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Posts published in “Year: 2017”

Now you see it

mckee

Every good huckster is a master at distracting the attention of the suckers they are about to fleece away from any pesky details they do not want to talk about. The stage magician, for example, convinces you to watch his left hand as he flutters a meaningless handkerchief so you will not notice as his right hand palms the card, or pockets the coin, or slips the rabbit back into the hat.

Trump is a master at this. His tangle with the media in a pointless kerfuffle over the size of the inaugural crowd is a prime example, as is his insistence that there were over three million fraudulent votes in the last election to be investigated. These are both irrelevant discussions that have soaked up all the headline space above the fold, and all the time in the A blocks on cable television, for weeks now, and are both still running. Meanwhile, while we were all diverted by these meaningless bits of left handed fluff, his right hand has been into mischief.

For example, on Friday, which everyone know knows is “put out the trash day” for the White House press, and while all our attention was diverted elsewhere, Trump quietly swept out the top level career administrators of the State Department – every one of the deputy undersecretaries, assistant undersecretaries, bureau chiefs and directors who had anything to do with the top level administration of the department are gone. Usually, the transition team pays little attention to these career positions; they have plenty to do filling the 4,000 plus political appointments opening up without taking on the task of recruiting new hires for the administrative career positions.

Not so, for some reason, this time around. Even the mid-level political appointments are sometimes put off for a month or so, so there can be some continuity in the transition. All of those who were swept out indicated that they were willing and expected to stay on at least through the transition. Not to be, for some as yet unexplained reason.

Then on Saturday – Saturday, mind you, when even more of us were looking elsewhere and nobody was paying attention – Trump unceremoniously dumped the Chairman of Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence out of their permanent seats on the National Security Council, and replaced them with – wait for it – Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon.

The career officers at State were not “fired.” Trump can’t fire civil service career employees, but they were all advised that they were no longer needed in their present positions. This Trump can do; he can direct that anybody be reassigned to a different job, as long as it is within the same GS level, meaning the same pay, and approximately same level of stature. What he did here was shift them into jobs with not as much status or responsibility – demotions in fact, even though the money would have remained the same – but which prompted the entire list, seven in all, to either quit or retire. How the new Secretary will fare without this huge reservoir of institutional memory available to smooth out his early days remains to be seen. But as anybody who has ever worked for the government in any capacity can tell you, it would have been a lot easier if they had been kept around.

The National Security Council was organized in 1947 to advise Truman on matters Congress was convinced he knew nothing about – security and foreign policy. This body is not expected to be political. Traditional members are the Vice President and the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Energy plus high level representatives from the military and the intelligence community. The council has been organized in this fashion since its origination. High level military and intelligence advisers have always been included as full members.

The White House Chief of Staff was elevated from a sometime invitee to a full member of the NSC. In addition, in the place of the high level military and intelligence community advisors, Trump has delegated the White House Strategist to sit as a full member in their stead.

There are those who thought that Reince Priebus, who has never held an original thought, had reached his apex under Peter’s Principle in his prior position as the doormat and chief sycophant for the RNC. We did not expect him to survive the crushing responsibilities of the White House. That he is still around makes one suspect that his tasks may have been redefined.

Steve Bannon, on the other hand, is considered by most to be a true confidant of the President – but whether as Oz, Machiavelli or Rasputin yet remains to be seen. Some expected him to be as Karl Rove was to George Bush – a political connection to the far-right base, with the assignment to keep Trump well placed there for the election in 2020. One did not expect the Brietbart alumnus, who is sometimes reported to avoid mirrors and is rarely seen in daylight, to move toward a true seat of power. Or at least not this early.

We are still not sure what to make of any of this. On the one hand, because of the amateurish ways that Trump and his cabal have been blundering about so far, this new stuff may merely be more indicia of incompetence and a failure to think it through. On the other hand, the peculiar selection of State and the NSC for these unexplained sweeps, and the elevation of Bannon to a seat on the NSC, may portend a more complicated objective.

Close attention is invited.

Norquist on the center-right

jorgensen

National conservative icon Grover Norquist addressed a group of around 50 grassroots activists Saturday, January 28 at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Lake Oswego.

Norquist, the president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform, gave the keynote address at the sixth annual Western Liberty Network leadership and training conference.

He began his remarks by stating that the press has been so focused on President Donald Trump’s personality that it has missed the big picture in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Half of the states in the county have Republican governors and majorities in both legislative chambers, he said, and a majority of the nation’s people live in “red states.” Only four states are under complete Democratic control. Oregon and California are the “only blue states you can find without a magnifying glass,” Norquist said.
States such as Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia that have traditionally been run by Democrats now have Republican governors and majorities in their legislative chambers. Norquist predicted that Delaware and Minnesota would be among the next states to flip Republican.

In his remarks, Norquist said that the modern center-right movement is comprised of coalitions whose members’ votes are moved by a desire to be left alone and not have their taxes raised. He described the coalition as “low-maintenance,” and said its members don’t tend to want anything from each other.

“They’re not in conflict on a political level,” Norquist said. “Our friends on the left don’t have that.”

Norquist said that Democratic coalition members, including “coercive utopians,” all remain harmonious with each other as long as there’s money in the middle of the table.

“The left is not made up of friends and allies,” he said.

Conservative coalition members such as homeschoolers and concealed carry permit holders are now being joined by Uber and Lyft drivers who are being threatened with increased government regulations of their new emerging industries.

Norquist said that the structures for Democratic coalition members can be defunded. Approximately 27 states have passed right-to-work laws, he added, and more are set to follow soon.

Over 135,000 government workers in Wisconsin stopped paying union dues after reforms gave them the option to not do so, Norquist said. As a result, around $135 million less is flowing into union coffers per year. Around 30,000 teachers in Michigan are no longer paying union dues, for a total annual loss of $20 million.

During a question and answer session, Norquist predicted that reforms to the Affordable Care Act will involve the distribution of Medicaid block grants to states and separate high-risk pools for persons with preexisting conditions. Once that is accomplished, he said that the Trump administration would tackle tax reform, with one of its components being the complete elimination of federal estate taxes.

Real and fake news purveyors

stapiluslogo1

When President Trump went on one of his periodic anti-media tirades last week, he let out a phrase (well, actually, a lot of them but I'll focus on one here) that merits a closer look.

The quote was, “Much of the media — not all of it — is very, very dishonest. Honestly, it’s fake news. Fake. They make things up.”

Coming from someone who personally makes up a whole lot of things, that merits some consideration. A lot of people probably wonder who and what they can trust in the ever-expanding media universe.

"Much of the media - not all of it." There are a lot of media, and many elements of it often are in conflict. Well, which is which?

Let me offer one simple way to consider this. There are others too but this seems a good place to start.

The "media," like "the government" (or almost any other large component of our society) consists of a whole lot of pieces and players. It consists not only of news publications but many other kinds as well - entertainment operations, trade magazines, academic journals, many more. But all of these can be divided roughly into two categories, "mass market" and "niche."

This is not just a matter of size, though that's important. The more critical component is in who they are trying to reach.

Newspaper history offers an example, since the standard mass-market daily newspaper has at different times operated in both spheres. In the 19th century, most newspapers were in effect niche publications. Cities of any size tended to have several newspapers; big cities might have a dozen or more. These newspapers did not try to write for everybody; they were trying to appeal to specific segments of their local markets, and many of them were overtly political. Newspapers typically identified themselves on their front page as the Republican paper, or the Democratic, or Independent, or maybe something else. People who wanted a broad picture often subscribed to several of them.

That was when newspapers were funded mainly through subscriptions. Somewhat over a century ago there was a strong move toward another business model, much more based around advertising, and it swept the industry. When it did, newspaper publishers and editors found that advertisers wanted to reach a whole community, not just a piece of it.

Here are two things that happened in response. A lot of newspapers consolidated: The number of newspapers in the United States dropped sharply in the early 20th century. The other thing that happened was that, to appeal to not just a segment of a city or region but rather the whole thing, the entire presentation of news had to change. And it did, into something many people probably thought was blander but also something that presented information in a more even handed, and less partisan, way. Editorial pages remained as opinionated as ever, but news columns became more centrist, aimed at reaching everyone. An institutional standard for this was developed, partly by the wire services (the Associated Press and several others over the decades). These services had to feed news reports to many hundreds of newspapers, whose owners and editors had all kinds of different opinions, so they developed a news language and reporting standards that would work broadly. That's the news language and reporting approach we still have today at most daily and many weekly newspapers. It grew out of economic necessity. And while journalists are as fallible as anyone else, it also meant the news reports were mostly, generally, reliable.

That's the dynamic mass media have to work with. They're trying to reach a broad general audience, so the making a practice of slanting reports ideologically works poorly. Mass media will give you, most of the time and allowing for slippage here or there, reliable news, with relatively little slant. They're not perfect, they mess up sometimes, but slantless news is what they aim for.

Niche media is everything else. A niche is something like the old newspapers were: Aimed at one kind of audience and only one, and therefore devoted to pleasing that audience. This leads to all kinds of results. On the positive side, it can yield insights and specialized reporting the mass media never get around to; there are good niche news providers out there. The down side is that the eagerness to produce appealing stuff can mean a slippage of standards, and quite a few niche organizations let go standards of accuracy and fairness in the interest of exciting the base - or simply telling the base what it wants to hear.

I think especially of ideologically-based news organizations. There are, for one example, "market-based" news outlets whose editorial stance is critical of government and taxes and cheers on the free market. Stories that fit within that framework abound, and they may even contain good information and may even be fair and accurate. But don't expect to see much there that undercuts the party line.

This doesn't mean all niche media should be disregarded. I don't by any means intend that they all be lumped in as "fake"; many report with rigor. but it does mean the care and caution given to its pronouncements needs to be higher than for the mass media. It has, simply, fewer incentives to stick to accuracy and fairness.

Who can you trust? No, it's quite as simple as this. But I've found the mass/niche dividing line a useful tool for navigating an ever murkier environment. What probably isn't what the president had in mind.

Get off your butts!

rainey

Over the long haul of time, the fortunes of our two major political parties rise and fall with the changing tides of the whims of voters. That’s a good thing. Change. Still, it’s always sad to see the underdog of the moment in disarray, wandering in the weeds and accomplishing nothing. Like the National Democratic Party today.

One of the blessings of our system is no one group usually stays in power very long. Nor should they. Idaho’s late Gov. Robert Smylie once told me “Every few years, regardless of which party is in power, it’s good to open up the windows and closets and sweep things out. Keeps things healthy.” He was right.

When discussing the ins and outs of political control these days, the Dems are really out. In the U.S. Senate, they can count on two independents standing with them most of the time. But, that still only gives them 48 to the GOP’s 52. When voting, they’ve got to count on five Republicans seeing things their way to do anything. In the House, even worse. Dems have 194 to the GOP’s 241. One seat is currently vacant. So Democrats get rolled on about every issue.

We’re continually told the party’s two congressional leaders - Sen. Schumer and Rep. Pelosi - are two of the most knowledgeable and effective users of the rules of each body. Well, maybe. Maybe not. If they’re so damned proficient, why aren’t they using their “proficiencies” to get after some things?

I got to thinking about this a day or two after the Women’s March. The streets were filled - in Washington D.C. and hundreds of other, smaller cities in 64 countries - with what we’re told was more than three-million folks. Mostly Democrats in this country, I’m sure. But there had to be some Independents. And Republicans. And many who’d previously been uninvolved in political affairs but finally figured out using the system is the most effective way to have your say.

To a Democrat in Congress, standing on Capitol Hill and watching the mass of people in the streets, one would think many of them would feel invigorated. And, feeling thus, they’d get a fresh wind and dive back into the fray in Congress with more vigor. Not so.

To be sure, there were a few, mostly Democrat members of Congress in the crowd. But not many. Not nearly enough. A lot of faces that should have been seen were likely watching it on TV or doing something else. Not good.

To put it bluntly, the people in the streets are way, way ahead of members of the party that would certainly be their biggest ally in future political warfare. And, because of the oft-repeated videos showing the marchers, they’re still ahead of most Democrats today.

Yes, I’ve watched some of the Dems hammer Trump Cabinet nominees in committee. Really hammer. Good for them. But, in reality, their televised angst will account for nothing in the long run. Just more political posturing. It’s not hard to predict which will eventually be confirmed and which rejected.

To see Shumer, Warren, Brown, Merkley and others pounding away is food for the soul - if you believe the nominees are as unfit and grossly unqualified as they seem to be. But Democrats won’t prevail if the unfit and grossly unqualified President keeps supporting them. All the televised hammering won’t change that.

I’ve covered larger protests in DC but those were focused on a single issue - Viet Nam. The Women’s March was very different. Several million people in the streets around the world for all sorts of reasons and causes. Enough causes that Democrats could adopt any one of them - or several - ride that horse as their own and have a built-in constituency of - maybe - not just Democrats. The list of reasons that brought millions into the streets last week could make a very good party platform that might finally mean something. And get read.

Start NOW to capture the momentum. Start NOW to identify marchers from your communities and states. Start NOW to get them involved at home. Start NOW to register voters. Start NOW to form volunteer squads for continuous action. Start NOW to build your data bases. Start NOW to contact and coordinate with other states and other movements. Start NOW!

If Donkeys in Congress are waiting to get all exercised on the floor in either house - if they’re figuring to out-debate the upside down numbers they face while looking for victory - if they keep lying back in the bushes waiting to pounce at some future date on some future issue - they’re passing up a rare political advantage. If that happens, all the future action is going to have to come from the streets.

Those marchers in the streets are living proof the people are ahead of the politicians on many, many things. Democrats in Congress should stop watching from the cheap seats and get out there onto the asphalt. That’s where the action is.

Get off your butts!

FL resignation; gold water buy; Sundance doc

Water rights weekly report for January 9. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

Jon Steverson, the top administrator in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in January resigned after legislative complaints about exploding legal bills in the state’s water war with Georgia. He will depart on February 3. Steverson will go to work for the law firm Foley Gardner, which is one of the four private firms the state hired to prosecute its claims in the water case.

Canamex Resources Corp. said on January 24 that the Nevada Division of Water Resources has granted it an extension through 2017 for a subsurface water right for the Bruner Gold Project located in Nye County, Nevada.

The Idaho Department of Water Resources has ordered a reduction on water use by holders of about 70 rights holders in the eastern part of the state. They were not participants in a groundwater mitigation program.

The documentary film “Water & Power: A California Heist” was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in late January.
Director Marina Zenovich visited communities in the San Joaquin Valley where water disparities abounded.

A legislature like the people?

stapiluslogo1

Right now, before the Idaho Legislature gets too deep into working through what will be considered, passed or rejected this session, time seems right for a review of the policy preferences of the people of Idaho.

When we do, we’ll have a benchmark for the end of the session: How closely did the Legislature’s decisions, and the subjects it addressed, match the views of Idahoans?

Strictly, of course, the people of Idaho collectively don’t get to deliver a State of the State address, or something similar. But you can derive a rough equivalent, in priorities and preferences, from the Idaho Public Policy Survey.

This is the annual poll of 1,000 Idaho adults conducted toward the end of each year. (The whole thing can be found at sps.boisestate.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Official-2017-State-Survey-Report.pdf.) Polls aren’t perfect, of course, but Boise State University has deep experience in running these, and the results tend to match from year to year. It seems at least roughly realistic.

The top agenda item for Idahoans, according to the poll, was the same as in Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s State of the State: Public schools.

“For the second consecutive year, Idahoans identify education as the most important issue facing the state, with 26.5% saying that it is the most pressing issue (compared to 28.2% in 2016),” the report said. No great surprise there, though there was also this about a related area often ignored by the legislature: “Another source of educational opportunities – the state’s public libraries – received high marks, however. 82.8% agree that the libraries in their communities create educational opportunities for people of all ages, while 81.7% consider the library in their community a good resource for access to information and other technological resources. These figures are consistent across all groups, with respondents in northern Idaho the most favorably disposed toward public libraries.”

The second biggest concern, well ahead of anything else: “The results ... indicate that the issue area with greatest increase in public concern is health care policy. 70.5% of Idahoans scored health care at least an 8 when asked how important it was, on a scale of 1-10, for the state legislature to address, an 11.2% increase from last year. The number of respondents giving health care a 10 (i,e., the highest level of importance possible) increased by 12.7% from 2016, further underscoring the fact that the public views health care as an area deserving of the state legislature’s attention.”

In recent years, the legislature’s biggest health concern seems to have been an obsession with not doing anything proposed by the federal government. We’ll see if its interest expands at all this session.

Transportation has been a topic of contention in several recent sessions. The public’s take? “Transportation also saw some change as there was a slight increase (+3.7%) in those who felt addressing transportation issues was moderately important (i.e., 4-7) and a significant decrease (-7.9%) in those stating addressing transportation was not very important.”

On another subject of much discussion, the poll asked Idahoans what they thought of resettling refugees in Idaho. The result: “Idahoans are divided in their support of resettling refugees in Idaho; a slim majority (51.1%) favor this program, while a sizeable minority (43.8%) of citizens oppose it. However, although more citizens of Idaho favor this program, those who oppose refugee resettlement appear to feel very strongly about the matter.”

The Legislature won’t necessarily take much action on refugees, but if it does, who will it listen to?

And beyond that, how closely will the Legislature match the views of Idahoans? Watch and see.

Pay the piper

schmidt

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) will propose a $11M expenditure to the legislature this session. The goal is to provide mental health and drug abuse services to recently released convicts who are back in the community. The idea is that such an investment ($1500/year) might keep some offenders from returning to prison ($30,000/year). About a third of Idaho offenders released to the community return to prison within three years.

This seems like a good investment in our community. I have little faith the legislature will see it as such. And here's why. This cost to the Idaho taxpayer would be nothing if the legislature had considered expanding Medicaid eligibility. And such a consideration is toxic for the legislature, even though most Idaho residents consider it reasonable.

The cost benefit analysis of Medicaid eligibility expansion under the Affordable Care Act was looked at carefully four years ago by a work group requested by Governor Otter. The analysis showed that enrolling the uninsured would save Idaho taxpayers but did not include any savings for this group of recently incarcerated. They found such calculations too difficult. But with prompts from the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee and the Judicial Council, the IDHW looked at this as a source of savings to Idaho taxpayers and brings this recommendation. But they also brought PCAP last year (an expensive compromise) when the legislature had refused to consider eligibility expansion.

Both are attempts to get the legislature to solve the problem of access to health care to prevent expensive costs. And I predict the new proposal will die the simple death (as PCAP did) that the legislature wishes would come to all the uninsured, if only such deaths were as cheap as our current ignorance. But the piper will demand payment.

The legislature (and the Freedom Foundation) will see the IDHW proposal as a back door for Medicaid Expansion, which should have been done four years ago and now is dead thanks to Trump and Ryan. Idaho citizens have lost $2B in support thanks to our legislature and lack of leadership on any level. So is the ACA dead? What would be their solution? We have engaged the piper; people expect health insurance. Can Trump and Ryan roll that back? Is that their plan? I haven't caught the tweet.

I am thankful IDHW has made such a proposal. Should the legislature have the courage to burden the taxpayers with such a program, now, at least we can count the dollars we are spending, so we can know how much we could have saved.

This is a tough issue. Providing appropriate care and paying for it are responsible choices we should all be willing to consider. I wish our leaders had the courage.

A jury of one’s peers

carlson

During the confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump’s designee as U.S. Attorney General, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) went after his colleague on his vote not to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

Idaho’s member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Mike Crapo, is a strong proponent of the Act, and was solidly for reauthorization. Issues are rarely black and white choices, though Senator Leahy tried to portray Senator Sessions as indifferent to the plight of abused women.

Sessions strongly denied the charge. In doing so he alluded to an issue that calls for more understanding and awareness, especialy by non-Native Americans who reside on Tribal lands or are married to a Native spouse.

It turns out Senator Leahy had not offered a “clean” reauthorization bill. Instead, the Vermont senator attached a new provision which troubled the Attorney General designee. Sessions had constitutional reservations about a provision that allows a non-Indian charged with abusing a Native American within the boundaries of a reservation to be tried in a Tribal Court.

Sessions believes the Constitution guarantees individuals a trial in front of a jury of one’s peers. A non-Indian standing trial for assault in front of a jury of Natives does not meet that standard.

Senator Crapo, however, accepts the provision because elsewhere the bill makes it clear this provision is restricted just to non-native assaults against natives, primarily spouses. In addition there is language providing for pilot project funding which encourages tribe’s to align their legal codes with state and federal codes and to meet other criteria spelled out in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, in particular the requirement that the jury pool in a tribal court be drawn from all those living on a reservation, not just enrolled tribal members.

Of the 566 federally recognized tribes across this nation only four have met the criteria laid out in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Three of those four reside in the northwest----the Tulalips in western Washington and the Warm Springs Tribe and the Umatilla Tribe in eastern Oregon.

The arbiter of whether tribes have established a truly independent judiciary is the Department of Justice. This is part and parcel of Congress’ ability to exercise its plenary powers, even over treaties with tribes. Understandably, tribes who believe their sovereignty is absolute, chafe at requirements that in effect say “prove your judiciary” is an equal and independent agent in your governmental structure.

Tyrel Stevenson, for nine years a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s legal staff and the newly designated director of government affairs for the Tribe, states flatly that the vast majority of tribal judiciary are “law trained” or “law qualified.” Whether judges in the tribal courts, prosecutors, defense counsel, bailiffs, or court reporters, they all received the proper training and the attorneys all admitted to the applicable bars.

He quickly cites the legal precedents for current law applied to Native Americans in a way one wishes Senator Crapo could have done when queried about his stance.

Stevenson cites the seminal laws and their being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court: the Winter’s Doctrine of 1902; the 1924 legislation finally conferring the right to vote on America’s first citizens; Suquamish vs. Oliphant, the case which clarified a tribe’s right to decide who is a member; the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act which said tribes were not subject to the U.S. Constitution but that individual tribal members are; the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010; and the Violence Against Women Act of 2013.

To date no non-Indian has gone before any Tribal Court in Idaho on a charge of domestic abuse, nor is it likely there will be such a case for some time. Thus, in a sense it is a moot point. Why in response to a series of questions regarding how expanding the jury pool on a reservation met the constitutional test of a trial by a jury of one’s peers, Senator Crapo could not provide a better explanation is a mystery only he can answer.

The time willl come when Senator Crapo will have to clarify his thinking on this issue of a right to a trial in front of one’s peers. He can duck my questions, but down the road he won’t be able to hide.

Alternative facts

mckee

Donald J. Trump is now in his second full day as President of the United States, with his poll number already tanking, with the rest of the free world beginning to make excuses for his flubs and gaffs, with the European and Asian powers looking around for others in the fold to take over the world reins, and with most of us still wondering how the hell did we manage to get ourselves into this mess?

Trump continues to live up to our expectations. We thought his inaugural address would be horrible and it was – a narrow based, dystopian sermon of bumper-sticker extracts from his campaign, painting a bleak, dark picture of America and leaving little room for compromise. We thought that he would continue punching down with pointless twitter attacks against irrelevant criticism and he has – rude, school yard insults at a world renowned actress, at a senior member of Congress and icon of the American Civil Rights movement, and at a major cable news network, among others.

We suspected Trump would not abandon his disagreements with the news media and he did not. He accelerated the rhetoric by repeating the incendiary comments in a speech at the CIA, and later he directed a completely pointless and irrelevant bombast to the members of the White House press corps over the reporting about the size of inaugural crowd. Trump simply made up his own version of the crowd estimates, which his special adviser now represents are the “alternative facts.”

Alternative facts! Trump no longer has to worry about lying in politics for there is no longer any such thing – there are just alternative facts.

We suspected Trump would keep the rest of the world off balance and he has. His off-hand remarks about the future of NATO, the need to expand our nuclear arsenal, and the high cost of the trade deficit with China have managed to unsettle all of Europe, Russia and the Far East, leaving it to China’s Xi Jinping to provide calming and stabilizing remarks on future economic relations with the Pacific Ring, and to Russia’s Vladimir Putin to observe that no one, anywhere, in their right mind, has any interest in following the United States into a nuclear arms race.

We expect it to get much, much worse, and it probably will. Congress is poised to begin acting on Monday to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, despite the groundswell of opposition and to begin confirming the cabinet appointees, despite significant problems revealed during the Senate hearings. Trump plans to start undoing the plethora of executive orders that, in many instances, figuratively keep the trains on time, and the Department of Justice intends to rethink its involvement in pending civil rights litigation. What else could possibly go wrong?

The one bright spot to come out of this whole mess is one we did not expect. We did not expect the huge, domestic firestorm of passionate, motivated, articulate, and thoroughly pissed-off women to charge onto the scene throughout the nation on Saturday. From an amazing start-up loosely knit out of social media interactions, the movement developed into a monumental demonstration throughout the entire United States, and extending around the world. Accurate numbers are not yet available, but early estimates are of huge demonstrations in every major city, and many, many outpourings in smaller locales. The events in Washington D.C., which have been estimated at three times the size of the crowd following the inauguration, underscored the issues of concern to women everywhere.

The demonstrations of the day were heralded as the kickoff for what many hope will be a sustained campaign of protest and involvement to bring home the women’s concerns to the President and Congress. If they succeed, they have the ability, the means, the motivation and the interests to keep enormous pressure on all of government. Moreover, the midterms are only two years off; if any of this is does start to work, look to see many, many new names in the mix as the plots start to thicken.

They do need to get rid of the silly hats.

Stark contrasts

rainey

We’ve started attending a different small church near our little oceanside haven. Absolutely nothing wrong with the previous one. Not a thing. But, now and then, it’s good to see what else is going on in the neighborhood. At times, even spiritually.

It’s a small church - probably just over a hundred folks on the roles. Weekly attendance is about 60-70. Most everything about it is typical of thousands of other churches in thousands of other small towns.

One physical thing that sets it apart from others we’ve attended is a 20 foot high wall of glass on one side, running the length of the sanctuary. As you sit facing the chancel area, you’re mindful of the Pacific Ocean - off to the right - on the other side of those windows. Peaceful most of the time. Storm-tossed at others. Like our lives.

The building is a little more than 60 years old. It’s beginning to show outward signs of prolonged seaside weather on wood and glass. Inside, the feeling is homey. Seating, carpet and fixtures also beginning to show the wear of time and use. Still comfortable, though, and quite conducive to worship.

But, if you had been there last Sunday, you would have seen something quietly moving. Quietly spiritual. A wordless act that could define why churches exist. An act many may have never known.

About 10 minutes into worship, a young man entered the rear of the sanctuary. His clothes were old and dirty - his hair long and badly matted. He probably hadn’t had a bath in some days. He likely was one of the homeless that have taken shelter in our building on recent, below-freezing nights. He wore a bulging backpack filled to more than capacity - probably holding all he had in the world.

Rather than slip into a pew near the rear as other homeless visitors had done, he walked straight-shouldered down the center aisle to wordlessly take a seat on the front row directly in front of the lectern. The distance between him and that lectern was about a dozen feet. He set his pack on the floor.

He didn’t stand when the rest of us were singing several hymns. He only uttered a few words once during the service which was a quick, quiet, seemingly friendly remark to the pastor.

The service continued. The first special moment came when the lay reader stepped down to hand the young man a hymnal and her program for the service. The second was when she stepped down again - before the pastor’s sermon - to take a seat next to the visitor. She stayed by his side for the rest of the service.

After the benediction, came the special moment all churches talk about but some never accomplish. The lay reader kept her seat as other members of the congregation stepped up to join her and engage the homeless young man in conversation. As we were about to greet the pastor at the rear of the sanctuary, I glanced back to see more than half a dozen members gathered around the still-seated visitor. By just their body language, the handshakes and the smiles, you knew the greetings were real and welcoming.

All this happened on a Sunday - a Sunday six days ahead of an inaugural ceremony in Washington D.C.. An inaugural most of us in this country - as you can tell from the popular vote in November - hoped would never happen. A lying, racist, bigoted, homophobic misogynist, surrounded by the most unqualified cabinet in history, would take the required oath of office to be our President. A man who would place his hand on a Bible to swear allegiance to our country and its laws. A man who has exhibited his love of wealth over good works - power over service to others - narcissism and bigotry over duty.

Quite a contrast to hold simultaneously in your mind. A self-loving, ego-filled, materialistic worshiper of wealth with his hand on a Bible, about to put a nation and world to risk. And a man from the streets walking into a small church to acknowledge an unseen god who accepts us because of our good works and not our possessions or station in life.

It was an interesting Sunday in our little seaside church. An opportunity to be part of a faith we profess but seldom see in practice.