The number one thing keeping our national economy – and thus all lesser economies – from growing as quickly as conditions would otherwise dictate – is the monumentally constipated and completely ineffective U.S. Congress. And you can take that to the bank.

Geoff Colvin, Fortune senior editor-at-large, has been talking to CEOs and economists. While hearing the usual bitching about regulations and taxes, the dialogue this time has been far overshadowed by one thing: uncertainty. In terms easily understood by economic dolts like me, the issue could be framed this way: “What the Hell’s going to happen tomorrow?”

Regulations and taxes have always been topics of discussion when people making large business decisions gather over their martinis. It used to be, no matter what changes and challenges there were in those two areas, business adjusted and life went on.

BUT – uncertainty has become the largest impediment to business – large and small. For example, the new healthcare law – regardless of what you think about it – is law. Republicans have vowed to repeal it. They can’t. But, as they keep trying, if you’ve got 50 to 100,000 employees in your business, how do you adjust your future planning? For what? Taken another step, if Republicans ever posed a serious legal challenge to the ACA, how long would Democrats tie the whole thing up in court? And to what outcome?

Then, there’s the “fiscal cliff.” With no congressional action to the contrary, there are those huge mandatory cuts in federal spending. Sequestration. Crippling cuts and possible tax increases to offset some of them. Despite how you feel personally about all that, remember the current crop of ideologues, naysayers and the ignorant will still control what Congress does – or doesn’t do. Wanna bet your farm on the outcome? Neither does General Motors. Or your neighborhood grocer.

Then, there’s the Federal Reserve. Its governing body holds the outlook that things economic are “more uncertain than they has been in the last 20 years” so no major actions have been taken. You get any sense of corporate direction out of that?

Life has always been a crap shoot. That’s just life. So, is all this something new? Yep, it is. Normally, as the government moved, changes it fostered affecting marketplace conditions could be anticipated and planned for. You knew what was coming and could adjust. Not now. Polarization in Congress has badly crippled oversight of federal agencies and their regulation-writing and enforcement. Congressional action that was supposed to happen last week – last month – or next month – has ceased. No new-from-the-ground-up federal budget for several decades is likely to be matched by no new-from-the-ground-up federal budgets for the next several years. Contracts expected by the private sector are still sitting on some bureaucrat’s desk. New programs languish in the congressional swamp because there are still no decisions on old ones.

And on and on and on and on.

Dealing with change is a constant in life or business. Dealing with uncertainty should not be. Or at least held to a minimum. Congress has brought uncertainty up to the maximum. Investors are not willing to risk hundreds of millions – or even billions – of dollars on new products, plants and larger workforces when even the Federal Reserve meets, complains about the uncertainty and goes home.

As I read editor Colvin’s story of all this in Fortune, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Will we – and business – be in any better shape under a new Congress after the November election?” The answer for me – “not likely.”

If congressional majorities remain the same, a billion-dollar election will have changed nothing. No matter how you approach the issue of getting this country moving again, if the presidency and congressional majority are not in the same party, I don’t see anything but more gridlock and stagnation.
The overriding consideration at the polls next November is not so much who’s elected for the next several years. It’s more an issue of giving one person the keys to the White House and a majority of the same party in Congress. Anything short of that could create – and continue – the most uncertain political and business climates in our nation’s long history.

You think you’ve got uncertainty now? If we and our economy have to endure another two-four-six-eight-years of the current climate on Capitol Hill, there may not be much left to save. And you can take THAT to the bank.

Ready, aim …

Author: admin

The situation with the Bundy family out in the flatlands some 80 miles from Las Vegas is akin to a truck load of dynamite with a very, very short fuse – parked next to a wildfire. Even an accidental spark could get a lot of people killed. So the federal government has blinked – backing away from executing a very valid court order and made the pathologic freeloader a hero in the eyes of his government-hating friends.

At first glance, this is about a professional deadbeat who owes us taxpayers more than a million dollars in grazing fees – running his cattle on BLM lands for decades and ignoring the bills. Rather than back down, the BLM should have served the court order, confiscated his herd, sold ‘em at market and arrested the bastard for inciting sedition. Seems simple enough.

Like so many of their push-it-to-the-limit kind, Cliven Bundy and his family have taken the totally irresponsible position their ancestors were there before the BLM – their water rights predate federal ownership of the land – they’re not obligated to pay the bills the feds have been sending for more than two decades. And they haven’t! Not exactly living up to the promises made signing that federal grazing contract many years ago. Makes one wonder what changed their minds. And when.

Now, the Bundys claim they’ve tried to makes some payment on their water and grazing bills recently but nobody will take the money. And they’re right. The State of Nevada and the federal government will not accept payment. They can’t. That’s because the recent court order allowing the BLM to confiscate the cattle also freezes the whole Bundy situation. And their assets. The Bundys are in massive default.

But all that fades now because the Bundy’s have taken the position they’re the “aggrieved” party in this situation – that the feds are exceeding their authority – that the government is out to make an example of them – they’re victims of government excess – that they’re “patriots” who will hold out until the end. About 98.7% B.S..

The feds do appear to have some blame here. The BLM should’ve stepped in years ago with direct legal action to put an end to Bundy’s use of federal grazing lands for free. While I haven’t read the contract, I’d bet the farm there’s a section dealing with default – what it is – when it is deemed to have taken place – remedies for forcing contract compliance. And penalties. I’ve never signed a major contract without such language. And Bundy has been in default, according to the courts and government, for more than 20 years.

To let the Bundys run up a million dollar grazing tab for that long without collection action is, to my mind, completely irresponsible on the feds part. Get two months behind on your house payment and you can expect a guy from the bank at your front door. So – to some extent – this situation could have been nipped in the bud years ago.

But – as I said – because of the dangerous situation the Bundys have created by word and deed – trying to make themselves out the martyrs here – we’ve got an armed encampment of federal officers “cheek-by-jowl” with several hundred armed faux “freedom fighters” from half a dozen states who’ve come to the Bundy homestead to stand against anything governmental.

There’s a dangerous element in this country using the I-net and other media to whip itself into a frenzy of camouflage-wearing, government-hating, heavily-armed anger. Without knowing any firsthand details of Ruby Ridge or Waco, they blame the feds for those and any and all perceived attacks on their “personal freedoms” – most especially the Second Amendment to the Constitution – a document most of them have likely never read. They’re as unstable as a gallon of nitro on a bumpy road. Reasoning and logic are out of the question. They talk violence as if it were the only satisfactory response to their trumped up hatred. How many will actually stick around if shots are fired is anyone’s guess. But shooting is what they say they’ll do.

The back ridges and valleys of our Pacific Northwest also harbor a lot of very unstable people. Some hiding from something or someone. Some mentally over-the-edge from wars or simply lack of professional treatment. Others who call themselves “survivalists” and are convinced the world is soon to meet some cataclysmic end and believing they alone will be spared. Some are flat-out criminals growing marijuana or engaging in other illegal activities. And some have built heavily fortified compounds in which they’ve gathered family and vow to kill anyone who comes snooping about.

It’s this last bunch and their loony near-relatives who dress up in war clothing, paint their faces and spend weekends shooting and marching in the woods. These are the ones that pose the biggest threat. You’ll find a lot of ‘em converging on the Bundy ranch from this flock. Some of ‘em talk a good fight and that’s about it.. But I also believe some will hunker down and try to “take out” as many feds with them as they can.

We’re a very violent society. Whether it’s a calamity of nature, some perceived grievance by one group or another or just the local university winning/losing a football game, violence and criminality lurk just beneath the surface. Smash- burn – loot – destroy. For all our civilized ways, we can be dangerous and violent with even the smallest provocation.

If that’s what you believe – and I do – then all these flag-waving, camo-wearing, jingoistic phony patriot, citizen “armies” should be taken very, very seriously. If you’ve got a strong stomach, read some of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s publications. You’ll find detailed and alarming descriptions of these groups identified in the research. You’ll find Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Utah and Montana harbor some of the most violent.

Looking back at Ruby Ridge and Waco – and the terrible loss of lives in both armed sieges – I’d guess the feds will sit tight and try to wait it out.
But it’s not the feds that worry me. It’s those armed loudmouths who believe their own media hype and see themselves as “protectors of those innocent government targets” – the Bundys. If just one of them – just one – has a misfire while cleaning an assault rifle, God knows what will happen in the next five seconds.

As a nation, we’ve deferred dealing with these dangerous people far too long. This is not a “Second Amendment” case. This is very, very close to armed insurrection. The Nevada desert may be where these people should face the reality that armed challenges of duly issued court orders and federal law have serious consequences. Deadly consequences if bullets start flying.

Take the cows – shut these guys down – make some arrests. With force if necessary. Any perceived backing away will just delay the inevitable.

Keep the change

Author: admin

I’m at an age when I’m slow to accept change. If something has worked well most of my life, it should continue unabated. The comfort zone should not be disturbed. Even as I remember that old saw “change is the only constant,” when it happens it’s still unsettling.

Two recent discoveries are causing my current discomfort. One is that more and more new cars are being sold without spare tires. Now that may be acceptable to those who live in large urban areas where service stations, tire repair shops and tow trucks are readily available. For those of us used to driving several hundred miles at a stretch through empty Western landscapes, the idea is most certainly unacceptable. Most of Oregon’s Harney and Lake Counties fit that empty description. Idaho’s Owyhee, too.

Car companies claim putting a spare tire in each new model costs about $30. Now if you have an annual production run of 200,000, that fifth wheel and tire will cost about $6 million. I once had a flat in Harney County, so far from civilization, that I would have personally paid the $6 million. But, apparently, CEO bonuses are being threatened so we are being asked to sacrifice. Again.

Car makers argue new generations of tires are made of better rubber, are stronger and less apt to have problems. There are also the new “run flat” tires on some of the more expensive models that will normally get you to the next service station. If that service station fixes flats – which many don’t. And is less than 50 miles away. Which many aren’t.

Their weakest argument is that taking out the weight of a tire and wheel makes the vehicle lighter so, therefore, you get better mileage. They make that claim but the savings are so small they don’t try to put a number on it. I could make the same argument that removing all seats but the drivers would probably increase mileage as well but, again, statistically insignificant when compared with convenience.

The second upheaval in my life recently came with the news that fewer K-12 schools, colleges and universities are publishing the traditional yearbook. Again, cost is the reason given. As one principal said, “We’re firing teachers so, when it comes to teachers versus yearbooks, yearbooks are going to lose.” At least that makes more sense than the effect of no spare tire on gas mileage.

Sales of yearbooks have also fallen off recently because people have less disposable income for such things. Another amazing example of how far down the food chain the effects those crooked Wall Street bastards have been on our lives.

Schools also claim they spend thousands ordering yearbooks each year but many who place the orders don’t pick up their copies for one reason or another. So the schools eat the costs on a lot of them.

At least three companies – YearBook Alive, Lifetouch and TreeRing – are in the Internet yearbook publishing business. They create designs from the material submitted, put them online and, for about $15, they’ll send you a hardcopy or you can download one. The TreeRing people claim sales have soared 600% in two years.

In all honesty, yearbooks have never been terribly important in my life. I’ve got a couple of them stashed out in the garage along with lots of other rarely used stuff. May have taken them out once or twice in more than 50 years but that’s all. Probably just to move ‘em.

Still, it’s more than any one person’s value of such things. There’s the tradition and the seeming permanence of spare tires and yearbooks. And a lot of other common fixtures in our lives: home telephones, push lawnmowers, handwriting, math without a calculator, slide rules, fender skirts, single blade razors, nylons, wooden pencils and, yes, spare tires and yearbooks.

We older folks are often told that change is good. We’re told to be flexible. We’re told it’s all for the better. But I’ve noticed most of the people who tell me such things have only just begun to shave.

Off the cliff, again

Author: admin

Rather than put the important part of this blog at the top of the column, I’m going to tell you a story. Please bear with me. The point of the matter will become very, VERY obvious.

The Missus and I recently decided to refinance our home. Several reasons to do so, not the least of which was a reduction in our interest rate by more than two-percent. Most financial advisors will say that’s reason enough. Having bought and sold many homes, we figured things would be pretty familiar. Wrong!

With our excellent credit standing and lack of significant debt, we really had little trouble qualifying. It was what we had to go through to get to the closing stage.

You’ve never seen such a pile of forms! We probably accounted for at least an entire tree from an old growth forest. My count is 63 signatures by each of us. Then, of course, all those forms had to be copied so we had a stack, the broker had a stack and the lender had a stack. Better make that two trees because – in the end – the title company had a stack.

Many – far too many – of the documents had no other reason than to cover someone’s backside. Even the loan broker could not offer a coherent reason for a number of ‘em. But the one that stands out in my mind is the one that certified who I am. The Missus had one, too.

It read something like this: “I, Barrett Rainey, certify that I am Barrett Rainey.” Then I signed it “Barrett Rainey.” Of course, that form had to be notarized. Which was done by someone who wasn’t even in the office! They were in another state! But, had these forms been left out of the tree-killing exercise, our loan wouldn’t have been approved. Made no difference what our credit was or what our assets may have been or our income. We had to self-certify that we are who we say we are. Some gibberish about “the Patriot Act” as I recall. My brain still has not made the connection. Sometimes it’s best to just get through the obstacle course alive without much knowledge about the process. Like sausage-making.

Then – wait for it – all of this paperwork – all of it – was sent to us electronically. Again. All of it. Multiple times! Because the broker who started it had to furnish it. The bank carrying the loan had to furnish it. The closing agency had to furnish it. And each had to be notified – in writing – that we had been furnished it. All of it! Can’t you just hear those saws working in the forest?

But there’s more. The whole tragic point of our experience was yet to come. Everything was signed, sealed and delivered. And the hurdles, inconsistencies and lunacy of those weeks will be just so many memories.

Except for this. Here’s what we learned when it was all over. All those signed and notarized documents have been sent off to another mortgage company somewhere else. They’re being copied – again. Then they’ll be bundled with similar new loans and sold through another money market to investment companies. There, they’ll be sorted out, re-bundled and – wait for it – sold into the world markets. Can you say “derivatives?”

This is one of the major calamities that nearly collapsed our financial markets several years ago! We’ve been here before! We’ve read the book AND seen the movie! And it’s happening again!!! Add to that the news from London that a young banker lost more than $2 billion in six weeks by doing what? Doing WHAT? Selling derivatives!!!!! Likely our home loan!

Despite the redundant paperwork redundancy – despite the billions of dollars lost – regardless of the millions of people hurt by lost retirements, lost homes, careers ended and broken families – we’re doing it again! Our financial markets are lunging straight for the rabbit hole one more time!

Much of the blame for this unoriginal sin certainly rests within the banking community here and overseas. But in my view, the majority rests squarely on the intellectually degenerate Congress of these United States. Banking lobbyists have anointed the pointy heads of both parties with millions and millions of dollars and have stopped any legitimate government regulating action from putting up workable roadblocks to this kind of national theft.

Don’t give me a lot of crap about Dodd-Frank or any similar legislative efforts. What has been done is nothing compared with what MUST be done to stop this nation from going over the edge of a devastating financial cliff. AGAIN! The idiotic excuses of too much regulation being bad for business or allowing the banking industry to “self-regulate” ring hollow when this tragedy starts repeating itself.

Damn it! It’s your money! It’s my money! And – more than that – it’s our lives at stake here. I don’t care if a federal regulator is strapped to the back of every worker on Wall Street one-by-one. If that’s what it takes, so be it.

We have a systemic problem here. The banking world itself is not only capable of bringing about near-collapse when left alone, it’s showing itself entirely able of doing it again. And again. And again.

Well, we got our loan. The whole deal closed. The resultant paper fallout was sent to the four corners of our country. And overseas. We oughta just close the book on it.

The Hell I will!

Nuts and nullification

Author: admin

A professional friend of long-standing over in Idaho got himself in an embarrassing position the other day. The guy spent more than 40 years covering state politics for an international news service and, thus, could be expected to know more about that state’s irrational political activities and how they operate than the average citizen. He does. But he still got tripped up publically and, in so doing, presented a text book example why Idaho – and so many other states – have fallen victim to the right-wing crazies.

A moderate Republican friend of his – an oxymoron in Idaho – was facing a real nutcase in his primary. So, our mutual retired media friend filed for the primary race, too. His idea? He’d go right up to just before the election – then pull out – attempting to split the nutcase vote, thus assuring his moderate friend a victory. He’d be a “Trojan horse” – tilting the voting percentages. Except he got found out and had to withdraw.

You couldn’t find a more textbook example of how the foil hats have taken over so many political offices nationally. Divide and conquer. Statistically across the country, the nuts are a statistical minority. But they hold a disproportionate number of legislative and congressional seats because they learned long ago to “divide and conquer.”

The about-to-be-gone Michelle Bachman is a good example. Did you know her maiden name was Amble? Kinda fits, doesn’t it? Well, she’s never faced a primary election with a single opponent so she’s never had to get at least half the vote. The Minnesota GOP always made sure she had a weak second or third party in the race. Divide and conquer. All she needed was 25-30-percent or so. A minority win. My friend was trying to do the same for his friend. But – despite long experience – he screwed up.

Our political system is filled with this crap. My friend knew he wasn’t a real candidate. But voters didn’t. Idahoans honestly drawn to him and his faux campaign were being hustled. He was perverting our system though he probably felt justified. But innocent voters were being screwed.

Idaho’s legislature, for example, has a lot of these minority “winners” in the ranks. Most with a far right tilt. Like the current bunch who overwhelmingly passed a bill this year – now a law – to “void” any new federal gun laws. Further, they believe they can now cancel all previous federal gun laws in upcoming sessions. Same for some federal lands issues and federal health care laws, too. They can’t do any of that. So Idahoans will keep paying millions of tax dollars in what is now a long line of more utterly useless and lost court cases.

Fact is, Idaho put a new law on the books this year that’s so far out in right field the legislature decided to appropriate an extra $1-million up front just for the court battle legislators were sure would come. Prescient? No. Learned from history? Maybe. Just deciding to pay up front this time rather than paying later as has so often been the case.

North Carolina, Louisiana, Kansas, Utah, Arkansas and Florida are among some other locales going the same phony “nullification” route. “We don’t like your damned federal laws and we ain’t gonna follow ‘em.” Some of the local ignorance deals with obviously illegal new voter limitations, efforts to avoid requirements of the Affordable Care Act, resistance to gun laws that haven’t even been written and other nonsense.

What I’d like to see is these pick-and-choose politicians say “We don’t want none of your damned highway money – and you can keep your funding of local water and sewer systems. And, while you’re at it, we ain’t takin’ none of those federal education dollars, either.” But they won’t. Deciding which laws to follow and which to ignore is one thing. Not taking the money is something else. Crazy, yes. Just not stupid.

The plain fact is the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause allows federal trumping of state statutes and has been uniformly upheld for more than 200 years. You might be able to legally smoke a “joint” in Washington State these days. But if the feds want to bust you, they will, regardless of what Washington voters have decided. Same with gun law “bans.”

Idaho is many millions of dollars poorer for this sort of legislative suicide in the courts. Dollars that could’ve made significant improvements in public education, health care and other quality-of-life issues for taxpayers. And many more of those valuable tax bucks will go down the judicial rat hole as the elective “bait and switch” allowing Idaho’s minority cretins to win at the polls goes unchallenged.

Of course, anyone who wants to seriously take on folks in the Idaho Legislature must remember this year they made it legal for any member to carry a concealed weapon at anytime and anywhere- whether they know one end of the damned thing from the other or not.- drunk or sober – 24/7. That’s what you get when the nuts with the aluminum wrap hats manipulate the voters. I think my unarmed friend forgot that.

Not all columns herein need to be lengthy to make a point. To prove ‘tis so, just consider this brief set of facts from the National Journal’s vote ratings of members of Congress.

“For the third consecutive year, no Republican Senate member had a more liberal voting record that ANY Democrat. No Democratic Senator had a more conservative score than the most liberal Republican.

“In the (435 member) House, just 10 Democrats had a more conservative score than the most liberal Republican. Just five Republicans were more liberal than the most conservative Democrat.”

Put another way, there are nearly no ideological crossovers anymore. Democrats are “liberal” – Republicans are “conservative.”

For three decades – the Journal started this annual survey in 1982 – it was the norm to find a handful of ideological crossovers in the Senate. Even more in the larger House. Now, the norm is “purity.”

No more middle ground in which to seek compromise. No middle ground in which to exchange positions. No more middle ground. Period!

With those findings, you’re going to have a breakthrough? You’re going to find reasoned solutions to our immense national problems? You’re going to find political leadership?

That’s it. Short and sweet.

Gridlock explained in 60 seconds.

In a sort of bipartisan piling on, critics of federal support for auto makers or of that proposed oil pipeline from Canada or lost tax dollars in failed alternative energy company Solyndra have captured a lot of attention. Filled with political expediency, what all the critical voices have failed to articulate is any sort of long term view or alternatives dealing with each subject. And there are many.

Before dealing with them, here’s a basic fact: government – and government alone – is often the best (if not only) entity that can make major investments in very large undertakings. Despite our love of “independence” and those who cling to our lost system of “free” enterprise – which hasn’t existed for 150 years – sometimes government has to go first, pay the heavy bills for development and then step aside for private capital to take over at some point.

There are many examples but the best I can think of is our space program. If President Kennedy had not led us into it in 1961, we would likely be speaking Russian. No private company – no group of private companies – could raise the billions and billions of dollars to do what government did. As a nation – and as individuals – we are massively richer for that undertaking. And it’s almost impossible to count the ways we benefitted from computers to cell phones to – well – thousands of things.

And where are we now? Private companies are using that taxpayer-bought engineering, incalculable experience, hundreds of thousands of patents and thousands of highly-trained taxpayers to open space travel to all. We’ve got hundreds of private satellites and even private space shuttles flying around.

For those who say government had no business putting billions into the auto companies – that we should have let them sink – Road Apples! Anyone with any economic smarts knows it had to be done to avoid even more massive unemployment, disaster for thousands of small businesses and a financial mess that would have been incredibly costly.

And look what happened. GM has closed its most profitable year in history – reopened several plants – ramped up production – and has built more and better vehicles than ever. It’s paid back most of the taxpayer loan while GM stock many Americans own has gotten even more valuable. Chrysler basically avoided corporate death – threw out many bad models while developing new lines – reopened closed plants – rehired thousands – and has paid off the loan. And both companies are using new, cutting-edge technology to build the best cars in both their histories. A lot of that new technology the government pioneered in other programs.

No private companies were ready to do what government did. No investors or venture capitalists were willing to ride to the rescue. The results will be taught in business schools for decades to show how government and an entire industry can build huge successes in the face of certain disaster.

Some of this same logic applies to Solyndra, too. The alternative energy business is very much like other new technologies in their infancy. Just as computer and software pioneers, weapons system developers, aircraft builders and others needed government participation to get going, so have those firms trying to build us new energy systems. The much-touted Silicon Valley would have been Death Valley without direct government investment in the early days, favorable tax treatments, regulation relief and other federal and state support. Solyndra failed. So will others. But some won’t. Eventually, more will thrive. And we’ll be better for it.

As for that pipeline, there are many facets to that story. Will oil shale eventually be turned into petroleum? Yes. Would that Canada petroleum reduce our need for as much foreign oil? Probably not since even developers say most of it would be exported. Would it bring gas prices down? No, for the same reason. But, even without it, projections are we will still be our own largest supplier of oil within a decade.

Oil shale conversion to usable petroleum is an expensive and dirty process. It produces huge amounts of greenhouse gasses. Conoco-Phillips currently has a TV ad touting it can refine shale with “no more adverse effects on the environment than current production.” In other words, “It will be bad but no badder than we’re already doing.” Marvelous corporate double-speak.

Maybe that pipeline should be built. Someday. But it should be built for rational reasons using the best technology. At the moment, the whole project is a political football with a lot of demagoguery. Even the developers say there are environmental concerns not completely addressed. Nearly all the eventual output already has been designated for export. Not all the rights-of-way have been obtained. Those don’t sound like sufficient reasons to jump into this at the moment. Any decision on this project should be scientifically-based for the long-term and not as a political “fix.”

And that word “fix” is important. Producing more and more petroleum products should not be our only national energy goal. Developing other, non-petroleum energy sources should be equally important. Our dependency on the stuff – especially foreign – is foolish. And risky. South Sudan, Syria and Yemen are in turmoil with a lot of oil production offline. Canada and North Sea are having production problems for one reason or another. Iran is out – or may soon be – as a source. Market disruptions elsewhere – for many reasons – are adding to our pump pain.

As Kennedy did with the space program four decades ago, we should undertake a new national priority with the same zeal and commitment of all our resources. Large-scale, sweeping development of alternative energy sources. Top to bottom. All sources. We should dedicate ourselves as completely to that as to our previous commitment to send man to the moon.

Ironic, isn’t it? Those astronauts and their moon buggy? Damned thing ran on electricity. That was about 40 years ago.

Old Tom Edison had a saying. “I’ve not failed. I’ve found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”

Well, Solyndra didn’t work. The auto industry investment of tax dollars did. And the oil shale pipeline might. Critics of all – and critics mad about government dollars being involved – need to look at the larger picture. Like Edison.

Senator sock puppet

Author: admin

Damned near impossible to turn on your old HDTV these days without seeing the master political ventriloquist and his sock puppet – McCain and Graham. Often, McCain is out of the picture so you don’t see his lips move. But ol’ Lindsey has his mouth flapping aplenty, mimicking the words of a former national hero that – as Dangerfield used to say – “can’t get no respect.” Especially in Arizona.

Public Policy Polling – one of the most reputable question-asking outfits on the planet – queried about a thousand Arizonans in recent days. Bottom line: McCain has a 55% disapproval rating around the homestead. PPP says he’s now “the least popular senator in the country.” Take that, Ted Cruz! Quite a come-down from years back when the Navy war hero – and former North Vietnamese POW – came down the gangplank and decided to turn his military celebrity into a career in public office. But that’s where he is today.

Perhaps it’s ironic that sock puppet Graham is also a guy with some military experience. Of course, his is more paperwork and less suffering. Depending on how you feel about lawyers. Graham has a combination of active and reserve USAF and even had G. Bush the younger prominently pin on his eagles sometime ago. But – there IS that one part of his resume that always gives readers pause.

Graham apparently believes he spent some of his military time in “confinement,” too. As a USAF attorney. In his resume, he points proudly to his “service in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.” He does so as some who served at the same time point out Graham never left South Carolina during those campaigns. When challenged, Graham said he never meant to mislead – he was just “in uniform” during those years. Meaning if you and I were in the military in Oregon at the same time, we’d be entitled to wear the same ribbons even if we, too, didn’t go. How do you suppose those that went and ducked the IED’s feel about that?

With the advent of the Obama presidency, McCain became one of the most vocal in the Republican pantheon with repeated – and often nutty – criticism of anything Obama. Like a stopped clock that can be right twice a day, McCain sometimes latched onto something legitimate. Unfortunately, like that broken timepiece, he was wrong a lot of the time, too.

McCain is a master junketeer. Wherever an internal political struggle turns to violence, there he is. He’s slept in a lot of beds on former Soviet real estate and lent his loud support to nearly all. “We are all Georgians,” he pledged to citizens of that breakaway nation when Russians were pounding on the Georgian door. He will, I’m certain, show up in Crimea in a few days – promising “We’re all Crimeans.”

With Graham speaking from the sock on his right fist, the two have been war hawks for several years. They seem to have never encountered a foreign internal struggle that couldn’t be settled with more American arms and – in some cases – troops. McCain wanted us to bomb Syria. Graham, too, of course. McCain wanted us more militarily active in Lybia. Graham, too. Of course. It must be their military affiliations that have made them so disposed to violence when statesmanship and negotiating more often are the pathways chosen by others. Like war, those two efforts are not always successful. But fewer people die when they’re tried first.

In our house, McCain and Graham have worn out their welcomes on the Sunday political talk shows. Not so much for what they’ve said as much as for continually saying it. Frankly, I’ve never heard Graham say anything on Sunday that hadn’t already come from McCain’s mouth.

At one time, McCain had a great deal of credibility because of his years of honorable military service and his experiences in North Vietnamese prisons. We cut him a lot of slack and – while not always agreeing with his outlook – we paid attention because he had certainly given more than his share. Now, even at home in Arizona, more than half the voters are saying publically they’ve had enough and are ready for someone new.

As for Graham, the Tea Party is chewing on him from the far right in South Carolina. So, he’s running that direction quickly to out-flank the crazies by getting on the record first with “righter” positions than the fringe GOP candidates. For all his years of public service as a moderate in the Republican ranks, Graham has been fairly well respected. Now, he’s making the Koch’s and the three-cornered-hat crowd happy campers.

I mean no disrespect. I was raised to honor various points of view even while disagreeing with them. But these two long ago left the point of civil disagreement to engage in often mindless criticism simply for the sake of criticism. At a time when we’re talking about ending production of weapons designed to re-fight World War II – while redesigning our military to fight the battles of the future – McCain and Graham offer irresponsible rhetoric as outdated as a cavalry horse. Rather than use their military experiences to help lead the changes necessary to deal with today’s battles – and tomorrow’s – these two long for the “good old days” and criticize those who’re thinking ahead.

Critics we’ve always got. It’s leaders we’re short on now. And these two ain’t helping.

“From sea to shining sea” across our national landscape, we are awash in unnecessary, racist, homophobic and outright despicable efforts to legislate against us and our neighbors – to control what we think and do. It’s being done in the name of someone’s “God” or someone’s corporate interests or others with self-serving, underhanded – often dangerous – attempts to prolong their worthless political lives at the public trough.

We’ve been inundated by media coverage of one of the worst of the crop that made it to a governor’s desk. A piece of legislative trash – sponsored mostly by a Colorado group calling itself “christian” – to allow “religious beliefs” to trump citizenship rights of those whom the “believers” disapprove. While the media made it mostly a matter of sexual orientation, it was, in fact, an effort to legislate absolutely any person’s activities if those activities ran counter to someone providing a public service or product. That’s all of us.

The governor vetoed the bill. Not, I think, because it was the right thing to do. Which it was. Remember, this is someone running for re-election. I’d bet she suddenly realized overwhelming public – and corporate – opposition was a prime indicator of Arizona political winds and that she’d be better off temporarily angering her right-wing base than running afoul of possibly a much wider – and likely corporate “contributor” – constituency.

But her political fortunes aren’t the issue here. What IS the issue is eight other states are dealing with the same piece of phony moralistic garbage. Legislatures in Oregon and Idaho appear to have bottled up those bills in committee. For now. But they’ll be back. You can count on it. What the other six states will do is anyone’s guess.

This is just one area in which wrong-headed, narrow-minded, moralistic minorities are trying to do through law what they can’t do any other way – infringe on the rights of the rest of us by making our conduct in various issues illegal if our conduct flies in the face of their “moral beliefs.” There are many, many more similar legislative land mines out there..

Whether it’s gay rights, voter rights, abortion rights, access to medical care, privatizing schools or the post office or prisons or other public institutions of choice, a network of these ideologically vacant “moralists” has been created to raise havoc with our society. We hear and read so much about their efforts that it’s hard to keep in mind they’re minorities. But they are.

It’s no secret who’s behind them. James Dobson and other fundamentalist church leaders, the Koch brothers and their various 501(c)3 and (c)4 fronts, the John Birch Society, Family Forum, the NRA, Heritage Foundation and dozens and dozens of small, tin-hat groups and billionaire self-appointed keepers of the national moral flame. Some are new- some aren’t. But the Internet and other recent technologies have given them the means of spreading their societal undermining so they seem much larger and more important than they really are.

I tangled repeatedly with the little Idaho nest of the Birch Society in the 1960′s. The message then was the same as the message now – this country is “going to Hell in a handbasket “ because of (insert your favorite conspiracy). The focus 50 years ago was mostly on “Communists” hiding in our government. But abortion and subjugation of the rights of minorities were – and are – also Birch menu items.

Back then, they were isolated. Now, with the push of a computer key, they flood the Internet with hundreds of thousands of email messages of hate, suspicion, conspiracy and nut-ball fantasies. Their presence is so much more noticeable because of the ease of access to the rest of us., But, if you pull back the electronic curtain, you’ll likely find the same scared little people – resistant to change – unable to cope with our quickly moving technologies – afraid of the government bogeymen they still see in every dark corner – frightened of the “Communist infiltrators” of years gone by.

But there have also been at two very real changes for these small, disparate groups of haters and conspiratorial nuts. First, largely by years of hard work in mostly local and state Republican central committees – coupled with the normal political indifference of most Americans until it’s one of theirs in the wringer – they’ve captured party nominating control and, in some cases, frozen out otherwise normal candidacies. Our political zoos are now filled with the likes of Bachmans, Ghomerts, Brouns, Cruzes, Issa’s, Lees, Kings, etc.. Check your local legislature for carbon copies.

The second change is the proliferation of dangerous front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Sponsored by the Koch’s and other corporate interests with a right wing agenda, ALEC and others are clearing houses used to create sample bills for introduction into the 50 legislatures and Congress. The current rash of anti-gay, “religious freedom” and voter suppression garbage can be traced back to these various sources. They’re “one-size-fits-all” copies intended to flood statehouses and Congress. Some die Some don’t.

For those who want additional proof – check out what’s happened to the anti-gay bills signed into law in nearly a dozen states. As one federal court after another strikes them down one by one, the wording in the decisions is almost as uniform as wording in what’s being tossed out.

Something dangerous is afoot here. As state after state passes this junk – and as court after court cancels much of it – judges are in the position of making law rather than deciding it. They do so by overruling legislature after legislature. One state loses and ten more lose as well.

There’s also the issue of those few bad laws that might survive lower federal courts moving up to the U.S. Supreme Court. That puts SCOTUS in the position of not just deciding federal constitutional questions but also state laws by the handful. So, what happens to the balance of power among the three branches of government? Or the sovereignty of states? Or, if SCOTUS refuses to hear the appeals, then what?

There’s much more at stake in examples like the Arizona Legislature making bad law. Or Idaho. Or Oregon. We’ve got a cancer of single-minded minorities shoving self-serving agendas through the 50 states – agendas that don’t respect the rights and privileges of the citizenship the rest of us enjoy and are entitled to by law.

You may be comfortable on your pillow at night with having SCOTUS and Chief Justice Roberts acting as freedom’s backstop for this legislative effluent. Me? I’m not sleeping nearly as well.

Government-less

Author: admin

“NO WORK EXPECTED
FROM CONGRESS
REMAINDER OF 2014″

That“Washington Post” headline of a week or two ago struck me on two counts: it was some experienced observer’s recognition we have a totally ineffective branch of federal government – as I’ve speculated for some time; it was not unexpected news.

Both the conclusion and the fact it was not unexpected combine to make a powerful statement that this nation – for all intents political – is blind, lost and leaderless in one-third of the constitutional government we’ve been taught to respect. In reality, the U.S. Congress has become an employer of last resort for too many folks incapable of doing – or even understanding – their jobs.

That headline was further reinforced last week when the U.S. Senate was unable to pass a bill to put $21 billion on the table to provide additional education benefits, an unemployment extension and badly needed improved medical care for veterans of our most recent unnecessary wars. Democrats put up the legislation – Republican killed it. They did so despite the fact it was Republican presidents who got us into those wars-of-choice.

Can you come up with a single, acceptable reason why the people who got us – and those veterans – into extended, unwinnable wars in the first place won’t honor the other side of the accompanying commitment to provide the best possible support for those we sent onto the battlefield? I can’t!

Veterans aren’t the only Americans being screwed by their own elected government. You can add millions more who’ve lost food stamps to help with basic family needs – long-term unemployed who’ve been unable to end the downward economic spiral many got caught in through no actions of their own – elderly who’ve lost housing and even food program assistance they need to survive – school lunch programs on which millions of kids rely for at least one good meal a day – local government infrastructure assistance for highway construction, updating sewer and water systems, law enforcement, environmental programs and more.

All of these things – and many other necessary if not outright life-saving government programs – have been decimated by members of a congress so wrapped up trying to stay publically employed that the needs of their own constituents have been ignored.

The story under that despicable headline went on to say the basic “reason” for the projected inactivity was the 2014 election. And 2016. Already. Seems nobody wants to piss off anybody so they wind doing exactly that by doing nothing for everybody – except PACS, Super PACS, anti-government wacko organizations, the Koch’s and any other money faucet they can find.

The founders of this nation were mostly businessmen and professionals from various fields. Before their political midwifery attempts to create a new nation in Philadelphia, they had lives of their own. And, for the most part, careers. They were doing their “good citizen” stint birthing a nation in addition to otherwise normal lives. They intended to create a “citizen government,” not one of perpetual politicians. No, they didn’t make this congressional litter box for ego-driven feral “cats.” We did that on our own.

The lengthy perpetuation of people in public office is a cancerous concept that often ends up badly. Like ticks. Once in, hard to get out. Yes, institutional memory is important to the concept of good government. Yes, we get some good ones now and then who belong on the Potomac River banks because they’re effective. And, yes, we might sometimes throw out both baby and bath water.

But – term limits are not the answer. Term limits would only create new and likely more unacceptable problems than we have. They would – among other things – create a government of supra-bureaucrats with more lasting power than the elected who come and go through the electoral revolving door. If anyone should fear the long-term affects of term limits, it should be the Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, Americans for Freedom and all the rest of the whirly-gig, tinfoil hat crowd.

The only acceptable answer to me is a better-informed electorate – a smarter electorate that takes the time to do its own vetting of people who want to be elected to anything. But that takes work. That takes some concentration and some diligence on our part. The current crop of government wreckers and the intellectually-vacant shows we haven’t done enough of those things.

That Washington Post headline should frighten a lot of us. To look ahead nearly a calendar year and expect 535 members of Congress to do absolutely nothing in the performance of their duties – to accomplish nothing – to allow our continuing national problems to fester and worsen – to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to simply a government employment program we call “elected office” – to allow millions of our fellow citizens to suffer by withdrawing the badly needed support that good conscience would dictate we underwrite – all of that and more reflects a national shame. Not a national pride.