Friday, April 29, 2005

April 28, 2005

Just Say No -- to Power
If you are anywhere near my age (59) you have seen the process play out many times. Some ordinary person gets into a position of power. He/she likes the buzz and craves more of the stuff. Maybe their first taste comes on a local school board. From that slightly elevated position they realize they are within reach of higher wattage, city councilperson. Oh yeah, that feels good! But they soon want more and they begin upping the dose as they slither further up the political pyramid.

Not everyone can handle the stuff as well as others. In fact, most burn out in their experimental stages. Those who are able to go on are a special sort. These types eventually end up in Washington. Think of it as natural selection at its most severe. Those who make it to DC get their drug of choice 24/7/365.

But even once they reach DC, there are still a half-dozen places where power goes from a just a great buzz to transcendental: President, VP, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader and House Majority Leader. (And of course, there’s the Pope.)

It’s at this peak of peaks of power where the stuff becomes seriously toxic and makes its abusers mad.

We old-timers saw this drama unfold, like a slow-motion televised train wreck, with President Richard Nixon. The guy was always a bit strange, but once he reached the Presidency his madness, fed by unlimited power, came to full bloom.

We saw the same thing happen to House Speaker Jim Wright, who empowered his smarmy Texas savings and loan friends to run barefoot through the taxpayer’s checkbook as long as they shared their booty with him.

We saw again with Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi who, when Senate Leader, waxed nostalgic about the good ole’ days in the South. The Days when segregationists like his friend, Sen. Strom Thurmond, fathered children with their black housekeepers while supporting those who stood in public school doorways to keep non-white kids -- including their own – out.

And yes, we even saw it with Bill Clinton, who figured since he was President he deserved a harem.

Those of you who were too young to have experienced the Nixon and Wright downfalls are in luck. Today we are being treated to another public meltdown, the demise of House Majority Leader, Tom (“The Hammer”) DeLay.

The DeLay “death watch,” as Doonsbury describes it, has reached the end Act II and is about to enter its third and final act. The only person who does not seem to understand this is DeLay himself. This is common. Dick Nixon was also the last person in DC, or the world for that matter, to see he was finished. It’s the drug talking. Power. It screws up almost everyone who gets too much of the stuff. It’s inevitable.

(Someone should develop a badge like the kind workers in nuclear facilities wear. A badge that turns red when they reach the point where power is about to make them crazy. But then, by the time their crazy badge turned red they would be too crazy already to pay any mind. They would probably just accuse their opponents of messing with their crazy badge.)

Anyway, it’s too late for DeLay. His badge turned red a long time ago and has since turned black. So, go get yourself a couple of six packs, a few bags of chips and dip and sit back and enjoy the show.

We all know how this is going to end; but the fun is always in the journey, not the arrival.

Knowing When to Fold-em
House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, is one of Washington’s power-junkies whose badge has not yet turned red. We know this because of what he did yesterday proving he can still sense danger when it gets too close to him.

Yesterday Hastert engineered a shameless strategic retreat. Seeking to end the impasse that has paralyzed the House of Representatives' ethics process, Hastert announced he was ready to 'step back' from changes that the Republican leadership – led by Tom DeLay -- had pushed through the House this year. The changes had effectively neutered the Ethics Committee at the very moment it was about to investigate DeLay. Also, its top Republican members on the committee who had already censored DeLay were removed and replaced by four DeLay sycophants.

The move proved a bridge too far, even by GOP standards. The public saw the move for what it was and Democrats built on public outrage by throwing a non-stop hissy fit.

Led by Hastert, the House rules were changed back to what they were before the fix was put in for DeLay. (Though the pro-DeLay ringers are still on the committee.) Hastert will be licking his wounds from that battle for a long time to come and is not too happy about it. The lesson is clear. Once someone like Tom DeLay goes critical get as far away from him as possible before he blows. Tom DeLay is on his own now. You could call the bill yesterday the “Throw Tom From the Train Act.”

Now attention shifts to the Senate. We have to watch to see if Senate Leader Bill Frist is still reasonably sober as well. If Frist pushes to end the filibuster, as threatened, he will discover, as Hastert did, the public recognizes the difference between power-crazy and just plain crazy-power.

Oily Politician Talk
Now that gas prices are high and going to stay high, President Bush is trying to convince angry voters that he understands the problem and has real solutions. Of course neither is true, but we are not talking here about a guy who parses out fact from fiction well, or for that matter cares to.

So what can he tell people? Anything is possible. Yesterday, for example, Bush – without a hint of embarrassment or irony – said he was for encouraging alternative fuels such as “bio-fuel,” you know, the stuff made from discarded cooking oils found in the grease pits at MacDonald’s.

Now imagine if, during the 2000 campaign, Al Gore had suggested that. Do you doubt for a moment that the Bush campaign would not have had a add on TV within days mocking Gore for such a numbskull idea. I can just hear it:

“Al Gore’s solution to America’s energy needs is discarded French fry grease. Is MacDonald’s really a substitute for Exxon? Is Ronald MacDonald going to be Gore’s Secretary of Energy? (Fade to clown image…)

In all fairness Bush had other suggestions too. He wants to build more nuclear power plants and build new oil refineries on deserted military bases. Let’s take these one at a time.

More nuclear power plants: Am I wrong about this or is there still no place on earth – including Nevada – willing to store the waste produced by nuclear plants? Yes. I am right about that. So, the radioactive stuff is being stacked up like glowing cords of firewood in lightly fenced backyards of existing plants. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…

And, assuming new plants are built, just where does Bush think they will be welcomed? True, nuclear accidents are rare. But when one happens casualties are high and continue for decades. Contamination spreads hundreds, even thousands, of miles and, in the hot zones, the contamination remains at fatal levels for centuries.

So, if indeed “s--it happens,” and it always does, it only has to happen once to make a lasting impression -- and one hell of a lasting mess. Just ask the folks who lived in Chernobyl – but hurry, not many are still alive to tell their tale.

Refineries on old military bases: On the surface that sounds like a good enough idea -- unless you live in one of those communities. These are little cites that grew around military bases. Hotels were built to house parents visiting their military sons and daughters. stores, car dealers, jewelers, Wal-Marts -- all thrived serving the troops. Now the troops are gone and these communities are suffering.

But, instead of turning former military bases into high-tech industry parks, college campuses, affordable housing developments, Bush wants to give them an oil refinery. Sure, a few local jobs would be created, but that’s the end of the upside for the community. After that all that’s left is a butt-ugly facility that releases foul gases engulfing the town in a ordor as if Godzilla had just farted right on them. And the get trucks, lots of trucks, fuel trucks rumbling through town filled to the brim with gasoline. Tick, tick, tick, tick…

I have a suggestion. Actually I stole this idea from Ross Perot, who was a crazy little bastard, but right about many things. Perot used to suggest that; before government launch full-throttle programs that they do smaller test projects to see how the idea works in the real world. So, let’s do this. Let’s build a new nuclear power plant and a new oil refinery on the outskirts of Crawford, Texas. Then wait five or ten years to see how things turn out.

Oh, one more thing – the legislation allowing the “Crawford Energy Independence and Clear Skies Project” must also include a stipulation that the Bush family cannot move from their Crawford ranch for ten years after both plants become operational.

Seems reasonable to me.

(Oh yeah, and remember, “Measure twice, cut once.” I kinda miss that little squirt.)

Best Line of the Week
Dennis Miller, on watching the appearance of the new Pope last week:

"Maybe it's just me, but I get squeamish any time I see a German guy on a balcony with 50,000 adoring fans below."

By Stephen Pizzo
Raconteur at Large

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