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Frustration and lawlessness

rainey BARRETT


For over a year, Ridenbaugh Press Publisher Randy Stapilus and I have been writing about the worsening conditions in several counties in Southwest Oregon – Curry, Jefferson, Jackson in particular. Problems started several years ago when millions of federal dollars previously paid to those and some 15 other Oregon and Washington counties began to dry up. We’re now at a point of instances of open lawlessness.

Those dollars originally came from timber sales on federal lands – lands from which local governments receive no taxes. The original purpose was support for public schools. A few counties squirreled away some of those bucks against future conditions. Several – including the three above – spent ‘em all to keep up with budget growth without raising taxes. Now, sequestration and other federal pressures have reduced the flow to a trickle. And several counties – most notably Curry – are close to bankruptcy.

While county commissioners and others have lobbied hard for a resumption of the federal payment, they realize long-term continuation of the program is highly unlikely. They also know there’ll be no White Knight riding to their rescue and tax increases – large tax increases – are dead ahead. Now the public knows that, too.

Curry voters face a bond election next month. If it passes, the minimally staffed jail and the minimally staffed sheriff’s department will survive. Somewhat. If it fails – as several other issues on the same subject have repeatedly – it’s almost certain the jail and the whole department will close. My money’s on the “no” vote.

Jackson County law enforcement has been curtailed for several years. In Josephine – Grants Pass – conditions are already grim. With nearly no county deputies, several “posse comitatus” groups roam the county 24/7 – armed to the teeth – looking for “bad” guys. Mountain-sized legal liabilities go with them. And it’s getting worse.

As Stapilus blogged here the other day, a mine has been operating illegally near Grants Pass without operators filing all required permit paperwork with the feds. On more than one occasion – when BLM people showed up onsite – they were met by armed civilians of the “Oath Keepers” group. BLM folks backed down each time – as they did with Clive Bundy in Nevada. Still no BLM paperwork today. No apparent county law enforcement involvement. Except a former sheriff siding with the lawbreakers. Now, the BLM has closed the Medford office, some 30 miles away.

As Stapilus wrote, “Hardly any law enforcement . . . groups of angry and heavily armed ex-military wandering around . . . what could go wrong here?” What indeed?”

All of this was in my mind this week when a column by Professor Robert Reich popped up on the old I-net headlined “Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless.” He was reading my mind! His main point was government, large corporations and our political system have become unresponsive to the American public. Power has become so concentrated that us average guys are being flipped off by all of ‘em.

Among his points: corporations firing workers with no warning and/or making more of the labor force part time. In 2005, we had nine major airlines – today just four. Eighty percent of us are served by just one I-net provider – Comcast, AT&T or Time-Warner. In 1990, the five biggest banks held just 10 percent of all banking assets – now they hold 45 percent. Fifty years ago, more than a third of workers were unionized – today less than seven percent. Major health insurers are larger – giant hospital chains are far bigger – powerful digital platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Google are “gigantic!”

Then, there’s politics. Over 85 percent of congressional districts are called “safe” for incumbents in the 2016 elections and only three percent are toss-ups. Presidential election states are already being called “red” or “blue” with only a handful to be statistically contested. Voters in most states will not see a presidential candidate on their home turf. So, more and more voters feel disenfranchised. Voter turnouts are smaller.

I believe there’s a straight line between the points Dr. Reich makes about so many Americans feeling powerless in their lives and the increasing instances of lawlessness we’re seeing in Oregon, Nevada and elsewhere in the country. Whether they call themselves “Oath Keepers” or “posse comitatus” or “Bundy’s Freedom Fighters,” they all fit into the same mold – mad at government in nearly all forms, feel their personal “liberties” are being take away, say they “want their country back,” are armed to the teeth with up to and including automatic weapons and large supplies of ammo.

Wife Barbara drove Interstate 5 in California the other day. She saw many signs posted on barns and other outbuildings from Redding north reading “State of Jefferson.” Many local license plate frames read the same. Four Northern California county commissions are on record officially endorsing creation of the State of Jefferson for themselves while Southern Oregon border county governments are being heavily lobbied to join in.

Jefferson is not a new idea. It goes back to the 1930’s. But there’s a different, angry, more well-armed mood abroad in the countryside now. While it’s nearly impossible to exit the 50 states, when you have publicly elected officeholders in contiguous jurisdictions voting to try it – backed by a well-armed public and a widespread feeling among Americans that they aren’t being listened to any more – the idea can easily gather momentum. Throw in some citizen posse groups with automatic weapons, closing of government offices, voter strangulation of law enforcement agency budgets, add some Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey for the posse people and you’ve got a fire ready to light.

Please don’t chalk this up to an old alarmist living in a small town next to the Pacific with a myopic view of the world. Aside from actually living in Josephine, Jackson or Curry Counties, this is a pretty good spot to assess the situation. Especially when considering that our little county – Lincoln County – has one of the highest crime rates in Oregon. And law enforcement agencies scrapping services. We’re living it.

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