Monday, March 29, 2010

Hope springs again

Went back to Camelback, Arizona today.

Home of White Sox spring training.

"Thought I might find you here. Congratulations. You've had a pretty good week."

"Damn, AB, all I want is to watch baseball in the warm sunshine."

"Me, too."

"How are you?"

"Big O, I'm above ground. Have one dead son that you know about. And by the way, the Veterans Affairs Department just sent me 20 letters of condolences with your name copied like you had signed them. They spelled his name wrong. So it didn't work all that well."

"Crap. You'd think with all of our records and computerization we could get a kid's name right. I'm sorry."

"I know you are. It was a nice gesture. But. . ."

"So, what's going to happen this year?"

"The White Sox are a mess. The Braves have the best rookie in MLB, but I'd put my money on the Phillies."

"You're on. I bet the Yankees do it."

"Deal, Sir. In the meantime, what in the name of reason were you thinking when you pushed this healthcare bill thru? It's a lovely concept, but who the heck is going to pay for it?"

"AB, you are part of those blessed folks that need to share with those less amongst you."

"Big O, Sir, you are full of crap. I worked my way up from lower middle class. Paid every tax I was ever asked to pay. Nobody ever gave me a handout or a hand. I just worked. I'm paying over 36%. And I fear it's about to get worse with a VAT."

"We have to do something to close the income gap. Those with means need to pay so that those without can have something."

"Really, Sir? Where in the name of all that is Constitutional did you come up with that?"

"AB, it's the only fair way. We all have to share. We all have to contribute. We all need to share in the American dream."

"Sir, then make MLB follow the NFL. Does anybody in Kansas City thing their Royals have a chance? Does anybody in Pittsburgh think their team has a chance?

If you want it all to be fair, then we all need to produce, and we all need to contribute on a fair and equal basis. If American continues to follow the MLB doctrine, you'll have the Yankees with nobody to play."

"You mean we need each person, each town, each state to play it own their own? The Federal Government is here to equal it out."

"Sir, in all respect, you've forgotten how it all got started. And how it has worked for 200 years. The U.S. government exists because the states created it. And funded it. It is the states who must make it on their own. Sometimes they are up, sometimes they are down. You can't take away personal responsibility from the individuals or their state. If you do, you have the U.S.S.R."

"Hang on, pal. That's harsh. We are just looking to share the love."

"Big O, when the Steinbrenner's share the love, let me know. And when the U.S. becomes Big Brother to us all, we are screwed. You and me both. When you move back to Illinois, do you want to pay for California's stupidity?"

"No, I hate the Angels. And the Dodgers. And the Giants. And the Guvernator."

"Don't hate on Arnold. He's doing what any reasonable person would do. The state has spent too much and promised too much and now they have to cut because they can't fulfill all those admirable, but stupid, promises."

"You mean, like, we need every state to be on their own? Like, every man and woman to make it on their own?"

"Yes sir. That's how this country got started. And how this country got strong. It grew from the strength of individuals. Not from the greatness of the Federal Government."

"You wanna burn one?"


So we walked down the stairs underneath the vacant outfield seats. I lit his Marlboro Light as I lit my Marlboro 27. We smoked them in silence.

"You piss me off, AB. But I never thought about this baseball analogy. Thanks. Thanks for your son. Thanks for the light. And thanks for giving me something to think about."

"See you later, Sir. Go get the Taliban and al Qaeda. And tell Joe Biden this discussion is a big fuckin' deal."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Taking a soak in the VAT

The U.S. is broke.

We owe more than we can pay.

That was true before the health care bill. Now it's even worse.

Most states are broke.

They owe more than they can pay.

Governments made the same bad bet that many citizens and businesses made.

The bet that our economy could only continue up. That real estate values could only continue up.

Therefore, we bet that cheap credit was a great idea.

Cheap credit on commodities that can only go up in value is a great economic plan.


When you can't repay the credit cause you couldn't afford it to begin with, oops.

The banks that loaned it are cooked. But they are too big too fail, so the U.S. taxpayer (who already can't pay their bills) bails them out.

So now, politicians are faced with a very hard choice.

Whack budgets, or raise taxes.

And since politicians like to get re-elected, guess what the choice is.

So, buckle up.

Meet VAT.

Value Added Tax.

It is very complicated to explain. You can look it up on Wikipedia.

But, it's coming.

It is common in much of the world. Europe, Canada, Mexico all have a version.

In most places, it replaces income, property or sales tax.

Not here in the good old U.S. of A.

This is going to be a tax on top of all other taxes.

And this tax will be collected by the feds.

On sales of products, and for the first time, services.

Your accountant, your lawyer, your masseuse, your personal trainer, your bowling alley, your doctor, your dentist, your guy that mows the lawn.

All products and services will be subject to the VAT.

Since the politicians in Washington D.C. can't control their spending, they need to raise more money.

Especially since income taxes and import duties are going down since our economy is down.

They need more taxes to raise income to offset their spending.

It's like the worst third wife you ever thought of.

"I need more money cause I can't and shouldn't have to stop spending."

Imagine Mr. Pelosi explaining to Nancy that there is not enough money to pay for more Botox to keep her eyebrows in place.

That's what we are dealing with.

So, in the next month or so, I believe you will hear Value Added Tax, or VAT, become a term that you will like as much as TARP and healthcare reform.

Ms. Pelosi said last fall that it would be necessary.

The Obama administration has been studying it for a while.

It will be a lovely conversation.

Whilst we deal with the largest tax increase in history (healthcare reform), we are about to be told that we all must sacrifice more to make it possible.

As the old Vaudeville song went, "This fucking I'm getting isn't worth this fucking I'm getting".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

One more reason to love Texas

Tom Ford.

Creative director at YSL and Gucci.

Now, not only the most important men's designer, but also an Oscar winning film director.

Native of Houston, and grew up in San Marcos.

Like a cow pissing on a flat rock

That's how it's raining tonight in North Texas.

Get the picture?

Folks that farm and ranch have a way of explaining weather.

And tonight, the cow is a whizzing. And the flat rock is wet and so is everything around it.

We don't get gentle rain like much of the country. It either comes in big dumps, or it doesn't come at all.

Tonight we got the rain and heat lightning in the sky that is better than any fireworks you've ever seen.

Lot's of folks like to piss on Texas.

Like we're backwards.

Like we all wear ten gallon hats and hubcap sized belt buckles.

Yes, we have some posers. And we have some knuckleheads.

But so do you.

We do have people that wear ten gallon hats cause they are protection from the sun, the rain, the wind. Because they ranch.

And you enjoy the Black Angus cattle they raise.

We do have people with large belt buckles cause they won them in a rodeo.

That's right, a rodeo.

We still have high school rodeos in the rural parts of Texas.

You have to take your kids to a zoo or a field trip to meet a cow, a goat or a mule.

Many folks here have them in their yard.

Texas is the home of most of the oil companies. They ain't stupid.

Texas is the home of NASA. They ain't stoopid either.

Texas is the home of SXSW, the hippest music festival in the world.

Texas is the home of Dell, the computer company that changed the computing world.

Texas is the home of Texas Instruments. The folks that invented the chip that makes every frigging thing in your world run.

Texas is the home of Willie Nelson, Erykay Badu, Barbara Jordan, Mollie Ivins, Stevie Ray Vaughn, ZZ Topp, George Strait, Kinky Friedman, Clint Black, Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew McConaughey, Sam Houston, Audie Murphy, Ann Richards, Paul Fucking Begala, and alot of other folks that have made a difference.

So, give us a break. We were a country all our own, and gave up our independence to join the U.S.

Our economy is stronger than most countries and certainly every other state in the Union.

When a blue Norther heads our way, we might say, "It'll be enough to knock your hat in the creek."

That's because it is. And that's because we still have folks on the farm and ranch that just might lose their hat bringing in that lost cow. That one day you will enjoy with horseradish.

Just because we are happy with who we are, and at the moment fairly successful, don't hate on us.

Chamillionaire is from Houston, and he certainly wants your love.

So do Carol Burnett, Steve Martin, Bill Engvall, Dimebag Darrell Abbott, Larry McMurtry, T-Bone Burnett, Kelly Clarkson, Van Cliburn, Lyle Lovett, Selena Gomez, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, George Jones, Beyonce, Lil Flip, Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, Nelly, Roy Orbison, Walter Cronkite, and Usher (amongst many others) who were born here.

Don't hate us for colorful people and colorful language.

We can't help it if we have the toughest, smartest, most beautiful people in the world.

And most of yours are as ugly as a bucket of hair.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health care for all: what's not to like?

How you feel this morning about the new health care legislation depends on where you are in the health industry universe.

Hospitals and doctors are happy because they just got lots of new customers. And they don't have to discount anything to get them. The government is just going to send them their way.

The pharmaceutical industry is happy cause they got new customers too, but they face a few complicated additional taxes and mandated cost reductions.

The local pharmacies are tickled that new money will be flowing their way.

Business owners are going to have to hire almost as many accountants, lawyers and HR people as Sarbanes-Oxley caused them to in order to figure out what all this means.

So HR folks and accountants have found a new industry (just like IT people did with the whole Y2K mess).

Business owners know one thing. Their costs just went up. So less money to grow their business and add jobs.

So, if you are an employee, somebody somewhere will be looking at your name on the list of keep or release in the next few weeks.

If you are an insurance company, the government just told you how you have to run your business. And it's not going to be inexpensive. So, you are going to have to raise rates to cover these new limitless policies. Even though you are also going to gain new customers, you have no choice to but to raise rates.

If you are a lawyer, you are giddy. No tort reform was included in the legislation. More patients means more lawsuits.

If you run a tanning salon, there is a new 10% tax on you. So the cost of getting that other-worldly orange glow like the folks on "Jersey Shore" just got more expensive.

If you are in poverty, the government is coming with new entitlement programs. You will have health insurance that you don't have to pay for.

If you are wealthy, buckle up. You won't be much longer. You will be taxed, re-taxed and double-taxed.

If you are an American, the government has just spent another trillion dollars, and hasn't yet figured out that tax and spend, or spend and tax, isn't a great way to stimulate economic growth.

So net net, we'll all be healthier and poorer.

Our debt will go up. Which means our currency will be devalued internationally.

So celebrate for a short while if you feel like you won the lottery.

The celebration of a trillion dollar program that has to be paid for by somebody will soon turn into the reality of, "Oh, shit. Never thought about that."

Please remember the immortal words of P.J. O'Rourke. (P.J. was once a wide-eyed liberal as a young journalist. Free love, free everything was his mantra. Then he grew up and started understanding how the world really works.)

"Santa Claus is a Democrat. God is a Republican."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The cold hard detachment

"They were on the rooftop of a factory with a few other soldiers, over-wathching Bravo Company's clearance operations on surrounding streets. The roof was three flights up a narrow enclosed stairwell. It was a big roof spotted with broken glass and dirty puddles from a recent rain, and Emory was there in the middle of it when there was a crack and he went down. . . They got Emory inside the enclosed stairwell, safe from any more sniper fire, but now they needed to get him down three flights of stairs. It was a big building. There must have been a hundred steps. Emory was placed on a backboard. He was limp. His eyes were opening and closing. Two soldiers hoisted the backboard, but there were no straps to secure him with, and when he began slipping off, another soldier draped him over his back in a fireman's carry.

This was a staff sergeant named Adam Schumann. He was regarded as one of the best soldiers in the battalion. A few months after this moment, having turned into a soldier who was mentally broken, he would say of Emory, "I remember the blood was coming off his head and coming into my mouth. I couldn't get the taste out. That iron taste. I couldn't drink enough Kool-Aid that day."

-From "The Good Soldiers" by David Finkel

I have been in a number of palaces of polished marble and gold toilets built by oil money.

One was in Baghdad.

Tonight, I was in the Crescent Hotel in Dallas.

David Finkel was in town to speak to a group called the World Affairs Council.

There were about 150 people there.

Very white. Very wealthy. Very intellectual. Very connected. Totally disconnected to the reality of our military.

Much like our current and former Commanders in Chief.

I went at the invitation of a friend. We both knew it would be emotional. I knew enough about David Finkel and his book to know it would be harsh reality.

David Finkel is the National Enterprise editor of The Washington Post.

He embedded with the Second Battalion, Sixteenth Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team, First Infantry Division during the surge in Iraq in early 2007.

I did not go for sympathy, empathy, condolences, or attaboys.

I went for two reasons.

To learn more about the war that killed my oldest son.

And, to thank David Finkel for his sacrifice to tell this hellish story.

David is an incredible journalist. He observes, and reports facts. In the greatest detail.

His job is to report objectively. And part of his job is to stay emotionally detached from what he is reporting on.

I could tell as he spoke that part of him had crossed that wall. He was emotionally touched. He had seen young men die and older men grow callous. But he maintained his professional demeanor as he told ghoulish stories that Hollywood can't imagine.

What amazed me was what happened after he spoke.

He knew he was speaking to the refined. The untouched. The elite.

He does it regularly as he promotes his book. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Washington D.C. Night after night, he speaks to the chosen.

And night after night, as tonight, the audience doesn't get it.

After he spoke, he opened up for questions.

There were two or three nabobs that asked "intellectual" questions about whether this war was different because we can keep wounded alive longer with medical technology, about how we can help start schools in the Middle East to change thinking there.

Not one asked about Emory or his family. Not one asked about Schumann and where he is or how he is today.

Not one asked how David was doing. He had seen hell and lived to tell about it. But no one cared. No one cried. No one asked. No one hugged him.

I couldn't help myself.

I stood up and told David that I was thankful for his service and courage to go into Iraq and come back and tell this story as honestly as he did.

And I told him that I was the father of a soldier that died in the surge shortly after he left Iraq.

I can't properly explain the chill I feel tonight.

Exactly three people came to me afterwards.

Two men shook my hand, but never could really say anything other than to ask what branch Pete was in.

But one man came and gave me a bear hug. And held my hand. He wanted to know Pete's name and where he was buried.

He was the only black man in the audience.

He is a retired Army chaplain who has seen too much in his own lifetime.

He was the only person in that audience, save my friend, to understand that David's story and Pete's story were about real people. Real sons, daughters, brothers, fathers, cousins, friends.

The rest of the crowd exited to get their books signed by the author and to have dinner together.

"The military is at war. America is at the mall."

And the elite of America are in polished marble palaces built with oil money.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pork: The Other World Religion

Imagine being born into a life of guaranteed strife.

Guaranteed poverty.

Guaranteed war.

Guaranteed prejudice.

And guaranteed, no bacon.

I would be pissed off, and probably a terrorist too if that were my fate.


No bacon. Ever.

Not with your eggs. Not on your burger. Not on your salad.

And imagine it wasn't just bacon, but all pork.

No streak 'o lean in your black eyed peas.

No Honey Baked Ham.

No baby back ribs.

And worst of all, no slow smoked pork barbecue.

This is the life of the Semites.

The descendants of Shem, the oldest of Noah's sons.

The Semites include Arabs, Jews, Ethiopians, and Canaanites.

And they all are forbidden to eat pork.

Thank you Jesus. You freed us from Old Testament law. Soooeeeyyy.

Where I grew up, in the great State of Georgia, we hold pigs in high esteem. Not as high as the folks in New Guinea who worship the pig. But high nonetheless.

We like our cows too. But they aren't sacred. Especially the ones that grow up to become homecoming queens at Auburn and chew their cud on Jordan-Hare's green grass.

But I digress.

A properly butchered, properly smoked pig does wonders for your outlook on life.

Have you ever seen anybody leave Sprayberry's or the Speedy Pig or The Rendezvous in a bad mood?

Big O, if you and Hillary can get the Israeli knuckleheads and the Palestinian knuckleheads to sit down for a real meeting, I suggest it be at the original Dreamland in Tuscaloosa.

Ribs and white bread. That's it.

Imagine a meal of Big Daddy Bishop's ribs versus a politically correct serving of hummus and Gefilte fish.

You would get those folks in such a good mood they might forget their pre-historic issues and start to talking about their similarities. Their joint sufferings.

And start to find a kindred spirit.

And a kindred love of barbecue.

Pork barcecue.

The kind you can only find at a place like Dreamland.

That happens to be located in a part of Tuscaloosa known as Jerusalem Heights.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The tears of a SEAL

Thursday night.

Preston and Park in North Dallas.

Could be Peachtree and Piedmont in Atlanta.

Broadway and the upper 80's in New York.

Sepulveda and Manhattan Beach Boulevard in LA.

The neighborhood without pain.

All is good.

An upscale dinner on Thursday night.

I went looking for a nice dinner.

I left with a new friend for life.

Scott was a SEAL.

As the piano player sang, we made contact.

He and his beautiful wife were in full song.

As we sang to Rod Stewart, he saw the bracelet.

We talked about Pete.

And then Scott got misty.

Maybe for a moment, lost it.

This is a SEAL for God's sake.

He cannot say what he's seen.

He cannot admit his pain.

But on a parking lot tonight, we shared it.

I cannot imagine what he has seen and lost.

He can't and doesn't want to try to imagine my situation.

He has two kids.

Scott, thank you for your service.

Scott, know that you are loved and supported.

Scott, know that you are not alone.

Godspeed Scott.

I hope we meet again.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Four days in Los Angeles.

Four days with my peanut.

She is happy, playful, open, alive. In love with her mommy and her daddy.

She and I played tennis together yesterday.

She's never played before, but she loved it.

On Saturday, we played the #2 ranked team in the 3rd grade girls basketball league.

We beat them 39-3. Every girl on our team scored. A coach's dream game.

That's all I could possibly ask for.

But, I got to have lunch today with a new friend.

Never expected this relationship, but he is such a blessing.

He is an encourager.

We've only known each other for a few months, but he encourages me. He prays for me and my family.

If you don't have an encourager, I hope you get one. And/or, I hope I can be one for you.

It is amazing what the power is of knowing that there is at least one human that thinks of you in a totally unselfish way and just wants to float your boat.

I hope I can learn from him and float his to an even higher tide.

Tonight, had dinner with another friend that is as talented a human as I've ever known. He has made history with his work.

We talked about working together on something bigger than both of us.

And I learned today that my son had won a hard fought competition for a job with a great company. Way to go, big man.

I've been worried sick about his health insurance.

He turned 24 on Sunday. As happy as I was to celebrate his birthday, I realized that he is now without health insurance. For whatever reason, as you well know, the health insurance companies kick them out of family coverage at that age.

But now, he's tucked in.

My grown daughters have great, solid jobs.

My pops is still selling real estate at 83 and he and his girlfriend rock Fayetteville, Georgia.

I'm sure there is a land mine that I'm going to step on tomorrow.

I know that one phone call from any of my loved ones can change my perspective in an instant.

But for this one night, bliss.

Thank you Lord.

May we all have more of these, please.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The wounded among us

Friday night in Los Angeles.

Having dinner by myself at Chili's.

The young man sitting next to me is wearing University of Texas garb.

We strike up a casual sports conversation as the Lakers get beat by Charlotte.

After some exposure, you can just tell when they have a military countenance.

I finally ask him if he was military, and he tells me he was Air Force. In Iraq.

During his last months there, they were assigned to humanitarian convoys.

Delivering school supplies.

On one of these trips, an IED or EFMP ripped thru one of their vehicles and the first female Air Force casualty in Iraq happened before his eyes.

He lost 10 in his group on the ground in Iraq.

These are Air Force people. Supposed to be flying above and beyond.

But they spent time on the ground. And driving convoys delivering humanitarian supplies, he saw ten of his friends die.

He explained that the bombs would be hidden in innocent looking cardboard boxes.

He explained that the bombs would be hidden inside roadkill animals.

To this day, he has difficulty driving here.

If a car pulls close to him, he freaks.

If an unusual object appears in the road, he freaks.

He is now out.

He is now working for a domestic company.

But that war will never be out of him.

We had a great talk. He understands that Iran is in the process of taking over Iraq.

He knows the Iraqi Police have been Iranians in many cases.

He knows that someday in the not too far distant future Iran will own Iraq and will then challenge Saudi Arabia.

And then the U.S. will have a choice to make.

He has a a wife and two young children.

They will never understand the hell this young man has seen.

Godspeed, Adrian.

Thank you for your service. And your sacrifice.

Know that America thanks you for serving in a confusing war that will be hard for any of us to comprehend for years to come.

And know that you are loved and supported by millions.

You are not alone.

None of us has the answers.

But together, we at least have a chance to ask the questions.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the war

Our all voluntary military has a saying.

The military is at war. America is at the mall.

We've forgotten about Iraq. It is no longer newsworthy.

Yet, while we are in withdrawal, we still have 90,000 of our best in that theater.

And, they are still being shot at and attacked by bombs. But it isn't newsworthy.

In Afghanistan, we have been thrilled by the attack on Marja and the apparent success there.

But we have thousands of soldiers in other isolated parts of that country that are not being followed by reporters. They are freezing their asses off in the mountains. They are sleeping in caves and mortar holes when they can.

Somehow, we in America have come to believe that Iraq and Afghanistan are solved.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

We cannot imagine the hard work that our Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard are doing to manage the situations there.

From Generals to Privates, they are overwhelmed with issues.

And somehow, we don't get the message. We don't appreciate their sacrifice.

Here's a sobering statistic.

During the month of January, more of our soldiers in theater committed suicide (24) than were killed by enemy forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (16).

There's a message there.

We send our best and brightest to the harshest situations in the world. And then most of us forget them.

We can't do that.

We just have to do better.

We need those men and women to know that regardless of our views of the war or our political persuasion or our religious views, we support them.

Those men and women wear the cloth of the nation. The cloth of our nation.

As divided and confused as we might be, those men and women follow the direction of our Commander in Chief.

When these men and women volunteer to join the military, they write a check with their lives. Payable up to their dying for us if necessary.

We can't forget them.

We can't let them serve without our support.

These are not their wars.

These are our wars.

Sometime soon, with the help of the Good Lord and some talented friends, we are going to launch a website called Cloth of the Nation.

It will be designed to connect civilian America with military America. A place to say thanks to those who serve. And a place for those who serve to see how many of us support them.

In the meantime, love on those who serve.

And for those who serve, we love you.

You are doing our dirty work.

We will never forget your service, sacrifice and love of this great country.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How big can we get without getting bad?

This was a challenge and a question of Jay Chiat.

He was a co-founder of Chiat/Day, an advertising agency.

His agency went on to create work that has changed our lives.

They created the "1984" commercial that ran only once, but introduced us to the Apple Macintosh computer.

They created advetising for Nike, Apple, Energizer and many more that you know.

Jay is now dead.

His agency lives on.

And so does his challenge. And his question.

"How big can we get without being bad?"

It is such a relevant question, especially with the headlines of the recent past.

Tiger Woods.

General Motors.


Lehman Brothers.



The Democratic Party.

The Soviet Union.

Barry Bonds.

Yes it is quite a challenge for countries, companies, and individuals who have tasted success.

It makes me wonder about our country.

Is the United States of America getting better? Or have we peaked and headed down the backside of the mountain?

I don't know the answer.

But it is a question we all need to honestly ponder. And depending on the answer we come up with, we need to do something about it.