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Posts published in October 2015

First take/debate

Probably not an enormous lot changed after the first Democratic presidential debate last night, but a few things became a little clearer. One is that Hillary Clinton is now a terrifically skilled and polished debater - on the evidence of Tuesday night, substantially better than she was in 2008, and significantly better not only than any of the other Democrats on the stage, but also much better than any of the Republicans on the stages up to now. She was prepared for everything and had strong responses, and clear statements, on all topics. If she has wanted some extra boost to her campaign (coming on the heels of the McCarthy admission about the Benghazi committee) the debate may have given it to her; don't be surprised if her numbers rise a bit. Bernie Sanders did not do badly, though this sort of debate wasn't really his best kind of venue, and when drawn off his preferred collection of talking points he could come across as scattered. He'll need some work before the next debate. Even so, he got the chance to show who and what he is before a swath of new voters, and he may have gained some support too. The big moment of the debate, when he backed Clinton by saying he was "sick and tired of hearing about the damned emails," likely did both candidates some good. Of the others, Martin O'Malley looked semi-vice presidential, and Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb seemed to strike as being candidate for early departure from the race. - rs

Guns

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I was in Salem at a meeting in the State Capital at 10:40 AM Thursday October 1st when the Umpqua Community College shooting occurred. All of the cell phones of the elected officials and their staff went off. They announced the news to the rest of us at the meeting. My heart sank and I got a bit nauseous. The meeting went on. Though some electeds did come and go during the next hour.

This shouldn’t be happening on a regular basis. It shouldn’t be happening at all. There are things we can do to try to stop or at least reduce these horrible incidents from occurring. Whats stopping action? Several things I think.

Some small percentage of the American people truly have psychosis when it comes to guns. I’m not talking about gun aficionados who I believe would accept reasonable laws if they believed they would reduce gun violence. I’m talking about those gun supporters who are divorced from reality. They believe it’s necessary to have guns, a lot of them, to fight off the government when “they” come to impose a one world order and the UN’s agenda 21. These people vote on one issue. They give money and will show up and protest. They start recall drives. They picket, write letters, interrupt speakers and act….crazy….because of their psychosis. Candidates are afraid of the chaos they rain down on them, and other voters don’t want to deal with them. Because when you argue with psychotics, or even try to point out their lack of reality, some become extremely disagreeable. Basically, the gun psychotics make civil discussion of guns and violence so disagreeable that normal people simply wont engage in the issue. So they win. We can’t let them. You can’t dissuade them from their fantasies, just tell them they’re wrong.

Another major hurdle to changing the way America treats with guns is the gun industry. This is a 3 billion dollar per year industry. They manufacture over 8 million guns per year, and import another 3 million guns per year. Guns don’t really wear out very quickly, and the number of gun owners in the US is in decline. That means one of the best ways to assure the continued expansion of the gun industry is to sell more guns to fewer people. Why would someone need 13 guns instead of 5 guns? Well if there were ever more powerful and exciting guns. Guns that were smaller, or larger, or evaded detection, or had higher magazine capacities. Or, if one had psychosis and believed that Obama and the UN were about to confiscate all guns, or come and register them, or if there were to be a great breakdown in civilization, it would be great to have a whole arsenal to protect you and your family. The gun industry funds the NRA and directs its policies to inflame and motivate gun owners and specifically encourages psychosis. It creates and supports hysteria about “gun grabbers”. Any proposal or bill to require expanded background checks, or magazine limitations, or any type of gun regulation is just more evidence to stoke the fires and that creates yet another run on guns at the local gun store. Polling shows without a doubt that about 75% of Americans, and a large majority of gun owners, support universal background checks.

Responsible gun owners need to quit the NRA and make sure that politicians know the NRA doesn’t speak for them, it speaks for the gun industry and people who have gun psychosis.

We also can’t forget the social and mental health problems that cause mass murders. Today social isolation can be a lot more damaging than it used to be. It’s a tragedy that people are lonely, mentally fragile and sad. Today at risk people go online and alienated from peers and family, angry at the world, and goaded on by the idiots who also habituate the internet, become time bombs. And if they or their families have a gun arsenal at home a tragedy can occur. This is exactly what we’ve seen in some of the most high profile mass murders. Mentally unstable and ill people, living on the internet, with a household full of guns. That is not a coincidence.
We have to be more individually responsible and proactive when we we see someone who needs help. Particularly family members. If you have someone like that living with you, get rid of the guns. And call out cyber bullying or cyber stupidity whenever you see it.

And its absolutely true and a contributing factor to violence that we uncritically tolerate- and sometimes celebrate- violence in our culture and art. Through movies, video games and television particularly, but also comic books, artwork and other mediums of communication and entertainment. Shooting, dismemberment, glorification of fighting to the death, is ubiquitous. This can’t be healthy for people already at risk for violent outbursts. No one is saying ban violent content. Just like few are saying ban all gun ownership. But take some responsibility for what you put out there. Just like gun right defenders must take responsibility for their policy positions. Quit being hypocrites Progressives.

So what actions can we take to reduce violence with guns.

Politicians have to be brave and support laws that have been proven to reduce gun violence. Or a more likely possibility is that gun law proponents need to identify and motivate people to make opposition to effective gun laws a disqualifying factor when casting their vote. That may seem impossible, but just a few years ago, who would have thought that single issue voters for gay rights would outnumber anti gay rights single issue voters in much of the US. If gun aficionados would join that effort, we could quickly have effective gun laws that would reduce gun violence.

We as families, friends, and neighbors need to engage the mentally fragile and not let them get absorbed in an electronic world of violence, pettiness and hate. We also need to be advocates for mental health funding in criminal justice, public health budgets and in requiring mental health treatment coverage in private health insurance.

We need to verbally disagree with gun psychotics publicly. Its no use debating, because logic and reality are lost on them. All you need to do is say. I disagree.

The media and cultural leaders have to take responsibility for what they publish and support. And consumers need to hold them accountable through patronage, or lack of patronage.

There is no magic answer. And there will be future tragedies. We can reduce the incident of tragedies, but not if we listen to the gun manufacturers and those with gun psychosis. But the 98% of Americans who do support reasonable gun laws need to decide. Can we let the gun industry make policy. I don’t think so. They’ve done a lousy job of it so far.

First take/Brooks

I go hot and cold on David Brooks' New York Times columns, but he runs fairly hot today. Here he warns of extremism in our current politics: "Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal." And he goes on to say, "If a politician lacks the quality of detachment — the ability to let the difficult facts of reality work their way into the mind — then, [writer Max] Weber argues, the politician ends up striving for the “boastful but entirely empty gesture.” His work “leads nowhere and is senseless.” Welcome to Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and the Freedom Caucus." The point is coming when you have to ask: Do these people believe in self-government, in democracy? And if not, what do they believe in? - rs (photo)

One giveth, one taketh away

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Duff McKee has been writing column-length pieces from time to time over the years, mainly in Facebook, and now he has agreed to become a regular contributor here. This is a recent post from Facebook about Kate's law; new pieces will be coming soon. - rs

What a week! The House announced a move to improve the criminal justice system by reducing draconian sentencing in one area, and the Senate announced a move to reverse the course and return to the unreasonable sentencing in another.

On the positive side, the House Judiciary Committee announced agreement upon a major overhaul of the drug sentencing laws, reducing prison terms in many areas and increasing the emphasis on rehabilitation. This begins to mirror extensive efforts by the states, including Idaho, to reexamine and overhaul their criminal justice systems. Significant savings in cost are being realized as prison populations are reduced. To the liberals, this is a matter of social justice. To the conservatives, it is a matter of simple economics. The product is a bi-partisan effort and the results are projected to be considerable.

On the negative side, the Senate announced it was going to take up a bill next week that will dramatically increase the prison sentence for anyone illegally entering the country after having been once deported, or having been convicted of a serious felony. New prison sentences are to be imposed for violations, starting out at five years mandatory for first offense, no exceptions.

This comes in response to the senseless murder of Kate Steinle, allegedly by an illegal immigrant. When a national furor resulted, Bill O’Reilly seized the initiative and promoted the enactment of new federal sentencing provisions, which he has termed “Kate’s Law.” This has been vigorously lobbied, mostly by Fox News, and has been taken up by the Conservative wing of the Republican party, most prominently by Senator Cruz but including others. It does not seem to matter that the immigration status of the assailant was and is wholly immaterial to any of the facts or circumstances of the murder. Nor does it appear to matter that the new provisions are completely unnecessary, redundant and inconsistent with existing law, and counter to the efforts that are being taken elsewhere to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The only justification offered for the mandatory prison sentences are that knowledge of the severity of the sentence to be imposed will deter others. Deterrence has been studied to death over the last decade as state after state has taken up the issue of sentencing reform. With detailed statistics going back almost 50 years, the studies are overwhelming in demonstrating that in the usual case, the actor gives no thought to consequences at all. Changing the mix of what might be considered will not alter this condition. In the few cases where deterrence might hold some influence, studies indicate that it is the certainty, not severity, of punishment that impresses. There are no credible studies supporting the conclusion that adding knowledge of the severity of punishment makes any significant difference.

In the general case, immigration offenses do not warrant mandatory prison sentences. There is no violence involved, the offense does not involve moral turpitude, and the direct impact of the offense does not extend beyond the individual and perhaps the immediate family. Protection of society is not a consideration. An immigration offense is “malum prohibitum,” meaning it is a public offense only because a statute declares it such, not because of any intrinsic evil in the conduct cited. For all these reasons, in the absence of aggravating circumstances, misdemeanor range sentences are adequate and appropriate to recognize the seriousness of the offense and impress the consequences of punishment upon the actor.

Illegal reentry is already a federal crime with punishment provided of a fine and incarceration for up to 20 years for extreme cases. The ordinary case, without aggravating circumstances, calls for sentences of 2 years or less. The precise sentence depends upon statutory conditions pled and sentencing guidelines found after conviction. There were approximately 16,500 prosecutions under this law in 2014, with the average length of sentence imposed being 17 months, including time served.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates that increasing the minimum sentence to a mandatory five years in all cases will add approximately 60,000 inmates to federal prisons over the next 5 years, at a cost to the penal system of approximately $2 billion per year. According to one Congressional source, this will completely erase the savings expected from the overhaul of drug sentencing.

Unless reason and common sense prevails when this measure comes up for a vote, what the left hand may have provided in terms of a bipartisan proposal for reform and costs saved in the area of drug reform, will be taken away by the right hand under the guise of immigration control and in retribution for Kate’s unseemly murder.

First take/Biden

Vice President Joe Biden has steadily refused to set a firm date by which he would announce his decision about whether he will run for president. He alluded early on a decision sometime in the summer, but that ship has sailed. He could keep on delaying, but if he does want to run, he's about to hit a series of walls: Filing deadlines in some of the early states, not to mention participation in the primary debates, the first of which comes Tuesday night. Its organizers say that if Biden announces as late as Tuesday afternoon, they would give him space on the stage that evening. But this is pushing it to the edge. As an NBC report put it (in one very long sentence - deep breath please), "what is unsustainable is continued inaction, because it won't be helping his party (if the Democratic nominee needs to raise $1 billion to compete in the general election in this Super PAC Era, Biden still hasn't raised a cent); it won't be helping Hillary Clinton (see the latest CBS poll, which shows her leading Bernie Sanders by 24 points without Biden, but by a smaller amount - 19 points - with him included in the contest); and despite experiencing his highest poll numbers during this limbo period, it won't be helping Biden himself, either (if you want to compete in the early states, build an organization to win, and simply meet the upcoming filing deadlines, you've got to jump in ASAP)." - rs

Even newer media

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Last week writer Chris Carlson and I were touring around north Idaho, and when we pulled in at Moscow decided to stop in at the local paper.

We pulled up to the downtown building that for half a century and more had housed the Daily News (or, as I knew it in my Moscow years, the Idahonian). I was a little startled to find it now occupied by an economic development company, but the receptionist there helpfully pointed me to the newspaper’s new digs.

Those were located in a suite of offices on the second floor of the Moscow federal building. Chris and I inquired about the unusual situation of a newspaper whose landlord was the federal government, but that turned out not to be the case either. The federal building, which still includes the post office and federal courts, had earlier been sold to a foundation of the local hospital. Which presumably could kick them all out if it developed expansion plans in the area, as many hospitals in recent years have been known to do.

The newspaper, which had off-loaded its press years before and was using only a small part of the space in its old building, understandably wanted more cost-effective offices, and conditions were right at the federal building. But it seems a comedown to see a newspaper in an office building suite, like just another firm of accountants or lawyers.

This week also brought news of the anticipated sale of the Post Company in Idaho Falls, which operates that city’s daily newspaper, the Post Register, and three eastern Idaho weeklies. The sale is said to be final at the beginning of next month. The sale leaves the Lewiston and Moscow papers, jointly owned at Lewiston, and the Hagadone papers based in Coeur d’Alene, as the lone locally-owned papers in the state.

The surprise buyer at Idaho Falls is Adams Publishing Group, an organization completely new to the Northwest. The most common expectation, probably, was that the Post Register would go to one of the big national chains like Gannett or McClatchy, but Adams is a smaller presence in the newspaper world. The Post Register may be the largest newspaper in its organization, which has 46 newspapers but mostly very small dailies, weeklies and specialty publications, and all of them located in the northeast, from Minnesota to Maryland. It seems a surprising connection.

The Post Register is among the diminishing numbers of papers that still have their own printing presses, and that may have been attractive to Adams, which does a substantial amount of commercial printing. Still, the Post Register-Adams linkup does seem a little unusual, partly because the Idaho paper is so far outside the company’s geographic base .

Word from the Post Register is that little is expected to change, at least any time soon, at Idaho Falls: The paper should continue on generally as it has been. But once newspapers move from local ownership to the national or international marketplace, unpredictable things can happen. Over the years, for example, the Boise Idaho Statesman went from local ownership to Federated Newspapers, to Gannett, to Knight-Ridder and now to McClatchy. In large corporations, especially the largest, newspapers can be swapped around like trading cards.

Adams may be small enough that won’t happen. But keep watch on this: See how this distant Idaho property is integrated into the moderate-sized business from the east, whether by more acquisitions out west or in some other way.

It’s a new world for newspapers, and it just keeps getting newer.

First take/rumors

When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped his bid for the speakership, the general assumption was that the reason was votes - that he thought he might not be able to collect enough of them within the Republican caucus. (This is the guy the caucus previously had easily elected to the number two spot, remember). But another possible reason has surfaced as well: "it probably has something to do with the rumors that McCarthy is carrying on a Scandal-worthy extramarital affair with Congresswoman Renee Ellmers." What? First, these seem to be rumors only, and nothing even resembling actual evidence has surfaced; in addition to which both McCarthy and Ellmers denied anything was going on. From our standpoint, we'll assume innocence until proof of guilt, which doesn't seem to be forthcoming. But here's the interesting part: The flames were fanned not by media reports or by Democrats but by other Republicans. Little wonder House members with any intelligence (say, Paul Ryan) want little to do with the speakership right now. For most any of them, it looks like a ticket to a political nightmare. - rs (John Boehner photo)

A bullet for Jesus

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The extended coverage of the Umpqua Community College massacre - much of it wrong or unnecessarily overwrought - has inundated about everyone with a communications device. Lots of real and deserved anguish from and for many folk. But also a lot of fully expected “duck-and-run“ by politicians, strained voices on both sides of the gun debate with nothing helpful to add - also fully expected - with no new answers to keep these killings from continuing. Again.

When reviewing reports of some of the 294 multiple gun murders in the country as of the first of the month - and throwing in Sandy Hook Elementary, Aurora’s movie massacre, the Clackamas shopping center and the rest we’ve become so familiar with - there’s not much new in this one.

They all seem to follow the same script i.e. unsuspecting victims, public areas where we’ve always assumed our safety, a depressed/suicidal/angry or otherwise deranged young male, multiple weapons, a shooter’s decision to die (most of the time), massive law enforcement response, demands for gun control, demands for less gun control, excuses, blame-casting and denial. That about covers it.

But the UCC shooting near Roseburg, Oregon, did have one new wrinkle. A shooter, with no apparent particular religious faith, is said by survivors to have tried to determine which of his targets would die immediately or more slowly for their faith. Which impending victim would say he/she was a Christian - or believed in God - and which wouldn’t. And that got me thinking. Would I take a bullet for my faith? Would I take a bullet for Jesus? Would you? Would anyone? Especially when you’ve just seen fellow classmates killed after answering?

Each person to be murdered or wounded was reportedly asked beforehand about a religious belief? If the answer was “Yes” or “I’m a Christian” or “I believe in God,” the shooter put a bullet in the respondent’s head. In the case of other answers, there was a body shot which might - or might not - kill but would certainly inflict huge pain. It can be surmised most victims - dead or alive - answered one way or the other. What’s not clear is what would’ve been the case if someone responded with “Hebrew,” “Muslim” or “Atheist.” A wound or dead on the classroom floor?

Taking a bullet for Jesus. Not something you can give a quick answer to.

History is full of instances of Christians being killed for no other reason than professing their faith. Or denying it so as not to be killed. One of the first such recorded was when Salome danced and got the head of John the Baptist as payment for services. Or, maybe when Jesus was being tried and sentenced to death. All of his followers - the ones closest to him on this earth - fled. Peter - the “Rock” - even denied him three times in a span of a few hours. No “bullet for Jesus” among even his closest companions. Of the 12, only his brother, John, came to the crucifixion. But, eventually, all of them died violent deaths for being Christians.

We’re told the UCC shooter had expressed an interest in the Irish Republican Army or Irish Catholicism or some such. But he wasn’t known to be affiliated with any religious grouping personally. So why was the questioning of a certain victim’s faith important during what he believed were his own final hours? The answers to that - if answers there be - died with him. Just as well.

Still, there’s that other question. Would you - would I - tell someone with a rifle aimed at us that we were practicing Christians? Would we do that after seeing classmates and friends just murdered for their answer? What would our responses be?

To my deep personal shame - as a self-professed “Christian” - I have to say I don’t know my answer. Believing a statement affirming my “faith” could get me killed on-the-spot, makes the stakes as high as any I’ll face in this life. Opening my mouth - much less coming up with a truthful answer - seems impossible.

But, if I could speak, what words would come tumbling out? A plea for my life made to someone intent on killing? Some sort of effort to get this mad, irrational person to stop in the middle of a mad, irrational act to which he seemed committed? Words of prayer for him and the victims he’d just created? Would I say loudly and firmly, “Yes, I AM a Christian?” Or - nothing. How would I respond?

What would be YOUR answer?

First take/gunshots

So much of the talk about how to deal with mass shootings can only leave me shaking my head, notably Ben Carson's comment that when a shooter starts up, people in the area should just rush him. He evidently didn't know how fast bullets can be sprayed by automatic weapons, or that even when automatic weapons aren't used, as at Umpqua Community College, a heroic man who did rush to try to stop the shooter was downed with seven bullet wounds. I can only assume that thinking like Carson's (which doesn't seem to be rare socially) comes from too deeply absorbing the vast number of TV and movie gunfire scenes, in which the hero may be shot, but if so almost always emerges patched up by the last scene. A better view might be the series Breaking Bad (spoiler coming), where the way through from a gun fight was actually more realistic. One of the main characters, DEA agent Hank Schrader, was shot by bad guys about halfway through the series, and spent the rest of it slowly, agonizingly, recovering from that wound. Only to the shot to death near the series' end. - rs