Tuesday, April 24, 2007

President Bush needs to cowboy up

President Bush seems to relish his western heritage in talk, walk and manner. But he's falling short.

One of the cowboy trademarks is trust. If a cowboy gives you his word, you can believe what he says. But when it comes to his political appointments' longevity, Bush has squandered our trust. Sure, some will say it's just politics. But I think he is lying to us, pure and simple.

Consider these Bush quotes about his appointees (from Bloomberg news):

Donald Rumsfeld -- six days before the November election, Bush said he was "fantastic" yet one day after the election "fired."

FEMA director Michael Brown -- "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job." Gone 10 days later.

Treasury Secretary John Snow -- out of work five days after Bush said Snow was "doing a fine job."

White House Counsel Harriet Miers -- withdrew herself as a Supreme Court nomination despite the President's assurances she would be confirmed as soon as she explained "the facts to the people" in her testimony.

This brings us to Paul Wolfowitz and Alberto Gonzalez. We already have the President's statements of support for these two whiners. But let's wait and see the final outcome and compare the action with the quotes.

President Bush is giving cowboy a bad name. Grit needs to be tempered with sense.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lubbock, light

Lubbock, Texas. It's a whole nuther place. But, after being away for nearly 50 years, I'm finally beginning to appreciate my home town. Took a while.

The Mystery Woman and I graduated from high school in Lubbock back during the Second Dust Bowl. The Discovery Channel would have loved it. You could see a wall of sand hundreds of feet high rolling toward you. Unrelenting. The wind-driven sand often scoured the paint from cars.

Old Lubbock was a tough town. I was shot at twice before I was 18. Once was for stealing hubcaps and I'm not telling about the other attempt. Suffice it to say, both missed and I went straight. And the Statute of Limitations has run.

New Lubbock seems more peaceful. Once, I was driving around in a rented car and was astonished to hear classical music on the radio. More surprising, I saw two men walking down University Ave. holding hands and nobody was beating them up.

For years, I was convinced Lubbock had an inferiority complex whenever Austin was mentioned. Later, I came to realize Lubbock had an inferiority complex when any city was mentioned. Except Muleshoe.

That was in the old days. After so many garage bands became successful (The Dixie Chicks, The Flatlanders, Buddy Holly), the edge was gone. Gone, that is, if you don't count musicians as politicians.

When Texas Tech launched both a law school and a medical school, it changed the social structure. Once I asked a divorced woman if she was having trouble finding a replacement male in such a shallow gene pool and she replied:"Oh honey, there's tons of divorced doctors now." Lawyers, too, I imagine.

Although most number-crunchers would credit Texas Tech as the driving force in the new Lubbock economy, I think it's the music.

Music and a budding sense of humor.

On that drive when I was having my coming of age experience (OK, so I'm slow), I drove by the chamber of commerce to admire the must-see statute of Buddy Holly. In the dimness of my memory, I remember my sister telling me there was also a Buddy Holly waterfall. I called for directions and soon found the alleged waterfall. Pretty and peaceful.

But something was wrong. I didn't remember any running water in that part of town. Puzzled, I climbed up the sandstone rocks and at the tiptop discovered the headwaters -- a faucet and a garden hose running full blast.

I'm not making this up.

Some years later, a Buddy Holly park was dedicated with a more legit waterfall. So I'm told...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Jake Pickle, statesman

Running for political office used to be fun. Not like the mean-spirited stuff of today's campaigns.

Or maybe Jake Pickle made it fun.

He was going door to door in a rural area of Central Texas looking for votes in his re-election bid for Congress. The hot button item: geese. Penned or free range, that was the burning question in Hays County, south of Austin.

One woman remained behind the screen door as she asked Pickle: what's your position on the geese? He quickly noted that her geese were securely penned and launched into the virtues of caged geese. The woman fussed back -- they don't lay as many eggs. And slammed the door.

Next farm was just the opposite. The geese were running loose. Different woman behind the screen door, same question: what's your position on the geese? Pickle barely got into higher egg production from free-range geese when the lady of the house gnarled: they ain't sanitary, look at all the stuff in the yard. Slam.

Things weren't going well and they were about to get worse. At the next farm house, half the geese were penned and half were running loose.

Pickle sized up the situation. As the woman came to the door, Pickle said: now before you ask, I'm OK on the goose question.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Christmas comes early

Like most men, I'm not good about shopping. Any kind of shopping. Food, clothes, Christmas.

Especially Christmas. I had no idea what kind of present to buy. Knew even less about how much money to spend. For the first few years after my divorce, I over-spent on my kids. The bonanza ran into the thousands and I'm not a wealthy man. At least not in monetary terms.

I knew I needed to find a balance.

Perhaps it was the Merlot, but one evening the simple solution hit me: Buy everybody on my Christmas list the same present! The plan was genius-in-action. Just run out and buy 20 of the same thing. That would take care of kids and relatives and even old college buddies.

But what kind of identical present? That was the rub. What present would suit male and female, young and old, fun and crabby?

A clock! Of course. A clock knows neither rank nor station. And certainly has no gender. Time is the great equalizer in a democracy or any other form of government. A clock would be perfect for Americans as well as communists (and a few of my friends are suspect).

By the second year, people on my gift list began to get it. The Christmas clock was anticipated with the same quiver of anticipation normally reserved for the holiday fruitcake.

Why all this talk of Christmas in mid-April? Today, the Mystery Woman and I found 20 gizmos that tick and tock and rrring. On sale, too. I'm a happy man.

Now. If I could only figure out what to do about birthdays.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Open meetings? Sorta

Granger, Texas. One town, two communities. For years, Armistice Day was celebrated jointly but separately by the Czech community on one side of the tracks and the Anglo community on the other.

Hubert Gorubec, a man loaded with rough-hewn charisma, was both mayor and fire chief in Granger. He was Czech and proud of it. Always wore a hat and had a working stub of a cigar smoking from the side of his mouth. Gorubec was a man comfortable in his own skin, jovial and brave at the same time. He would charge a burning building, if necessary, just like he would take on a political conflagration with abandon.

Once, the daily newspaper in Austin, the American Statesman, found fault with the way Gorubec ran closed city council meetings when it suited him. The newspaper sued and won.

Naturally, this didn't set well with the mayor but he was sworn to uphold the law.

So, when the next city council meeting was set to begin, Gorubec gavelled the meeting open -- and conducted the entire meeting in Czech!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

AARP fox/henhouse

AARP, the biggest lobby organization in the U.S., now wants to become the biggest player selling lucrative healthcare policies for Medicare recipients along with other products for the near-old people 50 to 64 years of age.

Surely I am not the only one who can see a field of red flags. Talk about conflict of interest, how can AARP lobby Congress about health care and sell insurance out the back door? Maybe I have that reversed. After all, AARP was born to provide insurance to older people.

From today's NY Times comes this quote: "AARP will not be perceived as a truly independent on Medicare if it's making hefty profits by selling insurance products that provide Medicare coverage," says Judith Stein, director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a non-profit group that counsels people on Medicare. Temptation.

Although AARP has previously opposed efforts to privatize Medicare, Ms.Stein thinks AARP's role could give a big boost to privatization. See the plot developing here? Money, money, money.

Frankly, I think AARP is the most dangerous organization in America. As I've said before, the convoluted Medicare drug program became a fact because AARP let it happen. Insurance, remember.

Worse, with 38 million members (soon to be 50 million) AARP is the real muscle behind any Social Security reform. If a plan is not blessed by AARP, it won't happen. Period. And thus far, AARP has shown more greed than sense.

This is beginning to have a bad smell. I hope not. We need an organization like AARP. But ethics are ethics.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Neither substance nor style

-- Iraq
No WMD, Abu Ghraib, Mission Accomplished, extended military tours, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, etc.

-- War Czar
No kidding

-- World Bank
Paul Wolfowtiz and his honey

-- Dick Cheney
In near-total denial

-- Convicted
Scooter Libby

-- Indicted
Tom Delay

-- Convicted lobby criminal with White House ties
Jack Abramoff

-- U. S. Justice Department
Alberto Gonzales

-- Millions of missing e-mails
Karl Rove

-- Katrina

-- 9/11
Squandered opportunity to unite our nation

Shameful abuse of power. Tragic. Unnecessary because the Democrats have been so ineffectual.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The banker and the politico

This is a story of oneupmanship.

Back when I was younger and dumber, I was hauling across South Texas with a couple of buddies in a SUV that was fast filling up with empty beer cans. Driving across Texas back roads in the morning sun, listening to country music, re-telling tall tales with a cold beer between our legs. We thought it was our God-given right in those days.

Whether by accident or design, we wound up at the King Ranch. More specifically, at the King Ranch Store. If you don't know about King Ranch, go directly to Google. The ranch is a linchpin in Texas history.

But I wandered from the story. My buddies began to show off for the cute little sales girls. My banker friend asked if he could borrow their phone to make a long distance call. This was before cell phones.

They handed him the phone and he placed a call to the governor. Dialed it from memory. Got right through. Hi, Gov. How y'all doing?

My other buddy, the politico, was wracking his brain trying figure out how to top a call to the governor. You could see the inspiration glow around him as he picked up the phone, dialed from memory and, in a loud voice, placed a call to the manager of the King Ranch. He got right through, too.

Naturally, that trumped a call to the governor. Honor was restored.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Vote like I tell you

Politics in Texas has always been a contact sport. Some say a blood sport. Here's proof.

I was working for the Texas Municipal League years back when we got the city sales tax passed through the Texas Legislature. It was a local-option bill, meaning the citizens had to vote the tax upon themselves.

When the first election time rolled around the big cities laid back. They were afraid the people would not vote to add to their tax burden. But the smaller cities were hurting for new revenue streams so badly that they jumped at the chance. Hundreds of small and medium sized cities held their elections the same day.

There were so many that the Associated Press asked us to function as Election Central and keep the state-wide totals. So several of us got some cases of beer and starting calling.

My assignment was to make calls throughout South Texas, where politics has been described as a rolling ball of butcher blades. One of the first on my list was Roma, a picturesque and historic little city on the Rio Grande border between Texas and Mexico. I missed the mayor. He had already gone across the border to celebrate. So I called the police chief.

"How did the election go, chief?"

"Oh, we won all right. We won."

"What was the vote talley?"

"It was 500 to one."

"Five hundred to one! Isn't that unusual?"

"Damn sure is," the chief said. "But we think we know who did it."

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Wedding giggles

Sonny was a handsome guy. Tall, tan, well-spoken. Should have been married years ago. But, for whatever reason, Sonny still lived at home with his mother.

No matter, he was so well thought of that the good people in his town elected him mayor. And kept re-electing him.

Sonny's day job was running the family tombstone business. Granite. Eternal.

Although several of the eligible women in his small town set their caps for Sonny, he remained a bachelor. Nobody could figure out why. But it turns out, Sonny had a secret life. He kept an apartment in Houston and would go there to party.

And in that vast talent pool, he found a young woman who captured his heart. More and more, Sonny was spending weekends in Houston. Finally, he was ready to propose marriage. But the young lady beat him to the punch. She announced she was getting married all right -- but to someone else.

Ever the good sport, Sonny gave her a nice wedding present: a $500 gift certificate on a thousand dollar tombstone.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Homeland security

Two older people walk into a bar...

After a 30-year hiatus, I returned to a familiar old habit one night last week: sitting in a bar and writing inspired notes on coctail napkins.

Yes, I took the Mystery Woman to a bar as part of her re-entry into Texas culture, Austin-style. Not just any bar. This was La La's Little Nugget. Their motto makes sense: "It's always Christmas at La La's." Of course it is. They haven't taken down the Christmas decorations in at least five decades. A Christmas tree stands just inside the entrance. Cheerful, but dusty.

It was good to be back. I almost asked the bartender if I have had any calls, but I was afraid she would dead-pan: "Sears."
Think about it.

Anyhow, the Mystery Woman really liked the place. Good juke box, good conversation, good wine.

By the start of the second glass, I was flush with inspiration and whipped out my trusty ball-point pen and blank white coctail napkin. We were going to make history writing down future topics for this blog.

The ideas were coming fast:
--world peace
--cancer cure
--tax reform...

When suddenly She-Who-Knows-Things said: "Eggs."

"Eggs!" I yiked. "How the hell am I going to write about eggs?"

"We're out of eggs and you need to buy some on the way home," she said. With reality crowding the mood, we left.

Then we pulled into a little convenience store which looked to be run by terriorists. The Mystery Woman cruised the aisles but found only beer in the refrigerated cases.

"Oh, madam, we do indeed have eggs," said the clerk in lilting English. With that, he pulled a dozen eggs with a working expiration date from amongst the six packs. He even opened the carton as he had seen women do in other stores, but, instead of checking for cracked eggs, he counted to make certain there were, as advertised, twelve. He counted out loud. Yes, all there. A dozen.

Once we were safely out of the parking lot, I confronted and confounded the Mystery Woman. "You're helping the terriorists by shopping there," I said sternly.

"Don't be silly," she said. "How are they going to hurt us with eggs?"

Women have a different definition of vigilence...

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