Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

This being the season for flu shots, I was sitting in a clinic waiting room this week with seven other seniors awaiting the seasonal puncture.

The other six apparently knew each other and – while we waited – they had a lively discussion about health care. Specifically “Obamacare.” All opposed it and each had animated – if false – “facts” to support their opposition. They used words like “socialism,” “communism,” “big brother,” “government interference” and other colorful adjectives.

Then, one by one, all surrendered to the nurse for the necessary swab and shot, signed a form and were on their way. The form each signed showed the name of the clinic, who administered what, and medical coding for the vaccine. And a charge of $57 each – to be paid by the federal government’s Medicare program. That old “socialist” health care. The 60-year-old precursor of today’s Affordable Care Act – the dreaded “Obamacare.”

Now, I live in a part of Oregon in which Vlad the Impaler would be an acceptable candidate for any public office for much of the population. Moderates are extremists. Liberals are only good for boat anchors. But conservatives – of any stripe – are “God’s chosen people.” The problem is – as affirmed in conversations with local friends – too many get their “news” from sources that simply affirm their beliefs. Like the Romney campaign of 2012, there is no room for information that conflicts with their “truth.”

My eavesdropping experience with the flu shot group is not an unusual occurrence in our neighborhood. And far too many others. Republicans have been trying their damndest to kill the ACA. They’ve been spreading disinformation and outright lies for several years. Many – including leaders who know better – still call it a “bill.” It’s LAW. Affirmed up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court. The principle sponsor was elected – and elected again – by a majority of Americans. It’s a damned LAW!

Now they’re crying “I-told-you-so” because there were lots of hiccups in the first days of implementation. I did a little digging in old news files this week to see how smoothly things went in the 60′s when Medicare started – the 70′s when Medicaid came along – and the 2000′s with Pres. Bush’s new Medicare prescription drug program.

It wasn’t hard to find stories of significant problems with the initial rollout of all three. Surprised? Hardly! The first days – the first years – were filled with issues and problems. Even supporters expressed concern. Predictions of failures – for all three – were common.

But they didn’t fail. And the ACA won’t, either.

In my mind, two factors have complicated the situation more recently. One is the I-net. The other is the 24-hour news cycle and the thousands of sources for information. Some true. Too many not. It took six weeks for news of the murder of Abraham Lincoln to reach all the nation. Now, when something happens, we have words within minutes – pictures in an hour. And – too often – maybe facts later. No matter where in the world it is.

The more significant problem is the I-Net. Looking at The New York Times, Washington Post, The Oregonian, or “Seattle P.I., you knew one very important thing. What you were reading had been written by professional reporters and reviewed by professional editors. At the time it was printed, it was fact as far as anyone knew.

Now, with the I-Net, some idiot in East Arm Pit, NM, can post something – anything – put it on a colorful website and pass it off as “fact.” It’s not. But how do you know? You can find professional-looking garbage all over the I-Net masquerading as truth. So, if someone wants to shoot down, oh, let’s say, the ACA, – even a political party – just put it on the old I-Net with lies, pictures and lots of colorful images and – VOILA – it’s “fact!”

The whacko Republicans in Congress and the political party they represent are losing their fight against the ACA. Consider just this one FACT courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. Major health insurers, who funneled $86 million into the battle to kill the ACA before it was born, have stopped the cash flow. Instead, they’re watching their stock prices go up. Up. The same companies – recognizing reality – have adjusted operations to deal with ACA and now enjoy record enrollments. And they appear headed to record profits. So, a major source of Republican funding is no more.

But bad information – the lies – are still out there – being pedaled by politicians who know better and people who won’t bother to find out the real facts. The insulated folk. Like the seven waiting with me for flu shots. Bitching’s easier than research. “O’Reilly says it’s so. So it’s true!”

Here’s a real example of people who refuse to accept fact – or even try to find facts. Consider one Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) – a foe of the ACA with a repeated congressional vote to shut our government. These are his words in The Washington Examiner this week.

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Stutzman said. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Another voice of determined ignorance. Who likely doesn’t pay for his flu shot, either.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Having become thoroughly disgusted at the mess in Washington – and believing little – if anything – will change in 2014 – I’ve been trying to find some sort of solutions to our congressional problems. Yep, even here in the old growth, Oregon forest, we try to keep up on current events and even chip in an idea now and then. Now, I’ve got one.

And it’s this. No one – NO ONE – should be allowed to run for any seat in Congress until that person has served at least a full term as a mayor, city councilman or county commissioner. Such political apprenticeships should be an absolute first step for anyone wanting higher office. No exceptions.

Think about it. Few other professions – and that’s what national politics is now – few professions allow someone right off the street to step in at the top without some sort of internship – some special training for the duties about to be undertaken. From medicine to professional sports to banking to flying an airplane – we’ve been conditioned to studying and preparing under supervision before assuming control. Whether it’s a medical residency, minor league ball or ground school – you first learn rudiments of the craft before you get the “license.”

I began thinking along these lines when that goofy Palin woman pranced out of the Alaskan bush with solutions to all our dilemmas. But HER problem was she “knew what she knew” and was supremely confident she didn’t need to know anymore. Half a term as governor and some whispers in her ear from John McCain were all she needed to become “expert” in the heady world of national politics. We all know how that ended. “ Sarah who?” Had she gone back to her days as part time mayor of Wasilla, she might have had some useful backgrounding for higher office. But noooo! She had to start at the top.

I’ve long-believed the most practical, most useful, most important political decisions are made in city halls and county courthouses. From pot holes to zoning issues to drinking water to street lights to prompt fire department response to levying taxes to pay the bills to neighborhood policing to the local jail – it’s all right here at home and it’s all got to be taken care of by local folks. None of this “Potomac living” and “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality so many in Congress quickly adopt.

How do you expect someone who can’t balance a checkbook to go to Washington and effectively deal with a federal budget in the trillions of dollars with no experience? Now, if you start with a mayor or a commissioner, for example, those folks have had to balance local budgets to pay for all operations because various laws require a balanced municipal or county budget. Require! None of this “running a deficit” crap. They know how to do it. If they don’t do it each year, they don’t last.

Communication. Another valuable qualification for office we’re slowly losing. You send ‘em back there and about all you hear from them is the continual “newsletter” accompanied by a plea for campaign donations. Yes, I know. A congressional district is most often larger that a city or county. Harder to keep in touch. But it can be done. Oregon Senators Merkley and Wyden do it. For a whole state. They hit just about every community in person once a year and keep up a steady stream of emails and briefings on major legislation weekly. Very unusual. But county commissioners and city council members know how to stay in touch. Damned important.

Negotiating. If you can’t work out differences over local zoning, sewer districts, highway placement, bridge building and dozens of other hot button issues face-to-face at home, what else could better prepare you to go to Washington D.C. and get along with 99 others in the Senate or 434 others in the House when it comes to getting done what you want done? If you can’t plan and build a local park or builkd a new sewer system, how can you be successful getting federal approval to log in old growth national forests? Oh, you might luck out. Once or twice. But not over the long haul. You develop the skills at home for long term success back there.

Oh, yeah. I know. Some of you are thinking I’ve finally gone off the deep end. But think about it. Wouldn’t you rather have someone back there representing you who had some prior experience in the job? Wouldn’t it be more effective if the people taking on those large, important, well-paying tasks had some “on-the-job” experience before they leave home? Wouldn’t you be better and more effectively served if people in congress had some prior training? Wouldn’t you rather have a professional with at least some experience rather than someone who was selling shoes last month? Or trying to pray gays straight?

We’ve sent too many amateurs back there with half-vast experience. Which is why we’re getting too many half-vast responses to our national problems.

And, frankly, I’m getting sick of all those half-vasts.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Balance in life is a wonderful thing. The yin and off-setting yang of things can bring joy – balance – warmth – satisfaction. Such a moment of perfect equanimity has touched my life. A moment when two disparate thoughts arrived at the same time – quietly nestling down next to each other.

One was that moment when the U.S. Senate’s biggest educated fool – Tex Cruz – shut his Harvard-educated mouth and voted for the thing he’d been talking against for 21 hours. The other was “BREAKING NEWS” that county commissioners in California’s Siskiyou County had voted to join neighboring Shasta County in a desire to secede from the Ol’ U.S. of A..

POW!

There it was. They want to get rid of us. We want to get rid of him. The immutable balance of life. I tell you, such a moment of harmony just doesn’t come along every other day. You’ve just gotta just stop. Savor it.

Ol’ “Texas Crude” wants desperately to be somebody. Anybody. At the moment, he wants to be president. Of anything. Siskiyou commissioners want to form a new state and – along with fellow commissioners next door – are in search of a new state which will need – wait for it – a new governor!

Now “governor” isn’t “president.” I’ll give you that. Cruz would have to back up a bit. Just a step. For only a little while. But, in the meantime, he WOULD have an entire “state” to run. And if Shasta County joins to create the new “State of Jefferson” they’re talking about, well, it would be a much larger “state” and only a matter of time till Teddy could find himself way up the ladder – living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Take a tip from that Palin woman. Follow her success. Run for governor – then quit. A couple of years at most. He wouldn’t be the first Harvard president of the country. But he’d certainly be the most disliked Harvard grad to get the job.

All that may seem weirdly improbable to you. But around here – in the nearby old-growth forest shared by Oregon and California – you could get even money at any logger bar. Really! They’ve been talking about Jefferson and their great plans for telling the rest of us to “Go To Hell” for a long, long time.

The problem with all this is that neither plan is going to work out. Shasta and Siskiyou will continue to be California real estate. And Cruz will remain in the Senate to taunt political reality and intelligence for just over five more years. Neither dream will come true. Ever.

But while we’re talking about dreams, I have one. I dream that Sean Hannity, Wolf Blitzer and the other broadcast “political experts” will stop calling Cruz a “ brilliant, Ivy League-educated” Senator. He may have gone to an Ivy League school. It may even have been Harvard. But Tex Cruz is not brilliant by any political measurement. In fact, when looking at his chosen path to greatness – adopted during his college years, – most political professionals will tell you this guy is on a self-destructive rant.

There’s nothing “brilliant” or “bright” or “long-lasting” about Cruz. He’s a driven self-promoter, putting even that Palin woman to shame. His “slash and burn” self-serving style offers nothing in terms of making a contribution to this nation. He has no interest in building – only destroying. In just this one week alone, he has demonstrated he fails to understand why he’s in Washington and has no appreciation for the “give-and-take” of how successful politicians have enjoyed their success since before the glory days of Rome. He has no idea how to operate within a system that’s broken better men than him. He is “my-way-or-the-highway” to the core.

Cruz is often compared to Joe McCarthy – the Red-hunting, alcoholic demagogue of the 1950′s. Maybe. I clearly remember those days and the torturous Senate hearings designed – not to get to truth – but to spread a giant lie that McCarthy and his sick supporters wanted to believe was truth. The lives destroyed – careers ended – the celebrity sycophants who kissed the McCarthy ring and carried him around on their shoulders.

And I remember watching Ed Murrow. The craggy-faced, chain smoker at CBS who ripped the scabs off McCarthy and showed him to be the cancerous, drunken corpse he really was.

But times have changed. When Murrow exorcized McCarthy from the body politic, he was alone. Even his CBS bosses tried to tone him down. But we no longer must rely on traditional national media to deal with such miscreants in our system. In just the past few days, we’ve seen even those in his own political party go after Cruz by unloading reams of “opposition research” – read “political back stabbing” – to stop him before he becomes a major problem for thinking Republicans. That won’t end. It’ll increase.

Cruz will not – can not – be more than he already is. A loud voice of lies, half-truths, distortions, character assassination and underhanded political gamesmanship. He serves neither true Republicans nor true Democrats. He serves only Tex Cruz. When he finally is shown to be the despicable, politically soulless animal he is, the death blow will come at his own hand.

God, I hope it’s soon.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

In recent days, several readers have responded to these irregular musings with decidedly different views – most of which are quite welcome. We keep putting words and thoughts on the old computer machine in hopes of getting readers to think about various issues. Think their own thoughts – not necessarily the views and opinions on the screen. So when others give feedback, I’m exposed to different – mostly welcome – views.

Notice the “mostly welcome” exception. The “un-welcomed” aren’t such because they aren’t well-expressed or vastly different. No, the most aggravating are those that jump to assumptions not written or indicated – assumptions that if I’m not “this” then I’ve got to automatically be “that.” Attempts to label. Which are wrong much of the time.

Two fallacies show up a lot. One is that what’s on the screen with my name attached is necessarily fact – which it sometimes is. But often, it’s opinion. My opinion. The second misconception is if I’m castigating Democrats then I must be a Republican. Or, if I’m chewing on the GOP, I’m automatically a Dem. As a registered Oregon Independent, neither is true.

One reader wrote awhile back that he wanted to be taken off the “subscription list” because “if I want a Democratic Central Committee newsletter, I’ll subscribe.” Needless to say, he was responding to a piece that was highly critical of Republicans. Not all Republicans. Just the 50 or so trying desperately to gut our federal government.

He noticed – as have many others – that GOP members of Congress – at least some of them – are often cast in these musing as cancerous growths on the body politic. Since that depiction is not an unusual occurrence – and not entirely wrong – the “obvious conclusion,” is that said scribe is a “bad ol’ Democrat.” Ironically, the critic was a professional journalist, too.

Well, this scribe found it interesting that – on the very same day as this latest mislabeling and faulty logic was emailed to me – Mitt Romney was talking to a group of Eastern Republican donors and party officials. His message was very clear. And very similar – though maybe more muted – to thoughts expressed here a day or two earlier.

Romney, following his election defeat some months before, was warning those 50 or so Republicans wanting to shutter our government that – if they succeed – the GOP will lose badly in 2014 national elections. He wisely said the Party should return to its traditional roots of support for business, lower taxes and the rest. Further, Romney predicted, if his Party didn’t support immigration reform, “Democrats will win big.” Again.

Romney’s not alone. Many top Republicans are forcefully carrying the same message to the same obstructionists. Knock off this right-wing suicide mission and get behind the elephant you used to get yourselves on the ballot. Romney and his peers are doing what House Speaker Boehner won’t. Shut the idiots down and get to work on a real Republican Party agenda. Stop the 42 efforts to kill Obamacare which will never succeed. Stop screwing over women, Hispanics, Blacks and other minorities. Stop playing to an ever-diminishing old, white base while ignoring a racially evolving electorate. Hear! Hear!

To be critical of the Republican Party these days doesn’t automatically make one a Democrat. If that were true, 86% of Americans fed up with what’s happening – or NOT happening – in Congress would be called “Democrats.” They’re not, of course.

Even thinking Republicans are fed up with the crazy ideologues – and others like them – dragging the Party off the right-most edge of their square earth. It’s not that Democrats are doing everything right or being entirely responsible or providing superb leadership. They aren’t. But loudmouth Republican crazies in Congress aren’t being challenged – or even disciplined – by their own party elders. The good works both parties could be doing are being mucked up by a small group that needs to be exorcized. Banished!

Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives. At the moment. And that’s where you’ll find the bulk of our political mess. To intelligent folks, criticism of what’s happening there can come from a thinking Democrat – or a thinking Republican – or even a thinking Independent.

There’s no need – or excuse – for misplaced labels. Which are most often wrong anyway.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

In 1968, we started the tradition of honoring our Hispanic population with a National Hispanic Heritage Week. By 1989, that was officially expanded to National Hispanic Heritage Month – Sep. 15-Oct. 15 – which covers the anniversaries of independence in five Latin American Countries. If things keep growing the way they are, we’ll soon have a National Hispanic Heritage Year.

At this point, we’re going to talk statistics – something I hate to do. But all these numbers – taken from the U.S. Census Bureau 2010 reports – are not familiar to many of us. They should be. Because – more than any other single societal factor – they accurately depict the most profound changes of our ethnic makeup since this nation’s birth.

Jul. 1, 2010, 53 million Hispanics lived within our borders. Just over one million were added in the previous 12 months. That number was a little over half of all immigrants moving here in that period. Over half. And – as a percentage – that added more than two percent to the Hispanic community in one 12 month period.

At the rate things are going, America’s population in 2060 will include 128.8 million Hispanics – far and away our largest minority at that time. In fact, it already is today! Fact: the only world nation with more Hispanics than American right now is Mexico.

So, where do most live? Texas has 10 million while Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York have eight million each. Fact: More than 50 percent of the total number of Hispanics live in just three states: California, Florida and Texas. In New Mexico, 47 percent of the state’s total population is Hispanic. Of the 21 states where they’re the largest minority, you’ll find Oregon, Washington, Utah and Wyoming.

For the congressional bigots who are trying futilely to hold back this brown flood, some surprising news. The number of Hispanics living in poverty is going – down. The number of Hispanic businesses is going – wait for it – up.

Over three percent – or about 3.7 million – have at least a bachelor’s degree and another 1.2 million have a master’s, advanced professional or doctorate. Sort of shatters still another lie for Iowa’s Steve King and his racist claim Hispanics have “cantaloupe-sized ankles from carrying illegal drugs across the border.” The Census Bureau figures more than 14 percent of all grad and undergrad students now enrolled are Hispanic. And this one. Nearly 20 percent of Hispanics 16 years and older worked in management, business, science and the arts in 2010.

But one other statistic should strike terror in hearts of thinking Republicans. In 2010, Hispanics were seven percent of voters. In 2012, 8.4 percent. Just 24 months. And every institution that studies national trends is projecting not only more Hispanic immigration but higher and higher percentages of them voting from now on. It’s already begun.

At the moment, we’re saddled with a Congress that can’t decide whether the toilet paper goes over the roll or under. But, for reasons known only to the deadhead right-wingers who’ve clogged our democratic process, their repeated refusal to develop a workable immigration program – while many of their number backhand Hispanics and other minorities as intruders among us – is a great way to kill an entire political party.

Here’s another fact that escapes them. When someone like that idiot King doubles down on his racist rants against Hispanics, he’s being heard by the Black, Asian, Mideast, European and other immigrant groups. When he and his Republican cohorts in Washington trash any minority – while suffering no apparent political consequences for their outrageous actions – no disavowal – it’s not just Hispanics who notice. And remember. You total up the voting age population among all the immigrant groups who see firsthand the Republican Party’s seeming acceptance of King and his buddies, and the GOP will start the next national election in a deep, deep hole it can’t get out of. And the next. And the next. And the next.

The Census Bureau says the number of Hispanic business owners is now over two million. While that’s a healthy number all by itself, consider that it represents a 43.6 percent increase since 2002. 43.6! And the more than $350 billion in receipts they took in is an increase of 58 percent in the same period. 58%!

These are people who’re developing not only political clout but their own economic power. They’re taking a page from the Anglo’s and organizing both bases to increase their economic and voting importance. At the moment, thanks to King, Cruz, Lee and other flatulent GOP anti-immigration foes, all Democrats have to do is keep quiet, do some homework in precincts and stand at the polling box with arms wide open.

Again, I don’t like writing about statistical tables and miscellaneous numbers. But these are significant. These statistics are the best way to draw the new picture of who we are – of who we’re becoming. To ignore them is to ignore our future. And right now, a lot of people don’t seem to be paying much attention. They do so at their own – and their political party’s – peril.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Idaho is well hidden from the national media spotlight when it comes to quotable prominent voices making prominent quotable quotes. But it’s happened twice in recent days. One worth nothing. The other not so much.

The less worthy words came from Speaker Boehner as he visited Boise to raise more Republican money for still more Idaho Republicans. People who should know better paid big bucks to hear Boehner promise a “whale of a fight” over the debt ceiling struggle just over our political horizon.

Our country is torn apart by out-of-control partisan politics, government intransigence to deal with any meaningful issue in any meaningful way, sequestration that’s deeply affecting millions of Americans, financial big guys raping investors and customers alike, our military sacrificing young people in Afghanistan for no discernable purpose and a president tip-toeing around on getting us into another civil war.

But Boehner chose to ignore all that and put Idaho in the media spotlight with yet one more GOP threat to close up government when the bills come due for all the federal dollars already spent. That’s what the national debt ceiling is, you know. Paying for what you’ve already bought – not what you might buy in the future. But the GOP has been making a useless fight over this debt ceiling business as if it were some kind of Holy Grail. It ain’t.

Rome burns. Emperor Boehner grabs his fiddle. And he plays still more uselessly partisan tunes for the national media to broadcast. All with Idaho’s name attached. Well, maybe better than skinhead stories. Maybe.

The far more noteworthy appearance by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor got some national play. Though not as much as the Boehner babble. She was in Boise – not to make money for perpetually dollar-starved politicians – but to honor and promote efforts on behalf of women in the marketplace. Any marketplace. Seeking any goal.

She spoke to her subject. And she did it well. But, along the way, she detoured into some comments that got little note – except on MSNBC. What she said in Boise should be heard by millions more of us.

Here’s the sum of Justice O’Connor’s remarks. About two-thirds of us can’t name one Supreme Court justice – only about a third can name the three branches of government – four out of five high school seniors can’t explain how citizen involvement benefits a democracy – less than a third of eighth graders can state the purpose of the Declaration of Independence though that purpose is right in front of them in the title of the document.

And worse. O’Connor said research has shown young people getting out of college have just about the same level of civics ignorance as when they went in. Even those leaving grad school. They go in without it – spend thousands of dollars – even tens of thousands – for more education and come out with no more understanding of how our system of government operates.

She had more examples but you get the idea.

Rather than just complaining about a problem – as in the Boehner example – O’Connor’s has been doing something. She and a few others formed icivics.org. – an online site for students. And teachers – many of whom are just as ignorant of government history as the kids in their classrooms. It’s bright and colorful. It’s full of history and games. It’s fun. And it’s a great, easy way to learn about government. For kids. And the rest of us.

Boehner’s all-too-familiar remarks got a lot of national media play. O’Connor’s learned criticism and tragic facts – very little.

As if putting an exclamation point on O’Connor’s quotes – a national polling outfit this week found nearly three times as many Americans could discuss the unseemly Miley Cyrus TV gyrations as knew anything even remotely connected about Syria and the use of chemical weapons. Three times as many!

There are too many Americans who say they’re disgusted with politics – don’t like politicians – think they’re all a “bunch of crooks” – never watch or read political news – don’t have time for politics – don’t understand it – have other, more important things to do. Road Apples!!!

The intellectually-challenged Congress we have is the result of too many people not participating – or not participating knowledgeably in our system of governance. It’s the result of too many people elected to office with little to no understanding of how to do the jobs they were elected to do.

To those described above – the unknowing and the uncaring – last week’s real news out of Idaho represented by these two national figures is this: O’Connor is the kind of intelligent, contributing American who will leave a positive impact on history when you pay attention to our national political affairs. John Boehner is what you get when you don’t. O’Connor will have a place in history Boehner can only dream about.

If you feel a little short on American government – maybe need a little brush up – or just want to add to your own education – the site is icivics.org.

You might just learn a thing of two.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

For several weeks, I’ve been trying – really trying – to come up with a solid justification for risking more lives in Syria. Theirs and ours. I’ve tried – really tried – to find reasons to smack ol’ Bashar Assad up-side-the-head for killing and maiming thousands of his own people. I’ve tried. And failed.

If the president of this country authorizes any military action against Syria, I truly believe he’ll be wrong!

As citizens living in this freedom-loving country – citizens who value life, liberty and all that goes with them – citizens who’ve buried more than their share of loved ones who died protecting others all over the world – we’ve shown we put a high value on all we have. We put a high value on – our values. But those values are not the same in the rest of the world. And we’ve had our national butt kicked in several other countries when we tried to impose ours over theirs. For whatever seemingly humanitarian reasons we had at the time. History – and reality – tell us we were wrong.

Assad Junior has been killing his fellow countrymen and women and children for many years. His father – who killed hundreds of thousands in his own time – taught the kid well. Pick a means of death and it’s likely been used by one or the other. Or both. For many, many decades.

And we’ve watched for those same decades without doing anything about it. We’ve recognized the Syrian regimes as they’ve been torturing and killing. And we’ve even given – or sold – them arms of all kinds. They kept killing. We looked the other way.

Now – now Junior may have used chemicals to kill even more. And suddenly we’ve become incensed because he did. Or MAYBE he did. We know gas was used but we don’t know definitively who pulled the trigger. But because it was gas and not bullets or bombs, we’re all upset.

Why are we upset? What’s the difference if you die by bullets, bombs, knives, swords, starvation – or poison chemicals? Why have we become so nearly irrational in our hatred of Junior that our president wants to lob some missiles into the country? To hit what? To hit whom? And we’re not even sure it was Junior who authorized the deadly deed or some nutcase field commander or even one overzealous private who set it off. Or the “rebels.”

So, one of our tidy naval vessels is supposed to fire off a few Cruise missiles, turns to the open sea and the crew goes back to normal duties. For the rest of us – for the president who seems hellbent on pulling the trigger – what then?

President Obama made the first mistake when – without proof-in-hand – he very publically warned Assad he crossed “a red line” if reports of chemical weapons use were confirmed. For a man gifted as few others with the ability to express himself on camera, he certainly put himself – and maybe the rest of us – in a verbal “political box” for no reason.

Now, with repeated polling showing eight-in-ten of us want no part of any military response to Assad’s possible use of chemical weapons – and with what appears to be a losing effort to get Congress and other major nations to go along – Obama and a few stalwarts are still breast-beating and threatening to go it alone.

Again, I’ve really tried to justify supporting military action. Really looked at what facts we have. But, short of hating Assad and/or whoever used chemicals to kill more than a thousand Syrian civilians, I can’t make the case to misuse our power to kill more of them.

Without going into all the deliberate lies of the Bush folks who got us mired down in Iraq while costing hundreds of thousands of lives, did we do any good with our military might and did we achieve Bush’s announced goal of “introducing democracy?” We did not! Bombings and killings are continuing daily and corruption Iraq-style runs the government top to bottom. The guy-on-the-Iraq-street just wanted to be left alone. For thousands of years, the tribes fought for power – millions died – and our “democracy” drive was doomed from the start.

And Afghanistan? Are we succeeding there? Have we and our “democracy” made the country a better place? Have the thousands of years of tribal warfare been erased with an election or two? Hell, we aren’t even out of the country yet and the government has told us repeatedly to “get out!” We’ve propped up a crook to run the place and even he hates us.

Aside from despising Assad Junior for possibly committing an act the civilized world abhors, do we have real justification to commit treasure – and possibly more American lives – to express our national anger? Has our president – schooled in constitutional law and with a Nobel Peace Prize on his mantle – forgotten our decades of huge national loss trying to change conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan? And Lybia? And Viet Nam?

Try as I might, only three words keep coming to mind: Don’t Do It!

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

I’ve written a number of times about the politically goofball part of the northwest in which I live. Each time, somebody responds, “Oh, Rainey. Cool down! It can’t be that nutty.” Oh, yeah?

Comes now the County of Siskiyou just south of our Oregon border with California. Beautiful place if you’re talking scenery. Sliding slowly off the right edge of your square world if you mean politically.

The Supervisors of Siskiyou County – yep, the ones previously elected on the intellectually shaky platforms on which they stood – voted this week. And the official count was 4-1 to secede from California. Further more, they’re inviting several counties in Oregon to join them.

They’re proposing – yet again – the creation of a new state to be named “Jefferson.” I can’t tell you how that would “protect” them from the “extreme burden of state and federal laws” they’re all agitated about. Seems to me the Jefferson “utopia” would have to put up with EPA, OSHA, the Departments of Education, Human Services along with Obamacare and all the rest. Maybe their “thinking” hasn’t gone that far at this point.

More than 100 local folk jammed the courthouse hearing room to demand supervisors open the secession door. By 4-1, they did. Typical of the “thinking” represented was one Gabe Harrison of Happy Camp – a tiny hamlet just south of the Oregon border.

Said Gabe, “We need our own state so we can make laws that fit our way of life. Many proposed (state and federal) laws are unconstitutional and deny us our God-given rights.”

I’ve not done the apparent homework of Mr. Harrison to find out how many “proposed laws” are “unconstitutional. Normally that’s a function of the U.S. Supreme Court – after a law has been enacted. But Gabe sounded so certain in his claim that he must have figured out some new way of telling.

Talk of the “State of Jefferson” is not new in this part of Oregon. It’s been around for years. Hang around any local bar long enough and you’ll eventually find someone boozed up enough to open the discussion. Jefferson is, after all, a popular name hereabouts. Even our regional Oregon Public Broadcast operation is called “Jefferson Public Radio.”

I don’t know if this Jefferson craziness started in California or Oregon. We have a porous and heavily forested border through which people from both states travel the pathways largely unnoticed by the rest of us. Sheriffs in local counties know lots of drugs move to and fro in those woods. By the way, Ol’ Art Robinson – Oregon’s new square earth Republican Party Chairman – lives just a few miles this side of the border. Speaking geographically. He crossed other borders years ago politically.

In 2011, other upset denizens of California got their shorts in a knot. At their loud behest, Riverside County supervisors voted to split California in half – yep, right in half. They claimed the state was “too big to govern.” Governor Jerry strongly disagreed and dropped the hammer on that idea.

Now, they’re at it again. They want to pick up their real estate and quit. As he voted to do so, Siskiyou Supervisor Michael Kobseff said he “hadn’t had one contact in regard to the issue that opposed it.” Either he doesn’t get out much or everyone in the county is drinking the same Kool Aid.

Reasonable people can look at the foolishness in Siskiyou County and say “Tsk tsk. Give ‘em time. They’ll cool off.” No, they won’t. Local history has shown they’ll come back again and again. This time it’s a county in California. Next time it will likely be Josephine or Curry County in Oregon. Or Douglas. Or Jackson. There’s a base here that festers in the dozens of small communities. A base becoming more vocal as it becomes more angry with a government it can’t control. A base feeling threatened and ignored by forces outside itself.

For now, we can treat them as the governmentally-challenged folk they are. They’re mucking around in politics without sufficient understanding of what government is or how it works. And how you have to deal with it if you’re to change it. At the moment, they’re just voices in the forests.

But – let me submit some names for your consideration: Rand Paul – Marco Rubio – Ted Cruz – John Cornyn – Joe Walsh – Steve King – Mike Lee – Michelle Bachman – Louie Gohmert. These folks – these and several dozen more – are sitting in Congress. It’s no stretch to connect the political “philosophy” of those politically-challenged opportunists to the voices in that Siskiyou County Courthouse in California. Ignorance and fear. Aimed at a government that appears unresponsive and too powerful in its daily presence in their lives.

In the last dozen years I’ve lived in Southern Oregon, these voices – of the disgruntled – the fearful – the unheeded – have grown in intensity and are being heard from more often. Their numbers are slowly increasing. So is their volume. If government – at all levels – doesn’t revert to its role of the servant of the citizen it was designed to be rather than the intransigent, immovable, barrier-to-progress it has become, what seems absurd now can morph into a very real threat to our national security.

From within.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Lots of folks have told me through the years “the only things certain in life are death and taxes.” As an official senior now, I know they forgot about Social Security and Medicare.

Several years ago, I reached the age when those two “certain” government programs became part of life. We had no choice. Happened rather seamlessly and both have provided the support they were governmentally supposed to. Adding a Medigap insurance policy – for those always necessary senior health needs excluded from Medicare – has about covered our situation. We’d really hate to be without ‘em.

I realize the wisdom necessary to authoritatively discuss Medicare and Social Security is supposed to come from our “experts” at the top – in Congress. Only “they” have the depth of understanding to conduct a thoughtful discussion of how these major programs should be redesigned and/or nearly eliminated. So any suggestions that might come from the ground up our here in the woods are likely not welcome. Ignoring that “wisdom” here are a couple of ideas from a satisfied senior experienced in both programs.

Without being armed – read “burdened” – by thousands of pages of statistics and ancillary reports from all sorts of government agencies, insurance companies, AARP and other outside sources – and the baggage of either political party – it seems to me there are really just two major things that need to be done to put both programs on a better financial footing. And both can be accomplished in one meeting lasting less than 30 minutes.

First, stop using a mortality table developed in 1964 to determine Social Security eligibility. We’re 49 years down the road from then and two major societal changes have taken place. We live longer and we work longer.

Today’s national insurance mortality numbers have Americans living closer to age 80 than 60-70 as was the case in 1964. No insurance company showing a profit today is using 49 year old data. Only our government.

It should be politically acceptable – meaning a no-brainer – to increase the beginning eligibility age to 70 over a period of 10 years or so starting in 2014. One year up in age each two calendar years or some such. Just cold, hard fiscal reasoning equitable for Republicans and Democrats alike. Us Independents, too.

The other change that must be made is to “means test” Social Security eligibility i.e. the more you make in later years, the less the monthly government payment. For example, make full eligibility for those with a joint retirement income of $150,000 a year or less. Maybe $80,000 single income. Then use a sliding scale of eligibility for reductions in increments of $50,000 joint income up to a point when there’s a cutoff. Maybe $500,000 or so.

The idea that Warren Buffett or Bill Clinton or Jay Leno and their multi-millionaire peers draw the same Social Security amount I do is ludicrous. Under a “means tested” plan, they might not get a cent. So? Where’s the hardship?

Swift adoption of both these ideas is doable. Get rid of all the useless discussions and bickering of what services to cut or who’s not eligible for what. Bickering – pardon me – discussions and amendments can always be made incrementally over the life of both programs. The immediate need is to assure solvency in both. Just adopting these two approaches could provide some stability before we hit the wall.

Those two changes are absolutely necessary. And one moer. Stop Congress from using Social Security trust funds as a private piggy bank to pay the bills members run up! STOP! Both parties! The bandits in Washington have been taking out dollars and writing IOU’s for years. I’ve often wondered why there haven’t been some class actions or other legal challenges for using lawfully dedicated funds for other purposes. Any other purposes. This prostitution of Social Security funding has been an open secret for years. Why hasn’t it been challenged? Damned if I know.

While these suggestions may contain too much common sense and come from the unwashed, non-elected, my guess is both will eventually be on the discussion table in some form. There’s too much at stake for too many of us not to solve the Social Security and Medicare issues.

I’m not convinced the current Congress will do anything. And it’s beginning to look like the makeup of the next Congress won’t be a whole lot different. Voters over the age of about 45 need to look at who we send there. These two issues need answers. It’s up to us to send folks who’ll find ‘em.

So far, we haven’t. And they haven’t.

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Rainey

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

In eight states, governors and legislatures are putting new laws on the books that are – no other words for it – damned scary! People’s guaranteed rights being abridged – especially women and ethnic minorities – specific religious tenets being written into law, minority voters being hamstrung with new state-sponsored roadblocks to keep them from the polls and political oversight is being injected into matters of pregnancy . All of this by majority Republicans as minority Democrats watch.

North Carolina is at the front of current right wing purging. Poor ol’ GOP has been in the swamps there so long this new flush of absolute power – controlling both statehouse and governor’s office – has created a tidal wave of guaranteed court cases. Long, drawn-out court cases. Expensive, taxpayer-paid-for court cases.

Here, in our Northwest neighborhood, we have a state that’s cost taxpayers millions doing similar dumb things. It started doing so long before North Carolina’s legislature wandered off into nutcase lawmaking. As it says in the old state song “Here We Have Idaho.”

This is brought to mind by the latest – and yet another – legal slap in the face for those insisting on making bad law when told by competent legal authority not to do so. It’s happened so often in the Gem State most of us watching from the sidelines have lost count.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has now ordered Idaho taxpayers to pony up for yet another – excuse the term – abortive Republican lawmaking foray. Against the advice of a very competent attorney general, the ol’ Republican legislature – assisted by the ol’ Republican governor – put a new anti-abortion law on the books. With the judge’s rejection of the ill-conceived effort (sorry, just couldn’t help myself) came an order to pay $376 thousand in attorney’s fees to the plaintiff. Just this time around.

What’ s notable here is it’s the fourth attempt by the Idaho Legislature to legislate matters of abortion and the fourth time they’ve been blown out in court. The fourth time the narrow-minded handiwork has been thrown into the legal garbage dump. Total bill to the taxpayer: just over $1 million.

Idaho has been blessed with a long, unbroken string of very good attorneys general. Both parties. Several went on to become supreme court justices. The current occupant – Republican Lawrence Wasden – is no newcomer and has superb credentials up to here! He’s no hack. It was he who advised fellow Republicans on the third floor of the Statehouse not to do what they went ahead and did.

Since 2000, Idaho has run up about $365 thousand for its own in-house legal bills defending bad abortion laws the legislature was warned against. Add to that, $446 thousand for plaintiffs in three other cases. Throw this new court-ordered payment on top and you’ve got more than the million.

This is just for abortion cases. There are others. Ignoring competent in-house legal advice, previous Republican-dominated Idaho legislatures have tried to challenge Indian supremacy in various cases – tried to levy special taxes on non-resident commercial user’s of the state’s highways – tampered with various water issues and just generally run amok. The tab – all of it coming from Idaho taxpayers – has to be in the millions. Loss after loss.

Oh, yes. One other note about this latest fetal pain law. Even before first hearings on the bill, the A.G.’s office told fellow Republicans it was not consistent with national, legally-accepted viability standards and what they were trying to do would likely be unconstitutional. That didn’t stop ‘em.

So, when the promised court challenge came, the A.G. didn’t even try to defend what the legislature had done against competent legal advice. He simply tried to attack whether the plaintiff had legal standing to fight the law. The judge said she did. Pay up. The unconstitutionality of the law in question was so obvious it wasn’t even discussed.

One can only hope some of the equally bogus law making in North Carolina will suffer the same fate. Fact is, Attorney General Holder tackled a Texas voting rights case last week and made it quite clear there would be more in the pipeline. I’d bet on it. Especially in North Carolina.

If ignorance of the law is no excuse for we who must live by them, it would seem obvious ignorance of the law by those who create them would be equally unjustifiable. In Idaho – and probably North Carolina – zealots are costing taxpayers millions. With more to come.

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Idaho Rainey