Writings and observations

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

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

While the U.S. Supreme Court gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) can probably be strictly legally supported, minorities in this country have even more to fear. The decision – questionable or not – throws their future access to the polls into the hands of the most do-nothing, divided, regressive and inoperable congress in recent history. And that ain’t good.

The challenge to the VRA was based primarily on Section 5 – that portion requiring certain states and other government entities holding elections to get advance U.S. Justice Department approval of their election rules if they appeared on a list of locales where previous election discrimination had been proven. In the 1960′s. The plaintiff’s argument was basically “We’ve changed and what we intentionally did wrong before we don’t do anymore so we shouldn’t be forced to comply with a 48-year-old decision.”

While the Justices bought that dubious claim 5-4 – apparently believing previous discriminatory practices had likely ended – the question is: have they? Some new serious statistical evidence suggests – they haven’t.

Law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer (University of California Cal-Davis and University of Connecticut) have published a study arguing “the list of states required to obtain federal approval under VRA ‘remarkably mirrors the geography of anti-black prejudice’ in the United States today.”

“What we generated,” Elmendorf said, “is an answer to the question whether racial voting conditions in specific states had really changed which was asked by the chief justice during oral arguments. Defendant was unable to answer.”

Using a 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey, the professors asked non-blacks to rank their own racial group against blacks regarding intelligence, trustworthiness and work ethic. Respondents ranked their racial group above blacks by an average of 15 points in each category.
The results were striking. Their mathematical model suggests, of the states with the highest percentage of people biased against blacks, six are Southern: Lousiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. All had been previously required to seek fed approval for election law changes under the VRA based on past bad practices.

But no longer.

Two other states – Arizona and Alaska – also were required to get government approval of voting changes. But Elmendorf and Spencer note, while those two ranked much lower in black bias, their data indicates Arizona’s significant bias is against Hispanics and Alaska’s is anti-Native American.

Certainly some racial bias likely exists in all states. But – no matter how the researchers crunched the numbers in this example – “the Deep South states went right to the top,” according to Elmendorf.
So, let’s take stock. SCOTUS says things have changed racially. The above-cited survey – and others – show the same old bias’s still exist. Which leaves the whole thing up to 535 people who can’t agree on what time it is or whose watch to use. If that’s not bad enough, states-after-Republican-controlled-states are doing their damndest to stop minorities from registering and voting. At a time in our political history when we need some stability, SCOTUS tipped the scales to even more serious problems.

Minorities have a right to worry about being disenfranchised. Responsible Americans in the majority should be equally concerned. Speaker Boehner has proven he can’t even pass gas let alone serious legislation. It’s quite likely his farm bill debacle will be followed by a similar disaster dealing with any immigration bill that accidentally makes it to the upper house. And, failing some prompt corrective action on voting rights in Congress, the offending states will continue to be hellbent on cutting access to the vote. That’s not just speculation. It’s been happening for several elections. Even in some of the states on the now-defunct list of violators.

We’ve got a long string of dominos here. The right of full, free access to the voting booth needs the support of the court. But to get effective court backup, justices need to be presented with a new law that meets constitutional standards. But such a corrective law must come out of a congress that is useless and hopelessly ineffective.

Without such a law, states that have proven they’ll deny voting access to non-whites have free range to construct all sorts of barriers. Barriers that would have to be broken by – wait for it – the U.S. Supreme Court.

Minority access to the vote is as much in danger today as it was in 1965. What the Hell happened?

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Most of us move many times in our lives. For whatever reason exists at the moment. Life’s exigencies as it were. In the process, we’re deluged with changes in nearly everything. New environment – new and different shopping – new geography and place names to learn – sometimes different local customs or practices – new driver’s licenses or passports. Leaving friends. Meeting new people. The whole moving experience is often change top to bottom. We get used to it.

I’ve moved many times. Many and often. Across town, state-to-state, coast-to-coast and border-to-border. Life’s adjustments caused by relocating have been regular and varied. So often, in fact, I thought our most recent was just another “pack-‘em-up-and-move-‘em-out.” Wrong.

The first time we moved to the edge of the Pacific was a decade ago. We did it because we’d never lived there. Simple as that. Lots of exciting new things to experience and a very different living environment. My flat land artist wife has been ocean-smitten for years. So when the moving bug hit this time, like Brigham Young, she pointed westward and the family wagons moved. And we learned all over again.

Coastal living – Oregon coastal living – is a whole new deal. Take shopping, for instance. Most communities are small with limited store selection. If you want a Costco or Mode or Best Buy, you have to drive more than 50-75 miles inland. Then back. There may be an occasional Safeway or Fred Meyer but most grocery outlets are small, regional types like IGA or Ray’s or Grocery Outlet or Mom & Pop’s.

Prices for everything – everything – are higher. It’s a lifestyle premium you pay for rainfall that can exceed 90 inches a year. Yes, Virginia, 90! And there’s the fog and cold and other things that aggravate your arthritis and rheumatism. Lots of seniors try living near the ocean but find some of the frailties of age can make it a painful experience. So they either develop a tolerance or move inland again.

You can’t just go to a store near the ocean and buy anything you want or need at any time. One June, I was looking for a long-sleeved shirt at the largest chain store in Brookings and was told they only carried long-sleeved shirts between September and April. If I really wanted one in June, it would be a 180 mile drive. Until September, of course.

Medical care is most often sketchy. Hospitals – where they exist at all – are small and specialists are few. So major medical needs result in 100-200 mile drives inland or, in the case of a real emergency, air ambulance. Cost for that? Don’t even think about it.

You get used to two-lane highways at all times. Or occasionally one-lane. No Interstate or beltways. And you know, in nearly all cases, North and South are the only ways out of town. Until you get to the next two-lane heading East which could be many miles away. In the small coastal towns, don’t even think of trying to turn left off Highway 101 from May through September. Backs up local traffic for miles.

Then there’s mold and mildew. Everywhere. In, around and through everything. If you store household goods commercially, you must have heated and climate-controlled lockers. Dehumidifiers are as standard in most coastal homes as air conditioners further inland. Houses that look in good shape outside can have rotten footings and mold-despoiled electrical systems. You learn to deal with mold and mildew. Or you move away from the coast.

Winds can be a problem. In some of the more exposed places they can hit 50 to 70 miles-an-hour during the larger storms. Things in your yard that aren’t battened down disappear regularly. Replacing all or part of wind-damaged roofs or fencing is as permanent a job security as being a mortician. And a not-unexpected additional homeowner cost.

Weather can change on a dime. We’ve experienced 75 degrees on Christmas day followed by a dusting of snow on New Year’s Eve. It can rain for an hour – a day – three weeks straight. Living permanently near the Pacific requires a change of wardrobe. Rainproof outerwear or slickers. Water-tight shoes and boots. You keep an umbrella in the car at all times. Even though most “coasters” think using one is for tourists.

These are just some of the issues you face when taking up permanent residence near Oregon’s Pacific shoreline. Very different from the blue skies of August when you and the family spent that week in a rented condo and you thought maybe this would be a good place to retire. That week doesn’t really represent the struggles of year-round residence. Over a 12 month period, living by the sea can be a very trying experience. It ain’t for sissies.

So, here we are. Again.

“Why,” you ask? “Why do it again given all those drawbacks – the irritation – the problems?”

Well, I’ll answer that. In a bit. Right now, the sun is out. The sky and the ocean are blue as a baby’s bright eyes. And the surf’s really pounding. Gotta go. I’ll get back to you.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A basic tenet of folks on the right in this country is they can’t abide unity. It’s what they preach. It’s on their signs in the streets and is the major theme of their boisterous and usually crazy gatherings. But unity is a concept they can’t grasp. It happens again and again. And it always will.

The Achilles’ Heel of the extreme right is distrust coupled with anger. Why? Because the prime motivational forces of those most drawn to the lunatic fringe are – wait for it – distrust and anger. The passions that bring them together are most often distrust of – or anger with – government. Or some element of thereof. Read their literature. Listen to their preferred media. Hear their spokesmen. No words of peace. No talk of love. No promise of better times. No plans offered. Just the ever-present distrust and anger. Of someone or something. Always.

But, while these two traits draw them together, sooner or later they’re the same forces that create divisions of loyalty, splits in “philosophy” or give birth to factions which break off from the original group to form one or more new cells of the distrustful and the angered. This basic truth is what’s likely to make the Republican Party a minor national influence for years to come. And many elections to come. Evidence is everywhere.

Take the now-discredited Texan Dick Armey – around whom tea baggies gathered so faithfully a couple years back – that same Dick Armey had a “philosophical” falling-out with the big money guys in their faux “grassroots” club. He walked out the door with a “severance package” of $8 million plus. Stage far right of course. Seems he was seeing things differently from the billionaires who’ve been putting the big money in his pockets all this time. He was angry and distrustful. “Grass roots movement?” Oh, sure. Yeah. You betcha!

Then consider Jim DeMint quitting the U.S. Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, which began long ago as a respected conservative “think tank” but which has become a bastion of all things far, far to the right. His stated reason? He can “be more effective.” Sure. If you’d been reading his clippings recently you’d have known he was angry his far right minority views weren’t being adopted by the majority of his GOP colleagues – that he was feeling “stifled” and couldn’t carry out his “agenda.” He even put hundreds of thousands of dollars into 2012 primary campaigns against sitting senators. In his own party! Anger. Distrust. He also more than tripled is income!

Rep. Shelley Capito of West Virginia, says she’ll run for the U..S. Senate in 2014. Years of GOP membership and service. The ink wasn’t dry on the press release before three – count ‘em – three “republican” groups (small r) denounced her, saying they’d support someone else in the primary. Their joint “reasoning?” She occasionally voted for things they didn’t like and all said “she couldn’t be trusted.” Oh, yes. They were angry, too.

The Koch boys tried to take over the Cato Institute this year – another fortress of GOP “conservatism.” Not far enough right for the Koch’s and their phony “Americans For Prosperity” front. They lost in court. They were angry. From Pine Street in Meridian, Idaho, to “K” Street in Washington, DC, the far right is constantly in a state of amoeba-like throes of joining – then splitting. It was ever thus. It will ever be.

Faux news chief Roger Ailes was very angry when he took Karl Rove and political whore Dick Morris off the payroll this year. Temporarily for Rove. “Unprofessional behavior,” he said. “Angry and distrusted,” sez I.

Even John Boehner had to “fire” four members of his caucus from important committee spots so he could assure passage of whatever budget deal he and the White House might agree to. And they will. Naysayers who opposed him from within did so because he wasn’t “pure” enough – because he appeared willing to compromise. Purity rejects compromise.

Basic, child-like reasoning would say “put all your similarly inclined, disaffected into one organization – one club – one party – and you’d be a force to be reckoned with. Your numbers would be sizeable and your affect on elections could be greater.” It won’t happen.

What assures that is the one trait they all share – one which eventually also drives them apart. Ideological purity. DeMint, for one, has famously said he’d rather have a minority of 40 “ideologically united” senators than a 60 member majority of various beliefs. He preaches that at all those chicken dinners on the GOP campaign trail. In their own ways, each of these right wing splinter groups believes the same thing. Unity in theme. But each falls – or will fall – victim to disunity in practice. Distrust. Anger.

By the way, after nearly 25 years, representatives of DeMint’s crackpot Heritage Foundation are now barred from meetings of conservative House members on the Hill. A matter of purity I’d guess. Exiled. Even DeMint.

Contrast this evidence of the “unforgiving” with those who approach political decisions with more moderate beliefs. Rather than “purity,” those folks go for inclusion. The Republican Party used to do that. They did until 1964 when the Goldwater folks ran the Rockefeller folks out of the neighborhood. Put it on a graph and you can draw a straight line downward from 1964 to now if you’re measuring GOP tolerance of different ideas.

Remember Reagan’s 11th commandment ? “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican?” Remember those words? Look around you now only 25 years or so later. Now, it’s not only words they speak. The knives are out. Dare to be different from the ideology of the day and you’ll be dismissed as a heretic. And you’ll form another group. ‘Cause the other folk are angry with you. And they don’t trust you. Or you them.

I’m not pitching for the Democrat Party. But look no further than our most recent election for evidence that the Republican Party – as currently operated – is becoming irrelevant. Especially if you remember the televised crowd shots from the two national conventions. Democrats: black, brown and other skin colors – many, many women in leadership among the state delegations – younger folks – great inclusion. Republicans? Mostly older and mostly white. More men than women among the delegates. Read their platforms. Republican “inclusion?” You gotta be kidding!

Disaffected, more moderate Republicans? Yes, Virginia, still are some of those folk around. But they aren’t going to continue supporting candidates for anything while being shut out of party leadership. They’ll continue to be faced with incompetent – but “pure” – candidates on future Republican ballots. Walsh, King, Santorum, Gingrich, Cain, Brewer and more of their ilk in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and beyond. They’ll be there. Guaranteed. “Ideological purity” and “exclusion” will make it so.

Far right elements – ideological or moneyed – have done more to minimize the Republican Party than any Democrat victory ever. They control ballot access, money and what’s left of the Party structure. Those who don’t agree face difficult choices. Moderates can try to retake control which will require major efforts over many years and many elections – starting at precinct levels. The disaffected can shut up and swallow hard as they try to remain faithful to a Party that no longer represents them. Or they can leave. That’s about it.

Meanwhile, the amoeba-like joining and splitting of the various minorities that make up the purist crowd will dominate all things Republican.

Wait! Hear that? There goes another one.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

We – Barb and I – have just finished “the move from Hell.”

With a quick curtsey to the folks still living back there under the trees in the old forest in far Southwest Oregon, I don’t mean you’re still in Hell. It’s just, well, politically warmer there.

No, I mean by “Hell” one of life’s little experiences that really tests the limits of one’s patience, strength, durability and causes you to think you really are in Hell. Of course, all of those things are magnified when you both reach your 70′s and still try to do the things you did in your 40′s. You may look younger than your years. You may feel younger. You still may be living a lifestyle that belies those 70 years. But inside, when push comes to shove – or rather when push comes to lift and carry again and again and again – there’s no fooling about the rings on your trunk. Those higher numbers kick in with the accompanying pain.

From the off-the-beaten-path ‘50′s approach to life and seclusion of the forest, we’ve resettled beside the sea. The Pacific Ocean as it were. We’ve traded about 40 inches of rainfall per year for something like 70. Also more fog – more wind – more gray skies. And a chill in the bones that angers the old arthritis.

But, when the sun shines – and it does often here – and the ocean appears as blue as the skies – it’s a marvelous place to be. We’ve lived on the coast before – Curry County actually. Rainfall in Curry routinely tops 90 inches. But temperatures are so balmy year-round that growers plant lily bulbs and harvest the grown flowers all twelve months. Periods of heavy rain – very heavy rain- are punctuated by several days of beautiful skies. And it’s not unusual to hit 70 degrees in Brookings in December while the rest of Oregon shivers.

Now we’re enjoying the welcome and comfort of Lincoln County which – like much of the rest of Oregon – is a two-party neighborhood. Everything we own resides in four large storage units and we’re sharing a 30-foot motorhome with Rat Terrier Winston and Calico Clementine. Unusual names, yes. It’s a Churchillian thing. We’ve changed our driver’s licenses, the vehicle registrations and have become registered voters. Independent, of course. A different life awaits.

But – recovering from “the-move-from-Hell” is taking longer than before. The sore muscles and sprains are going to be felt for more weeks than previously. Going from living in 2,000 square feet to about 180 is not as easy to adjust to as in previous relocations. Even an older Winston is grouchier than he used to get.

As a people, we Americans are a very mobile group. The Census Bureau says about 36 million of us moved in 2012 and 2013. The area with the fewest movers was the Northeast (7.8 percent); the highest was the West (13.4 percent).

Most of us didn’t move long distances. About two-thirds stayed in the same county. Those that moved out-of-county numbered about 40 percent and relocated less than 50 miles away. About 25 percent of all who moved during 2012 and 2013 were renters.

The Bureau figures there were two main reasons for relocations: housing and employment. Among renters it was more the latter than the former.

Relocations are never easy. And some are tougher than others. This was a tough one for us. Oh, we’ll heal soon. And we’ll settle in once the new house is finished. Or, as is the case at the moment, one sells and the other gets started.

But our philosophy is – “let’s get on with it.” Time enough for recovery later. That’s why the grave is called “the final resting place.”

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Sitting in the timberlands of Southwest Oregon – after having lived in several other states over the years – I hear many people tell me how “conservative” the area is. They’re right. But they don’t go far enough.

These five wooded counties harbor more radicals, political extremists, flat-earthers and outright socially-disconnected people than any other place I know. Despite my lengthy residence and familiarity with some of these people, I am unable to tell whether they were radicals before they came here or whether living here has radicalized them.

But one thing I do know is that, after a decade of residing here, some of this “different” thinking is rubbing off on me. Not that I’m becoming a flat-earther or developing a strong desire to buy dried food supplies and more ammunition. No, it’s more that I’m having the beginnings of some “radical” thinking, too.

Here’s a bit: the political structure of our government is not currently serving us well. Together with some goofy political practices – like the phony GOP filibuster carpet bombing that appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution – we’ve tried to live more or less as the founding fathers intended. But, in doing so, we have become gridlocked, separated from recognized solutions to our own problems and are unable to react to national conditions that change much faster than they did in 1776.

The intention of the authors so long ago was to have co-equal branches of power: executive, legislative and judicial. Worked fine for awhile. Even with the resulting slowness with which government operates. We’ve had times in the past when slowness – or outright inaction – saved us from making some large mistakes or going down the wrong road. That’s not entirely bad.

But we now can achieve little or nothing playing by the old rules because of the highly partisan, fractured nature of modern politics and huge changes of technology in our lives. The system of balances has become a three-way struggle for control. Answers to problems immediate and massive job creation are really achievable. There really are remedies to our national economic and financial mess that economists and other professionals know will work. There are many doable ideas to streamline the military, make government more effective, improve everyone’s quality of life and realistically reorder our national priorities and goals.

All that – and more – can be done. Now. But not if we cling mindlessly to the old ways because 235 years ago, a couple dozen guys in a hot Philadelphia meeting room did the best they could to negotiate solutions to the issues of their time. Their time! Slavery. British tyranny. Taxes. A war in some of their states that threatened an entire nation as they knew it. Then. Not one of them could imagine supersonic flight, computers, organ transplants, cloning, sending men to the moon and beyond, a worldwide economic system tying all nations together and all the other things we take for granted. Well, maybe Franklin could. But no one else.

Still, we try to run a country as if we were using quill pens on parchment paper to send messages by horseback. Jefferson had a three-day ride from his home to Philadelphia but we send people in space around the entire world every 90 minutes. George Washington couldn’t find wooden dentures that fit well but we now grow human ears and noses in a laboratory and graft on entire faces.

I haven’t yet designed a new system. But I’ve been looking at others that offer some interesting tools to help us change our current bitter stalemate.

Parliamentary is just one example. A prime minister is elected every four years or when a “vote of confidence” is necessary. That post virtually controls the political system when it comes to a national course of action, the economy, relations with other countries and much more.

Can mistakes be made? Sure. But corrections can come quickly in a streamlined decision and action process designed for our time. Does this vest a large amount of power in one person? You bet. But accountability is achieved at the ballot box and parliament. Does it work where it exists today? Pretty well, actually.

Of course, this is all just a guy here in the forest talking to the trees. Such a major redesign of our national government would take years to bring about and require an awful lot of work. And trust.

Would it be worth it? Well, you decide. How do you think we’re doing now?

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Lots of folks have their shorts in a knot these days – mad because they’ve found out our own government is reading our emails and listening to our phone calls. Reading, watching and listening.

We don’t know exactly how this has been done or precisely how it started. And we don’t know what other sorts of officially sanctioned violations of our personal lives may yet be out there. But, with grudging thanks to Bradley – er – Chelsea Manning and Eric Snowden, we know more than we did. It ain’t good.

Well, get over it. If you’re fretting because you feel you’re being spied on, it’s because you are. If you’re worried about personal privacy, forget it! That horse left the barn years ago. Only thing different these days is we finally know about it for certain. You haven’t had a moment alone in years. Which may cause you to rethink some of the things you’ve been doing. Or saying. In what you thought was privacy.

Can this citizen surveillance by government be justified in a nation of guaranteed liberties? Depends whether you’re a hawk or a dove, I guess. I’ve heard seemingly solid justification and I’ve heard seemingly justified protests. But neither really matters. It’s going to continue and there’s nothing we on the local main streets of the country can do about it. Won’t matter who controls the White House or Congress. It’s here to stay.

A lot of us may never have stopped to think about how much we’re watched even without federal participation. Or how long it’s been going on. When was the last time you were in a bank without a camera overhead? What about your gas station or your favorite 24/7 convenience store? Been to an air or rail terminal lately? How about a major department store? If you live in a large city, when was the last time you got in an elevator and didn’t have a camera looking you over? Well, maybe that’s not a fair question because cameras may have been so well disguised you didn’t see them. What about the hallways and parking lots of your local hospital? Or courthouse? Or commercial storage shed?

A couple of decades ago, our favorite supermarket put up some cameras and a sign that told us it was “for your shopping convenience.” Or “your shopping security.” Major B.S.! It was for the store’s “convenience” and “security” and nothing more. Cameras over exits and checkout stands were to record robberies or see whether a clerk was skimming the receipts. The ones toward the back of the store were there to see if the lady who claimed she “slipped and injured herself” on aisle 12 was making a legitimate claim or working a scam. Cameras in stores are – from a corporate standpoint – a C-Y-A tool. Always have been. Your personal “convenience” and “security” have nothing to do with it.

About the same story for banks. Unless someone with a gun is in the act of holding it up, banks are one of the more secure places you can be in today’s hectic world. Quiet. Unhurried. Peaceful. It’s not your “security” the bankers are interested in.

Have you any idea how many cameras are watching every card – every slot – every table – in your nearest gambling den? I saw a documentary awhile back on a major Vegas casino. There were more than 200 eyes-in-the-ceiling. Just on the gaming floors! There were many more in the 30-story hotel. A lot more.

Traffic cams along highways and at a lot of intersections in cities keep an eye on us as we drive along. Run a red light or challenge the speed limit in some places and they mail you a ticket because they “saw” you do it.

Watch detective and crime shows on the old T&V. Nearly all the folks rush to security cameras to find the bad guys. Wow! It seems they find coverage on just about any street – any building – any neighborhood. Ever notice that?

Reading the other day about cameras worn by people. People who may be in law enforcement. Or just plain business folks. Or crooks. Some surveillance gadgets look like buttons. Some like pens. Some like watches or watch bands. Some like rings. Not just for 007 any more.

No, citizen surveillance of us going about our daily lives is nothing new. There’s so much of it now – and has been for a long, long time – that Orwell’s “1984″ seems like a Pilgrim story. Since the National Security Agency has no idea what Snowden took – or so it says – we can only watch for future media releases of documentation and brace ourselves for more revelations. We can feign surprise. But are we? Really?

Until we can find some way to accomplish real national and personal security without invading the lives of innocent people, it would be well for all of us to be just a little bit paranoid as we go about our daily activities. Just a bit. ‘Cause someone – somewhere – really is watching. Or listening. It’s not just your imagination any more.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Well – yes and no. There’s still the regular, “low cost” version. But there’s also the new Tampon “Radiant” which costs 59 percent more per unit and comes in “designer packaging and wrappers.” Same product inside but a new look on the outside. As I said, “yes and no.”

Then there’s the new Bounty “Dura Towel” with thicker plastic packaging and embossed print resembling a dish cloth. Procter & Gamble says it’s “3X cleaner than a germy dish cloth – fresh and clean.” It’s also a nickel-a-square-foot more expensive – nearly double the cost of regular Bounty towels still made for the poor folk. Same paper. New design is all.

P&G has a new Cascade “Platinum” dishwasher soap on the market called “the ultimate clean for dishes” that “keeps the dishwasher sparkling.” Costs 12 percent more than the regular stuff. There are the new Tide Pods for “a great new way to wash clothes” for the rich and a new, lower-priced version of Tide called “Simply Clean” coming for the rest of us. Same basic stuff.

Yes, Virginia. There’s a point here. And it’s this. Major companies have been watching the spending patterns for the upper and middle classes. And those patterns are heading in starkly different directions. The U.S. Census Bureau figures our national “real median household income” in 2012 was $51,017. That figure is – wait for it – 8.3 percent lower than 2007 and 9.0 percent under the income peak in 1999.

Boiling down all the numbers, the middle class has less buying power – is buying less – and is buying cheaper. But the “upper class” is willing to pay more for what’s being hawked by manufacturers as “superior quality” or “top-of-the-line.” You know. Some guy buys a Lexus while the rest of us buy Toyotas. A lot of the same engineering but better packaging.

And here’s the kicker. By 2011, the Moody’s Analytics survey figured the top 5 percent of Americans – by income – accounted for 37 percent of all consumer spending. More than a third of all of it. For the rest of us – the “middle” 80 percent – we spent less than 40%.

Most of the so-called “upscale” products are really quite the same as they’ve always been. But repackaging, adding some flowers or a printed pattern, sprucing up the wording on the box and using flashy TV ads amount to a premium cost for the same old stuff inside. Seems a 20 percent markup is a small price to pay for “luxury” and a middle class feeling that “we’re keeping up.” At a cost. But we aren’t.

For the rest of us, there’s always the “bargain brands” or coupons. So, the question is “What economic recovery?” Are you still shopping at Nordstrom’s or have you seen more of your friends at the Dollar Store?

There’s more from the Census folks. About 22 percent of households are experiencing one or more “hardships” fulfilling basic needs – making mortgage payments or the rent, being evicted, not paying for utilities, not seeing a doctor or dentist or even shortages of food. Between 2005 and 2011 – two years after the recession “ended” – the number of households not meeting “essentials” went up to 16 percent of ALL households.

And food stamps? Looking at 2012 over 2011, a 13 percent increase year-to-year – about 15 million more households. And that was on top of an 11.9 percent increase between 2010 and 2011.

The state with the highest percent of participation in food stamp usage? Glad you asked. Oregon. In 2011, 18.9 percent of all Oregon households got ‘em. And there’s more. Seventeen states – concentrated in the West and Northeast – had a higher participation rate in percentage of households receiving public assistance than the national average. Much higher. And the bastards in Congress just saw to it another $4 billion in food stamp help was just cut from the program.

Not a pretty picture is it?

Our folks in Congress are standing squarely as obstructionists to private sector efforts to get our national economy up off its back. To some extent, we are – despite a government that has failed to help. But, for reasons I fail to understand, the good guys refuse to steam-roll the bad guys though they outnumber the miscreants 10 to 1. Or more.

So – despite our best citizen efforts – our vaunted middle class is falling through the economic floor we’ve so long enjoyed. Folks below whatever economic line you want to use are being shoved further into the hole. But the ones with the bucks – the ones controlling the largest majority of our national buying power – they’re doing just fine, thank you very much. Their clout is greater than ever before.

So great a company named “Dean and Deluca” is making a fortune with a new product aimed squarely at the top of the market. D&D is selling premium ice cube spheres “individually carved from a 300 pound block to ensure flawless quality and a zero-taste profile.”

How much, you ask? Just $75 a 10 cube bag. Hell of a deal!

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

More than one in every five households in Oregon depends on food stamps.

Just so you don’t miss the point here, I repeat: MORE than ONE in EVERY FIVE households in Oregon depends on food stamps. Depends. That is more than any other state and nearly double what it was in 2008. Double.

Are we clear?

Think of 10 families you know. The Census Bureau figures, statistically, two of them are getting outside government assistance to keep eating. We’re talking “families” here. Suppose each family is five people. Now we’re talking 10 individuals. Ten out of every 50 of us. And if you don’t think that applies to anyone you know, then someone else knows even more folks using food stamps just to get by. So the ratio in your neighborhood could be even higher.

Dig further down in those numbers and you’ll find the large majority of assistance went to people in rural areas. Maybe in your small county, it was more like two of every five families. Or three.

I am sick of the blatant ignorance that says the majority of food stamp go to (1) lazy Democrats or (2) lazy blacks or Hispanics who won’t work or (3) deadbeats or (4) anyone who doesn’t look like the speaker or live in his neighborhood! Pick one. Pure B.S.! It’s on the I-net daily – spread by “dittoheads” who won’t do their homework. Well, here’s the homework!

When all but three Republican members of the House of Representatives vote to cut $40 billion out of the food stamp budget, chances are you knew a few families who’d have an even harder time trying to buy necessary basics.

And here’s something else to consider about that shameful vote. In all the history of the annual farm bill vote – 50 years more or less – its always been a total package. Always. Billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers or corporations – even a few members of Congress – AND the food stamp assistance program. It’s always been that way. Until this year.

With their majority in the House – and driven by a suicide-like urge to appease their old, white political base in the farm states – Republicans split the bill. Kept the billions rolling out to the farmers – private and corporate – killed the billions to feed people needing help. The rich get richer and the poor go hungry. The vote in the House was so blatantly purely political that even newspaper editorialists in a number of farm states pounded Republicans they traditionally praise.

Here’s one cretin who voted to slash help for the hungry. GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. Asked by a constituent at a town hall session why he voted to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program, his response couldn’t have been more direct. Or more shameful.

Said Kramer, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

Now you might want to consider something that idiot obviously didn’t know. About 76% of food stamp households – 76% – include a child, one or more elderly or someone who’s disabled. Those households receive about 84% of all food benefits.

Out here – in rural Oregon – food banks are being hit with record demand for help. We’re not talking all those fru-fru’s on your grocery list – paper towels, ice cream, potato chips, pot roast. The need is for bread and milk and flour and beans and canned goods of all sorts. The kinds of things people require in a very, very basic diet. Churches are trying to help. Service clubs, too. Backpacks with more of those basic foods go out each Friday for hundreds of kids in our area who won’t have a meal – any meal – until school on Monday. Shelters for abused families are asking for more assistance because they’re serving more battered – and hungry – people.

Now, some S-O-Bs making $174,000 a year, have decided to cut $40 billion from a most basic survival government assistance program while keeping the federal goose laying large golden eggs for their rural, well-fed political base. The $50 or $75 or $100 a week for families that can’t afford groceries will take the hit. So will the food banks and the churches and the service clubs and others running to keep up with the hunger demands.

It’s extremely unlikely this piece of crap will ever get out of the Majority Leader’s desk drawer in the Senate. People who have no other options for basic survival will continue to be served. For now. But the sequester is about to make a huge cut with no one taking any more action. Anyone!

But it would do them well – and all the rest of us – to keep that Republican vote in the House in our minds come election day 2014. If Republicans prevail in 2014 – like that idiot Kramer – millions already suffering hardship could be faced with the loss of the most basic source of survival. Food.

That blatant political self-service along the Potomac deserves nothing more than starvation at the ballot box.

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Rainey