Writings and observations

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

States like Idaho wondering what’s going on with other states that got fully on board with the Affordable Care Act, might take a look at Oregon. The latest update on its progress, out today:

A report presented to the Oregon Health Policy Board today provided information on key health and financial metrics for the Oregon Health Plan. The metrics will be used to help drive improvement and innovation under the state’s health system transformation plan.

“This report brings more transparency and accountability to health care by showing us where we are starting and where we need to go,” said Gov. John Kitzhaber. “I am confident that together we can make Oregon’s health system transformation a success and meet our goals for better health, better care and lower costs.”

The metrics provided show statewide data on everything from how often women receive pre-natal care to how often people use the emergency room for care that could be done better and more affordably elsewhere. The list was created by a nine-member stakeholder committee.

The first coordinated care organizations (CCO) began serving Oregon Health Plan clients in August of 2012 and were brought online throughout the year. The report takes data from 2011 – before CCOs were started – and compares it to benchmarks for each metric. The state’s health system transformation plan calls for closing the gap between all baselines and benchmarks within 10 years.

The report also includes stories about innovations happening statewide and in each coordinated care organization.

“This is how we transform the health care system. Set clear goals to improve the quality of care and let each local community work together to meet those goals in the way that works best for the people they serve,” says Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Health Authority.

The report can be found at www.health.oregon.gov.

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Oregon

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

I have always been extremely optimistic about Idaho and its future. Several years ago an Idaho journalist wrote a piece about being so depressed about living in Idaho that he was moving to another state. I was incensed and wrote a strong rebuttal that was picked up by several papers and brought me an offer from a news syndicate to begin writing for them. An offer which I declined.

But now I am seeing some disturbing statistics that are leaving me wondering if my optimism is really justifiable.

The fact that we lead the nation in the percentage of workers receiving the minimum wage is troubling. In 2011 5% of all of our workers were in minimum wage jobs. By 2012 the number had grown to 7.7%. By way of comparison, the rate for Montana is 1.5%, Oregon 1.1% and Washington 1.7%.

In Idaho we make it more attractive for recruiting employers that pay the minimum wage by keeping our minimum wage well below that of our neighboring states. Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Montana is $7.80, Oregon, $8.95, Nevada $8.25 and Washington $9.19.

Idaho’s median wage – half earn more and half earn less – is $18.48, which is 84 percent of the national average. Our statewide average wage places us in 45th place nationally.

Idaho’s population has grown significantly in recent decades. Much of that has come from people migrating to Idaho in search of better jobs and, for some, an improved quality of life.

But now we are seeing some rather startling new statistics concerning outmigration in Idaho.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, in 2012 57,270 members of Idaho’s work force left the state. Nearly every age group under 55 experienced a decline, with those in the 25 to 29 year age category declining both as part of the labor force and part of the overall population.

In 2008, Idaho had 10,500 people with doctoral degrees. Since then, 700 of those have left, followed by 2,400 with master’s degrees, 10,300 with bachelor’s degrees and 3,600 with associate degrees. These are 27,500 of Idaho’s best educated citizens who are leaving at a time when the State Board of Education has announced its intent to have 60% of Idahoans aged 25-34 hold a college degree or post-secondary certificate within the next seven years. Only three states have a lower percentage of their high school graduates going on to college than Idaho. A cynic might note that with fewer Idahoans aged 25-34 it might be easier to meet that goal.

A major concern for Idaho, with the high number of young educated people leaving the state, needs to be whether that trend extends to Idaho’s best and brightest high school graduates also leaving the state to attend college. Attracting businesses to Idaho that require a skilled workforce and that pay relatively high wages could prove to be a challenge under these circumstances.

However, there are job opportunities out there. Just consider two recent Idaho job fairs. Eight Idaho businesses recently grouped together to hold a job fair in Boise. That is the good news. These businesses are hiring. The other part of the story is that the eight businesses run call centers paying wages well below even Idaho’s median wage.

And then there was the recent job fair in Idaho Falls to recruit employees for jobs paying $64,000 a year with health insurance, a 401(k) retirement account, three weeks paid vacation and profit sharing. The job fair was in Idaho Falls, but the jobs were all in North Dakota.

Idaho is in the midst of some challenging times. Unfortunately, I’m currently having some difficulty seeing the silver lining. Minimum wage jobs and an unskilled workforce are a poor mix when it comes to preparing for a prosperous future.

Marty Peterson is retired and lives in Boise.

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Idaho Peterson

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The question of “a gun or a badge” for security in school classrooms seems to have been answered this week with the very successful testing of a WiFi-based system in a Nampa, Idaho, high school. (See “A gun or a badge” column below)

The equipment – made by EKAHAU – replaces badges most teachers already wear around their necks daily. But this one is sensitive to applied pressure in several spots. When touched, it silently calls for help, puts the school on “lockdown” and notifies local police dispatch – all in seconds. And I mean “seconds.” On Monday’s test in Nampa, it did all that in less than four!

A randomly selected teacher decided when to send a signal. Could have been any classroom on campus. All similar badges in the building flashed, a computerized map lit up and the school resource officer took off. From start to his arrival – less than 20 seconds!

In Sandy Hook Elementary, the gunman killed 26 people in just over five minutes. Using the Nampa cop’s response time of about 20 seconds – with gun drawn – you might have had some fatalities. Certainly not 26. What if this system saved 15 kids – or just one? Saved three teachers- or just one? Or you could have had 30 scared kids run screaming in all directions while a scared teacher tied to find a gun in a locked drawer to have a gunfight with a crazy person filling the classroom with bullets while waiting for a resource officer who might have been unaware of the danger.

The answer for me – from personal experience – is very simple. Several years ago, my teacher wife was attacked in a classroom by a teen almost her size. But stronger. A male teacher heard the racket and eventually responded. But what if she had been wearing one of these Ekahau badges? Would she have had the scrapes and bruises? Or been seriously injured?

A donor put up the $20,000 necessary for the system in Nampa. While $20,000 is a large sum, it allowed this state-of-the-art coverage in an entire high school.

We can’t expect all schools in all districts to have such citizen support. But the system works. It works so well districts across the country should begin budgeting school-by-school starting now. Make it a 10 year plan Or 20. Have some community fund raisers. Contact foundations, service clubs, corporations. Have bake sales and carwashes if necessary. Set a goal of one of these badge systems for the school your kids or grandkid go to and get started!

Or, as our friends at the NRA have decided, we can put a gun on the hip of every school teacher in every classroom and let ‘em shoot it out with the bad guys. Over and around the heads of ourloved ones. Our choice.

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Rainey

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled a vote Thursday to repeal the Affordable Care Act (including the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act). House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, tweeted: “It just keeps getting worse. I am scheduling a vote for next week on the full repeal of #Obamacare.”

Since the law was enacted more than three years ago, House Republicans have voted more than thirty times to repeal part or all of the law. And, perhaps, more important, Republicans in Congress have tried to pull every lever they can think of to make sure the current law is neither executed nor fully-funded. The goal of Republicans in Congress is to make the Affordable Care Act “worse.”

But the problem for Republicans (and in a different way for supporters of the law) is that Americans are confused. Polling last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that four in ten Americans, or 42 percent, are unaware that the Affordable Care Act is the law. Some 12 percent think it was repealed. Another 7 percent say the Supreme Court overturned the law. And 23 percent have no idea whether the act is still law. Nearly half of those surveyed say they “do not have enough information about the health reform law to understand how it will impact their own family, a share that rises among the uninsured and low-income households.”

Then again, it’s no wonder most people are confused by the law. From the moment it passed there has been a misinformation campaign from opponents designed to confuse and stir up distrust.

President Barack Obama said last week that “misinformation” will continue at least through the next election cycle. He talked about the Affordable Care Act last week using Mother’s Day as the reason, saying, “the law is here to stay.” So many people are already better off because of the law, seniors, women, low-income Americans, sick people and families with children. “You’re benefiting from it,” he said. “You just may not know it.”

Indian Country, of course, has a unique role in this fight. The Indian Health Care Improvement Act is included in the larger, Affordable Care Act. And, at the same time, the reforms in the Affordable Care Act open up potential funding increases for the Indian health system as well as substantial changes in how business is conducted. So at some point: It would be logical to stop fighting over the law that exists and figure out how to make it work.

But that’s not the game plan for Republicans in the House. As Cantor’s tweet suggests, the only alternative on their agenda is repeal, something that’s not going to happen as long as Democrats run the Senate and the White House.

Republicans in the House are essentially arguing for the system that is currently in place (one that everyone agrees is an expensive mess). So they fight against any of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act, including the ones that save money, such as the Independent Payment Advisory Board (a body designed to help cut costs).

But this entire fight puts Indian Country in a difficult political position. The president’s budget asks for more money for Indian health programs. “If the proposed budget is enacted, the IHS discretionary budget will have increased 32 percent since FY 2008,” according to the agency’s news release. Many individual members of Congress — including those who serve on appropriations committees — continue to support these increases for IHS. But because of the larger opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and the broken budget process, it’s unlikely that this budget will become law.

What’s more there are lots of questions about the Indian health system that can only be answered by funding and execution of the Affordable Care Act. For example: Will tribal governments participate in exchanges? Will individual American Indians and Alaska Natives? At the state level? Or in a national exchange? What about the growing disparity for those states that refuse to expand Medicaid? (My solution has long been for Medicaid to treat tribes as states, lifting the problem out of the states entirely.)

But these questions will have to wait for answers. At least until the next election or even the one after that. Meanwhile on Thursday the House will again vote to repeal ObamaCare. But it will still be the law and House Republicans will still work hard to make that law fail.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A Facebook page is open at:
https://www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity

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Trahant

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Armed police in every school. Every teacher packing a gun. The NRA’s outrageous ideas for school safety. Just how outrageous will be even more evident if a little test going on at a high school this week in li’l ol’ Nampa, Idaho, works as everyone thinks it will.

Imagine each teacher replacing the badge most now wear around their necks with a similar one that tracks their immediate locations, calls the police and puts a threatened school on “lockdown.” Within four seconds. Automatically. That’s what they’re trying out in Nampa this week.

EKAHAU is the outfit that makes these things. Along with a lot of other hi-tech gizmos used in hospitals and mental institutions that work off a common WiFi system.. One version is a little device that looks like a badge but you hang this one in the refrigerated cabinet where blood or certain drugs are stored. If the temperature varies outside desired degrees, it flashes a warning at the nurse’s station.

Or, a violent mental patient attacks an employee. Touch one of the tag “hot spots” and security – even off-campus local police – know instantly help is needed. All kinds of uses.

Put one on a teacher, for example. In an emergency, a “hot spot” touch will summon help if that teacher is attacked. Or, pull the badge and lanyard apart quickly and the school immediately goes on “lockdown” and the nearest police emergency dispatch is notified. Immediately. Silently.

Obviously something this good is not cheap. The cost for all the badges and peripheral gadgets in the Nampa case is a little more than $20,000. But a local donor has put up the money for the tryout.

Now, which would you rather have? A teacher carrying a gun trying to shoot it out with an armed assailant while also trying to protect 30 screaming and terrified, running kids. Or, a teacher with a small badge giving an immediate silent warning to the entire school and local law enforcement? Go ahead. You decide. I’ll wait.

So, is the NRA idea to make sharpshooters out of teachers outrageous? It certainly is in my book. A “good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun?” Or an alert teacher who can communicate with the entire school staff and local police just by touching a piece of plastic hung around her neck.

We’ll keep an eye on the Nampa experiment and let you know. I wish ‘em well. Seems like a damned fine idea. And please don’t tell Wayne LaP. This is a bit outside-the-box for him.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Noticed a few weeks back where you climbed Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park on a Sunday with your press aide, a reporter from the New York Times, and some National Park Service personnel.

It certainly befit your image as a hard-charging executive into vigorous outdoor activity as one would expect a former REI president, banker and engineer to be. That you are successful, smart and talented cannot be questioned.

How attuned you are to the politics of the Interior Department, both internal
and external, is another question entirely. Candidly, your lack of any
experience in the political world would have disqualified you in my book,
but now that you’re there in the interests of you having a successful tenure
here is some unsolicited advice:

1. Pick the brains of your predecessors. There’s no substitute for experience and there is a wealth of it in your predecessors, both Republicans and Democrats. Look at former secretaries as a Club and a talent pool to be tapped and develop relationships with all of them. Bruce Babbitt, Cecil Andrus, Ken Salazar, Dirk Kempthorne, Gail Norton are all individuals who can and will give discreet counsel if asked.

2. Be aware of fiefdom agendas. Interior is a collection of fiefdoms all
fighting for your ear and your favor, especially at budget time. Many are in actuality run by career bureaucrats who have seen secretaries and political appointees come and go, but they remain and stay focused on their agency goals. You may have liked the symbolism of climbing Old Rag because of the image enhancement it conveyed to the public. I did not because it made me wonder if you were not already being entrapped by the Park Service.

There’s an old saying in politics, “it’s your friends, not your enemies,
whom most often do you in.” Governor Andrus was constantly running into “land mines” being laid for him by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of the fiefdoms that simply decided he was not pure enough on their issues.

3. Fire someone right away and make it stick. There’ll be plenty of candidates but until you demonstrate to the bureaucracy that you know how to fire someone for incompetence and make it stick you’ll not really command respect. Real leaders are not just loved, they are also feared. It takes real skill to fire someone in the federal service given the layers of civil service rules and regulations. It’s easy in the private sector, almost impossible in the public sector.

4. Recognize and embrace Interior’s revenue generation activities. Interior is one of the few federal agencies that generates real money for the treasury – from grazing leases to off-shore oil and gas drilling activities, to coal production to Park fees – there’s a vast gamut of money generators, and a major part of your job is to keep the ka-ching going. Hence, decisions you make on tough issues from oil pipeline permits to the regulations governing “fracturing” on the public lands have to balance the environmental concerns against the economic necessities. Trying to strike the right balance is the challenge.

5. Cultivate western governors. Interior is the agency in many western states and you can make real allies out of western governors if you take time to learn about their concerns and keep in constant contact with them.

6. Develop a Critical Issues Management system and focus your time on just those top five issues. You decide what those five are to the extent the White House will let you and then focus on solving the challenges. Yes, current events, something like an especially bad fire season, can divert you, but try to minimize such diversions.

7. Get a handle on and reorganize the Bureau of Indian Affairs. President Obama is the most Native American friendly president in history. This gives you an unprecedented opportunity to sink your teeth into badly needed reforms in one of the historically most poorly run fiefdoms within the department. Virtually every Interior secretary in modern times has been aware of the many problems within the BIA and has chosen to take the “keep the lid on” approach rather than seek real reform. You and President Obama can change that to the benefit of both the taxpayer and the many poorly served Native American tribes. For starters take a look at the success of many of the Alaska Native Regional Corporations to see if that model cannot in a modified form be transferred to the Lower 48.

You do these seven, Secretary Jewell, and you’ll be a successful Interior
secretary. With respect and best wishes. . . .

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Carlson

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

A version of this article originally appeared in Green Markets.

The Bureau of Land Management has given Monsanto until the end of May to submit a corrective action report in regards to an earthen holding pond leaking three million gallons of water onto a meadow near its new Blackfoot Bridge Mine in southeastern Idaho’s phosphate-rich Caribou County.

The March 29 breach along a spillway conduit in a catch basin created a 150-foot-long sediment plume on the wetland, but recent testing of the water showed no elevated selenium levels, said Randy Vranes, Monsanto’s mineral operations manager. State and federal regulatory agencies were alerted to the pond failure.

Selenium is a toxic byproduct created when water reacts with phosphate waste rock or overburden. The catch basin is designed to allow for the controlled release of natural runoff and snow melt water into the meadow.

The Blackfoot Bridge Mine is expected to start operating later this year with a 17-year life expectancy. In June 2011, the BLM approved the 1,469-acre mine, which will disturb about 740 mostly private acres not far from the Blackfoot River.

About 10 percent of it would be on BLM land. Monsanto’s South Rasmussen Mine is expected to be exhausted this year.

Monsanto uses the phosphate from its mines to manufacture elemental phosphorus and Roundup weed killer at its three-furnace plant near Soda Springs.

An engineering design investigation is under way to ensure the new mine’s advanced water management system functions reliably, Monsanto spokesman Trent Clark said, noting the mine’s comprehensive design incorporates many environmental protections.

Jeff Cundick, the BLM’s minerals branch chief in Pocatello, said the failed settling pond is part of a network of ponds controlling surface water runoff. Initial reports indicate as the pond was filling the buoyant force of a 60-inch pipe caused it to float enough to separate its joint and allow water to flow around the outside of the pipe, washing away the dam’s center part.

BLM is working with other federal and state agencies to assess if any statutory violations occurred and to review Monsanto’s reports and revised designs to ensure similar failures do not recur, Cundick said, adding no waterways or wetlands were adversely impacted.
The company has constructed a temporary berm so the pond is able to function consistent with the approved water management plan.

Marv Hoyt, Idaho director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said he toured the pond failure site with Monsanto managers. He said there was not a lot of sediment that flowed into and covered some of the wetlands downstream.

“On the other hand, it is somewhat troubling that one of the simplest and least complex pieces of a highly complex mine failed,” Hoyt said. “It certainly gives us reason to scrutinize future mine proposals in the region.”
Fifteen phosphate mine sites in Southeast Idaho are listed as Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) or Superfund sites, encompassing 15,000 acres, mostly in Caribou County.

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Idaho Mendiola

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Contrary to many expectations, Idaho has a good many Democrats, more than a lot of people suspect. More than 200,000 Idahoans voted for Barack Obama for president last year, and more than 200,000 votes in the two U.S. House races in the state went for the Democratic candidates.

Of course – and no minor point – there were about twice as many votes cast for the Republicans in those races, so in Idaho the Democrats lost. Still, the D numbers are something to conjure with.

I bore that in mind last week a report from Lou Jacobson, a writer on politics for Governing magazine who specializes on politics not on the federal level but in the states. His provocative question: Did the Howard Dean 50-state strategy actually do any good for Democrats? Short answer: He says that it did. Idaho relevance: Democrats should pay attention and take heart; and it could matter to Republicans in many places too.

The longer answer, explaining jargon and party history …

During his tenure as national Democratic chair from 2005 to 2009, former Vermont Governor Dean launched an ambitious and, to many professional pols in both parties impractical, effort called the “50-state strategy.” The norm in politics is to tightly target one’s efforts in swing areas, and secondarily build up support in the base – and let slide the areas in strong opposition. For national Democrats, that means forgetting about places like Idaho, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Nebraska … you probably know the list. (Republicans have their opposing list, too.)

Dean thought this was all wrong, that the national party could, by carefully planting enough seed money and building organization in all 50 states, change the political atmosphere in even the toughest places – maybe not turning red states blue, but shifting them to less deeply red, building a bench of candidates at local levels who eventually could run for, and maybe win, higher office.

He got blasted for the proposal; pundit Paul Begala famously said (he eventually apologized) Dean would be “hiring a bunch of staff people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose.”

But Dean pushed his plan through in his four years in the chair. And what happened? Jacobson, while noting that 2006 and 2008 were good Democratic years for reasons beyond party organization, wrote, “the patterns are suggestive. In the 20 states we looked at – those that have voted solidly Republican in recent presidential races – Democratic candidates chalked up modest successes, despite the difficult political terrain. Then, after the project stopped, Democratic success rates cratered.”

He also concluded this: “One divide that’s apparent in the data is between the Great Plains and the West on the one hand, and the South on the other. To the extent that the 50-state strategy worked, it did so in the small-to-medium states in the western half of the U.S. By contrast, the effort did little, if anything, to stem the long-term shift in the South toward the GOP. Perhaps that’s because the libertarian leanings of the Great Plains and the West are more compatible with Democratic social positions than is the Christian brand of conservatism that is influential in the South.”

That means serious efforts at party organization in Idaho can, to some extent at least, yield results.

Whether Idaho Democrats manage that is an open question. But it is something they could do, suggesting that their cause, while difficult, is not beyond hope.

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Idaho Idaho column

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

On of the advantages of watching the whole Northwest region is the exposure to a range of arguments – and when it comes to Congress, exposure to not just what one side side, and one member, has to say about something, but counterpoints as well. People who stay in the news silos of their states often miss that: They hear their membetr of Congress but often get only a piece of the story.

With that in mind: H.R. 1406, the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, which on May 8 passed the house with a final vote of 223-204. Briefly, it restructures a piece of employment law allowing more flexibility for use of compensatory (“comp”) time off in countering for overtime work, instead of simply requiring overtime pay, which most typically is paid at time-and-a-half.

I have some sympathy for the idea.

Years ago, working as a newspaper reporter, I worked erratic schedules covering news events, night meetings, traveling various places. Strictly, I should have been paid overtime on a number of occasions when I wasn’t, but what happened in some cases – when the boss and I worked it out – was that my schedule was quietly adjusted and in effect I’d take comp time instead. It wasn’t abuse; arrived at through joint agreement, it worked better for me and for my newspaper. On occasion, we’d hear about a regulator cracking down on such practices, and so have to avoid it for a time. But I long considered it unnecessary and counterproductive regulation of something my employer and I were, left alone, pretty well able to use to mutual benefit. Sometimes the comp time was a better answer for me, as well as for the newspaper, than the overtime. Of course, circumstances varied; sometimes I wanted the overtime. We worked it out.

So when 1406 emerged, I wasn’t altogether unsympathetic. And as Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, who voted in favor, explained it, it sounds pretty good: “It can be very difficult to balance the needs of family and work. H.R. 1406 offers individuals an opportunity to meet family obligations by choosing paid time off as compensation rather than overtime hours. This is a decision that should be made between employers and employees; the federal government should not be an impediment to those who seek flexibility.”

(You can follo the link for an extended argument in favor of the bill.)

So what on earth could those 204 House members voting in opposition have been thinking?

One of the 204 was Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici, who called a it “more work, less pay” bill. Here’s her argument:

“If this bill becomes law, a single mom living paycheck to paycheck could work more than 40 hours a week and receive no overtime pay in her paycheck. She still has to pay the babysitter for the extra hours on the job, and she has no guarantee that she’ll be able to take ’comp’ time off when she needs it. She would have to accept the days off her employer offers, or else wait up to a year to receive the pay that’s rightfully hers.”

Although the legislation provides employees with the option of choosing overtime pay instead of comp time, the bill lacks any provisions to accommodate a worker’s schedule. Bonamici and others also argued this would allow employers to offer overtime hours only to employees more likely to choose comp time, closing off an important income stream to working families.

Bonamici highlighted a flawed provision of the bill that allows employers to delay overtime pay for up to a year with no requirement that the pay be placed in an interest-bearing account. When the bill was considered by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Bonamici offered an amendment to require that pay be escrowed and later paid with interest, but her amendment was defeated.

Add all the pieces together, and you get a bill that in basic concept might have had some real merit, but was by the time it hit the floor a bill designed (the protestations of employmee protection, which seem thin, notwithstanding) to give employers considerably greater clout than they have already in this time of a horrendous job market.

Paying attention to the details means looking at more than one side of issues like this.

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Stapilus

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The election of South Carolina’s Mark Sanford to Congress raises some questions at our house. But his victory answers only one of them: there IS no moral minimum to be elected to Congress.

Statistically, Republican Candidate “X” would be the odds-on favorite in Sanford’s district, as if ”X” lived in Idaho or Utah. So Republican Sanford had the situation pretty well locked up just by seeing his breath on a mirror. From a party preference point of view, no surprise.

But, as I said, we had some questions. For starters, Sanford is an admitted adulterer and liar. Not just one foolish, drunken time. Or one foolish, drunken lie. But over a period of a couple of years. He lied to his wife – his own staff – his Republican Party – voters – media – everyone. No mere cover-up. Lied. Repeatedly.

His Republican peers in South Carolina government found him guilty of misuse of public funds for financing his first-class affinity for repeated amorous flights to Argentina for his long-term, intercontinental trysts on the taxpayer dime. His wife divorced him and even had to get a restraining order because he kept hanging around her backdoor. His former backdoor. And he violated that court order – more than once – by showing up again and going through that backdoor.

Now, in the little Oregon town where I grew up, any guy like that in elective office would’ve been lucky to have escaped a lynching and would’ve been bounced out of office by some irate voters. Oh, he might have been the center of attention at one of the logger bars for awhile. But, even there, he would have eventually slid into well-earned oblivion.

But – sizeable baggage and all – not in the First Congressional District in South Carolina. Not the heavily Republican-dominated First District.

Which brings up another question. As an Independent, I’m often derided by Republican friends for not having an “official” set of beliefs – political, philosophical and/or moral. Not true, but they keep saying it. In other words, as someone who moves back and forth with my vote, I’m accused of being susceptible to the “changing popular tide” and not following “Party precepts.” Not “standing for something permanent and good for the country.” No “moral code.” You know the B.S.

For the last couple of decades, these folk have preached one of their adopted “principles” more often than the others. “We’re the party of family values – we love our children and we’re standing on firm Christian ground to raise them to be good, loyal and moral Americans.” You know the B.S.

Henceforth, I can bring future conversations challenging my voting wishy-washiness (I’d rather think of it as “informed selection”) to an immediate halt with just two words: “Mark Sanford.”

Many on the astro-turf Right chatter incessantly about the Founding Fathers. “Good Christians.” All “men of God.” That’s a sure tipoff that most who spout that gibberish have never studied the documents or checked out some of those “good Christian men of God” or they would’ve known more about the Deists and Atheists among their number.

But suppose – as we’re so often told – those guys really were all the divinely inspired, morally informed gents a lot of the strident voices believe they were. If they were such solid citizens. – so high-minded and moral – why didn’t they include some language in their founding documents about suitability to serve in Congress or other elective position? With the spread of intellect and worldliness among them, why didn’t they set some character guidelines – speak to the issues of morality and conduct? Excepting Ben Franklin, of course.

If Sanford had been running for mayor or city council or dog catcher in most communities, his abhorrent personal behavior would’ve likely kept him off the ballot – much less from being a winner. We’ve enough morally bankrupt folk in public office already that previously got by us at the polls. So we should tend to be more reluctant to add an admitted liar, adulterer and violator of government fiduciary trust to their number.

Henceforth to be known as the “Sanford Qualification Bar For Public Service.” Set very, very low.

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Rainey