Monday, August 28, 2006

Size is the enemy of freedom

Two important anniversaries are coming up - as if you haven't heard about them, right?

Every news outlet has begun the "One year later" trip down Katrina-memory lane, while the media "celebrate" the fifth year since September 11. Both ask important questions: what have we learned? How has our government's response changed? Are we safer?

The answers to most of those questions, however, are not optimistic.

Both anniversaries have had me thinking about the ineptitude and impotence of our government. It reminds me now of a giant corporation - pick one, anyone with a call center and an option menu. Bloated, sloth-slow, unable to grasp the changes in the world around it, the government is forever keeping us on hold, reminding the people that a vote "is important to us," meanwhile the whole world goes to shit outside our window.

Size can be a burden, even by those who say they wish to jump on that diet plan and, in this case, shrink the size of the federal government. Less taxes (if you're rich), less government-funded programs (unless you're the military), more compassion in the conservative cookie mix (unless you're poor, out of work, or a foreign citizen).

But like most diet plans, a rebound is inevitable. You'll get fat again. Programs are added, each one promising to correct the mistakes of the one before, and nothing in the way of progress is ever seen. Do you think we're safer five years after 9/11? Do you think the Gulf Coast is any more ready to face a category five storm one year later?

Do you trust your government?

With size comes comfort. Just look at our domestic automakers. Swelled and spoon-fed by the "buy American" public, the Big Three sought to change only when the hunger for bigger SUVs surfaced. When gas prices hit, or foreign automakers made better their offerings, or employees required larger health care and pension budgets (as they deserved), GM and Ford and Chrysler were paralyzed by their girth, and now suffer. Same with the airlines. Everyone looks for a hand-out, and usually get it - unless your single and pregnant.

And so our government thought that having all the bases covered would make for good governance. Dip your hands into every facet of American life. Proclaim a slimmer and efficient government, even when you grit your teeth to supress the smirk when you say it. Cut taxes to improve the economy. Run the deficit higher and higher. Advocate personal responsibility except when the people call your bluff.

Ben Franklin, when Alexander Hamilton (pre-duel, of course) worried that presidents shouldn't return to regular public life because it would degrade the former-president, said "In free governments the rulers are the servants and people their superiors and sovereigns."

Franklin, in all his Forefather Wisdow, seems almost naive now. How can a citizen govern that which he or she cannot understand?

And who would want to rule this power-crazy bunch? The same folks that use our military are mercenaries for their oil cronies, help their friends and themselves get fat at the table of suffering, and use the American Government as a tool to preach the Gospel of Free Enterprise and No Gays In Our Backyard. Who wants anything to do with them?

When the American people can be flim-flammed by PR men, touting economic recovery where none exist, educational reform as an unfunded mandate, and turn-the-corner war mongering into freedom throughout the Mideast, Ben Franklin's words lose their value and poetry. We are no longer the rulers. The servants have taken back what they've always seen as theirs.

War is Peace. Freedom, Slavery. You get the idea.

I've tried to take heart in the words of Thomas Jefferson, who preferred the morning paper to any government. At least a newspaper a common man can make sense of. Today's government requires the mind of Einstein and the heart of Rocky Balboa to slog through. And even they didn't have the guts, or the mindlessness, to take That Trip.

But now that the paper is merely a tool in the Fat-Man's utility belt - "Send that press release, Bob, and call anyone who disagrees a liberal, terrorist, or Tom Cruise!" - well, Mr. Jefferson, there's always MySpace.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Give 'em hell, Harry

"I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it is hell!" - Harry S. Truman

- - - - -

It's in today's chaotic geo- and domestic political and social climate that I wish we had a guy like Harry Truman around.

No-nonsense. Intelligent. Steeped in American and world history. A salt-of-the-earth kind of guy.

We need someone to give 'em hell. And Truman would've been just the guy.

My admiration of Harry Truman began pretty early, as a sophomore in high school. I entered my first political race, running against Jenny Franks - the prettiest and most popular girl in school - for junior class treasurer. I had just learned about Truman's remarkable "Miracle in '48" victory during the presidential election - how no one thought he could win.

Well, no one but him anyway.

Seeing how Truman beat the odds and came out victorious inspired me, and helped me believe that I could get elected over a two-year incumbent.

And, just like with Truman, I pulled it off.

Of course, as a Democrat, I also look back on Truman's administration as a source of some of the most sparkling progressive ideas of the 20th century. The Fair Deal, civil rights, and - as a senator - his Truman Committee saving the American taxpayer billions of dollars by making sure our money was being spent properly.

Where is today's Truman Committee?

The more I learn, the more I value Truman's insight and wisdom. I'm finishing up Merle Miller's excellent oral biography of Truman, "Plain Speaking." In it, Miller interviews Truman for a television series that never happened, but used the word-by-word transcript as the basis for a book. In it, we hear Truman as he talked, and though he was always succinct, he had a lot to say.

What really struck me was his thought on history - "There is nothing new in the world except the history you don't know." What he meant was, human nature doesn't change. If something unexpected pops up, well, that just means you haven't read your history enough.

He's right, of course. It's amazing how well Truman could peg someone's character and personality. Take Nixon. Truman had him as a crook and liar in the early 1950s, before Nixon ever became Vice President. It didn't help that Nixon called Truman a "communist" and "traitor"

One of Truman's only regrets was that he never had a chance to run against Nixon and "lick him good." I'm sorry that he never had a chance, too, because maybe we could have saved our nation a great big headache.

Truman's foresight on issues like civil rights (he was pro-civil rights even when he knew he would lose all the Dixiecrat support in the South), integration of the armed forces, minimum wage and Social Security issues (he was an adamant supporter of Roosevelt's policies), and the toxic influence of money and the military in politics was ahead of his time.

Truman's belief that the Presidency was an office to be "used for a while," a "tool" that each man used to progress the idea of democracy, floored me.

"When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honrs, the twenty-one-gun salutes, all those things, you have to remember it isn't for you," Truman said. "It's for the Presidency, and you've got to keep yourself separate from that in your mind. If you can't keep the two separate, yourself and Presidency, you're in all kinds of trouble."

Got it?

Now compare those thoughts with the ideas Nixon and the current Bush have about the office. It's a difference that's seen when you compare the Man from Missouri - a farmer and failed businessman - from a silver-spoon rich guy who pretends he's a hick.

There are all the popular characterizations of Truman - "The Buck Stops Here" and the "Give 'em Hell, Harry" shouts during the 1948 campaign, but it's the principles and the knowledge of how American history shapes the politics of today that I admire.

He was a stubborn cuss, of course, and he spoke his mind readily, for good or ill.

But who was in office during the most impactful events of the 20th century, and guided it with more wisdom and principle?

No one, I would argue. Kennedy was in office too short a time, and an argument could be made for Roosevelt - he certainly was in office long enough.

But my political hero will always be Harry Truman, mostly because I wish there were still politicians like him hanging around Washington.

I don't trust people that don't read. If you don't even occasionally have a book in your hand, learning about the wide world that lives beyond your own damn skull, then we won't have a lot to talk about.

I think it would have been fun to talk to Harry Truman.

And I think he would have had a lot to say about today's American political climate.

But, as he said, all we need to do is look at history. It's all right there, every bit of it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Kick the bum out

Everything, all of it belongs to the people. I was just privileged to use it for a while. - Harry S. Truman

- - - - -

Did you vote yesterday?

I hope so - it was primary day, a quasi-election where the cream (hopefully) rises to the top, sprouts legs, and heads to the general November election.

Let's say four Republicans are running for your state's U.S. Sentate seat. American politics says four GOP guys can't face each other in the November election - there can only be one. So the primary lets you vote for the person you want to vote for in November. Whoever wins the GOP primary will go on to face the Democratic candidate in the fall.

It's like a political tournament.

Yesterday was one of the bigger primaries I can remember, particularly because of our own 7th Congressional District race between incumbent Republican Joe Schwarz and local nutcase Tim Walberg.

For those playing at home, incumbents (those that already hold the office) rarely lose. The Congress has something like a 90% retention rate every election. If you're elected to Congress, print all the stationary you want, because you can bet you'll be there a while.

Well Schwarz lost.

Joe was a moderate, McCain-like Republican (he's very good friends with Senator McCain, ever since - as a CIA agent - he tried to rescue McCain from a POW camp in Vietnam). He was supported by all the heavy hitters in state and national GOP circles. But Walberg - an arch-conservative - labelled Schwarz a "liberal" (pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage), and the rest took care of itself.

You can't be a liberal and win in Jackson County. It just can't happen.

I received no less that six pieces of mail - one per day - lambasting Joe Schwarz as a "friend to Ted Kennedy" and "Pro-Immigration Amnesty." It's no wonder Joe lost. He tried to run a clean, "experienced" campaign, and you just can't reason with far-right loonies like Walberg.

The other big story was Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman losing his seat in the Connecticut primary to a virtual nobody, Ned Lamont. By 10,000 votes.

The issue? The Iraq war.

So in Michigan, and in Jackson, you have a guy kicked out of office because he wasn't conservative enough, while on the East Coast you have a long-term Senator (and former Vice Presidential candidate in 2004) getting the boot because he wasn't liberal enough.

What the heck is going on?

Even Doug McIntyre, host of L.A.s KABC morning show, weighed in on the Schwartz/Walberg primary. According to McIntyre, many states are swinging to the extremes in either direction left in Connecticut, right in our own 7th District.

McIntyre also pointed out one of my favorite parts of primaries where voters will switch sides to vote for the other partys candidates.

And thats true of me. During primaries, I never vote for Democrats, especially local ones. Its much more fun to vote for Republicans and pick the candidates I either like or want to lose.

I either think Which Republican can I stand? and/or Whos the dope that could get trounced by my favorite Dem?

Fill in the bubble. Turn in the ballot. Democracy rules.

But what I'm sensing from yesterday's results is a shift away from incumbent-friendly habits and a more kick-the-bum-out mentality. And how can you blame Americans? This Congress has done less and been away from Washington more than the legendary "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1948.

This is how a democracy is supposed to work. If your representative doesn't represent you, you throw the bum out. When issues like flag burning and gay marriage are all that's being talked about, the bums deserve whatever they get.

Schwarz losing was a bum deal. I liked the guy, certainly more than the born-again Walberg, who doesn't even speak the same language as me. Much as I like McCain, Schwarz represents a sort of Republican-lite (or just sensible policy making) that I can get along with. He's a smart, hard-working guy.

But I'm clearly in the minority. So now we have some goofball running for Congress, and apparently that's what the local counties wanted to represent them in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

What should be more fun, though, is the November election. Democrat, Republican, I don't care - I want to see a dramatic, national kick-to-the-curb movement, where all the bums currently in office are tossed out on their ass.

They've earned it.

Friday, August 4, 2006

The dying squawk of the Thunderbird

[If you haven't heard that the Thunderbird Coffee House is closing, read about it here.]

Its sad, whats happening to Jon Hart and his Thunderbird Coffee House. Unfortunately, I think its a sign of the times.

In an age where less than half of Americans vote in a national election, people seem to prefer voting with their dollars. They vote for giant Ultra-Marts and Starbucks, chain stores you can find in increasingly every town in
America. How can local businesses compete?

What bothers me is that a smart, resourceful business owner like Hart a man who cares about Jackson and provides a venue for the youth of the city to get together and have fun is forced to close his doors. While the Citizen Patriot's story was short on details, I get the impression that business owners who try to survive downtown are having a rough time of it, especially considering all the recent closings. And that just shouldnt be.

So I guess Ill vote with my money, too.

For instance, you wont catch me in a Starbucks. They dont need my money, not when local businesses are hurting. It's a philosophy of mine to support the locals first, and worry about price, convenience, etc. second. On my Route trip, it was a great pleasure to actually see America, not visit the franchise version.

But Im afraid someday Ill have no choice a time when the whole country is shopping at Wal-Mart, drinking coffee from Starbucks, and eating dinner under the Golden Arches. We may become like Soviet Russia, where citizens had few choices when shopping for their needs.

Welcome to the U.S.S.A.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

He's not a crook, he's a bastard

A recent report from says that Sen. Arlen Specter is attempting to pass a law that would remove judicial oversight from any wiretapping that the Bush or future administrations seeks to enforce.

No oversight. No judicial process. No checks and balances. Nixon would've been proud.

The headline says "Echoes of the Nixon era," and it fit nicely with some of what I've been thinking about since my Route 66 trip.

Namely: Bush and Nixon were equal in the "bastard" rankings.

After reading "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" (a very non-objective - hell, not even fair - account of that election, with McGovern getting thrashed by an incumbent Nixon), I couldn't help but notice the similarities.

Maybe we should start with the differences. Bush has found Jesus, while Nixon worshipped Satan the Dark Lord. Bush faces terrorism during his term, while Nixon fought hippies. Nixon actually signed some pro-environment laws, while Bush burns them to keep his cold dead heart warm in the winter. Bush got us into a heckuva mess in Iraq, while Nixon had to airlift us out of the mess in Vietnam. Bush lies through his teeth, helps cronies, takes away the very freedoms he swore to protect, and feels a god-like elitism to stay above the law.

Oh wait. Nixon did all that too.

"It's not illegal if the president does it," Nixon was reported saying, and I'm pretty sure, when he's cramped on the shitter his lies built, Bush whispers the same thing to himself.

Nixon saw nothing wrong with abusing presidential privileges to achieve his own ends - namely, to destroy the poor saps on his "enemies list," and to intimidate anyone who thought the president was just a mortal Protestant. Law and order, man. That was the order of the day.

Bush feels the same, but masks the naked power-grabs as means to "defend freedom."

Right. Defend freedom by taking it away. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery.

The Nixon Administration imploded when, drunk with power and lurching in the alleyway with the tycoons looking and cheering him on, Nixon's stupidity and ego rose to the surface like toilet paper in a porta-potty.

And with each new round of the news cycle, some new report comes out about how Bush and company are taking phone lists, supressing "you-think-you're-so-smart" scientist and science, handing out no-bid blowjobs to corporate golf buddies, and watching - stupidly - as Iraq burns itself to glass.

It makes me want to puke.

I've often used "Nixon" as an insult, as in "that bastard would have agreed with Nixon's law-and-order philosophy," or "Jesus, you're as ugly as that goon Nixon!" Maybe I should start saying "You voted for Bush, didn't you, you hairlip prick?"

It's really the only recourse left. We sure as hell can't subpeona our government - they're too busy debating flag burning, gay marriage, they talk about anything else?

The Greeks knew what happens to bastards like this. Pride, in the Grecco-Roman world, was the worst thing a man could subscribe to.

So to the next jerk that putters along in the passing lane, I'll yell, "You're about as prideful as that horse's ass Bush!"

What else can I do?