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Posts published in January 2016

A citizen’s SOS

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We’re now 30 days into a new year, 2016, and it’s going to be an important one. It’s an election year, and a presidential election year at that. The entire direction of this country for the next four to eight years is going to be decided in a matter of months.

All across Oregon and the United States, mayors have given their State of the City addresses. Commissioners have given their State of the County addresses. Governors have given their State of the State addresses. President Obama has already given his final State of the Union Address.

These addresses share one thing in common — they’re being delivered by politicians. Their job security depends on the public perceiving everything as being good and moving in the right direction.

Because of that, they’re not always an accurate representation of the true state of things.

This is why I’m taking a completely different approach. It’s time that we had a Citizens’ State of the State Address.

So what is the State of the State here in Oregon?

A friend asked me recently if I planned to use the phrase “falling apart at the seams.” It begs the question, Is Oregon falling apart at the seams? At the very least, it appears that we keep making national news for all the wrong reasons.

Last fall, I released my third book, On the Cusp of Chaos. A central theme was that Oregon, and particularly its rural parts, is on the cusp of chaos. That proved to be prophetic.

Within weeks of its release, there was that horrific shooting incident at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. More recently, we had that whole unfortunate situation in Burns, which started when a bunch of people from out of state decided to try and take over a federal building.

The headlines from here within Oregon haven’t been great, either.

Multiple state agencies keep making news for all the wrong reasons. There’s DHS with its foster care scandal, the Department of Energy and its Business Energy Tax Credit problems, and the budgets of several agencies are in shambles. That includes DHS, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Aside from that, judges who are in the state’s Public Employees Retirement System have overturned any efforts to reform it. The effects of that are going to be locally in a big way over the next few years. That means that every city, county and school district in Oregon is going to spend significant portions of its budgets on PERS contributions instead of providing services to citizens.

In fact, it would probably take much less time for me to list the agencies that are doing well. I can’t say that any come to mind immediately.

What else can I say about the State of the State? In my humble opinion, it’s mired in needless poverty.

Our state is consistently and persistently among those whose citizens have the highest percentage of food stamp usage. Oregon also consistently leads the nation in hunger.

How?

We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources, including a vibrant, diverse agricultural sector.

Oregon should be feeding the whole rest of the nation and the world. Instead, we lead the nation in hunger.

To me, this is evidence that the state is not living up to its true potential. This has even been cited as the second worst state in which to make a living, a distinction we probably don’t want to have.

So what is the State of the State? I would submit that its prosperity continues to be undermined by a combination of cronyism and corruption.

There was that whole crisis of confidence involving our executive branch, culminating in the resignation of former Governor John Kitzhaber almost a year ago amid federal investigations.

Efforts were made to pass comprehensive ethics reform legislation during the 2015 session. Many of those bills were blocked on party-line votes. Fortunately, some of those same bills are being reintroduced for consideration in the legislative session that starts on Monday.

So what is the State of the State? My reply is that it is nowhere near as good as it could be, or should be. But the good news is, we still have the chance to change it. The future depends largely on all of us.

We’re going to hear later on from candidates who are vying for this state’s highest office. It is obvious that there is no shortage of challenges facing whoever we choose to be our governor.

One year from now, that person will take the oath of office and give the official State of the State Address.

My hope is that we can all work together, with each other and with our elected officials, to address the issues I’ve brought up.

It all starts with a shared vision.

We need to picture the community we want and the state government we want. We need to picture the world we want to leave behind for subsequent generations.

Once we’re done doing that, we must do what we can to translate those visions into tangible actions that we can all take locally. And maybe next year’s official State of the State Address can provide a more accurate representation of what’s happening in Oregon, and we can all share in a brighter and more prosperous future.

Thank you.

Keeping records

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This digital age makes it possible to preserve much more than people ever could preserve before, including some of our basic public records.

Just because we can does not of course mean we will. Ask the people at the state historical society about trying to preserve, record and make available the masses of records about Idaho’s history. In the context of overall state budgets, the amount spent on that effort is a drop in an ocean, and not nearly enough to do the job comprehensively. But you never know when those efforts can turn out to be critical. Or at least useful.

Here and there, individual efforts are made, and one announced last week by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is worth some attention – and credit.

Ever since statehood, the obligations of the attorney general have included publishing each year the office’s collected opinions, case activity and related documents. These reports get almost no news attention (they’re a formal compendium of things that have already happened, after all) and probably few people outside the legal system, and only some within it, are even aware of them. But they can be a vital resource for tracing the state’s legal history, and its history overall.

Finding recent copies has usually been easy enough, and sometimes they’ve even been elegantly bound. Law libraries often have copies. But even the state law library doesn’t have all of them. In fact, no one does.

Wasden’s office said their own internal collection starts with the 1891-92 report – the first – and runs to this year. But, “The missing volumes are scattered across the decades and include: the biennial report for 1895-96; the annual report for 1953; the period covering January through June 1954; the period for July through December 1973; and the 1974 report.”

Wasden said, “We searched my office, the historical society, the state law library and even former Attorneys General for these missing publications. It’s unfortunate the set is incomplete, but I’m hoping with public help we can recover these missing volumes.”

Those they do have have been posted online, at http://www.ag.idaho.gov/publications/op-guide-cert/annualReports/historicAnnualReportIndex.html. They’re scanned in as images, so they aren’t always easy to search by text.

Some of them actually make for lively reading, maybe the first one especially.

AG George Roberts wrote an overview that seemed to betray some exasperation with the job. At that time the state had local district attorneys, and Roberts seems to have been disgusted with many of them. “I requested one of the District Attorneys in this State to attend the preliminary examination of a person charged with a peculiarly aggravated and brutal assault upon a woman with a deadly weapon,” he wrote. “He replied by challenging me to show him the section of the law which made it his duty to do so. I admitted that the law did not compel him to, but that a sense of public duty should impel him to do so . . .” The resulting trial, he said, was “a travesty.”

Roberts indicated he was hammered for those local foulups: “This office has been perpetually harassed by questions affecting the performance of public duty, not only by Boards of County Commissioners, but by Precinct and County officers, and School District officers as well.”

A candid review. Maybe attorneys general of today could follow in those candid footsteps. You wonder what they might say.

The release of these past records might even give them some encouragement.

First take/variations

The Trump-less Republican presidential debate last night went not so very different from those before it, though some of the barbs aimed at the missing candidate actually rose a degree of wit.

Like the previous debates, it probably changed little as regards the standing of the candidates. A raw political calculation, Trump probably lost nothing from skipping it; his absence loomed over the proceedings, and nowhere did the lack of a Trump response somewhere probably cost him votes.

In fact, since the topics were almost all retreads of previous debates, that would be true of the other candidates as well. That's partly true because nearly all the questions, apart from those sometimes aimed at needling specific candidates, came mostly in their comfort zone of foreign affairs (bomb 'em), immigration and taxes. Subjects that had to do with the well-being of Americans were, with rare exception, skipped by moderators and candidates alike.

That makes the Republican debates a lot different from the Democratic. But there may be some solid reasons for that, pointed to a recent (released Tuesday) ABC/Washington Post poll.

The front end of the poll was standard horse race stuff, in line with other recent polls (an indicator its results probably are in the right ballpark). Maybe the most interesting datum in that part is the 64% expectation among Republicans and Republican-leaners that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee.

Further back in the report, there is this:

A challenge for the GOP, looking ahead, is the extent to which leaned Republicans differ from the rest of the public on many such measures. While 54 percent of leaned Republicans are looking chiefly for an outsider, among all other Americans, 75 percent prefer a candidate with experience in how the political system works. While 50 percent of leaned Republicans say immigrants mainly weaken U.S. society, 66 percent of others say they mainly strengthen it. And there’s a vast 45-point difference in views on whether the country’s on the wrong track.
Leaned Republicans also are 27 points more apt than others to see government as part of the problem; twice as likely to be angry about it; 17 points more likely to see America’s best days as behind it; and 15 points more apt to say their own values are losing ground in society today.
Economic worry is the only one of these [subject areas] in which significant differences aren’t evident. On the others, whichever Republican wins the nomination, there’ll be substantial work ahead in reconciling world views within the GOP with those beyond it.

So when you hear that "Americans" want an outsider for president, that "the country" is becoming anti-immigrant and are pessimistic about the future, remember that this represents the views of a growing majority among Republicans and Republican leaners, but not the country as a whole. As a result, once Republicans hit the general election and have to deal with the world outside their bubble, they will as the poll said face "substantial work ahead." -rs

Video/Finicum

From the FBI: "This is the complete video footage of a joint FBI and Oregon State Police traffic stop and OSP officer-involved shooting of Robert "LaVoy" Finicum on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. This footage, which has only been edited to blur out aircraft information, was taken by the FBI on 01/26/2016 and released by the FBI on 01/28/2016."

The Finicum incident comes at around the 9:20 mark. The drone bearing the camera was quite a distance away, and the images were not utterly clear. But it does look as if he was reaching for something - as if he were reaching for a weapon - when he was shot, which is what the law enforcement account report. And we do know these people have spent a great deal of time talking about rigorously they pack heat.

Arrivals

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If our flat screen TV didn’t cost so much we would have tossed a shoe at it Tuesday.

KTVB Channel 7 had a “live” reporter with news from the airport. The attractive reporter breathlessly told viewers she had been at the airport most of the day awaiting the return of Boise’s famous preacher/prisoner, Saeed Abedini, who “may be arriving any minute.” Don’t forget KTVB had been sucking up to Mrs. Abedini for years awaiting a joyful tear-filled reunion.

Turns out Channel 2 KBOI had already reported the pastor’s return to Boise a half hour earlier, showing the private jet outside the Jackson Aviation facility.

Meanwhile, KIVI Channel 6 had a reporter staking out the arrival hall at the commercial terminal, but he reported no sign of the preacher/prisoner.

In case you have lived under a rock for the past few years, Abedini was one of the five prisoners held in Iran and released January 16 as part of a USA-Iranian prisoner exchange.

The Statesman wisely reported on their competition with this lead:
“Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned for nearly four years in an Iranian prison, returned to Boise late Tuesday afternoon in a private jet, KBOI-TV, Channel 2, reports.”

Next story to hit the airwaves was an urgent message from Boise coppers asking for help recovering a couple stolen vehicles taken nearly half a day earlier while left warming up in owner’s driveways. No description of the vehicles, no color, no license number! Just a plea to call Crimestoppers if anyone has told you they stole a vehicle.

Of course all the stations followed with twenty minutes of weather maps and promises to tell us more later in the broadcast.

First take/Finicum

The shooting death Tuesday evening of Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, the spokesman for the group that has occupied the Malheur bird refuge in Oregon most of this month, winds up providing some thoughts and lessons, some of them unexpected.

Any shooting death is a tragedy, his included; this was a human being with family and friends entitled the same measure of dignity as any of us. But as Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo noted, it's a special shame when it happened because of his devotion to a cause that is nothing more than bonkers. He did not die in service to a real cause; he died in service to a fake one. We all should deserve better than that.

Marshall pointed out other kinds of lessons too, however: "The thing that struck me most about last night however was something very specific: social media allowed one to watch the mythology of Finicum's martyrdom emerge and congeal in real time. I never participate on Twitter anymore, not since last Spring. But I went on just to watch the stream. And within two hours you went from Bundy's third hand claim that Finicum was shot in cold blood while trying to surrender to this being heard, accepted, validated and become gospel for thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of members of the digital hard right. I cannot help but note that I spent a good deal of time checking the bios of the people who were embracing this hardest. At least half explicitly identifying themselves as Ted Cruz supporters in their Twitter bios."

The weight of evidence seems to say, as at least two witnesses (not from law enforcement) reported, that Finicum, who almost certainly was armed (the occupiers often boasted about how they were always armed and ready for conflict), "charged" the officers, and then was shot. But probably we won't have to rely on guesses or weight of evidence for long. It's hard to imagine that video of the arrest scene wasn't taken, and will make its way online.

When (presuming that) it is, a question: Will actual visual evidence matter to these people, or will it - like any other facts or evidence that doesn't fit in the world view - simply be dismissed as another massive government conspiracy?

Probably, which shows how badly our social media bubbles are serving us.

But social media also had another impact on this story, which in many parts of the media centered on the pranks being played on the occupiers. A massive Facebook group called Snacks for Y'AllQuaeda pranked them with satire (and shipments of dildoes) and turned the attempt by the occupiers to make a serious point into a national laughingstock.

One group participant reflected, "We knew what they were capable of, and how it could end, but we choose to point out the absolute ridiculousness of their beliefs and how their real life actions exposed them as hypocrites of the highest order. A collection of welfare queens, tax cheats, ex-cons, stolen valor poseurs, Sovereign Citizen, Constitutional Grand Jury, arrogant ass-turds. And I think it worked. Others recognized it too, the mainstream everyday folks. And everybody knew it was time for this idiocy in the high desert of Oregon to end."

Social media cutting in various directions. - rs

About American Redoubt

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There’s a new player on the Idaho political scene that warrants careful monitoring and serious scrutiny. They call themselves the “American Redoubt” movement but they bear an uncanny resemblance to the survivalists and posse comitatus types that operated in Idaho in the ‘80s.

The agendas are remarkably similar: the primacy of the U.S. Constitution, support for so-called “open carry” of firearms; repeal of the 17th amendment (direct election of U.S. Senators by a state’s legislature); adamant opposition to immigrants; abolishing agencies like EPA; supremacy of a county sheriff as the highest figure in the criminal justice system, etc.

The differences between then and now are revealing.Then, they did not register or vote. They weren’t active in local or state politics; now, they have become the shock troops for the Tea Party and openly support certain candidates.

In the Republicans’ “closed primary” they can exercise tremendous influence over their fellow citizens. Several of their sympathizers, such as Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard, have been elected to the Legislature and have started referencing the writings of their spiritual founder, James Rawles.

(Scott, by the way, has truly become an embarrassment to Idaho. She unfurled and embraced the Confederate “Stars and Bars” at one rally just as police in South Carolina were finally getting a handle on things. If I’d been the U.S. attorney for Idaho, I would have cited her for trying to incite a riot. Then, Scott traveled to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge to embrace the cause of folks there engaging in sedition. The people of Harney County, Oregon, most of them ranchers who abide by the terms of their grazing leases, don’t want her or the SS-like storm troops hanging around. Scott tries to justify the unjustifiable.)

The forefathers of the American Redoubters used to embrace racism. Now, Rawles says racism ignores reason.

They say they welcome all, and that there’s no discrimination against minorities, but that’s easy to say when you have few minorities.

Then, the Redoubt types banded “together” for protection wherever they were. Now, Rawles touts political migration to smaller western states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming where he believes they can live relatively unbothered by the federal government. This in fact is the underlying concept and the key to understanding American Redoubt.

Despite the outcome of America’s great and bloody Civil War, these types still adhere to the concepts of a state’s right to secede from the Union or nullify congressional laws they dislike. The Supreme Court has firmly rejected both.

They still don’t understand what Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in his majority ruling and precedent setting 5 to 4 Supreme Court opinion, District of Columbia vs. Heller, ruled. Scalia wrote there was a qualified right for an individual to carry a weapon, whether concealed or not apart from being a member of a militia.

Scalia clearly said there is NOT an absolute right. He went on to write that the state in the name of public safety has the right to close off public spaces like schools and courts to the carrying of any weapon, whether concealed or otherwise. One can conclude he would not support Rep. Scott and American Redoubt’s so-called “constitutional carry” legislation.

The Redoubters say they love their country, but fear their government that protects their right to dissent, their right to free speech, their right to vote and their right to own side arms, rifles and shot guns.

However, they don’t believe in your right to an ownership interest in the nation’s public lands, its wonderful national parks, its wildlife refuges, its national forests and wilderness areas. No, beause they live adjacent to these lands, whether dedicated to multiple use or a prominent single use, they think these lands are theirs, and that they own them.

Keep your eye on these American Redoubters and their Tea Party puppets - they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Caveat Emptor.

First take/Burns

Finally.

A whole lot of people, including us and the governor of Oregon, have been wondering when the feds (meaning principally, the FBI) would act and bring the crazy occupation at the Malheur bird refuge under control. Now finally it has, at least mostly. And the approach, if late, seems to be about what was warranted.

The feds seemed to have hoped that they could simply wait out the group and maybe make some arrests after the occupation had disbanded. From the standpoint of avoiding bloodshed, that could make some sense. But the occupation was bringing in a steady number of outsider agitators. Intimidation and outright threats to law abiding people in the Burns area were on the rise; a good many residents had fled. The place was becoming decidedly not safe, ad was getting less so. That was the situation that led Oregon Governor Kate Brown a few days ago to call on the FBI to, at long last, act.

And last night, they did. A community meeting had been set up at John Day, about an hour north of Burns (a pretty drive, by the way, if you've not been out to that country), and most of the occupier leaders piled into a couple of cars to go. Why not? They've been coming and going to Burns for weeks with impunity.

This time, though, they were stopped and arrested. (There must be scores of possible federal law violations they could be charged with, and made to stick, at this point.) There was an incident in the process; shots were fired, and the group's spokesman was killed. Hopefully, video exists showing just what happened.

As that happened, the FBI sent out a warning: If those remaining at the bird refuge leave now, they can go home, but those that don't will be subject to arrest. Presumably soon. (One visible occupant had fled the place for Arizona earlier Tuesday. Did he know what was coming?) Apparently, some took the FBI up on their offer. Soem didn't.

The one death so far was unfortunate, but these were people who have been marching around the area heavily armed and proclaiming that they were willing to kill and die. They were acting like terrorists, and truly, they have bought on themselves the results emerging now.

There's no reason for the FBI to wait much longer at the refuge. This ugly incident needs to come to a final end in the next day or two. And it can be. - rs

Fools and the FBI

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As domestic terrorists (No, Virginia, not militia - terrorists) continue to hold the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon, hostage for another week, the latest FBI statement amounts to a deep pile of bureaucratic B.S..

“Our response has been deliberate and measured as we seek a peaceful resolution” sayeth the feds. Apparently folks at the Bureau on the Potomac just can’t grasp the obvious: these bastards don’t WANT a “peaceful resolution.” They want what they want or they say they’re ready for Armageddon. The only folks not understanding the Bundy boys, three weeks into this criminal adventure, appear to be the folks who’re supposed to end it.

The latest Bundy-driven lunacy coming out of the compound in Harney County is a request that all ranchers/farmers everywhere tear up valid federal grazing and other land use contracts and refuse to pay one more cent. Day before that, their proclamation was “God has spoken to Bundy” and approves of his terrorist activity. Even demanded he continue it.

Does that sound like this band of deadbeats, convicted criminals and psych cases wants a “peaceful solution?” They’re in this for the long haul. Law enforcement has become a willing accomplice by allowing these criminals free access into town to buy food, gas, hit the bars and do anything else their larcenous hearts desire. To talk to the media, too. As long as law enforcement acts as a handmaiden, the Bundy boys feel no pressure to quit. In fact, some are now bringing young children into the compound.

Time here for a bit of a review. There are actually at least three separate stories in this stew. First, local ranchers the Hammonds - father and son - are in the slammer for good and proper reasons. They have a lengthy history of destroying federal property, illegal hunting, not paying contracted fees and threatening federal personnel. Also, at least two court convictions. Justice was warranted and they belong in jail.

The second and entirely separate story is how the Hammonds were handled in the courts. They were sent to jail under a minimum sentencing law. That’s a process I’ve soundly criticized in the past. Though put on Oregon’s law books by voters, I believe it’s wrongheaded. It removes the administration of justice - and consideration of possible mitigating circumstances - from duly qualified judges. It allows only one-size-fits-all sentencing, regardless of the situation. Given the extensive history of violations by the Hammonds, justice was likely served. But the way it was handled - sent to jail, then released, then re-sentenced and back to jail for the same crime(s) - was not right. Except for that damned “minimum sentencing” law, they’d be free today. To sin again, as it were. Or not.

The third story involves the criminals holed up in the Malheur Wildlife compound. And, criminals they are. Because law enforcement has let this illegal occupation go on for weeks, two sets of facts have become clear. First, the people inside the compound are not sterling, standup citizens. Not in Oregon - where apparently none of them live - nor in their home states. As more of their individual backgrounds come to light, we find felons, ex-cons, dopers, deadbeats and liars. Also some guys with bad mental health histories drawn to this bunch of misfits.

In addition, the hypocrisy of some of these guys is not unexpected. Terrorist-in-chief Ammon Bundy, for one. While blasting all things governmental at the top of his lungs, he took out a $550,000 federal loan on which he ultimately defaulted. Another liar in the gang had, as his primary source of income, foster children in his care for which the State of Nevada was paying him big bucks. He then loudly complained to national media that he was being “penalized for his free speech” when Nevada authorities removed the kids. Who the hell did the background check originally?

There are more of these “hidden histories” showing up almost daily. One question I’ve had since day one, how many of these criminals are drawing federal/state/county checks every month? Social security, federal and or military retirement, government disability, etc. I’d bet it’s a bunch.

Now, they’re carelessly rifling through thousands of Native American artifacts in the compound and plowing new roads over what are burial grounds on the refuge where the Paiute tribes trace much of their history. They’ve torn down signs and fences not to their liking. They’re bulls breaking things in a very valuable china shop.

The FBI is scared they’ve got another Waco/Branch Dividian situation. They don’t. The isolated Oregon location and makeup of the people holed up is entirely different. There’s no need for the frontal assault the Bureau handled so badly in Waco with tanks and SWAT teams. A communications blackout, no media, no power, no water and a road blockade through which the Bundy bandits can’t go back and forth to town. Just sit in your heated federal SUVs, tell old war stories, drink a lot of coffee and wait. Just wait.

Bundy now says he won’t talk to the FBI again (a) without the media present and (b) unless the Harney County Sheriff deputizes the feds because he doesn’t recognize any law authority above the county. Further, he won’t leave until the Hammonds are out of jail which ain’t gonna happen. Where in there do you read “peaceful solution?”

There’s no basis - none - for the occupation. Again, none! Laws - county, state and federal - are being broken hourly. Locals are frightened of the whole situation and want the bastards out! Our governor has pleaded with the feds to act. No response. Damage is being done not only to the land but also to decades of cooperation between the BLM and Forest Service and ranchers, farmers and other public land users. Valuable historic artifacts are being mishandled at best - destroyed at worst. It’ll take months - if not years - to clean up the compound and restore it to working order when this is over. Innocent people are being held hostage by not having safe access to their own community. City, county and federal property is being vandalized.

Now, sympathetic elected officials from other states are making trips to Burns to meet with these lawbreakers. With media in tow. Criminals receiving support from politicians as crazy as they are. They’re getting care packages from all over the country. What was thought to be a short protest - of something - has now turned into a national disgrace and a gathering spot for more nut cases. Still they come. Daily.

Nothing good has come - or will come - from this self-serving, criminal enterprise. Nothing! The vast majority of citizens affected want this ended. Now! These guys must be starved out, charged and jailed for a dozen or so crimes against the rest of us. The land they’re squatting on is our land. Not their private, illegal domain.

There will be no “peaceful resolution” under any other circumstance. Anyone who still holds out that ludicrous hope is a damned fool. Or, works for the FBI.

First take/tax match

One of the routine bills at the Idaho Legislature every year - every year for decades at least - is the tax match bill.

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service changes the rules, in ways large or small, for federal income taxes. And each year, reliably, Idaho follows suit, for the same reason other states imposing income taxes do: If they did not, residents and organizations would have to cope with far more complicated bookkeeping, trying to deal with two different tax standards. Are taxes a hassle for you? Failing to keep state rules in step with the federal would double the hassle factor.

Sometimes those changes do result in revenue changes for the state, either up or down. This year, a newly-allowed federal deduction on equipment buys by small businesses apparently could cost the state $22 million next year. It's not a huge ding in the context of the state budget, but it was enough to get mentioned when the IRS compliance bill came before the House tax committee.

Three committee members voted against the bill because of the change allowing joint filing by same-sex married couples.

Actually, in the current environment there's a little surprise that this normally routine bill doesn't become a cause celebre, with protests and nullification and all. After all, this is an issue with "federal" and "tax" written all over it.

Maybe though some legislators reflected on just how difficult filing their own taxes could become if the state doesn't fall in line. - rs (image/efile)

$12k

This is from the Bernie Sanders campaign, but the key part isn't Sanders (though the camera stays on him). He asks what it's like to live on $12,000 a year - and he gets some answers.

Sticks and stones

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The predictions of everyone claiming any expertise were unanimous that Bernie Sanders would never be a viable Presidential candidate because as soon as the fact that he is a socialist sinks in, his standing in the polls will plummet into oblivion. Trump, to accelerate this expectation, has been referring to the senator not only as a socialist but also as a communist.

All were wrong, obviously. Sanders’ numbers have continue to improve. The revelation of Sanders’ economic philosophy, even with Trump’s help, is having little effect. The outcome is far from certain, but the senator from Vermont who proclaims himself to be a democratic socialist is clearly a viable candidate. What happened here? How did the predictors miss the mark by so much? As is readily apparent, the labels of socialism, or even communism, no longer appear to strike fear in the heart of the mainstream voter. The increasing reaction to such labels is a mild shrug and casual “meh!” A brief look at history reveals what has probably happened.

Everyone of age at after the end of World War II, and continuing into the 1980s, lived in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, the bastion of what was called international communism and the dedicated enemy of the free world. Although Joseph Stalin had been an ally by necessity in the war, he was considered by the western powers only slightly preferable to Adolf Hitler. After Germany surrendered, Winston Churchill even advocated that the western allies preemptively invade Russia to depose Stalin for good. Instead, a Cold War resulted that lasted for close to 40 years. One brutal Soviet dictator followed another as our nation endured Korea and then Viet Nam, all the while believing we were at risk for immediate nuclear annihilation. Because of the dreadful circumstances of all of this, the term “communist” with all its variations, and to some extent the term “socialist” with all its variations, acquired the same pejorative connotation as the term “Nazi” had earned during the war.

It used to be that to call someone a “communist” anywhere, or a “socialist” in those regions which did not carefully distinguish the meaning of such terms, was to accuse the individual of treachery, high treason, incitement to overthrow the government, conspiracy to murder and perhaps grand theft – all rolled into one word. Even though the actual meaning of the words pertain to benign economic theories, and even though the economic theories were of no relevance to the cruelty of the totalitarian Soviet regime, nevertheless the words became powerful insults capable, often unfairly, of wrecking the reputations and destroying the dreams of many. Branding anyone as such, and making it stick, was considered the ultimate disenfranchisement one could impose upon a political opponent.

Time passed. Suddenly, in the mid-1980s, the Evil Empire crumbled and the Cold War ended. The fear of mutual nuclear annihilation dissipated. As one generation passed on to be replaced by another, the electorate began to fill up with voters who came of age after the Cold War ended. With the imperialistic Soviet Union no longer, and the fear of nuclear attack evaporating, the provocative nuances of the terms “communist” and “socialist” began to dissipate. Furthermore, the United States economy, which had been edging away from capitalism since the beginning of the century, had, in the post-war years, turned into a true amalgam of socialistic and capitalistic mechanisms. The distinctions between democratic socialism and regulated capitalism became differences being of degree in application rather than of philosophy.

With this background in mind, we come to the present day. For the first time, with the elections of 2016, a majority of the electorate will belong to generations born after 1960 and coming of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. To these individuals, the attempts by Trump and others to slur Sanders by reference to his economic philosophy provoke only blank stares. The pejorative connotations of calling one a “socialist,” or even a “communist,” simply no longer apply. If anyone is curious, and looks the terms up, all that will be found are the definitions of benign utopian philosophies.

Today, anyone in the category of a grandson listening to his sage grandfather try to explain socialism as a disabling factor in modern politics would simply roll their eyes.

The times they are a changing.