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Posts published in November 2015

A thank you note

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It was a scene worthy of description by a Shakespeare. Even through the medium of television the viewer could sense a spirit of joy and a genuine sense of hope that the nation’s two major political parties really could come together for the common good and discern the greatest good for the greatest number.

It was an all too rare moment in our nation’s capital. There in the well of the people’s house all 435 members of Congress were united in conveying heartfelt thanks to outgoing Speaker John Boehner for his distinquished service, as well as appreciation for the accession of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to the Speakership.

Even the most cynical within a beltway bulging with cynics and critics had to concede the slate had been swept clean, that a transformational new beginning might be underway. Congressman Ryan is the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message.

Ryan gets the fundamental desire echoing from the constituencies of all members: collaborative, cooperative government can occur when members recognize they are sent Washington, D.C. to solve problems. They are not, as Speaker Ryan noted, to be the problem.

For a full hour animosities were set aside, respect and camaraderie prevailed. The only other time in recent memory an approximation of this coming together occurred was when Spokane’s Tom Foley, the first Speaker ever from west of the 100th meridian, succeeded the ethically challenged and disgraced Speaker Jim Wright from Texas.

Ironically, on the same day former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert was standing before a Federal Judge to be sentenced following his admission of guilt for accepting bribes in the millions of dollars. House Democrats, well aware of their own past disgraced Speaker, wisely refrained from making any partisan comments about the parallels.

The new Speaker quickly eschewed any Presidential aspirations, telling CNN that this would have been the time to run if he had a hankering to be president. In his acceptence remarks he tossed a couple of “political bones” to the Freedom Forum/Tea Party of which Idaho First District Congressman Raul Labrador is a prominent member.

Ryan said the prominence of the committee system would be restored, which means Leadership will not dictate when bills move. Additionally, backbenchers will be able to contribute especially if they have a particular expertise.

Ryan, like Boehner, is the quintessential American success story. He’s the first major political figure to have worked at a McDonald’s to help his widowed mother with expenses. He took the job when his father passed away when he was 16.

He worked his way through college, incurring debt from loans but also receiving Pell grants. He first came to D.C. as an intern in a Congressional office. Happily married, he is devoted to his wife and children, and only accepted the Speakership on condition he be able to continue his practice of flying home every weekend.

There’s irony in Ryan’s accession, especially for Congressman Labrador (Who voted for conservative colleague Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida in the Republican caucus; the next day he voted for Ryan in the House vote) and the Freedom Forum. Ryan becoming Speaker is a perfect example of the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” Labrador and his fellow travelers started over a year ago to undermine and drive out of office Speaker Boehner.

Little did they realize the outcome would be a no nonsense, practical, results-oriented Speaker who is not afraid of compromise. Indeed, he walked the talk 18 months earlier when negotiating a budget deal with Washington’s senior sernator, Patty Murray.

Nor could they have had any idea that Speaker Boehner would, in his words, “clean the barn” before leaving. This cleaning included an $80 billion increase in spending and a kicking the can of voting on increasing the debt ceiling down the road for almost two years.

So my friends, if you happen to see the First District congressman any time soon, be sure and thank him.

First take/election

The top executive office on the ballot in the Northwest on Tuesday was that of mayor of Boise, and a piece of the city's history was made there: David Bieter was elected to a fourth term in the job, something no one has done before (or even tried, for that matter), since the terms have been four years long. There was no loss in overall popularity, either, since he won with more than two-thirds of the vote, a strong supermajority, and had a well-known opponent (Judy Peavey-Derr), who has run for and often won offices in the area for a couple of decades. There's been a good deal of talk that he might be gearing up for a governor's race in 2018, and this election result is unlikely to coll that discussion. Still, there's a big difference between a Democratic-leaning city of Boise and Idaho taken as a whole. In the larger picture, election day didn't change an enormous amount around the region. The Seattle City Council seemed to be more or less status quo. The peculiar ballot issue in Coos County that purports to give the sheriff remarkable authorities he can't have, the region's premier bit of electoral zany, would be striking but for the fact that it will be swiftly shot down in court if serious usage is attempted. It was another low-turnout election day. - rs (Note: This item corrected the nature of the record; James A. Pinney won election as mayor five times, but the terms were then two years in length, so Bieter and Eardley both have surpassed Pinneys tenure in office by two years.)

Losers who won’t shut up

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We older folk tend to compare our society these days to what we grew up with and experiences of years ago. Most of the time, the younger population thinks those changes are “no big deal.” “Just how things are,” they tell us.

Well, some of them ARE big deals. And just ‘cause that’s “how things are” doesn’t mean we have to accept them. Or, that they’re right.

One such change that rankles me is the ever-present attitude of too many folk who’ve come to believe they’re right - despite all facts to the contrary. Rather than accept losing an argument or an election, they cling to their case, ignore reality and reason, keep espousing their B.S. and, in many cases, actively work against their fellow citizens.

While this societal “change” is found in just about everything we do these days, it’s most prevalent in politics. It shows up after elections when one side prevailed and one side lost. Rather than honoring the outcome and putting away the campaign paraphernalia until next time, the new attitude is to hold fast to losing arguments - even fact-less propaganda - and become obstructionists. Congress is Exhibit “A” for this type of behavior. Many legislatures, too. And just some people.

I remember my small town Republican parents doing their part for Tom Dewey when he ran against President Truman. They distributed yard signs and flyers for Dewey and Deschutes County GOP candidates. Mom often served on election day as a volunteer. But I also clearly recall, when the election was over and Truman was back in the White House, they helped pick up all the yard signs, closed out the election paperwork and accepted the results. That’s what you did. Until next time. Until 1952.

That’s not true today in too many elections. Instead, the losing side circles the wagons, reloads the ammunition and becomes an entrenched opposition trying to gut the winners and the obvious decision of the majority of voters.

The latest “winner” who’s going to face land mines from losers is Paul Ryan. And, they’ll come from within his own Republican party. The losers who’ll keep on fighting. Even with their own kind.

Ryan was elected Speaker of the House 238-9. But the plain fact is some of those 238 ballots were cast with clenched teeth. The day before, 45 Repubs voted for someone else besides Ryan during a closed-door caucus vote. Ryan had held out agreeing to be Speaker as he sought a more unanimous vote. You can bet the phones were busy overnight.

Ryan’s opponents within his own caucus are hardcore GOP zealots. Count Idaho’s Rep. Raul Labrador among them. Their driving political sense is that of the Kamikaze pilot who believed not in the facts of the day - Japan had lost the war - but of the eventual “rightness” of the cause. Where the two differ is Labrador and cohorts have no “cause,” damned little facts and a determination to just destroy the opposition regardless of political party.

They don’t give a damn if government is already run by Republicans controlling both houses of Congress. Those of their party in control don’t “represent” the zealots outlook on things. Their leaders are often seen as part of the problem. Just like those damned Democrats. Purity of cause is the mother’s milk of these people. One instance of “collaboration” and Ryan will be deemed “impure.”

The best and most successful politicians know you don’t get everything you want on every issue. So, they determine what’s possible by compromise and inclusion to get the job done. To Labrador and his ilk, that’s treason.

This you can take to the bank. Early on, Ryan will decide on something - anything - he wants to achieve. Something he’ll go to the mat for. Something the zealots oppose. When that happens - and it will - the knives will come out. Ryan may convince a majority of his caucus to support him then. But that support won’t total 238. It’ll be something closer to 190.

Which means Ryan - if he truly wants to carry the day - will have to turn to House Democrats to be successful. When that happens, the target will be removed from the corpse of John Boehner and pinned on Ryan’s back.

We’re told Ryan wants to be president someday. Good for him. Every one should aspire to something. Even president. But, if - like Boehner - he’s drawn and quartered politically by the crazies in his own party, he’ll have to shift his presidential hopes a bit lower. Like president of the Janesville Rotary Club.

Yep, times have changed. Our vaunted electoral system has become home for too many zealots who don’t understand why their political ancestors accepted negative election results - why they put away the signs and worked with the winners until the next go-round. Why they didn’t keep their swords drawn and charge up one political hill after another to defeat what the majority of voters had said they wanted.

Me? I prefer the old ways. So Dewey lost in ‘48. Now, was Harry all that bad? Really?

First take/elections

It's an election day in many places, though many people seem only marginally aware of it. Not much happening in Oregon, but Washington has a couple of initiatives - one aimed once again at cutting taxes, another at protecting endangered species - along with a few legislative and judicial races. Idaho has city contests all over the state, including the race for mayor in Boise, the state's largest. There's a pot legalization issue on the ballot in Ohio, a governor's race in Kentucky, and more. Keep watch later in the day. - rs

Promises broken

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Contrary to his repeated promises, Barack Obama announced on Friday the deployment of U.S. combat forces into Syria to assist local rebels fight I.S.I.S. The political, military and legal morass boggles.

There is no express legal authority for the United States to commit ground troops into Syria. It is not clear exactly who needs help or why. There is no mission statement particular to this situation. There appears to be no exit strategy. The rationale Obama has manufactured is that he has authority under the War Powers act of 2001, even though I.S.I.S. is not al Qaeda, Syria is not Iraq, and Bashar al Assad is not Saddam Hussein.

The area is in northern Syria, reportedly under the control of Kurdish rebels. The force to be deployed is a special operations unit of a few dozen. Their orders are to train and advise the Kurdish rebels, but administration officials acknowledge that the unit will be operating at or on the “front lines,” if such ever can be said to exist in guerrilla warfare, and was expecting to find themselves in firefights sooner or later.

The rebels are also seeking to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al Assad, and may be expected to engage in fighting against the government forces as well. What complicates this to an astronomical level is that the Russians have declared themselves allied with the Syrian government, and will be supporting the government forces with aid, weaponry, and air support.

Air Force A-10 Warthogs and F-15 fighters from bases in Turkey will be committed to the air support of the U.S. forces as and when needed. The Russian air support may well be coming from Russian bases in Crimea or navy carriers in the Black Sea. This may well entail both countries flying through shared airspace on the way in, over and out of Syria. While the Russians have said their main target will also be the I.S.I.S. forces, they may have already conducted air strikes on Syrian-Arab rebel forces. Further, although President Putin has stated that Russia has no intent of committing ground troops to the effort in Syria, President Obama has made exactly the same promise.

There is no other way to look at this other than that the chances of the United States finding itself in a firefight with Russia, either on the ground or in the air, have just increased through the roof.

What can possibly go wrong?

First take/debate

Is this new debate over the debates just another example of the internal battles among Republicans? You would have thought that a debate structure overseen by the national Republican Party would have been acceptable enough to the candidates running for the presidential nomination of the party. But the discontent among candidates now has boiled over. All but two of the 14 candidates, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, sent representatives (mostly campaign managers) to the meeting. Whether it will amount to anything is unclear, but a few ideas floated sounded good enough: Requiring that all future debates be available for online streaming, for example, and maybe splitting up the candidates into two theoretically equal groups of seven each, rather than the current "adult table/kids table" approach. Whatever the specifics, the optics are less than good: Looks like another revolt, insurgency, civil war among Republicans who just can't get enough of that stuff. - rs