to allow a then-imprisoned Nate out from behind bars and back into their house, and decide against. You can feel the pain on the page.

The background is distinctive, however, because Mansfield had come into parenting and into much of his early activist work out of certainty that he knew the right way to raise a child – he describes in some detail what that was, where it came from, how he tried to put it into effect and how it periodically smashed into practical application – and was thrown when it didn’t work out. (In Nate’s case, that is: We aren’t told quite enough about the other two children in the house, but their lives apparently proceeded on less eventful and markedly smoother tracks to adulthood.)

Toward the end of the book, Mansfield writes, “I’ve learned that I don’t have all the answers. In many instances, I don’t even have the questions. My past bravado in posing and pretending may have looked good, but it was not good. It was flawed. …

“There is a prevailing series of unintended lies in evangelical Christianity that have been allowed to take root in the last 30 years. One lie says that loving ourselves is sin. Another says there are secrets to child raising and good marriage – that only some have the secrets and the rest of us should visit their websites and buy their products … This same reasoning says that if our lives are in chaos and being ripped apart at the seams, something is internally wrong. ‘We must make every effort not to show the damage,’ this reasoning quietly states. I’ve seen this, because I have lived it. Not only is it disingenuous and wrong, it simply does not work.”

Whatever other hopes he may intend for Beautiful Nate, Mansfield has put front and center here the honesty of the messy reality that in Nate’s life became unavoidable fact. For all the tragedy and heartbreak around that life, it engendered transformation and enlightenment in its wake. There’s the hope in Beautiful Nate, ample cause alone for reading it.

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pontoon
Concrete is poured on the Highway 520 pontoon bridge east of Seattle by Department of Transportation crews. (photo/Washington Department of Transportation)
 

Washington: Financial bill introduction cutoffs are imposed at the statehouse, which means session tensions are about to ratchet upward. That and the fact that not a lot of time remains before the constitutional session cutoff arrives. Notably likely: Little immediate fallout from the Supreme Court decision on supermajorities and tax bills; the split legislature provides a brake on that and on the idea of a constitutional amendment to allow for it.

Oregon: Approval in the Oregon House of key financing for the Columbia Crossing bridge project was hot enough material that Governor John Kitzhaber sent a press release about out from his meeting his D.C. He may have been hoping that presages success on the more difficult project he has set for himself this session – PERS reforms.

Idaho: The University of Idaho’s president for the last four and a half years, Duane Nellis, appeared headed to a university job in Texas by week’s end. That apparently will set up another year-long national search for the next UI president (who, based in recent history, might last at the institution as much as three to four times as long).

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Briefings

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Idaho voters may despise Congress, but they do not often throw out their own members – they’ve done it just four times in the last half-century. Less often than that do the voters of a party reject an incumbent of their own party for another term.

The last time it happened was almost 40 years ago, in 1974, when Orval Hansen, a three-term incumbent in the second district, was defeated in the primary by former Representative George Hansen. The campaign was messy and a number of factors, some of them personal to the candidates, were at play. But the ideological dynamic was one familiar to Idaho voters today: The challenge to Orval by George was seen as a challenge of the right against a more moderate conservative.

You wonder if the Club for Growth is doing a little research on that election.

The Club, which made a splash in Idaho in 2006, is described in Wikipedia as “a fiscally conservative 501(c)4 organization active in the United States of America, with an agenda focused on taxation and other economic issues. … According to its website, the Club for Growth’s policy goals include cutting income tax rates, repealing the estate tax, limited government and a Balanced Budget Amendment, entitlement reform, free trade, tort reform, school choice, and deregulation.” It does not much compromise on any of that.

In 2006, when Idaho had an open seat in the first district, it threw massive money and support to then-legislator Bill Sali, enough that you could fairly say it was the number one reason Sali won his primary and general election that year. One piece of evidence is that in 2008, when Sali ran as an incumbent, the Club stayed out of the race, and Sali lost.

Now the Club is signaling it wants in again, time targeting 2nd District Representative Mike Simpson, now an eight-term member and probably the member of the Idaho delegation with the most clout within Congress. He describes himself as a conservative, and certainly is a loyal member of the House Republican caucus, and close to House Speaker John Boehner.

The Club for Growth uses other metrics. On its site primarymycongressman.com, Simpson is listed first among nine Republican House members it would like to target for defeat. It’s short description of why: “Mike Simpson has repeatedly voted for an expansion of government-run health insurance, Democrat spending bills, and pork project after pork project. He voted for the $700 billion taxpayer bailout of Wall Street banks and he was one of only three Congressmen to vote against defunding A.C.O.R.N., the far-left group notorious for voter fraud.” (About a dozen specific votes are also listed.)

If the Club persists against Simpson, though, it’s likely to come to grief.

Simpson has not had a competitive election since he joined the House in 1998. In 2010 he faced three opponents in the primary, and got 58.3% against the two of them during the peak of Tea Party fervor – a strong showing under the circumstances. In 2012 one of those candidate, Chick Heileson, ran again, and Simpson this time won with 69.5% of the vote.

Keep watch to see if the Club maintains Simpson on its target list. If it does, that may say more about the Club than it does about Simpson.

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Idaho Idaho column

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

University of Idaho President Duane Nellis left a parting gift for Governor Otter, his State Board of Education and all those Republican legislators who have consistently underfunded higher education as well as public education during his four years at the helm of the State’s major research university.

The message was contained in one word in Nellis’ terse statement that he would be leaving to take the helm of Texas Tech University , a school three times the size of the University of Idaho. The dunderheads who robotic-like sign off on the Republican’s slow strangulation of state support for higher and public education will undoubtedly miss the word. It was too subtle for them.

Boise State University President Bob Kustra and his government affairs aide, former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, won’t miss the word, however, since it was aimed directly at them.

So what’s the word that symbolizes the entire message of Nellis’ disgust?

Flagship.

As in Idaho’s “flagship” university, a modifier stripped from the University of Idaho ’s mission statement last year with malice aforethought by Bob Kustra who wanted to drive home the message that Boise State was now the true flagship university in Idaho. A gullible, naïve, asleep at the switch, compliant, lazy board of education bought Kustra’s orchestration of this symbolic demotion of the University of Idaho hook, line and sinker.

Notice how Nellis’ farewell statement (Don’t hold your breath waiting for a longer statement when it is official in three weeks) referred to Idaho ’s “flagship” research university?

Read between the lines, folks. That one word said it all. Bob Kustra will get the message that his hubris and vanity contributed to a solid if not spectacular colleague leaving the state. University of Idaho boosters, both on campus and off campus, will get it. Current University of Idaho students, paying an ever higher percentage of their college costs, will understand it.

Whether Governor Otter and his hand-picked set of pawns that has been rubber-stamping declining state support for all of public education and pretends to be a Board of Education gets it is highly debatable.

One can hardly blame Nellis for leaving and I have to doff my hat for the clever way he sent the message as to why.

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Carlson Idaho

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the federal report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rainey