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Posts published in March 2018

What the president must do


A gentleman recently asked what kind of action I thought the President should take to punish Vladimir Putin for his hostile acts against the United States. The question was in response to my insistence that our top intelligence officials and Congress speak out and demand presidential action to counter Russian aggression against this country.

In addition to clearly acknowledging Russia’s intervention in the 2016 elections, the President must personally and publicly call out Putin, punish him and his cronies for their aggressive acts, and warn them that severe countermeasures will be taken if it ever happens again. An American President’s forcefully-spoken word carries great weight around the world.

When President Kennedy warned Premier Khrushchev that Soviet nuclear missiles had to be removed from Cuba, or else, the Russians got the message and the missiles were gone. When President Reagan issued his famous demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” the Berlin Wall came down shortly thereafter. Neither of them left it to their underlings to make these important statements. This is an important responsibility of our elected leader.

When this country is attacked, when our election process is subverted, when Russia carries out numerous hostile acts against the interests of the U.S. and our allies, silence and appeasement do not work. Strong words and actions by our Commander in Chief are absolutely essential. This is not a job to be delegated to subordinates. We have not yet had the kind of words directly from our President that are necessary to protect the vital interests of the United States.

The President could take a page from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s playbook. In response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a Putin enemy in her country, PM May promptly and forcefully called out the Russians for their criminal act, expelled 23 Russian officials, and promised other punitive actions. She appears to be a tough, stand-up lady. I hope our President can be at least as tough. And, while he’s at it, he should personally and publicly condemn and punish Russia for deploying a deadly chemical weapon on the soil of Great Britain, our closest ally. The joint statement issued with our allies is nice but does not carry the weight of forceful words from our President’s mouth.

Next, the President could and should impose all of the sanctions Congress authorized by a veto-proof vote last year in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which is now Public Law 115-44. Those include an array of punishing sanctions against Putin and the cronies who have helped him plunder his countries assets. The Administration has just tiptoed into imposing some of those sanctions, but much more needs to be done. Congress also authorized a $250 million fund to counter nefarious Russian activities, but nothing has yet been done with those funds. The Russians must be shown that we will not roll over when they carry out activities that strike at the very heart of our democracy.

The President should also direct his Attorney General, the Treasury Department and the FBI to vigorously investigate and prosecute Russian oligarchs who have clandestinely transferred billions of dollars out of Russia and laundered them through phony deals involving real estate and other assets in the U.S. They and those who have assisted them must be dealt with harshly.

Those are just a few of the things we should do to punish Putin and prevent future aggression. If the President acts publicly and decisively, the message will get through. Vladimir Putin understands strength, but attacks when he senses weakness.



Last weekend I posted on Facebook a link to a Scientific American article on gun ownership. The web headline read, "Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns? Research suggests it's largely because they're anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market and beset by racial fears."

I posted in part to see what reaction it generated, and yes, it generated a reaction. "I think this is mostly hogwash. How did I know that there would be a racial component?" "the vast majority of those stockpiling are doing so not for home defense, not because they fear for their jobs, not because of racism. It is because they trust the government less and less." The tenor from several people seemed to be, that doesn't represent me or the gun owners I know.

And maybe it doesn't, which also doesn't invalidate the point.

Several of the reactions did, however, indicate strong emotions, which tended to support the premises in the article.

One of the most striking elements of the gun debate, on the pro-gun side, is its emotional core. It's not that there aren't intellectually-based arguments on that side of the fence - there are. But the kernel of the matter goes back to the old National Rifle Association line, "I'll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands." There are plenty of other things people want or would defend, but when do you see such ferocity about a car, or even a house? The Second Amendment isn't a reason for the fierce attachment (where's the comparable attachment to the press, which is more specifically referred to in the constitution?) nearly so much as it is rationalization for it. The government distrust argument never, as a rational matter, worked either; tens of millions of people in this country who right now deeply distrust the federal government would not see gun ownership as a solution to the problem.

Something about guns, for some people, strikes home deep, toward the core of a psyche, and the results of an array of studies - the article was about not just one or two, but many - suggest much of the intensity around guns in some quarters has broader causes. It suggests at one point, for example, "For many conservative men, the gun feels like a force for order in a chaotic world" - a way not to become a victim, if only symbolically. It is a way to take charge in a world where so much seems out of control and slipping away.

Does that apply to all gun owners, or even all gun stockpilers? No. Of course not. To suggest that it does (as some of my Facebook readers seemed to) misreads the kind of studies that lead to the article's conclusions. The research points to tendencies in groups of people, to a larger probability that people in the group will have certain characteristics. It doesn't mean everyone in the group will. The principle is the same if a doctor advises that because you're in an older age group, you're more prone to certain cancers - a statistical fact that you're somewhat more at risk. Does that mean you will get cancer? Not necessarily. Far from everyone in the at-risk group does.

And so with high-intensity gun owners: Certain characteristics pop up more in than in the broader population, but that doesn't mean everyone in the group will reflect them.

A certain strong feeling on the subject, though, does seem very widespread. And that suggests that, even if some of the specifics are off, the points made in the Scientific American probably are at least loosely on to something.

Doing DUE diligence


Six months ago, fed up with the worst winter on the Oregon coast that locals could remember, Barb and I packed up the dog and cat and drove 1,310 miles Southeast. To the “great” Southwest.

We’re now in the second fastest growing county in the nation - the Census Bureau estimates about 200 new faces a day - and surrounded by a lot of white hair, expensively tinted hair and the most bald heads we’ve ever seen in one place. The three “cheek-by-jowl” unincorporated "active" retirement communities that make up our new neighborhood total about 92,000 folks - 55 and up.

While you’ll see some criticism here, please remember I’m four score plus two. So, this isn’t being written by a critic from the outside but from my own 82 years. If you haven’t experienced this “active senior living” as it’s called, you might see some surprises here.

When we came down a year ago on a scouting mission, the first thing that caught our eye was $2.28 a gallon gas. A buck or more less than the Coast. We also found real estate taxes on a $200,000 house were about $800 a year. That’s $1,600 less than we’d been paying. A good steak dinner is about $11.00. Shopping within a five mile radius includes hundreds of stores from Neiman-Marcus to Goodwill. Everything you can name! More places to eat out than you could count and a gas station or bank on every corner.

Sounds a bit like senior Nirvana, doesn’t it? Well, while all those good things are quite true, there are other details to consider, too.

For one, our $1,100 a year car insurance went to $1,900. Same car. Same driver. Zip codes are a big factor in setting rates. When you’ve lived here awhile, and driven our roads filled with seniors from everywhere, your sense of self-preservation is heightened and you understand why the increase. Oh, and our car license went from about $200 for two years to $485 for one!

Another local phenomenon is the lowly golf cart. They look the same as those at the country club. But - these have been modified to go between 35-40mph! Gas or electric. With mirrors, seatbelts and appropriate insurance added, they move! And are driven everywhere! Right out in the rest of the traffic. Four lanes or six! Like many others, we use ours as a second car. Easier to park when shopping.

Electricity in our former home was about seven-cents a kilowatt hour. Here, 13-cents and up. Nuclear generation rather than hydro. Water/sewer bills that used to be $60 or so for two months are $60-100 a month now. Also, our state’s water rights in the regional compact are junior to all other states so an extended drought could be a disaster.

Still, just in our little unincorporated “heaven” of about 30,000 oldsters, we have nine - count ‘em - nine 18-hole golf courses to keep up. Two private. Seven public. Using about 2.4 billion gallons of water per year. Residents use about 1.3 billion. So, when water isn’t as available as it is today, (a) already high residential rates will skyrocket and (b) someone is going to have to decide which - and how many - golf courses will be cut to nine holes. Or closed. Them’s fighten’ words hereabouts.

Our current special election to replace our adulterous former Congressman features an adulterous minister - endorsed by the outgoing adulterer, another who’s a twice-convicted felon and James Dobson. The other candidate claims to have loved Trump even before he was elected. Such are our ballot choices. To say we’re a “conservative” state is to confuse “conservative” with outright nuts!

Still, at least for now, we’re not unhappy with our move. Let’s just say we’re here on a “trial basis” and continue to observe life around us. Our “due diligence” continues unabated.

Over the next few months, we’ll describe more of this newfound “active retired” senior living lifestyle and the blessings/curses that go with it. It’s really a little of both. But, you might want to make that “due” in due diligence “DUE” before you take the step.

Idaho Briefing – March 19

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for March 19. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

As the Idaho legislative session moved toward adjournment – possibly this next week, more likely the week following – a series of large rallies and protests hit the Idaho statehouse. They did not, however, appear to much change the course of legislation.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January was 3 percent – the fifth consecutive month at this rate following the benchmarking of 2017 estimates.

Senator Jim Risch on March 16 introduced legislation to make it less burdensome for non-federal entities, like irrigation districts, to obtain the title for Reclamation projects they operate and have repaid. The Reclamation Title Transfer Act of 2018 would simplify the title transfer process by authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to facilitate uncomplicated transfers for qualifying entities.

Mild weather so far means more young deer and elk are surviving this winter, which will likely grow herds and produce more game for big game hunters next fall.

February marks the fourth consecutive month that General Fund receipts have topped their forecasts. They were $166.1 million this month, which exceeded the expected $121.8 million by $44.3 million (36.3%).

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra on March 12 called for a greater investment in the safety of Idaho’s students through a new initiative, announced today, focused on increasing support to Idaho’s schools.

Senators Mike Crapo and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) are leading a group of bipartisan Senators to demand the VA take action to hold Health Net, the contractor that helps run the Choice Program, accountable for its “frustrating and completely avoidable” customer service problems and late payments to community providers.

Close the Gap Idaho joined hundreds of Idahoans rallying at the Statehouse to ask legislators to take action to narrow the health coverage gap. Doctors and medical professionals, faith groups, and Idahoans in the coverage gap, converged on the Statehouse to make their voices heard.

PHOTO In a week that saw several large rallies at the Idaho Statehouse, one of the largest was the high school-based rally calling for restrictions on gun sales and proliferation. (image/IdahoEdNews)

How do you spell ‘denuclearization’, again?


The headline says Trump to meet with Kim Jong-un. “Well now,” you say, “He’s going to do what you wanted all along! Aren’t you happy?” In a word, no, not at all. But I can see there may be some explaining to do.

A persistent theme of these random essays has been that we were going in the wrong direction with Kim Jong-un and the problems in North Korea. That we needed to reverse course on many of our hard-edged policies if we were to pursue a diplomatic solution. So, you think, Trump agrees with this, huh? Not exactly.

Up to know, our great fear has been that Trump’s bumbling about with his tweets and sophomoric threats was going to accidentally propel us into the middle of a thermonuclear war. All of us, except maybe some pack of iconoclastic war hawks, overwhelmingly and universally want Trump to pack his tweets away and STFU. We see a diplomatic solution as the only acceptable resolution.

But there is a protocol to these things that has to be observed. Our policy goes back more than 70 years when we agreed to the division of the Korean peninsula into two countries but then never formally recognized the second government. Our stated policy has been for reunification of the peninsula and elimination of the second government, which has been a consistent thorn in the side of all three Kim’s. For over 60 years, there has been no peace on the peninsula, only a military truce. We have steadfastly resisted any efforts to elevate the generals’ deal into a formal peace treaty that could be ratified between nations, and we have kept a U.S. military force on the 38th parallel – another thorn in Kim’s side. For over 20 years, ever since North Korea pulled out of the international non-proliferation pact, the United States has refused to participate in any bilateral talks on nuclear arms. This has been perceived to be a personal affront to the leadership of the Kim Dynasty. We would only condone multi-lateral talks involving all the stakeholders, and then only upon the precondition that North Korea give up its nuclear arms before commencement of any talks. Wrapping the subject of diplomacy in this much red tape has had the expected result – nothing productive has happened in over 70 years.

The intricate web of international relations with our allies means the ship of state cannot be turned on a dime. It takes a ton of international preparation, not just with North Korea but with all our allies, if we are going to zoom off in a new direction. We are ill prepared to handle this task on any hurry-up basis. We don’t have an ambassador in South Korea, nor an envoy or emissary in North Korea. There is no formal chain of communication between the U.S. and North Korea. The State department senior expert on North Korean affairs just resigned. His department has been decimated, and there is no adequate staff at State or in the Whitehouse to prepare the President for any top-level meeting of leaders. There is no agenda, nor any protocol for the creation of one. The subject is said to be “denuclearization,” but nobody knows exactly what this is, or if there is an agreement between the parties on what the term means. Even for a low-level conference between nations, these haphazard conditions would be a recipe for disappointment; at the highest level, it could be disastrous.

Also, as a matter of fundamental negotiating strategy, one seldom starts out by standing on the objective where one wants to end up. The start should be with some defined and expected matters where there is already a leaning toward general agreement, so the process can work around and up to the problem areas.

Finally, in international deal-making, any meeting of leaders does not occur first, it happens last – after others have worked over the problems and smoothed the way. To start with the leaders, with no preparation and with no effort to get all the preliminary agreements in order, there is a significant risk that if the whole thing doesn’t collapse in heap, it will end up being a hugely lopsided disaster for somebody.

It is into this midst of this hoopla that Trump suddenly stepped in and announced a U-turn on decades of iron-fisted U.S. policy. Without preamble, he has agreed to a direct, one-on-one sit down with Kim Jong-un. Over the uproar from both right and left, he has doubled down, cut the legs out from under everybody who has tried to soften or walk back any of his resolve, and announced that it is going to happen in May.

In international diplomatic time scale, that is the day after tomorrow. The old fool and rocket man. All by themselves. Across a kitchen table somewhere. No script and no menu. And we haven’t even lettered the place cards or thawed out the turkey.

What could possibly go wrong?

Scattered filings


A few observations in parsing the lists of candidates for the May primary election, and beyond . . .

Lots of Republicans, in grand total, running for governor and in the first U.S. House district. Several of them have little realistic chance of winning, of course (welcome back for the nth time, Harley Brown!), but while the nominations in those races are not sewn up, they might have some effect. For example, the governor’s race is likely to be dominated by (and won by) Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, Representative Raul Labrador or businessman Tommy Ahlquist, but there is a possibility that the vote totals for the three of them are not far apart. Four other lesser-known candidates also are slated for the ballot. Here’s the point: If each of them gets, say, one to three percentage points, what effect might that have on the numbers for the top three? Hard to say, making this race all the harder to predict.

Both of those same offices also feature Democratic contested primaries, three contenders for each. These contests are not especially predictable either. In the governor’s race, either A.J. Balukoff - because he was the party’s nominee for the office four years ago - or Paulette Jordan - an incumbent legislator who has picked up a lot of attention in recent weeks - seems likely to win. But that race too does not seem settled yet.

Even lieutenant governor, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction drew Democratic primary contests this time. Party leaders may wish the contenders had been spread out among a few more offices. Still, all these contests taken together, even if none look now to be particularly high profile, may keep a few more Democratic voters home voting in their own elections rather than crossing over to vote on the Republican side.

Democrats weren’t especially heavily represented, however, among the legislative contests. There, the numbers seem not especially different from filings in most recent years, with exceptions in some places.

More action did show up in District 2, one of the most rock-ribbed right-leaning sectors of Idaho, and one of the House seats there actually has a competitive Democratic primary. This is a district Democrats often have let go in recent cycles, so the results will be worth watching, despite the big challenge they face.

Once again, the purplish District 15 in western Ada County, which has voted consistently Republican through the decade but by ever-shrinking margins, will be worth a watch. Once again, Democrat Steve Berch is back to take another crack at a House seat in the area; he has lost a string of elections, but he keeps edging closer.

A surface reading of the filings suggests that not a lot will change in the makeup of the Idaho Legislature next term. There are notable retirements, such as that of the two co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. But the group photo, and overall partisan makeup, of the legislature next time may not be a lot different from what it is today.

Unless it so happens that the voters decide otherwise, which they could do. But bear in mind that 44 of the 105 seats effectively have been conceded to Republicans - those are seats with only Republican or minor-party candidates filing - unless someone runs a write-in campaign at the primary election. (Three seats currently have no Republican candidates.)

In another area, in the “surprising by its quiet” category, there’s just one judicial contest in the whole state this year, and that for filling a judicial vacancy. 5th District Judge Randy Stoker died in January, and four candidates have filed to replace him.

Below the top of the ballot, and whatever the interest level nationally, this may be not by an especially noisy election year in Idaho.

It would be a lie


I understand why some Idahoans who philosophically align with the Democratic Party have changed their registration to vote in the Idaho Republican primary election.

They are convinced that the governor's race will be decided in the primary and, in their utter disgust with Labrador, have decided to opt for Brad Little, who many see as the most moderate of the GOP contenders.

If one scratches beneath the surface, there is not much daylight on the issues among Labrador, Ahlquist and Little. Some, wistfully I think, hope Brad would shift to the center if elected, but his performance in the primary has been telling. He has embraced the hard right to fend off Labrador and Ahlquist and we can expect that, having benefitted from pandering, he would keep it up in the hope that a re-election bid would offer smooth sailing.

But I am not among those who registered as a Republican. If I were to do so, it would be a lie.

I am not ready to throw in the towel and concede that, because Idaho is currently one of the reddest states in the country, it is destined to remain red for all time and eternity. When the great Cecil D. Andrus was first elected governor in 1970, it had been 25 years since a Democrat had won the top job in the Idaho Statehouse. This drought, too, will come to an end, but not if we abandon the course.

I cannot align myself, not for any reason and no matter how fleetingly, with a party that treats people of color as "less than," that worships the golden calf and enables corporate gluttons to defile our environment, that denies equal rights to our LGBT brothers and sisters, that refuses to support equal pay for equal work and affordable health care for all, and to take basic, constitutionally permissible steps to reduce rampant gun violence.

I cannot align myself, not for any reason and no matter how fleetingly, with a party that shelters and protects a venal president who is systematically destroying the democratic norms of our great nation and who has shown every intention of undermining our republic and becoming a dictator.

The GOP is no longer the party of Honest Abe Lincoln, but the party of the liar-in-chief and his enablers.

The Democratic Party - at the state and national levels -- is far from perfect. But I believe that, unlike today's GOP, it strives to remain true to the rule of law and the aspirational goal that all Americans are equal under the law, that it values and adheres to our nation's motto: "E Pluribus Unum" – out of many, one.

And it is in that party's primary I will be voting my hopes, not my fears.

The gentleman


He was a true gentleman - unfailingly polite, always as well spoken as he was soft spoken. Possessed of a subtle sense of humor, a bit shy, but he walked with ease among the rich and famous because he commanded their respect. When he spoke it was always on point; he didn’t waste words. The intelligence and common sense he displayed spoke volumes.

Though he hailed from Olympia on the wet-side of the Cascades, he and his older brother Ward attended Washington State. Though slight of stature he was a four-sport star athlete in high school as well as student body president due primarily to his leadership skills.

He bled Cougar red the rest of his days, which came to an end in late February when he quietly passed away, no doubt glad to rejoin his beloved wife, Retha, his life-long partner in every sense of the word. Not incidentally she was a Vandal.

His name was Jay Rockey; he was 90.

When Seattle’s community and business leadership, led by United Airlines then CEO, Eddie Carlson, decided in 1960 that the city needed to jump-start itself into the 21st Century, they hit upon the idea of creating a World’s Fair. Thus, was born Seattle’s iconic Space Needle with its revolving restaurant, as well as the Monorail and other venues.

They also turned to Jay Rockey to sell the concept to the rest of the nation, to make Seattle a “must visit” and peek into the future. That Jay Rockey succeeded beyond expectations is part of his legend. Twice the folks at Life Magazine put the Fair on its cover. Jay’s skills were critical to the Fair drawing 10 million visitors ensuring success and even a profit.

The day after the fair closed Rockey opened the door of Jay Rockey Public Relations. Retha ran the backshop, the accounting and payroll and they had one employee, Mike Dederer, who early on became a full business partner.

Almost immediately Rockey had a list of clients that read like the top membership of the Seattle Chamber. Indeed, before long George Duff and the Chamber was also a client.

Rockey was sought after not just by blue chip clients but by boards and foundations. During his career he was president of the Rainier Club, vice president of the Chamber, president ot the Public Relations Society of America, on the board of the Museum of Flight, the Ryther Child Center and the Downtown Seattle Association as well as a dozen others.

If Rockey was your friend it was for life. Don Kraft ran an advertising firm and he can testify to Rockey’s loyalty as can Spokane’s Dale Stedman who became a friend at WSU.

It was my privilege to have worked for Jay from 1982 through 1984. Rockey asked me to set up a public affairs division, find a deputy and also take the lead on serving his Alyeska Pipeline Service Company client and the proposed Northern Tier Pipeline. He was pleased when I selected young Mike McGavick from Senator Slade Gorton’s campaign staff to work with me.

Rockey was one of the first to work standing up. He had a high table upon which he had his old typewriter. Sometimes he would send a typed note with instructions, other times invite one into his office, but rather than “order” one to do something he would ask or suggest as a favor to him.

If Rockey had one regret it was that no governor named him to the Washington State Board of Trustees. Rockey studiously avoided partisan politics so he never was a big contributor to campaigns. He gave generously to the WSU Foundation and supported the campus chapter of PRSA named after him. It is WSU’s loss that he never was tapped.

The last time I saw Jay we sat together in Martin Stadium and watched with pleasure a rather average Cougar football team play above its head and upset USC, 34-14. Rockey couldn’t stop smiling.

Rockey can rest in peace, secure in the knowledge he was the best at public relations that ever walked. He was also the personification of a good guy finishing first.

Russian aggression, American response


The President’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said it is “incontrovertible” that the Russians intervened in America’s 2016 elections. The President rebuked McMaster for the statement. Daniel Coats, appointed by the President last year as Director of National Intelligence, joined other top American intelligence officials in warning that the Russians will continue interfering in our elections.

More recently, the head of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, testified that Russia would continue its hostile actions against the United States because it has paid little price for its past aggression. Our top intelligence and security officials say they have received no directives from the President to protect America.

For reasons apparently known only to him, the President has taken no punitive action against Putin’s Russia, nor has he even acknowledged that they committed acts of aggression against the United States. This, even though the U.S. Congress, by an overwhelming vote, passed legislation urging and authorizing the President to punish Putin and his cronies for violating American sovereignty. What gives?

It is possible that the substantial Russian election interference documented in the Mueller indictment changed the outcome of the election, but that is beside the point. No matter what, the election will stand. There is absolutely no reason for the President to continue to deny Russia’s hostile acts against America. And, absolutely no reason to hold off on taking action to counter further Russian cyber aggression.

I grew up in a Republican Party that took the Russian threat to America very seriously. By countering Soviet aggression wherever it rose its ugly head, we were able to prevail against the USSR. Had we meekly rolled over and allowed it to continue its dirty work unchallenged, the outcome would likely have been very different. Back in my Republican days, anyone who denied clear-cut aggressive Russian action against American interests would have been branded an out-and-out traitor.

Now, Putin is trying to reconstitute what President Reagan called the “Evil Empire.” He has developed new cyber weapons to use against us and also renewed the old Soviet nuclear threat against our country. But, our President absolutely refuses to protect this great country from those threats. That is not likely to make America great.

Rather than disputing the indisputable, the U.S. should be vigorously building its cyber defenses and developing a tough offensive capability. We are at a juncture in the electronic era much like we found ourselves in during the infancy of the rocket age. The Soviet Union caught our attention with the launch of its Sputnik satellite, demonstrating it had the lead in a new technology with military applications. We had to up our game in that arena. Now, the Russians have shown their expertise in the offensive use of cyber systems and it is incumbent on this country to take steps to counter that threat, not to deny it.

The time has come for top administration officials to clearly speak out about the danger of failing to counter Russian aggression. The words and deeds of McMaster, Coats, Rogers, and others demonstrate that they understand the seriousness of the new Russian threat and want decisive American action to punish past actions and prevent future aggression. If behind-the-scenes entreaties will not work, those officials must publicly step forward to protect America’s vital interests.

Furthermore, members of both parties need to stand up and demand decisive action to counter Russia’s hostile actions against the United States. Congress must demand that the President carry out the punitive measures it enacted into law last year. It is time for our Congressional delegation to take action to protect the security of our country. It should not be a difficult decision to stand up for America.

Notes . . .


Sometimes it's the audience that prompts some reflection.

That's not a comment on Representative Suzanne Bonamici, from Oregon's first congressional district, and who held one of her twice-yearly (two series of them annually in the district's counties) town hall meetings in McMinnville this evening. Her discussion was a straightforward report, from her eye view, of what's happening in Congress at present. There's a lot of caution, watching and questioning, by her description, which sounds about right.

When an audience member asked whether Congress is as dysfunctional as it seems to be, she gave her most noteworthy answer: No, probably not. Yes, there are a string of problems, which have gotten a lot of attention. But while the bigfoot stories clump around, lots of smaller-scale activity goes on, to little notice, underneath. She cited a string of measures she's working on with Republicans, on subjects ranging from job training to tsunami preparation.

That seemed to be of a piece with the audience.

Sometimes, in these town halls, some people get overheated and start stomping out of their proclamations rather than coolly asking questions. Sometimes someone will start to take over the proceedings by going really long-winded, delivering their own speech rather than a concise question.

Didn't happen tonight. Everyone was courteous and to the point, and emotions were dialed down.

That may or may not be typical, of course. And you can speculate over the various possible reasons for a quieter, calmer town hall. It was a mostly Democratic-friendly audience, by all appearances; was the thinking, in part, that we've now just a few months to go to changing the political world in D.C.? (That change might include a subcommittee chair for Bonamici if the House changes partisan control with the next election.)

Whatever the reason, something feels a little different. - rs