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Posts published in “Rainey”

An open letter to Congress


Ladies and Gents:

We realize, in your diligent search for answers to national problems, you probably wouldn’t look out here on the far edge. Even we understand our remote location is not a place solutions to the weighty conundrums you face will most likely be found. Still, we do think about them. And, when we believe we may have an answer or two, we like to “belly up to the bar” as it were and make a suggestion. Or two.

Here’s one for thought. A lot of hourly wage, beer-drinking workers - and those of us formerly so - have been interested in your struggles to reduce the horrendous national debt. Seems you’ve wrestled with this for a very long time. Some of you want to raise more income. Some want to just not pay bills you’ve already run up and simply slash dollars being spent - even for the “necessities.” As we’ve stood around the bar here talking about it, we think many of you have forgotten where you came from. You don’t remember how you used to handle your personal budget problems before you got to Washington to spend other people’s money. Our money.

Take our families, for instance. If we’ve run up more bills than we have take-home pay, here’s what we do. First, we stop buying stuff. Just get along with what we’ve already got. Second, we carefully examine what we’ve acquired and see if we can get along without any of it. Like maybe driving one pickup rather than two - cut back on payments and gas. Maybe decide we’ll eat out once a month rather than once a week. You know.

Another thing. If we need more income to cover the bills already in the cardboard file box, we consolidate some of ‘em. And we may take on a second - or third - job. Increase what comes in until we cover current expenses and reduce those we’re already committed to. Like what the national debt really is to you.

Now, I’m not saying you all have to get a second job. Or even an honest
one. Even here next to the Pacific, we don’t expect that. No. What we mean is you need to have more income. Not a lot. Just enough to catch up a bit. Pay down what you - and thus we - owe. Avoid late fees - interest on the debt if you will. Keep your credit score up. Our credit score.

Now, let’s review. Stop or reduce future spending. Carefully eliminate a few expenses on things you can get along without. Raise a few dollars to stay current, with just enough left over to pay down those nasty back bills.

We think those are pretty reasonable steps to take. Together, they work for us at home. Makes no difference if we watch Fox or MSNBC. It works.

The other idea, well, you probably won’t like. But even before the third round at the bar, we had this one handled and put away. So hear us out.

Some of our Republican brothers and sisters are trying to get a handle on voter fraud. Even if they haven’t found any significant examples of it. ANY. Which they haven’t. Still, all those Republican legislature’s are changing various state laws to keep out the “fraud.” The “fraud” you found when Democrats won and Republicans didn’t. That “fraud.”

Well, this is just our suggestion, mind you. But what if state elections were run by state laws? All 50 of ‘em. Any way they want to. But, what if national elections were operated under national laws? Controlled nationally. Each state could look after its own races without federal interference. And national races would be run by a single set of rules that would assure national elections are fair and square. Without state “undue” interference. Seems pretty simple. Should take care of all that “fraud.”

And here’s another thought just from me. What if the 49 other states took a good look at how we run elections here in Oregon? What if they started to do what we’ve successfully done for, oh, 20 years or so now? Very successfully. Suppose other states copied our system of voting by mail. No registration problems. No standing out in the weather for 10-12 hours. No long lines. Nobody campaigning at the polling places. And, so far, our cases of fraud have been virtually non-existent. For more than 20 years!

So, there you go. Two problems you’ve been trying to find answers to for far too many years. Two suggestions how to handle them so you can solve ‘em and get back to work on other important things. And a bonus solution that might make the whole national balloting process better.

My calculations are you’ve spent about $800-900 million administratively and still aren’t any closer to solutions. Cost for our ideas was less than a $40 bar tab. As I said, maybe you just forgot how you used to handle these kinds of things. Here at home. Back when you were one of us.

Your friend,


In the beginning


Once upon a time, there was a Sen. Cecil Andrus. Not a governor then. A simple, lowly state senator. Nothing unusual about him. Just over six feet, 175 pounds, trim physique but balding a bit on top.

I first met him in early 1965 when he came for a weekend in Pocatello with native Rep. Darrell Manning. Manning introduced us. A weekend visit that far away from his Orofino home was unusual for Andrus because, while serving in the state senate, he was selling insurance out of Lewiston. So, most weekends, he went home to check on family and the business. Just not that weekend.

I was reporting for KID-TV out of Pocatello’s Bannock Hotel. It was a couple of months later I learned why the visit to far Southeast Idaho. Manning was introducing him to local Democrats, some business and money folk. Andrus was prepping a run for governor. He came to Pocatello more and more after he announced. Always paid KID-TV a visit and, usually, sat for a short interview.

In 1966, he lost the primary to then-Democratic candidate Charles Herndon. Andrus was out of it. Then, in September, Herndon and several others died in a small plane crash. Andrus became the last minute replacement. And he took off. He and I had stayed in touch and he asked me to be his press guy. So, with a wife and three kids at home, I quit a secure job and hit the campaign road.

While I’d covered politics, being IN politics was a whole new game. Steeped in ignorance about what was expected of me, I met Cece at the Pocatello airport early one morning. Cece had been a private pilot for some years; I hadn’t started on my own license yet. In the aftermath of the Herndon crash, his wife, Carol, made him promise to quit being a pilot. So, that morning, our chauffeur was Johnny Bastida, soon to be an Ada County Commissioner. Oh, yes, he was also a solid lifetime Republican. He was, also, the finest private pilot I’d ever met.

As we cruised at 10,000 feet to Boise, Cece asked Johnny about feathering a prop. That means, turning off one perfectly good working engine and, after a short time, restarting in the air. Before the Herndon crash, Cece had been licensed only in single engine.

Obliging the request, Bastida feathered a perfectly good engine and walked Andrus through the restart procedure - while the dead prop looked like a standing tree to me. It was a warm day with lots of thermal activity - hot, bumpy air rising from the East Idaho desert. I was jammed in the backseat, balancing a very small portable typewriter on my upright knees, trying to compose a news release for Boise media, trying to think, looking at that dead prop and worrying about the descent.

You see, Bastida seemingly paid no attention to locating an emergency landing spot as he was teaching Cece how to restart an engine while losing altitude. Maybe he didn’t because we were smack over the middle of the Craters of the Moon where landing a helicopter would have been damned near impossible much less a twin-engine Cessna.

The two of them were animated and busy. In hindsight, and as a now-licensed pilot, I’m sure Johnny had things under control . But, he was so patient with Andrus who was taking what seemed forever to learn what I found out later wasn’t a very difficult procedure. We may not have been in as much trouble as it seemed to a non-pilot at the time, but it was beautiful when that starboard prop was spinning again. And the boys up front were laughing and having a good time.

I relate this story because many Idahoans didn’t know Andrus personally. To me, it fits his personality to a “T.” He was a constant learner - his eyes and ears always open to something new. And he asked questions. All the time. More hearing than talking was my experience.

But he did learn to talk politically like a master. Again, curiosity and hard work. In his first years as governor, he would talk to anyone. Anytime. Anywhere. He learned by saying “Yes” to every invitation to speak. If three others people were on an elevator, he practiced. He’d go to the furthest corner of Owyhee County to talk to a half dozen cattlemen. PTA’s, Rotary, Kiwanis, bridge clubs, hunting clubs, feed lots and cafe’s. Any audience. Anytime. Anywhere.

And he got to be a master of public speaking which served him well for 50 years. Which served Idaho well for 50 years.

I hope others who are sharing their “Andrus stories” will continue to do so. Even those closest to him, and who thought they’d heard them all, are being surprised by the outpouring. And that’s good.

Maybe, unlike so many other public figures before him, he won’t soon be forgotten or simply relegated to his political activities because there’ll always be another story. A “new” Andrus story.

He’d like that.

The death of privacy


Sometimes, tying together two seemingly disparate events/stories can make a good connection to explain an issue larger than either of them. So it is as I look at the national outpouring of deserved condemnation that followed the musings of multi-millionaires Donald Sterling and Mitt Romney some time ago. Talk about disparate!

But they do share one commonality - aside from one disparaging 47% of the citizens of this nation and the other with his racist vehemence involving an entire race of Americans. Both instances involved men who believed they were speaking only to the people in their private presence while the words of each were surreptitiously recorded and later made public.

Whether the principals of either situation engaged in speech that was morally right or wrong is up to any of us who care to decide. But one thing is sure. Both fell victim to expectations of privacy that were violated - a privacy that is gone from our lives. An individual right we were brought up to expect, but which has now been eradicated by our own technology and the immoral use of that technology by those so devoted.

We’ve long been openly or surreptitiously spied upon by microphones and cameras in public - and some not-so-public - places. Banks, grocery stores, parks, street corners, while we’re driving and - if Eric Snowden’s disclosures are accurate - for years while we’ve engaged in written or spoken conversations with the expectation of absolute privacy. We can be outraged. We can be vehement in our opposition. We can demand an end to such activities. But we’ll lose. The genie is out of the bottle. We have become a world where Big Brothers - and Big Sisters - keep an eye and an ear on all we do.

From a legal standpoint, Sterling may have a case that his First Amendment rights were violated. He uttered his now infamous racist and sexist words in a two-way conversation in California where recording any such conversation is illegal unless approved - in advance - by BOTH parties. Seems obvious he didn’t know of the recording and, thus, at least in California, it appears to have been an illegal act.

Then there’s the part of the story in which someone with knowledge of that recorded conversation leaked it. His then-girl friend - the second party in this instance - denied it was her. A little shakier in the legal department but certainly a moral issue.

Big box stores - grocery and otherwise - often advise you are being recorded “for your own safety.” Pure B.S.. You’re being recorded as a shoplifting tool, a video record of robbery attempts and at the advice of insurance carriers to catch people falsely claiming injury on the property. Your “protection” figures into none of it.

Banks, convenience stores, gas stations, traffic enforcement, parking lots, city parks, toll road, pizza parlors, airports, casinos, cruise ships, theaters, museums, court houses, city halls and other public buildings, bars, merchants of all sizes - all are represented in the official “people watching” industry. Some even use sonic or ultrasonic signals to notify local police of illegal entries or other after-hours interruptions. It matters not how small a community you live in - you are under surveillance.

Cell phones have made amateur “reporters” of all of us. Think of videos or pictures you’ve chuckled about in your emails or social media. Much of the time, what amused you was the subject of the missive was unaware of his/her situation. So, innocently someone passed it to you and - innocently, of course - you saw it, laughed and - innocently again - sent it along.

I’ve seen cameras disguised as buttons. Medicine now uses “live” cameras in pills! Swallow one and the Doc can watch your innards at work. More and more cops are wearing cameras to protect themselves from false charges of brutality or other inappropriate actions. Bail bondsmen, process servers, cab drivers - even postal delivery workers - are following suit.

Awhile back, I decided to count cameras I could see in one day’s travels. The total was eight readily identifiable with another six “could be’s” in cop cars, two stores and on the highway. And I live in a town of only 1,400 folks. Of course, the whole idea is you shouldn’t be able to spot surveillance cameras in some cases but you can figure they’re there. In addition to those you’re told about - for your own “protection,” of course.

Privacy - personal privacy - as we’ve known it is gone. Has been for some time. Even in our most unguarded moments, we’re apt to be spied on by someone. It matters not where you live - what you do - where you go. We’ve either gotten so used to it we don’t think about it or - as in the case of those big stores - we’re told of the spying and we accept it.

Used to be old political hands warned newcomers “If you don’t want to see it in the morning headlines, don’t say it.” Not so anymore. They’ve just gotten more defensive. Check out the number of “public” meetings where professional media is turned away. Outsiders only know what went on if someone inside leaks pictures or audio recordings. Which happens often.

I can think of no defense against this invasion in our lives. Not one that works, anyway. As citizens, we can’t afford to hire security people to daily check our homes and other places of expected personal privacy for recording devices. If the professionals can’t do it, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

As the old joke goes, “even paranoids can have real enemies.” The unblinking official eyes and unofficial ears most of us are caught by each day may not be enemies. But, no matter whose hands operate them, they’ve changed our lives forever. And not for the better.

R-I-P, privacy.

Eclipse bust


Well, now. Ol’ Sol has come and gone and come again on our Oregon coast and we locals are still here. What’s not here are the catastrophic failures of our electricity, telecommunications, water and sewer services we were repeatedly warned about.

But, most of all, what’s not here are the hundreds of thousands of tourists that were supposed to turn our entire coastline to mush. They just didn’t show up.

I’d bet, never in recorded history, have so many prepared so much for so long for so few. The traffic elves tell us all the highways between I-5 on the East to the Pacific on the West didn’t carry much more than the normal August vacation load. Friends drove in from Portland the morning of the big show with no delays.

As for the sad economic repercussions, my guess is many local businesses up and down the beaches were their own worst enemies. Not all. But many.

For months, there were numerous reports of price gouging for the period up to and including the eclipse weekend. A lot of motel/hotel rooms normally $150-$200 a night were suddenly priced at $1,000-$1,500 a night (three night minimum). I was wondering, considering all those price increases, if our little family would have taken a chance on the always unpredictable Oregon coastal weather environs and paid that $1,500 a night only to wake up to a heavy layer of clouds and fog. We wouldn’t have. Apparently we weren’t alone.

Gas prices started to tick up days ago. Restaurant menus were reprinted with prices two and three times the originals. We had lunch at a favorite local dive last week. Gone were the usual lists of fare. In their place, the waitress handed us a poorly printed sheet of paper with about half the items and double and triple the price. Bottle of water $3 - order of onion rings $12 - burgers $12 and up. And up.

As we looked first at the menus and then back to her, she said “Don’t worry about the prices. They’re not for locals.”

Now, I don’t have a problem with a shrewd businessperson making a buck or two when a special opportunity comes along. No, Sir. That’s enterprise in action. BUT enterprise and opportunity need to be tempered with a dose of reality that jacking up prices can reach a tipping point where people say “NO!”

That “NO” point was apparently reached in many coastal communities this week even as our real estate just happened to fall under the middle of the eclipse track as it entered North America.

So, grocery stores are left with aisles filled with stacks of goods ordered up for the expected hordes. Gas stations maxed out on supplies and some had a tanker or two to ship back to the distributor. Restaurants that had over-ordered raw foods - especially seafood - suddenly had to find some offsite freezers. And the local shirt shops may take it in the shorts with unopened cases of 2017 eclipse “T” shirts that didn’t sell.

Lincoln City Mayor Don Williams owns several small businesses in the region including a couple of fast food franchises. When asked his reaction to the no-shows, he admitted it was bad. He said he’d ordered a lot of extra food supplies and scheduled extra counter and serving help. Ever the optimist, Williams added “Guess I can go easy on the groceries next week.”

Lots of us are breathing sighs of relief that predictions of huge, unmanageable crowds were overblown. Law enforcement and other emergency personnel are relieved they weren’t called upon to deal with highway and other problems. Local hospitals didn’t get the run of burned eyeballs emergency staffs had been fearing.

Given those price increases locally, visitors were not likely to stay the night and most went back home Monday afternoon with cameras full of eclipse pictures and some bent and worn viewing glasses. They saw what they came to see on one of the most perfect coastal, blue sky days this year. Then left.

But, for locals, this eclipse business was kind of a downer. Just as the wildly inaccurate warnings of gloom and doom were overrated, so too were the prospects of many business people looking to score a “big one.” Well, maybe next time.

Cracks in discipline


All military services have boot camps - the entry period of weeks or months in which unsmiling drill instructors in perfectly pressed uniforms try to blend a lot of sows’ ears into a functioning silk purse.

The D.I.’s most abiding point - made in many verbal and physical ways - is that each recruit is to become part of a team that always - ALWAYS - follows orders. Makes no difference what branch of the military you’re talking about, the absolute adherence to order-taking is the most basic element in each. From slick-sleeved private to four-star general, receiving an order comes with the expectation you’ll carry it out, is the basis of military discipline.

While military history has provided a number of instances when an order was questionable and should not have been followed, the vast majority of that same history points heavily to the responsibility of each member of a military unit to act when and as told.

In recent week, we’ve witnessed some worrisome events as some military voices have been raised in objection to following orders. Not privates or corporals. We’re talking voices from the top. Where stars and gold braid sit atop the chain of command.

First, it was members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff openly objecting to the Commander-in Chief’s announcement he wanted transgender troops out of the military. Now. While Trump’s decision - proclaimed by tweet - was widely reported as new policy, the Chiefs representing all branches of service responded with a unison voice “Not so fast.”

For them to act, they intoned, the order had to come through proper Pentagon channels and be accompanied by written policy changes detailing how removal of transgender personnel was to be accomplished. Without such channeling and documentation, the “order” would not be obeyed. There was no White House response. The Commander-in-Chief’s voice was ignored.

Within a few days, the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard said his branch of the military had no intention of identifying and removing anyone on the basis of transgender identity. Period. Again, no White House response.

Even more concerning, in these six months of Trump’s ruinous reign, there have been numerous insider reports of conversations among the most senior officers of whether to act on a presidential order to use military force. In other words, if some sort of attack is ordered from the White House, what will be the miliary’s response?

A month or so ago, that sort of discussion might have been a bit less important. But, now that Trump has threatened North Korea and Venezuela with possible military action, the subject of “will we comply or won’t we” has been moved to the front burner.

As Trump has thrown his bellicose verbal weight around with threats, there’s been no apparent eagerness of military leaders to get into a new war. Far from it. John McCain, John Kerry, former defense secretaries and other politicos with extensive military experience, have cautioned against such action and recommended diplomacy. Even our inexperienced (Exxon) Secretary of State has not endorsed his boss’s threats, preferring talk over shooting.

In about 230 days, Donald Trump has managed to break or screw up much of our national government. In ignorance and/or deliberately. We’re seeing damage inflicted in nearly all federal departments. Good, professional people cashing out and leaving. Hacks and administration spies being sent into nearly all agencies and important vacancies across the board being left unfilled which further weakens the system.

Some disagreements at the top of the Agriculture or Human Services Departments are one thing. But, dissent regarding orders from the Commander in Chief expressed in the highest echelons of the Defense Department are quite another.

Millions of lives are at stake. Nuclear bombs, creating nuclear wastelands across the globe, are launched from there. The very issue of who survives and who doesn’t is decided there.

If the American military is having discussions at the very top of the organization about what to do with a presidential war order, that issue had better be decided promptly. And publicly. Your life and mine are riding on how that seemingly gray area is resolved.

A doomed Marine


The new high level employment of Gen. John Kelly (Ret.) isn’t likely to last more than six months. And that may be generous.

In a very real sense, a White House Chief of Staff is administrative president of the United States. The guy he works for gets his picture taken a lot. If the CofS does his job, he’s in very few pictures. The president makes public statements and handles the outward artifices of politics. The CofS does the nitty gritty of making those statements reality and is detail-oriented to always make the boss look good.

CofS runs the staff. Almost nothing gets to the President he hasn’t seen or approved. He hires and fires. He organizes, assigns work, ramrods the smallest details, is gate keeper to his boss and, in the best circumstances, has a full range of authority. The CofS is the eyes and ears of the administration, the top collector of information, the dispenser of rules and the power behind the Oval Office.

He has one other job. Telling the President when he’s wrong. When he is. Which, currently, is daily. About most everything. He’s as close to being a remote conscience as Jiminy Cricket.

Now, set all that aside. Now, think of a man in his 70's who’s completed 45 years of military service - a “Marine’s Marine” - who’s lived his entire adult life going from a stripe on his sleeve to four stars on his shoulder. His body carries wounds of combat while his head is filled with massive details that go with command of hundreds of thousands of men and women. In peace and on the battlefield. Imagine four decades of being instantly ready to carry out any order - or give one - expecting the same immediate response.

All of that - and more - is Ret. Marine General John Kelly. Who is now in the employ of one Donald Trump.

It’s not necessary to “background” Trump. You know him. If there were ever two lives lived at opposite ends of a set of values, you’d be hard-pressed to find better examples.

Trump has filled his White House offices with arrogant egos, political newcomers with little to no experience of how to successfully operate at the top of government. Dozens of political neophytes and political zealots. He’s attracted hangers-on bringing no experienced skills to their new jobs. He’s got a staff filled with wannabees looking out for themselves and not for the President. And now, after the firing of the previous Chief of Staff and a trash-mouthed communications boss, Kelly is inheriting an incompetent and lying press spokesperson, power struggles within the offices and the Trump family as well. Senior staff conditions that could be properly likened to a snake pit.

These are the people and the working conditions being dropped in Gen. Kelly’s lap. A man with the reputation of a “straight shooter” is being tasked to bring order to a gang that can’t shoot straight. He’s got dozens of employees with no first-person familiarity with anything military - part of a generation that abhors restrictions in anything. He’ll compete with family members, in-laws, business partners and now lawyers having absolute access to the Oval Office and who won’t be giving up that access anytime soon.

But most of all, he’s going to have to take orders from a racist, lying, unprincipled, duplicitous misogynist who, thus far, has ignored all attempts at self-control and adherence to decorum from any and every one. He’ll be dealing daily with someone with no understanding of military codes of honor, ethics and brotherhood.

His marching orders will come from someone who takes orders from no one - who has no understanding of the structure and roles of the separate branches of government much less military and political protocols - a man who has proven he honors no agreements or contracts - a president who advocates police brutality and believes the presidency carries with it supreme powers akin to dictatorships.

In other words, the military respect for authority, personal responsibility, honor and truth of a Gen. Kelly will run smack into a commander-in-chief devoid of such characteristics who’ll be assigning his daily duties. What could possibly go wrong?

The only “positive” factor here is that, currently, Kelly believes in Trump, voted for him and has - so far - managed to overlook nearly all of Trump’s massive flaws and shortcomings.

But, how long will a principled former U.S. Marine general stand his post, defending a boss who neither respects nor practices the qualities that have combined to make Kelly the respected wearer of the four stars his lifetime career has bestowed?

Six months may be entirely too long a prediction.

‘Business’ of health care


Say the words “health care” these days and most informed folk will immediately think of the national embarrassment we’ve witnessed from congressional Republicans for the past seven years. Especially the Senate bunch who damned near wrecked the entire system.

But, for seniors, those two words usually first bring to mind our own interactions with the traditional delivery of care that’s morphed into the complicated - and terribly expensive - animal it is today. I’m one.

In the last 20 months, I’ve interacted with 10 physicians and dozens of other medical professionals in three hospitals on both an “in” and “out” patient status. “Up close and personal,” as they say. As a result, I’ve had an education.

If Senate Republicans had managed to pass any of the abortive and secretive “legislation” they devised, it’s damned safe to say the three small hospitals of my recent experience would have disappeared. All are under the same professional ownership and, because of highly creative business practices, exist to serve communities as few as the one we currently live in - population 1,200. They do it well.

Hospitals and clinics survive - first and foremost - because of good business practices and not the care given. If a facility doesn’t “pencil out” business-wise, it won’t exist medical-wise. Plain hard truth.

With Medicaid and Medicare as their most significant sources of income, hospital bean counters have had to be creative. Especially in small communities. Neither government-sponsored program fully reimburses costs of patients who are covered by them. Plus, any hospital that accepts federal funding of any sort - and nearly all do - must serve the uninsured and deal with the uncompensated costs of that care. So, insured and other private pay patients are overcharged to help balance the ledger and keep the doors open. More truth.

Another wrinkle is hiring doctors as staff. Many docs like it because, while most of ‘em will make less money, they won’t have to hire/fire nurses and other professionals, pay office expenses, buy ridiculously priced liability insurance, won’t work nights and weekends, they’ll have support staffs and major equipment readily available and most won’t make hospital visits.

But, to us senior patients especially, that can be a double-edged sword. On one side, hospitals can control costs like salaries and expenses which is good. But, on the other, we’re often just another old 15-minute face who doesn’t get the personal attention or involvement with doctors as we used to “in the good old days.” General practice docs go day-after-day seeing the same types of patients hour after hour with the same types of ailments under a patient load that keeps many from having time for personal interaction or deeper knowledge of patient needs. So care - and the relationship - can seem impersonal and/or sterile

Of the ten physicians seen in my recent medical journey, most had a hard time remembering my name, recalling previous information or test results between visits and had little to no prior knowledge of my appointment needs until grabbing one of the endless charts in the box outside the exam room door as they entered the room.

Adding to the problem, a lot of docs - especially in small facilities - have already retired once and are working part time to keep up their skills while adding to the retirement income. For hospitals, they’re low maintenance and cheaper than full time staff. Keeping costs down. But, part time makes it difficult to schedule consecutive appointments for care resulting in longer periods of treatment or forcing patients to live with the ailment(s) and symptoms longer and - possibly - having to make costly emergency room visits for care between times.

None of this is meant to complain. Institutional medical care has never been better - in my experience. But, as consumers who may - from time to time - have need of serious interaction with the medical community, we all need to understand what’s happening out there.

Small hospitals are no longer as independent. For survival, they’ve been bought and sold - often several times - to assure the doors stay open. Care is often some distance away as facilities have merged or taken on more restrictive “specialty”roles. Some nursing and other support staffs work in more than one location several days a week to keep personnel costs down while trying to provide services to more distant patients. Expensive equipment may be spread among several jointly-owned facilities - miles apart - to avoid duplication but, at the same time, forcing patients to visit more than one hospital for care or drive substantial miles in my case.

And a lot of doctors, who used to more often practice independently or in clinics with ownership, now may be employees with eight-to-five working hours, often seeing patients in more than one location, be unavailable nights and weekends, might never follow their patients admitted to hospitals, while often seeing twice as many patients daily for shorter visits.

You can also add to this changing landscape the increased use of specialists. Again, many are employees or contractors. Seeing more bodies but for much shorter appointments. Some scheduling new patients six to eight months out to manage their practice time and increased patient load in several small communities. Some visiting several locations a week.

Like the Old Grey Mare, health care “ain’t what she used to be.” In rural areas especially. More than ever, business decisions are affecting which will survive. And which won’t. Chain ownerships of hospitals and clinics have altered staffing practices and how major equipment and bulk purchasing decisions are made - and by whom.

Computer systems, while creating huge advances in diagnostics and care, are also depersonalizing many of the traditional interactions between medical professionals and patients.

The availability of care - or the lack of it - is forcing many patients to move from small towns to cities to find the continuing care they need. The number of independent docs and clinics is shrinking. Patients normally seen by physicians are now just as likely to be seen by a physician’s assistant. In some areas, more likely.

For most of us, all this change has been happening with little notice. We seldom think about the structures of medicine or its delivery until we are in need of personal attention. Even then, after diagnosis and treatment, we tend not to look further.

But, all our lives are being quietly reshaped daily by these forces. Fact is, at our house, we’re planning a long distance move shortly. One of the major factors: a 10-story hospital and more than 100 physicians of all stripes right in the subdivision. Recent personal experience has shown these are considerations we need to pay more attention to.

Three Johns


No, Virginia. This column is NOT about three customers of a Vegas hooker. No! At least I think not. Though I have no idea what the gentlemen above do on their own time.

No, what’s illustrated here is a scene that appears in the hall outside the Senate Majority Leader’s office several times a week. The four meet in Mitch McConnell’s suite, get their stories straight, then proceed out to the marble marsh to enlighten all of us on the important “news” of the day from the Senate Republican caucus. Which lately ain't been much.

Most often, only the fella in the front wearing glasses is allowed to speak. The others are there as a “show of unity” by that aforementioned GOP clan. Since I’ve heard people ask who they are, I thought it might be useful information to provide some details on the “three Johns.”

First, there’s the baleful looking guy on the far left. I mean, in the picture - not politically. That’s Sen. John Barrasso, M.D. of Wyoming, third ranking Republican. Used to be an orthopedic surgeon in real life. He almost never speaks publically. But he votes. Among his positions: voted for school prayer; sponsored an anti-abortion bill making it a double homicide to kill a pregnant woman; voted against gun buyer background checks; has an “A” rating with the NRA; introduced a bill to stop EPA from limiting background carbon emissions; leading critic of anything thoughtful about climate change; urged pulling this country out of the Paris Climate Agreement; and, since 2012, has received $585,000 from the oil and gas folks.

On the far right - pictorially and politically - is Sen., John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip. Ted Cruz’s stable mate as it were. Former Sen. Phil Gramm of that fine state quit his term early in 2002 to give Cornyn a leg up in seniority so he could get larger office space. Cute. Problem was, there had been a Senate policy on the books for more than 20 years forbidding that. Sort of gave his fellow senators a graphic example of how little either of them knew about their job.

One of Cornyn’s more “interesting” quotes was about gay marriage: “If your neighbor marries a box turtle, that doesn’t mean it’s right. But you raise your children in a world where that union of a man and a box turtle is on the same legal footing as a man and wife.” Doesn’t that sort of cut right to the heart of the issue?

Cornyn sponsored a bill allowing police to force anyone arrested or even detained to give up samples of DNA for a central crime database. Voted for constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage and flag burning and voted against the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 which would have expanded educational benefits for military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The third “John” is Sen. Thune of South Dakota. Maybe the brightest of the three, third ranking Republican in the Senate, considered a “comer” and has already been urged to run for President. He’s wisely refused so far. More moderate than the rest of the faces in our picture, Thune sponsored legislation to monitor the population of black-tailed prairie dogs. Guess that's big in South Dakota. He introduced five bills to end the TARP program and has repeatedly tried to get through bills to prohibit the EPA from monitoring carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide or methane emissions in agricultural areas. Keeps losing. Blame the cows.

Thune has also challenged Facebook for having anti-conservative views. Got nowhere. But the media loved it.

So, there you are. Three Johns and a Mitch. The quartet of senior Republicans on your flat screen TV several times each week with messages of Republican unity and effective leadership. Three former lawyers and an ex-orthopedic surgeon. Now that you know a little about them, I’m sure you'll feel more comfortable with their regular joint appearances. And that “unity” and “leadership” stuff.



I’m someone who spends a good deal of time writing. Always have. So, I’m into words because they’re the basis of the craft. Always like to find new ones. A few days ago, I came across a dandy.

KAKISTOCRACY. It’s fun to say. Any idea what it means? Or, like me, is this the first time you’re heard of it?

Well, boys and girls, the old dictionary on the shelf defines it this way: “Kakistocracy - government by the worst persons; a form of government in which the worst persons are in power.”

Next time someone talks to you about America being a “democracy” or a “republic,” you whip out the old Funk & Wagnalls and lay “kakistocracy” on ‘em. ‘Cause the fact is, at the moment, that seems to describe us more accurately.

With any luck at all, it won’t always be that way. If the justice system doesn’t eventually get the current bunch, we’ll have to take ‘em out at the polls. At least that’s the hope at this house.

But there’s an open question. And that’s whether the liar in the Oval Office has taken America’s political fortunes to such a low level that future participants will see his as an acceptable standard. Will role models for future candidates for the presidency continue to be Lincoln, Kennedy, Roosevelt or Eisenhower? Or Trump? Will his blend of lies, arrogance, extreme cronyism and dictatorial behavior be the norm or will the electorate turn to more traditional two-party nominees who’ll try to raise the standards of the presidency?

The answer to that, seems to me, depends on us. Not them. Will we reject this political abnormality and demand - with our votes - a return to civility, a renewed attempt at honesty and a demand for a higher moral code? Will we - with our educated support and with our ballots - select more highly qualified candidates? Maybe not.

The reason for my pessimism is based on poll after poll, survey after survey of citizens in countries around the globe. Polls and surveys measuring what people know about their system of government, their economies and their history.

The nearly unanimous result of all this statistical prying is that we Americans are just about the least knowledgeable about those basic articles of citizenship among all industrial nations. Not just poor knowledge of our governmental structure but real ignorance.

Now, there’s a new corollary showing up. Not only is the American general public more ignorant of our history and governance - we’re also the most dedicated to the falsehoods and myths associated with those categories. Put another way - many who don’t know the basic civics of how this country operates have their own “facts” and are likely to reject real information.

Adding to this lack of knowledge - or belief in mythical facts - is a growing ignorance in the national media of just these same subjects. Examples aren’t hard to come by. NBC reported last week the Governor of Illinois “passed a bill” on some subject. Legislatures “pass bills” not governors. A similar story from New York had the legislature “passing a law.” Legislatures pass bills, not laws. When signed by a governor, bills become law.

Small items to be sure. But wrong. Would you accept “small” errors from your surgeon or a pilot or your banker or your lawyer? “Small errors” left unchecked work their way into our information system and become “facts.” When repeated, more people accept them. People who hear them without knowing the difference become “wrongly” educated. So the error is perpetuated. And accepted.

The value of an educated voter cannot be overstated. But the lasting damage caused by someone ignorant of the political system he/she lives under can be disastrous. Think of all the B.S. we heard in 2016 about wanting an “outsider” for president; someone with “no political experience.” Well, if that was you, you got what you wanted. “How’s that working out for ya? “

The likelihood that significantly more prospective voters will become better informed about our civic and political structure by 2020 - much less by 2018 - is not realistic. About the best we can hope for is there is a reverse education component at work. That disappointment in the 2016 outcome and what it has wrought upon this country has been, in itself, that education.

If not - if more knowledgeable voters stay home - if we repeat the electoral tragedy of the past - we’d all better get more comfortable with that word “kakistocracy.” K-a-k-i-s-t-o-c-r-a-c-y.

Real change is doubtful


Lots of folks talk these days about the need to “lower the rhetoric,” “speak more kindly,” and generally find ways not to add to the rampant divisiveness in our little country.

That’s just fine. Give it a try. Go ahead. And, while you’re at it, try pushing a peanut up Pike’s Peak with your nose. I’d bet you find more success doing the latter than the former.

The evidence is overwhelming that simply speaking more kindly and turning the other cheek may be fine religious instruction but, the fact is, we’ve long passed the point where such methods can - or will - be effective on a national or world basis.

Politicians can join hands and work for “the common good.” The Birch Society and the ACLU can hold joint garage sales. The KKK and the DAR can co-sponsor a cotillion. All God’s angry children can suddenly become peace-loving Hippies. But - the hate - the anger - the divisions will continue.

The evidence of these dark thoughts is this: the sources of discontent, hatred, anger and division surround us every day, have become part of our way of life and will be with us from now on.

Are the Limbaugh’s, Ingram’s, Jones’s, Dobson’s of the world going to disappear at midnight? Will they give up the lifetime careers that have made them multi-millionaires and brought them fame? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Did Megyn Kelly kill her terrible “in-depth interview” of Alex Jones that was broadcast into our homes? Did NBC pull the plug because that rabid, conspiracy-creating, lying S-O-B might just add to the national hatred from a higher platform? Are you kidding me? Think of the ratings! (Editor’s note: They BOMBED!)

Will the armed members of the U.S. Congress put down their concealed weapons and stop the crazy talk? Will the congressional political ass-kissing of millionaires at the expense of food, shelter and medical care for millions end in a huge Kumbaya of spiritual forgiveness and reconciliation?

Is the Trump crowd suddenly going away - never to be heard from again? Will the Oval Office turn into a place of truth and light? Will lies, continuously flowing from the president’s lips (lower case “p” please, Mister Editor) like water down the Columbia River, turn to truth-telling? Will those in Congress trying to eliminate health care access for 23 million people fall to their knees and plead for forgiveness? Is the NRA going to require background checks and registration of all its members?

These and hundreds of other examples of sources of national mistrust and cancerous anger abound. The most ridiculous voice of those seeking a “kinder, gentler nation” is that of the Trumpster himself. The bomb thrower. The loudest of the loud continuing to spew hate, lies and vitriol all over our landscape. Like a sick joke, he asks the rest of us to lower the volume and speak kindly.

No one in public life today has talked bigger lies, told them more often, called people he doesn’t like more names, challenged more rules of decency, ignored necessary protocols, defamed honest Americans - and a few world leaders - and made a mockery of free speech and common courtesy. Nobody!

Rudeness, crassness, disrespect, greed, name calling, lying, duplicitous behavior, hate speech, racist actions. All part of our everyday lives. Our kids talk it. Movies and TV are full of it. We see and hear it in our workplaces, on our highways and in crowds at any event. It’s worldwide with terrible examples everywhere.

To expect it all to stop - to go away with a few words of positive thought and better behavior - to have the experiences and the extreme feelings disappear in a cloud of more courteous speech - to revert to better, more civil attitudes - is ignoring fact.

In the last 10-20 years, our society has experienced fundamental change. We live in a more crass environment, speak and hear cruder speech, are inundated by anger and violence on a scale we’ve never known. Like it or not, we’ve all changed because of it - either by participating, by ignoring or by simply accommodating it in our personal lives. For more than eight years, the Obama family was subjected to the most horrendous slander, lies, racist behavior and verbal savagery.

To those who want to try - who believe better public behavior and kinder speech will make a better world - have at it. And God bless you. You’re on the side of the angels. You may not live long enough to see real systemic improvement but at least you tried. But you’ll find it doesn’t stop simply because someone - or several someone’s - say “play nice.”

For those of us who believe all that is here to stay, and that real change is not possible, we can continue on our merry way doing little or nothing. Or, make it incumbent upon ourselves to start hammering out new societal rules. We can challenge what we’ll accept in the behavior of those around us and in public life. We can change what we can by accepting the best and acceptable in speech and behavior while excoriating those who befoul our society and our world.

Even if that includes the White House. No, especially if that includes the White House.