Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

While nearly all of us have said – one time or another – we’re mad about something and want to move to another country, few of us have packed up for the trip. But, last year, not only did a record number of Americans flee the good ol’ U.S. of A., they also renounced their citizenship. Just quit!

The exact number – 2,999 – is 217% more than the year before.

It’s likely some left with hurt political feelings. But the Treasury Department blames three other things: increased awareness of an obligation to file U.S. tax returns by U.S. citizens and U.S. “tax residents” living outside this country; the ever-increasing burden of complying with our tax laws and fear generated by the potentially bankrupting penalties for failure to file tax returns when an individual holds substantial non-U.S. assets.

In other words – they reason – file or flee.

This country is one a very few requiring its citizens permanently living abroad to continue filing returns and paying taxes in the nation of citizenship. And the policy is very actively pursued. In 2009, UBS Bank of Switzerland was fined $700 million for providing services to more than 4,000 U.S. account holders on the tax evasion list. Department of Justice and other fed agencies regularly publicize names of banks and other sources who aid in hiding wealth of Americans as well as the names of the “hiders.”

Filing forms are quite complicated and there are lots of ‘em. Next year, the recently enacted Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act will require foreign financial institutions to report accounts and other holdings of American citizens to the I.R.S. Every year.

So, a lot of folks with a lot of assets decided to pack up and leave. For good. And a lot of ‘em paid a large “exit tax” on their way out the door.

Now I’m a long, long way from being a financial “heavy hitter” and certainly don’t have the counsel of high-priced folks to advise how to handle weighty money matters. But, it seems to me, there must be some other way of resolving international tax matters with Uncle Sam besides telling him to “go to Hell” and skipping the country of your birth. I mean, if Mitt Romney can still live in four states with all the foreign deposits we know he has, there must be ways of dealing with our tax laws besides quitting.

And it’s not just the wealthy all upset about things these days. The W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University did some extensive research which showed a lot of us are damned mad and damned angry about certain things. Their “customer rage” investigation found 68% of American households mad about the way they’re being treated in the marketplace. It found instances of yelling and cursing customer “service” representatives at an all-time high. Yelling alone up 36%! Swearing, too.

Among those actually complaining about something, 56% felt they got absolutely no help. And what category of service enraged customers the most, you ask? Cable and satellite TV providers. Unhappy folks doing the calling said it wasn’t government issues that got them all upset. It was problems stemming from private companies.

Now, I’ve got to admit, if I got really, REALLY mad about something, I wouldn’t leave the country over it. Of course, if I had Romney’s money, I wouldn’t be doing the calling, either. So, maybe money DOES buy happiness.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

At the end of 2013, United Van Lines checked moving tickets for the year and found the greatest percentage of people for whom the company hauled household goods went to one state. Oregon.

More than 61% of all interstate moves made in Oregon last year were for people coming from some other place. Lest you think this is some small sampling, the company tracked 129,000 trips in the country for the period. And Oregon topped the pack. Washington D.C. had led the list for the previous five years but – in 2013 – dropped to fourth,

Why Oregon? Why do so many folks want to come here? What is it about the place? What makes our real estate so desirable? Oh, lots of answers could be the Pacific Ocean, the Cascades, Mt. Hood, a good and varied climate, better environment, outdoor activities, cleaner water, better air quality and on and on,. You hear all those a lot.

My take is – as usual – different. I think people come here because we’ve “got our s*%t together.”

“Oh, Momma, look what he said!”

Well, it’s true. We do have it together. Especially politically. Compared to a couple dozen other states, we’re downright – rational. Oh, we’ve got some dim bulbs and political zeroes. One of them is actually the chairman of the Oregon Republican Party. But we’ve got him right out there on a stick where he can be seen so we know what foil-hat-idiocy he’s up to. That’s different. In North and South Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas – especially Texas – residents have allowed them to go underground – into the legislatures and governor’s bedrooms. Real folks lost control.

But here – in Oregon – we’ve kept the system pretty balanced and most of the loonies penned up. When you think back a couple of years, we ran an evenly divided House of Representatives with dual Speakers from different parties and duplicate committee chairs and, all in all, it went very, very well. How many other states could do that today? The two major parties get along most of the time around here. That sort of sends messages to folks in other states that we’ve “got our s*%t together.”

“Good Lord, Momma. He said it again.”

And it’s still true. Nobody here is trying to stop “undesirables” from voting. Nobody here is living under legislated “uterus attacks.” The governor is not talking secession. We’re not drug-checking people who just happen to be unemployed at the moment for whatever reason. We’re not even making food stamp recipients take a leak in a bottle!

Idaho, for example, used to have a slogan: “Idaho is what American was” which they really can’t say anymore ‘cause the nation’s reddest state is falling further behind with an increasingly flat earth contingent that has pretty well contaminated government. Idahoans have lost control. Oregon’s Republicans and Democrats still “Howdy” each other and the state is better for that. “Oregon is still what it was,” I guess.

We, in Oregon, even vote differently than voters in most other states. By mail. And it works! The only fraud we’ve had in recent years was a couple of over-zealous office volunteers messing up a few ballots. We caught ‘em. I think they were escorted to the border. Idaho, maybe.

We’ve got a lot of clean industry percolating along in a relatively stable economy that’s the envy of lots of other states. Our tax base is stable. We’re welcoming to the retired who like our more moderate ways. We’ve got an education system that – for the most part – is the envy of others. We’re not on top but we’re a long way from the bottom. Just goin’ along.

With the possible exception of three or four Southwest Oregon counties, we value diversity. Not just because it makes things more colorful. But because it adds value to our economy. It’s good for business – our neighborhoods – our relationships with each other – and it works wonders when raising our kids.

I’m not surprised at the United Van Lines numbers. But I don’t think our attractiveness to outsiders is all the doing of the media advertising programs out of Salem. No, I think a lot of people want to come here because they don’t hear the name “Oregon” bandied about in negative media messages. Stories about racial profiling or purging unwanted minorities from voter registrations or a legislature hellbent on criminalizing lifestyles and personal choices. We aren’t known for sending little people to Congress wearing tin beanies who put chewing gum in the wheels of democracy. We have a relatively quiet and productive political system that usually functions as it should. We sort of hold to the moderate path in all things.

For folks from Oregon reading this in other places, I’d bet you miss the place and harbor some thoughts about eventually “coming home.” For others who aren’t firsthand familiar with the place, you’ll likely come on out for a visit one of these days. And when you do, there’s good chance you’ll like what you see. You might even call United Van Lines and make it permanent. ‘Cause we’ve got out s*%t together.”

“MOM!!!”

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Oregon Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

“No one should watch sausage or laws being made.”
That old joke has been around for many, many years. It was probably funny when first used. But time and wide-spread law making incompetence have proven at least the second part of the phrase too often very unfunny. The latest example of that has cropped up in the Idaho Legislature.

Idaho is often called the nation’s “most red state.” It’s probably not. I’d call it a “mooshy crimson.” But the current, right wing edition of the Republican Party has been in nearly complete control for a long, LONG time and shows no signs of fading. Want to get your collie into Idaho politics? Call it a Republican and it’ll get elected to something.

Comes now proof that not all the players in the political game of Idaho legislative politics have 52 cards in their personal decks. This week’s award to someone a few cards short – who’s managed to wrap homophobia, paranoia and irrational thought into legislative sausage – is one Rep. Lynn Luker. Republican? Certainly. By today’s standard. Responsible and wise? Not by any measurement known to rational people.

In what he calls a “pre-emptive strike” for God-knows-what, Mr. Luker has scraped two bills off the sludge at the bottom of the legislative barrel – HB426-HB427 – deciding citizens of Idaho should stand squarely behind new laws codifying homophobia and discrimination. Absolutely. Put ‘em on the books.

One would keep the state from revoking any professional license if the licensee withholds services – or refuses services – on the basis of a “personally held religious belief.” So, if a cab driver cited “personal religious belief” for not transporting a gay couple in sub-freezing temperatures, said driver could just say “My religion keeps me from taking these people in out of the cold.” And that would be that. They might freeze to death by the side of the road, but the cabbie would – in his head – be square with God. And – in Mr. Lukerls world – the State of Idaho.

Luker’s other badly tarnished gem of ridiculousness is in a similar vein. It would amend the Idaho Religious Freedom Act to allow an employer to fire someone for being gay, then hide behind a claim of “religious belief.” “I can’t abide those people,” he/she could say. And that would be that.

Luker – who somehow has his own license as a lawyer – says he’s worried about the future and wants his legislation adopted now because “this is pre-emptive – the issue is coming.” He cited a Gresham, Oregon, baker sued because he wouldn’t bake a wedding care for a gay couple. And the New Mexico photographer who wouldn’t take pictures of a gay wedding, arguing “free speech” and some sort and “artistic freedom” – whatever that is in this instance.

Rep. Luker’s backup in this trashy effort is something called “Cornerstone Family Council Advocacy Group.” A spokesman for the “council” claims governments are increasingly passing or interpreting laws to “keep people from living their faith” – a double standard against people of “traditional religious faiths.”

Luker claims he wants to be fair. So he’s not trying to keep people from being fired if he/she deserves it. He just wants to make sure the bigot – er, employer – doing the firing doesn’t lose his/her professional license for doing so. Well, sure. That seems only “fair.”

If this trash became law, it would have quite an effect on a lot of Idahoans. The Bureau of Occupational Licences involves 29 occupations. We’re talking doctors, nurses, police, fire, teachers, real estate salespeople and on and on. A whole lot of folks.

Lots of really creepy things could happen. Suppose a friendly Realtor refused to show a lesbian a certain house because friendly Realtor doesn’t want that gay client moving into his/her neighborhood. Suppose a Muslim pharmacist wouldn’t fill a prescription for a Christian dying of cancer. Or, the barber that told a Hindu he’d have to go someplace else for his haircut or, a school principal fired a gay teacher for no other reason than some “religious belief.” Or, a Catholic landlord wouldn’t rent to Methodists. Or, a Pentecostal fishing guide wouldn’t guide for Mormons.

Oh, the worms would just keep falling out of the can on this. Big time!

My history of being around the Idaho Legislature goes back nearly 50 years. I remember a lot of very fine Republican men and women who gave honored service to the State. Democrats, too, when they were allowed to participate. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the people in all those years who might buy into this piece of garbage.

But that long experience tells me the current crop – when asked to do so – could easily exceed both fingers and toes. Whether there’s enough of them who’d get behind Luker is difficult to say. One would hope not. But to say it’s not certain, also makes quite a statement of how far the Idaho Legislature has fallen from assured responsibility of the past. Various editions have done some very un-responsible things in recent times.

As someone who’s seen both sausage and bad legislation made over the years, I’d vote to grind up Mr. Luker’s “handiwork” and drop it in the nearest landfill.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Secrecy has its place. Often – as in the case of national defense – secrecy can save a nation. But in matters of our political affairs, secrecy can destroy our liberties and guaranteed freedoms like a cancer. Such a political disease now exists in our country. If not stopped, we’re soon going to be living in a very different nation.

An important request here. Put aside your personal political leanings for a few minutes and look at what’s happening in several states with as unbiased an eye as possible. Though only one political party is currently conducting this onslaught, it could easily be the reverse with a different outcome at the polls in recent elections. The issue of the moment is the dangerous, freedom-killing tactic – not the perpetrator.

In recent months, legislatures in half a dozen states passed major bills affecting millions of lives. They did so without public notice -without public hearings – in more than one instance without even participation of the other political party. Those bills were promptly signed into law by the respective governors – some such executions without advance notice of any kind.

Now, if you’ve been unable to put aside your political makeup – and if you’re a member of the state majority party that has used these treacherous tactics to put laws on the books you agree with – you may just say “Good for our side.” But suppose you were opposed to what happened and you’re now saddled with these new laws. Still feel good? Still happy? Suppose the roles were reversed.

In each instance, the major topics being legislated have been cutting voting access for minorities and direct threats to women’s health care – specifically availability of abortion services. But that’s just today. And maybe you agree with the outcome. But what about tomorrow? What about the next topic? Substitute such things as new taxes, gun controls, discriminating against YOUR ethnic heritage or race, blocking YOUR ability to vote, creating challenges to YOUR private use – or even ownership – of real property. And dozens of other issues. What if new laws YOU vehemently oppose directly affecting YOUR life were being conceived, passed and executed without your participation or even knowledge? What then?

The four states indulging in most of this dictatorial use of political majority at the moment are Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas. They’re doing what can best be described as “government by fiat.” The laws are conceived, passed and executed, then those subject to them are told.

Other states are watching this process. States with similar lopsided political majorities and a willing governor of the same party. If these laws – conceived and executed in the dark – pass expected future constitutional challenges, our nation’s formerly open process of legislating could be drastically changed. One state at a time.

The people committing this attack on our freedoms are freezing out the opposition. And proper debate. They’re doing it in the wrong-headed belief they were elected to do just what they’re doing – that “right” is on their side. I remember an old political pro telling me once “When you’re on the outside, they do it to you and when you’re on the inside, you do it to them.” That was bad philosophy 40 years ago and it’s wrong-headed today.
While winning an election certainly carries with it advantage and even privilege – as it should – that doesn’t authorize attacks on the freedoms we are each specifically granted. The irony here is these actions – all of them – are being done by people who swear by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights while they trample guarantees contained in those documents.

At the moment, women’s health care may not be important to you. You may even agree with the actions taken. And this warning of a dangerous plague growing in our two-party political system may be just a bunch of words. Seeing dangers where no dangers exist.

But – what if this political perversion of government checks-and-balances continues because no one tries to stop it? What if future laws come only from a handful of people doing their work in secret? What if the issues on the table suddenly become yours? Who will speak for you?

“Government by fiat” is currently a fact in at least five states and at the hands of one political party. But it’s more than a political issue. It’s a challenge to the rights of everyone in this country. The citizenship of all is as stake.

It’s happening. Now. So what are YOU going to do about it?

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A statistic hit the media during the last few days – a statistic so startling and unbelievable that I read right past it before doing the classic “double take” and reading it again. And again. And again and again!

Here it is. Just 85 individuals hold HALF THE WEALTH of the entire world! Those 85 versus the rest of us! Those 85 versus more than 300 billion of us! Just let your head play with that immense statistic. Take a couple of minutes. I’ll wait.

Let’s just deal with our own little country of the U.S. of A. Of course, you know the wealthy are much wealthier than the rest of us. But did you ever think they’d be 288 times wealthier? That much? Yep. That much. So says the Economic Policy Institute in its newest survey of how rich we are – or how much poorer we are.

In 1962, the top 1% – you remember them – well, back then they had 125 times the worth of America’s median household. Jump forward to 2010 and it increased to that 288!

Two reasons, actually. The rich really did get richer. And the middle class really did get poorer. While the 1% saw its average wealth grow from $9.6 million in 1983 to $16.4 million in 2010, we in the middle class saw our household net worth drop from $73,000 to $57,000 during the same period.

And here’s something more depressing to think about – while you’re still thinking about that previously depressing statistic. If middle class income had grown at the same rate as the top 1% during that 27 year period, yours and mine would have gone from that $73,000 to – wait for it – $119,000!

All of this is based on a lengthy statistical examination by EPI of income, jobs, mobility, poverty, wealth and a few other factors.

While that wealth gap has been widening for a decade or more, it was the “Great Recession” starting about 2008 that really changed the picture. From that point to 2010, median income of the wealthiest households declined about 15.6%. But, for all the rest of us in the supposed “middle income” grouping, we lost 47.1% during that same time.

I hate talking about statistics. But I gotta throw in a couple more. At the end of that same period – 2008 to 2010 – the typical black household ended up with a median net worth of $4,900! And the median net worth of Latino families plummeted 86.3% to about $1,300. $1,300!!!

Biggest reason those two groups fell so far off the economic cliff is because of the much smaller net worth before the bottom dropped out, so the percentages were more adversely affected. That – and the fact that their home ownership rates grew faster during the housing boom but fell further when things collapsed.

So, will all this affect future elections? You damn betcha. I’ll leave all the really tough brain twisting to more scholarly types. And, believe me, you’re going to hear a great deal from them about how this huge disparity still affects all our lives in many, many ways. But here are a couple of thoughts – off the top of my gray head – based on some lengthy experience.

With neither political party conducting the policy and vision discussions they should have in recent months, the most-heard stories of past campaigns were about money. Not who had it – or didn’t – but about who was spending it, how much and for what. Billionaires. PACS and SuperPACS. Unions. Republican and Democrat campaign committees. Congressional PACS. Candidate campaigns. A hundred million or two for this state. A few million more over there. Dollars were constantly being tossed around in amounts most of us couldn’t fathom. More than an “embarrassment of riches” it was a “prostitution of riches” when compared to the current economic lives – and economic experiences – of the rest of us.

When the value of your home is gone – or underwater – it’s hard to get worked up over some stranger’s political future. When your job is gone, feeding, clothing and housing a family block out nearly all the extraneous noise emanating from campaigns. In fact, a few recent conversations I’ve had reveal most of us folks in the middle – or at the bottom – had damned little time to listen to – or much inclination to get all involved with – anyone’s candidacy. Too busy and/or couldn’t relate.

In times like that, billionaires and millionaires – whether trying to win an election or buy one – don’t get our full civic attention. Nor – under normal priorities – should they. So, without new, updated and personally meaningful information about policies and visions from major candidates, our national voting patterns typically revert to what they’ve been before. Even though Democrats ran far more programs to reach out to minority groups, they couldn’t possibly have reached all the millions of ‘em who marked that side of the ballot.

So, black and Latino communities defaulted to the Democrat Party as they have historically. With talk of “self deportation” and “I won’t support the Dream Act” and “Arizona’s tough deportation law should be the pattern for the nation” and “Medicare and Medicaid spending must be reduced” – well – in the absence of more positive and welcoming news from a candidate or a campaign, it’s not hard to support the “home team.”

Over the last 40-50 years, Republicans have not been good at spending money on the poor. That’s just fact. Now, we have a GOP crowd in Congress carrying out that tradition by vowing more tax relief for the folks that are 288 times richer than most of us. They would do so by cutting programs like Medicare and Medicaid a lot of folks who voted Democrat are concerned about. The ones with the $1,300 and $4,900 household median net worth.

Will the Republican Party become more appealing to the large blocks of voters who sank so many of their candidates last time around when we get to 2014? And 2016? Or even 2020? Not likely at this point.

When someone piles all the data on my kitchen table that says the top 1% is 288 times wealthier than the rest of us, the depth of my feeling is not with them but with the family at the $4,900 and the $1,300 net worth levels.

And I’m not alone.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Someone – we don’t know who just yet – but someone has pulled back the curtain on that pudgy little fella working the controls in New Jersey politics. And what we see back there is he’s just a real – and flawed – little guy like the rest of us. He’s really not “larger-than-life.” He’s really not a “different kind of politician.” And he won’t be on the presidential ballot in 2016. He’s lied. Several times. And it’s been proven.

Though a follower of things political, I’ve tried to avoid getting into this Christie mess. In the first week or two of disclosures of the abuses in the George Washington Bridge story, the whole thing seemed like a tempest in a Jersey teapot. Disgraceful actions by an overzealous staff run amok. Just the usual B.S. But Christie himself, a New York media blitz, the purely amateurish and irrational actions of some of his Republican political travelers and pictures – those damning pictures – have made it impossible to “walk on by.”

When this whole thing blew up a couple of weeks ago, I said to myself “Self,” I said. “This guy’s a pro. He’s tough. He’s a straight shooter. He’ll ream out his staff, throw out the garbage and put the whole thing to rest. Nothing to see here. Go on to something else.”

But Christie has become his own worst problem. At first, he hunkered down. Silence. Then he decided spending two hours on his feet with New York and national media would put the whole thing to rest. It didn’t. For two reasons.

First, answering questions from 60-70 reporters while staying “on message” for that time is impossible. You’re going to get the same questions 12 different ways. And, if you stray from the absolute truth just once, you’re going to screw up and contradict something before it’s over. Christie thought he could beat that. He didn’t. He screwed up several times.

Second, his lengthy appearance “on camera” was probably the longest continuous stretch he’s stood before the national public to be looked over. What he showed was not the image of a controlled, even-tempered, intelligent and wise decision-maker in command of his duties. Presidential material, as it were. He was alternately churlish, apologetic, humble, over-bearing, articulate, inarticulate, knowing, unknowing, aware of detail, unaware of detail and obviously reaching to find new answers to questions already answered. He lost me when he tried to make himself a victim going through the “cycles of grief.”

Compounding his problems has been his Republican “friends.” Rather than trying to find something honest and positive to drum up public support for Christie in his time of trial, Giulani, Santorum, Huckabee and the Republican scribes at Fox dragged out Benghazi and the IRS – trying to use the oft-disproved lies of the loony right to divert attention to the White House. And those guys want us to put them back in public office? Really?

On his own, Christie has shown himself to be a chief executive either out-of-touch with his own top-level staff or he’s created a staff that freelances with the governor’s name and image – and he allows it. He’s either ceded control of affairs of the State of New Jersey to others while pursuing his national political ambitions or he’s too isolated to know what’s going on in the office next door. Either he’s the jovial, wise politician he tries to depict or he’s the bully using the powers of his office to punish those who don’t follow his line.

Those two hours in front of the cameras could well have been the single, most self-destructive turning point in Christie’s political fortunes as he tried to win back an increasingly suspicious media. Or, maybe there’ll be many smaller turning points – the ones accumulated over the years in which it seems he or his renegade staff punished perceived New Jersey political non-adherents to the Christie management style.

It’s not possible to believe Chris Christie didn’t know – long ago – of the bridge debacle and the resulting multi-government and citizen reaction to it. There’s proof of that already. It’s not believable that his staff kept an ambitious politician so successfully sequestered from events that so impacted the very voters he needs as his political base for further national successes. We’ve got proof of that, too.

Chris Christie today may be the same guy he was 30 days ago to New Jersey supporters. But he’s not the same guy he was 30 days ago to a national audience that had little knowledge of his more earthy persona. And of his hardball political proclivities.

The only guy I know who could stand in the breech and take on a hundred swordsmen successfully was Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Chris Christie is no Doug Fairbanks!

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

In terms of useful work accomplished, the recently ended session of Congress was bad – worst ever. The new session that began last week will strive for – and likely surpass – that historic low. The square earth cancer existing in the House for several years has spread to the Senate, guaranteeing already single-digit voter approval ratings will slip even more.

Grim forecast? Yes. Without basis? No. Indicators are all over the place. But here are three that resonate with me.

First – the longer-than-usual list of members quitting. But not just that. What makes these departures more problematic is the political leaning represented by many in the exiting group. Moderates. Many from the middle who’ve historically cooperated with that “other” party. Some who’ve had to beat off primary challenges from the tinfoil hat crowd in the past because of their willingness to “get-the-job-done” using the politics of compromise. Punishment for statesmanship. Attacked by the ignorant for doing the job they were elected to do. At some point, a guy gets fed up being clobbered for doing the right thing.. At some point, he quits. We’re seeing it this time in spades!

Additionally, even some of those who’ve carried water for the far right have somehow slipped into disfavor – encouraged the wrath of the foil folk – finding themselves “primaried.” You won’t find that word in Webster’s or SpellCheck. It means the nuts have put up someone further right-of-center than you and you’re going to have to spend big bucks to win your own primary – then more big bucks to battle the other party in a second election.

Rep Mike Simpson (R-ID) comes to mind as a prime example. Sen. Minority Leader McConnell, (R-KY), too. Though hewing to the square earth Republican line – even when that line was a guaranteed loser – both men are raising money to battle their own party folk. Then still more bucks if a Democrat shows up for the November general election. Gotta have “purity,” dontcha know.

The exit of moderates – especially GOP moderates – assures the mess we’ve endured in recent years will get even messier. A victory here and there for newly minted extremists will simply further foul a bad situation.

Second – both political parties are shrinking in membership. Large numbers of people who previously considered themselves Democrats or Republicans are abandoning whatever’s left of those organizations and moving to the Independent banner. But that’s a very, very sharp two-edged sword.

While one might feel personally and philosophically rewarded by being politically free to pick and choose, the problem is there is no viable “Independent Party” with any clout. Many states don’t allow candidates who aren’t Democrat or Republican on the ballot. So what you get in many cases is the recognized two parties put unacceptable candidates on the ballots for the disenfranchised “Independents” to chose between.

Unless – and until – enough people can create a real Independent Party made up of truly fed-up former Democrats and Republicans, there’ll be no real change. The third party folk will simply have abandoned the recognized and lawful system and have no clout to change anything. The choice really amounts to being disenfranchised or going back to the political party you’re trying to escape from while trying to change it.

Third – there are 534 members in the current Congress. Right? How many would you guess are millionaires? MORE THAN HALF! Yep. At least 268 had a documented 2012 net worth of a million. Or more!

Used to be easy to look it up. But the Center for Responsive Politics that researched those figures says Congress quietly changed the rules recently so you can’t tell how much over a million they might really be worth. Chief Obama hater Rep. Issa (R-CA) is generally judged to be the most well-heeled at about a billion. Even Idaho’s little Sen. Risch is up in the multi-million range.

So, next time you consider the Republican cut to food stamps of $40 billion, ask yourself this:”With more than half the people voting who should eat – how much and when – being millionaires, what do they really know of hunger? How in touch with people trying to keep their families fed are these guys?

Or, that old Republican bugaboo – unemployment benefits. What do Issa and Risch and the 266 other millionaires really know of being unemployed while trying to keep a family together? What do they know of the absolute need of $200 or $300 a week to survive? When more than half the folks writing our laws and determining benefits have checkbooks with seven or eight or nine figures in them, how concerned are they about the necessities you have to deal with on a daily basis?

Is the new Congress going to be worse than the last? Will there be more partisanship and stalemate? Will the foil hat crowd continue to sabotage democracy? Will the more than half the Congress worth over a million apiece remain out-of-touch with today’s reality at your house?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

Happy New Year anyway.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Dealing with my feelings about the Edward Snowden story creates some of the same thoughts I have about pornography. As an issue, I’m opposed to porn. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take a quick look if it pops up unexpectedly on a web site I’ve happened across.

What Snowden did – stealing and distributing U.S. government secrets – is abhorrent – a clear violation of oaths he took when granted a security clearance to work with classified documents. He’s no hero. He’s a criminal and should be punished as such. He betrayed the trust granted by his civilian employer – and the entire nation by implication – and he may be a source of lasting damage to our national security. So far, that’s doubtful but not all the information he purloined has been published.

With that said – like porn – we’ll all take a look at what stolen details come out of the electronic stash of documents. And they’re coming. Some boring – some interesting – some downright scary and unsettling. It’s certain there will be more revelations, like the ever-present surveillance of the National Security Agency in all our lives. It’s likely to be an even bumpier ride.

Like it or not, what we’re learning about “big brother” and the gaze on us all by the “eye that never sleeps,” is alarming – yet fascinating – stuff. Kind of like that brief, occasional glimpse of porn. Those doing the surveillance are pissed because we now know. But – as the surveilled – we need to know. We have a constitutionally guaranteed right to know.

I hear many people say, “Well, so what? I’m not doing anything wrong. Go ahead and look. They won’t find anything.” Two things scare me about people who say that. First, they’re probably licensed to drive on the same highways I use. Second, the issue is not what we’re doing but rather why should our government be watching us?

This is not a political issue for which this administration or the previous one – or the one previous to that – can be solely criticized. If it’s true the neo-cons of the first Bush years started this, it’s equally true all subsequent administrations have approved it.

In the days after 9/11, there may have been sufficient reasons for ramping up surveillance of electronic traffic. Or, it may have been an overreaction to fears raised by that terrible attack. Makes no difference now. What does make a difference is we’ve had a dozen years to see if such government snooping on its citizens is warranted or is simply being continued because it “may” be effective to identify terrorists. Operative word there is “may.”

There’s been plenty of time to assess the value of such surveillance. The question is, has anyone done such an assessment? If so, what were the results? If not, why the Hell not? One agency says, “Well, we don’t look at these messages from those sources” and another says “We only look at these people.” Is there any coordination here? Who’s in and who’s out? We need to know.

As happens so often when we or a corporation or a government try to operate secretly, the word will get out eventually. The cat’s out of the bag now on this national “secret.” We know – in at least some vague ways – our privacy is being violated by a government trying to do due diligence in matters of national security. But we don’t know exactly by whom, how or what the results are. The fact that no one has flown another airplane into another building is not the answer we deserve. That’s simply a political brush off.

The question of whether Edward Snowden and Bradley – oops – Chelsea Manning were motivated to betray the national trust placed in them is for another time and other discussions. Assuring necessary security in the field of classified national information in the hands of millions of people needs to be addressed now. And safeguards – such as there may be – instituted immediately.

This administration – and whatever intelligent members of Congress we have left – need to make a “full court press” inside government and out. Why do we have these programs? What kinds and how many? Run by whom? Effectiveness? Are there adequate safeguards? Are there other, less invasive ways to get the same results? How are we screening those who are allowed access? And we – you and I – need to be told PDQ the answers to those and other pertinent questions.

Now that the “surveillance cow is out of the national security barn,” we need to know how it got out and what went with it. Even NSA doesn’t seem to know what Snowden took, how he took it or where it is. Those are the folks we’re supposed to rely on when we put our heads on the pillow each night.

Can’t speak for you but I’ve been sleeping with one eye open lately.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

“The Sheriff’s Office regretfully advises that, if you know you are in a potentially volatile situation – for example, you are a protected person in a restraining order you believe the respondent may violate – you may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.”

Put another way, if someone is about to harm you – or even kill you – move!

Where you live, that statement may not sound very significant. But – in Grants Pass or Merlin or Cave Junction, Oregon – that message appeared on the official website of Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. If you’re a woman with three small children – it’s 3 a.m. – your drunken ex is hammering on the door with the butt of his shotgun while shouting he’s “gonna kill you” – the significance is impossible to overstate.

The New York Times recently did a piece on the Josephine mess with the rhetorical question “The first clue to how dangerous it is to live on Oregon’s Josephine County? When no one answers the phone at the sheriff’s office.”

Yet this is life today in Josephine County. And it may soon be how things are in Curry and possibly Jackson Counties. It’s one thing when counties have to cut some clerks or some road workers or a planner or two. But it’s entirely another – a very life-threatening “another” – when jails are closed, violators are arrested and immediately released, prosecutor’s office staffs are cut in half or more, citizens arm themselves and start armed patrols.

It’s reliably estimated there are more than 100 such armed “peace keeper” amateurs out there. Just people like you and me with no official authority and certainly no official backing. Except they believe they’re “deputies” of a sort who are driving up and down the roads looking out for violators. With no training. No government support. No orders. No official oversight. And not a shred of legal protection if they shoot someone. Much less kill someone. Would you stop for some guy flashing his headlights in an unmarked pickup 10 miles from nowhere at midnight? What would he do if you didn’t? If you keep on driving, what’s he going to do?

In Josephine County, the armed imposters call themselves “North Valley Community Watch.” Leaders make the totally unsupported claim they can act as “a deterrent to crime.” Oh ya? When you had a full complement of lawmen – city and county – local people were still robbing banks, beating their spouses, driving drunk and killing their neighbors. So how are 100 or more guys without any law enforcement training or authority going to be a “deterrent” to the drunken wife-beater down the street?

The civil liability issue here is huge. Which is why Sheriff John Bishop in neighboring Curry County – in just as bad financial times – has put the kabosh on similar armed citizen wannabes. So far. He wonders aloud how civilians – lacking the trained split-second decision making skill of a real deputy – can do the right thing at the right second. What if the phony cop shoots an innocent person? Or even a guilty one? Who sues who?

Fact is, Curry County is in a bit worse shape top to bottom than Josephine or Jackson. The most recent two bond issues to raise money to take care of the worst situations were soundly killed. One by a margin of six out of 10 shouting “NO!” County and city officers are quitting. Recruiting good replacements is impossible. Though the state constitution requires an operating jail, even that is on the block. Along with emergency communications.

These three counties are in this mess largely because of poor political decisions by several past county commissions. More than a dozen counties have been receiving large annual payments of federal bucks tied to logging and/or payment-in-lieu of taxes for hundreds of thousands of acres of federal timber land. It’s been going on for years. Until recently. But the well is dry. For years, many past commissioners simply spent the federal “gravy” as it came in rather than raise taxes to keep up with changing times. A few other, smarter local commissioners put some of the largesse into “rainy day” savings accounts and are now budgeting with those dollars to offset the loss. But even that is coming to an end.

Oregon’s congressional delegation has been pushing legislative bills up the hill like so many peanuts. But – given the do-less-than-nothing nature of the situation along the Potomac – no substantial relief has been forthcoming. Oh, a bill passes here but dies over there. Or, one gets to committee and disappears into the swamp water. The fact is the federal spigot has not been turned on again. And the coffers of many Oregon countries are empty. As in Josephine. Or, damned near it as in Curry.

When your innocent life may be in danger and the best advice you can get from local law enforcement is to move out of town, the wise will take heed, rent a truck and go.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Christmas presents a number of challenges for me. The first is that I’m not a shopper – I’m a buyer. Need new jeans? Go from car to Men’s Department – find my size – go to cashier – back to car. Four minutes flat! Now that’s buying. Anything more is painful.

Except Christmas. Because, personally, there’s one significant difference this time of year; something that makes the pain of “shopping” more bearable. And that’s listening to the sounds of all the dead singers coming over the sound system at the mall. Really brightens thing up.

Think about it. Listen for it. Bing Crosby – Rosemary Clooney – Karen Carpenter – Perry Como – Eddy Arnold – Sammy Davis Jr. – Nat Cole – Mel Torme – Burl Ives – Ella Fitzgerald – Frank Sinatra – Dean Martin – the Andrews Sisters – Andy Williams – Patti Page – Margaret Whiting – Elvis. All dead. Except at Christmas. At the mall.

These people were recording Christmas songs before most of today’s shoppers were born. Now they’re gone. Except at Christmas. Then we dig ‘em up. All of ‘em. Every year.

I’m a child of radio. I listened to Ed Murrow from London in the early ‘40′s on my little bedside Sears Silvertone while doing grade school homework. All the mystery shows, the comedies, variety shows and the news. Those were my childhood friends. I knew ‘em all.

For about four decades, radio and television provided me with a fine life of earning a living, travel, one-of-a-kind experiences and making friends. TV was a large part of it but radio was where I felt most at home. Television “is.” What you see is what you get. But radio was “whatever-you-wanted-it-to-be.” Nobody else in the whole world – nobody – visualized the Green Hornet exactly the way I did. When Superman lept over a tall building, mine was the tallest that ever was!

When you had such deeply ingrained memories of what was possible with radio, who wouldn’t want to grow up and be a part of it. I sure did. Until radio as I knew it – as it was intended to be – died. Starting in the ‘80′s.

My last broadcasting job was in radio. And one day – I just quit. Cold turkey. Radio was gone. Time for me to go, too. Listen to it now. Pick anyone of three content categories and listen. Really listen. They all sound alike.

Radio is primarily a for-profit product these days. And most of the stations – too damned many of them – are not owned by professional broadcasters any more. Now, majority ownership is “chains” – some with hundreds of outlets. They’ve got investors and stockholders and bean-counters with ex-time salesmen for managers. Bottom line determines programming – not originality. Medford radio – Eugene Radio – Boise radio – Olympia radio. Run up and down the dial and you won’t find any real differences.

It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just “is.” When “The Gipper’s” Federal Communications Commission deregulated radio, it became a Monopoly game with buyers hoarding radio licenses. Buy ‘em. Sell ‘em. Trade ‘em. Pile ‘em up. It just “is.”

So, I go to the mall at Christmas because that’s where my “friends” are. Bing, Ella, Rosemary, Frank, Andy and all the rest. There’s almost no place for them in today’s fractured radio world that’s looking for the 18-to-28-year old demographic of the ratings services.

Well, my “friends” may be as dead as yesterday’s Limbaugh flatulence on today’s airwaves. But they’ll always be at the mall. I’ve tried to picture “Jingle Bells” done by Pink Floyd. It doesn’t work. How ‘bout “Let it Snow; Let It Snow” by Miley Cyrus? No? Maybe “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” by Hootie and the Blowfish?” Ugh! Or “Silent Night” by ZZ Top. Guess not.

Every generation’s “musicians” make Christmas albums. You hear a new one once in awhile. Or more likely catch one of their videos. Usually country/western. They’re out there. For a year or two.

But they won’t be played on background music at the mall any time soon. They won’t be purchased for our personal music collections in anything like the numbers of “White Christmas” recordings by Ol’ Bing. So my question is this. How long can these dead-but-talented-spirits be resurrected each year? Digitally “dug up,” as it were? Even with all those contemporary “flash-in-the-pan” folks recording soon-to-be-forgotten Christmas noise, will we be hearing Rosemary and Mel and Nat for the next century or so?

The answer is, I think, yes. Because there is a quality of permanence in what they did. Because they did it once. They did it simply. They did it right. No echo chambers. No multi-track overdubbing. Except for Les Paul. It was “Christmas lightning” in a bottle.

Well, off to the mall. Ella’s going to be there from 2 to 2:15 this afternoon.

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Rainey