Trials and Tribunalations

Trials and Tribunalations

How’d it come to this.  The noble San Diego Union Tribune,  renowned for generations as being the fairest, straight shooting paper in all the land, on the auction block along with the rest of its Copley siblings?  Is this the end of Rico?

Could it be because the UT is the country’s 21st largest metropolitan newspaper but San Diego is the 17th largest metropolitan area?  Could it be because circulation has been dropping steadily since Reaganism was a pup?  Could it be because, in a county increasingly non-white and non-Republican, the UT’s editorial page (and, indeed, general news and features coverage)  seem to be pitched to a San Diego that disappeared 30 years ago?   Could it be that, since you know exactly which position the UT editorial page will take on any issue (pro-business, pro-development,  pro-Republican, pro-Downtown uber-alles) reading it is usually as surprising as figuring out what the weather will be in June?  (As in gloom, which ends up being an unintended  pun, now, doesn’t it?)

Okay, whoever  wants to pony up the money to buy Copley Press and its Dino-like UT, five little suggestions from the friendly competition:

1.  Given that 25% (and probably over 30% by the 2010 census) of San Diegans are Hispanic and another  15% are African American  or other non-whites, how about dedicating some news print to this demographic block.  How about a Spanish-language edition?  How about more outreach and interaction with the African-American and Asian-American  media & community groups.  Pitching your paper to the aging white population north of I-8 (and, increasingly, north of Miramar road) ain’t going to put hay in front of the horse much longer.  (And old Nellie has been looking gaunt for years as it is.)

2. Fire the editorial board. The whole kit and kaboodle.  (There’s another pun in there if you dig for it.)  The Reagan revolution is over, circa the election of 2008.  If the UT wants to stay relevant it has to embrace more of the views held by moderates (and, even, gasp,  Democrats, who happen to be in the majority in the city) and quit acting like its still 1969, Nixon is in power and the UT’s in his pocket.

3. The future belongs to the young.  How about a truncated UT edition aimed at the areas’ college campuses where future readers will spring from.

4.And, if the UT wants to reach the modern techno-culture, it will need to completely revamp (or start from scratch) with the SignOnSanDiego website.  The UT has never put the money or innovative brain power .  The UT needs more on-line synergy, more partnerships with other media (local & national TV/Radio) and more  creative partnerships with on-line consumer websites.  You can’t fight it,  it’s a Craig’s List and E-Bay world.  So join it.

5. Fire the editorial board. The whole kit and kaboodle.  (There’s another pun in there if you dig for it.)  The Reagan revolution is over, circa the election of 2008.  If the UT wants to stay relevant it has to embrace more of the views held by moderates (and, even, gasp,  Democrats, who happen to be in the majority in the city) and quit acting like its still 1969, Nixon is in power and the UT’s in his pocket. (And yes, it’s a repeat but it’s that good an idea….)

Just a few thoughts.  But start off with numeros uno y dos. Y cinco.

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This & That

This & That

This:  There was an excellent piece last week (by KPBS’ always excellent radio journalist, Alison St John, on proposed redevelopment of the bay front south of the convention center.  The link to the podcast is here.  The story underscores the central issue of what has driven much of local development policy in recent years:  sacrificing the long-term security of middle income jobs to gain increased tax revenues from real estate development.  Case in point, the desire of some in and out of government to eliminate, move or modify cargo operations the Tenth Avenue pier to make room for expansion of the convention center, more hotels and restaurants and, maybe even (fingers crossed, Spanos family?) room for another sports stadium on the bay.   The plan is to double deck the current port operations (cargo facilities down below, four star cuisine up above.)  Maybe it’s doable.  But, if they try and discover it really doesn’t work, push comes to shove, which jobs do you think are going to be shoved off the docks?  The middle income dock workers or the hotel profit-generating low income service workers?   Years ago someone paid to put somewhat obscure ads on municipal busses calling San Diego “The Last Plantation Economy.”  Seems they were correct, if a tad premature.

That: Jerry Sanders avoided a November ballot showdown with the City’s workers unions by striking a compromise deal.  Good news for Jerry who probably has less political capital to spend than he thinks following the June primary.  Yeah, he won but Susan Golding (you remember her?  Last mayor to actually serve two full terms?) went into her reelection campaign winning the primary with over 70% of the vote and with no real opposition.  Meanwhile the deal seems to benefit the mayor and city more than the workers, introducing a two-tiered pension plan for newbie workers v. the old guard.  Hey municipal employees unions, remember how well that worked for the grocery workers a few years back?  The city unions have fallen victim to the old ploy of divide and conquer.  Except they’ve divided and conquered themselves.

(And yes, for those of you who actually clicked on the above link, I am an avid reader of “Global Pensions.”   Isn’t everybody in the know…..?)

Summer Reading III

And, to keep you entertained, dear three readers, a little more summer reading lite: Installment 3 of my unpublished best-seller “And to the Republic.”  Click here for the first installment and here for the second.

And To The Republic
(A work in progress by Carl J. Luna.)

Chapter 3

Travis waited a minute or two after Mars left his office before he looked away from his monitor.   He leaned back in his chair, pivoting to look out his window at the college quad below and the bluffs and ocean beyond.  It was early spring but, being southern California, all the trees were fully garbed in green, the sun shining brightly as it dipped towards the horizon and the sea beyond the cliffs.   He might be a minor functionary at a large community college, he thought, but he had a kick-ass view.

And he wouldn’t be a minor functionary for long.

Mars was an arrogant prick, to be sure.  But he was easy enough to manipulate.  Offer him a little relief on one thing, and he was more than willing to stick it to that older, even more arrogant prick, Franklin.  If Travis could nail Franklin to the wall, bust him and drive him out of the college, it would be a warning to all the other pricks on campus that he was now the undisputed big man on campus.

Better yet,  it would be a signal to District that he was more than ready to move up.  District CIC.  Then, maybe, off to Sacramento in a few years to work in the State CIC’s office.   Or even, maybe, he smiled,  the State CIC spot itself.  And from there?   Prove yourself to the powers that be in the biggest state of the Union and the possibilities were endless.   Demonstrate loyalty to the cause and the necessary ruthlessness to support it and promotion was inevitable.  Loyalty was what the new age was all about. Loyalty to the nation, loyalty to its leaders and, most importantly, loyalty to those with power.
Hanging one old fart would be the final step in moving up and out of the backwater school he was trapped in and the first step in entering the bigger, badder arena he always should have been playing in.

And if he could take Mars down a deserved peg or two in the process, well, that was a two-for-one offer he couldn’t refuse.

His lips contorted into an unpleasant smile, he leaned over and turned on the faux 1950s model radio his mother had given him for his birthday the previous year.  Rather than providing music to accompany his moment of triumph, the radio was permanently set to Travis’ favorite AM talk radio station.   Radio Freedom.  The “Ronald Lewis Elder Show.”

Now that guy told it like it is, Travis thought.  Always did, even before Spokane.  Before 9/11.  Before Clinton and all the misery he was.  “Listen to your Elder” was a motto Travis had lived by for almost two decades now.   How many times had he endured the derisive jeers of his colleagues over “right-wing radio?”  Not that he had ever admitted to anyone—until a few years ago, at least—that he listened to Elder.  Or Hannity.  Or   Savage.  Or any of the other prophets of the airwaves.  He would have been pilloried, tarred and feathered in the politically correct – read pinko neo-commie liberal—world of the very recent past.  But now Elder was absolutely triumphant, everything he had preached in the wilderness of a complacent liberal society now validated.  The Clinton ’98 impeachment had validated his message of the corruption of liberalism.  9/11 had validated his message of the weakness of liberalism.  Spokane, though, had obliterated all opposition to his message.  His and all the other right thinking people out there.

And Travis was right thinking.  And right-thinking would take him far.
He listened to Elder for a few minutes, nodding his head in agreement.  Then he turned back to his monitor.  Faculty time sheets.  And it looked like some of the faculty had been ditching a little early.

Tick.

Chapter 4

I threw my over the shoulder computer case into the mini van.  Literally threw it.  Not wise, throwing a computer.  But I was seriously pissed.  And it was the college’s computer, anyway.  They could just buy me a replacement.  Serve them right for all the grief this job gave me.

I slammed the sliding side door shut, slipped into the driver’s seat and slammed the driver’s door shut.  If I had a sunroof I’d have slammed that shut, too.  But, while my five year old blue mini-van might have a spoiler on the back – the “sports” model, the buying of which was my mid-life crisis equivalent of buying a Porsche–it wasn’t souped up enough to sport a sunroof.  So I slammed the key into the ignition and slammed the transmission into reverse.

Like I said, I was pissed.

At Travis.  At a college that could make a guy like Travis my superior.  At a world that could produce a college that could make a guy like Travis my superior.  And at myself.  Most of all, at myself.

I backed up into the road and then headed off towards the College gate and the surface streets and highways that led home.

As they always do, a host of after the fact should have saids flooded my brain. I’m always much more brilliant ten minutes or so later than the actual event.  Too bad life doesn’t come with a time delay.

What I should have said to Travis was to mind his own business. I should have told him to shove his little hand written summons up his ass.  I should have told him  I’d appoint whoever the hell I wanted to Teddy Franklin’s evaluation and he, Travis, could go pound sand.  I should have told him if he continued to meddle in things outside his job description I would go to the Vice President of Instruction or even the College President.

Of course, that would have been so much posturing.  Both of them feared Travis more than they liked me.  He might not officially occupy the highest tote on the campus totem pole, but no-one wanted to get on the wrong side of a CIC.   He sends one email – so and so is a non-complier, so and so is not following DHS-E protocols and so and so is undependable—up to District, and so and so’s career is headed into the toi toi.

And, while I increasingly loathed my job, having no other options I was not particularly keen on flushing it down said toi toi.  I wasn’t ready to pick a fight with Travis – I no longer had the energy or umph to pick a fight with just about anyone.  Except for Mary.  But I didn’t have to pick fights with her.  Those just seemed to evolve as part of the natural genome of the day.  And if Mary seemed increasingly less than happy being married to a nobody college professor with no real future prospects, being married to an unemployed and unemployable former college professor with absolutely no prospects would really tick her off.  Possibly enough to send her back to mom and dad and their great big RV and all their  “We told you so’s.”

No, I wasn’t going to cross Travis.  Not even for Franklin.  Not while Travis was big man on campus.

That’s the way a one party state works.  The party man – whatever his official rank—pulls rank on everyone else.  Like the political officer in the old Soviet Red Army being able to override the colonels or generals in the name of the party.

Of course, we weren’t really a one party state.  There was another party, cowed and whipped though it was.  And Travis, like all his like-minded kindred, wasn’t appointed by a party.  He didn’t act in the name of a political party.  He acted in the name of the people of the state of California and the people of the United States of America.

At least the ones who voted for the right party.

No, we had not degenerated into a one party state yet.  But we could, and probably would.  Within a matter of years.

There are patterns in human societies—as a political scientist, that was what I had been trained to discern, study and analyze.  You can rejoice all you want in the glorious uniqueness and cultural diversity of mankind.  But you’ve got to ask yourself just how much variation are you going to find among a bunch of bipedal, binocular vision humanoids preoccupied with the biological drives of consumption, defecation, procreation and inebriation, though not always in that order or in equal amounts.  You can change the architecture, couture and cuisine but, beneath it all, we’re all just people.  And people respond the same everywhere in similar circumstances.

Man find’s his woman with another man, he reaches for a knife.   Woman finds a higher-order predator eyeing her kids, she screams and drives it off.  People feel fear–the fear deprivation is on the way, the fear that the bad men are coming or have come–and they cling to a strong government and even stronger leader to protect them.

People may say there is nothing people desire more than freedom.  People may say it as much as they like.  But, at the end of a very bad, dark day, after which looms and even badder, darker night, what people really desire is security.  The freedom from fear.  And to get that particular freedom,  they are usually willing to surrender a lot of other petty little freedoms – like freedom of petition, freedom of assembly, freedom of press, freedom of  speech or freedom of thought.

And the American people feared both the bad men, who had already visited their country several times, and deprivation, which seemed to be camped out on the national doorstep just waiting a chance to slip through the slightest crack. And they liked their strong government and loved their strong leader more and more.  Once everyone agrees on the core things, there no longer is a need for rival parties to duke it out.  One party would be just fine.  Spokane had just about guaranteed that eventual piece of political fallout.

The traffic wasn’t heavy on the connector to the freeway, and the freeway traffic was comparatively light for midweek,  but I was still irritated by it.  And irritated with my self.  Yeah, that’s the way  a one party state works.   The oppressed end up loathing themselves even more than their oppressors.  They end up becoming obedient and docile not out of fear of punishment but out of the evisceration and evaporation of their own self respect.

I reached over and punched on the car radio.  With three hundred channels on the satellite system, I could while away my commute home lost in whatever auditory world I chose:  Pre-war jazz – a particular favorite of mine—a little Jelly Roll Morton or Jack Teagarden–lull myself back into the days of my optimistic youth.  Laugh to comic tracks of years past—a little Cosby on family or Seinfeld on the stupidity of man.  So, with a world of escape to choose from, my fingers automatically punched up the channel most guaranteed to further raise my blood pressure and depress my mood.

Ronald Lewis Elder.

What can I say.   I’m a masochist of ego and intellect.  I sat back in my seat, flowing with the traffic.  The radio was on a commercial—something about constipation or debt relief of constipated debt relief.  At least it wasn’t another erectile dysfunction commercial. From what I could tell of talk radio commercials, the listening audience was predominantly constipated, broke and flaccid.  I fit right in.

I looked over at the car passing me on the driver’s side – a new Toyota AG sedan, and was momentarily startled to see the driver was reading a newspaper, hands fully off the wheel.  Those new automatic guidance cars still took getting use to.  Sensors and servos replacing neurons and hands might be all well and good, but I didn’t fully trust turning my life and the lives of others over to the same technology that periodically caused my desktop to crash.  At least a computer crash seldom took a van load of Cub Scouts down with it.  And I also couldn’t afford buying an AG equipped car, anyway.  Which might have been a major contributing factor to my dislike of them in the first place.

My cell rang.  Being at least able to afford complete handsfree voice activation for my mobile, I  responded  “Identification.”

“Brother,”  my phone’s little voice answered.  My phone sounded like a bored, slightly angry middle aged woman.  In that I was already married to one of those, I found the phone voice both annoying and redundant.

“Answer,” I commanded, followed by “Hi Yanni.”  I hoped my lack of enthusiasm for talking with my big brother when I was in my dark cups was not too apparent.

“Hey little bro.  Mom’s ticked you haven’t called her lately.”

My brother, Johan (our parents had something for odd, vaguely continental sounding names) was the self-appointed keeper of my maternally-related guilt.  He always called to remind me of pending birthdays, holidays and other dates of familial interest, never trusting me to have committed such facts to memory or day planner.

“Been busy, Yanni,” I replied, this time making no effort to keep the lack of enthusiasm under wraps.  As usual, he brushed aside the verbal slight with his own little dig.

“What, big things brewing at Harvard-on-the-Pacific?”

I sighed.  “No, Yanni, just the usual small college crap.”

“Figured.  Hey, we need to do lunch.  How about tomorrow, noon at the Dockside.”

“Gee Yanni, love to but I’m pretty booked this week.”  Yes, I’d love to have lunch at an expansive bayside restaurant, the tab of which my big brother would insist on picking up, paying for it with his platinum business card.  I’d love to spend lunch being reminded how going private sector instead of academia had made big bro both rich and influential.  I’d love to be reminded between the snow crab salad and the Muscovy duck breast just how deep the vat of self pity I was wallowing in of late actually had become.  “Maybe we can get together next…”

“We need to talk about Jason,” he brushed aside my brush off.  At that I paused.  Why did my brother want to talk with me about my son? What would he know about my son that I didn’t?  Of course, given the general lack of discourse between Jason and me, that could be a lot.  And Jason liked Johan.  More than he liked me, I sometimes felt.

“What about Jason?”

My defensiveness must of shimmered in the syntax, because he responded with a soothing, now-don’t-get-your-feathers-all-ruffled-voice.  “Nothing critical.  Just an opportunity I want to run by you. Tomorrow. Dockside at twelve.  Gotta run.”

The connection was broken before I would respond.  Wonderful, I thought.  Command performance for the mighty and all-powerful Johan. Wondering what topic concerning my son might be served up along with the poached salmon, I absentmindedly flicked up the radio volume, only to be momentarily startled by the utter familiarity of the voice coming from the speakers.

“And if Senate Democrats can’t be anything but obstructionists, they should be obstructed from even entering the Senate.  It’s war, dammit.  What part of “war” don’t these liberal yahoo morons get.  And another thing…”

I took my eyes off the road to look at the radio for a moment, half expecting it to have, like Scrooges’ knocker,  taken on the contours of a face from the past.  My past.

Ronald Lewis Elder.  Conservative Talk Show Titan, master of the airways, prophet of the revolution.

And, in a different life a long time ago, once my best friend.

Chapter 5

“And another thing,”  Ronald Lewis Elder huffed, skooching his slender frame forward to the very edge of his custom Herman Miller Aeron Chair, “When is the AG’s office gonna get serious about enforcing Carter?  Aide and comfort people, that’s what it is, pure and simple.  I’ve told those whinning liberal whackoos to shut the hell up for years.”

Elder leaned into the mike, his lips only centimeters from the windscreen.  He was gearing up for his trademark “Ronald Rant,” which had propelled him to top radio ratings, national fame and influence and incredible personal wealth, in addition to inspiring millions of devoted “Ronald Ranters” to hang onto and regurgitate his every utterance.

“ Now its time for the Administration to finally get up the gumption to play hardball with these obstructionist, enemy loving, freedom hating liberals.  Carter’s been on the books for two years now.  Two years!  And not one – absolutely not one of these licentious liberal legislators—,” he paused almost imperceptibly to savor yet another one of his brilliant alliterations, “– I don’t care if you’re talking Congress, the California statehouse of the Seattle city council—not one of them has been reigned in by Carter.  Oh, they’ve been losing at the polls, all right.  But not fast enough.  There’s still enough of them to do damage to the nation.  And that’s what they’re gonna do.

“Take the Satanist Senatorial Seven.  The President sends down a necessary transportation bill—we’re talking national security here, folks.  The country needs that bill.  Needs the appropriation.  Needs to protect the transportation system.  But the triple S—and that’s what they are, folks, a bunch of stupid s-holes!—pull some stupid procedural gimmick to bottle the bill up.

“Pork, they’re screaming.  That bill’s got as much pork in it as my left butt cheek.” That was another of Elder’s favorite lines, though he alternated cheeks from time to time.  Five foot nine and maybe one hundred forty pounds, Elders’ lean physique was legendary.  As was, at least for those who knew him or dined with him, his seemingly infinite appetite and his legendary ability to slake that appetite while remaining wiry.

“The Satanic Seven are blocking that bill just because they can.  They don’t give a damn about the country.  They don’t give a damn about you or me.  They don’t give a damn that, by blocking the bill, they are leaving millions of Americans tied up in traffic, delaying emergency response times to terrorist incidents, leaving our country vulnerable to more attacks.

“They don’t care that they’re risking another Spokane.  They want another Spokane.  They hope it happens again, just to make the President look bad.  That’s all they care about.  They’re so consumed by their hate for the man that they can not beat in any other way that they’ll sacrifice the national interest to scratch that itch.  They just as soon leave this country stripped naked of all its defenses—stripped as naked as the White House walls were when the Clintonistas left town.”

While Clinton may have been out of office for over a decade, Elder knew throwing his name in from time to time always helped pump up the faithful. Especially after ’08.  Focus groups had proven that.

“Well I’ve had enough of it.  And you’ve had enough of it.  It’s time the Administration and the Attorney General have had enough of it.  Invoke Carter.  Throw Munsington or Vaulter into the clink for a while – like a hundred years.  At least bash that blowhard Getty.  She’s their ringleader.  Bust her and you bust them all.”

Elder paused, noticing that the show’s theme music was slowly rising.  He looked up from his mike.  His engineer was waving at him through the sound booth window.  The end of the show had crept up on him. He looked back at the mike, the center of his universe.

“Well, my friends,” he sighed.  “If the Administration won’t act, at least you can.  Send the bums letters and let them know just how much you hate them and their anti-American liberal ways.  Email ‘em.  Call ‘em.  Shut down their phone lines and computers with your righteous anger.  Check out our website, w-w-w dot Ronald’s right for the contact info.  And don’t forget to sign up for our premium content, including the RLE newsletter.  We’re outta time, gotta run.  Talk to you tomorrow.

“And in the meantime, remember, listen to your Elder.”

Elder pushed back from the mike, “God Bless America” now playing loudly in his headset.  He pulled the headset off and dropped it on the teak console, rolled his chair back, stood and stretched. Show three thousand, eight hundred and forty six was now history.

The paneled door to his studio opened and his producer, Mary Beth Bates, walked in, smiling as usual.  She carried his customary post-show cup of Earl Gray tea with honey and lemon that he drank religiously after each broadcast to soothe his tired vocal cords.

“Great show, as usual, Ronny,” she cheerfully chirped, setting the tea on the edge of the grand teak office desk that stood behind the broadcast  console.   Elder’s broadcast studio had been configured to look like a study in a grand English manner house that he had once visited—and subsequently bought.  Indeed, it was that very study, transported in it’s entirety, right down to the hearth stones of the working fire place that dominated one wall of the twenty by twenty room.  Installing a working fireplace on the twenty-eighth floor of a forty story modern Los Angeles office building had been no small or cheap affair.  But he was Ronald Lewis Elder and  if he wanted to work inside an igloo, the  MultiCom suits would have had to figure out how to keep the ice from melting on the equipment.

He was Ronald Lewis Elder. And Ronald Lewis Elder got what he wanted.

Like that English manor house.  Elded only bought the house to loot it of the various furnishings and architectural ornamentation he liked.  Then he sold it to some wealthy Arab, simply to piss off the less wealthy English aristocrats who lived nearby.  He hated England and the stuck up English and had no desire to live there, or anywhere else besides his cherished United States of America.

But they did have cool stuff like this study.  So he simply took it.

He also liked the idea of noble titles.  Lord Elder, for example.  But he hadn’t been able to take one of those.  Yet.

Elder stretched again and turned on Mary Beth, scowling.  “Great show my skinny ass,” he snapped.  ‘A transportation bill?  I have to prattle on for two hours about a lousy goddam transportation bill?”  He crossed over to his desk and brusquely snatched up the cup and saucer, causing tea to spill from the former to the later.

Mary Beth instinctively backed up a few paces towards the bookshelves.  They were crammed with expensive first editions and folios which, like the room itself, had been acquired—at MultiCom expense—to satisfy Elder’s voracious appetite for things.

“I thought you did an excellent job detailing the problems with the bill,” Mary Beth soothingly said.

Elder was having none of it.  “A goddam trasportation bill!  That’s the best your incredible staff of pinheaded researchers could come up with for today?  Stupid road construction?  No one is going to get their blood pressure up over a goddam transporation bill!  And if their…,” he gesticulated towards the microphone console, as if all his fifteen million listeners were somehow contained within its smooth, mahogany paneled frame,   “ …blood pressure are low, so are my ratings.  And if my ratings are low…,” he rounded back on her, waving his long, thin, bony index finger at his increasingly cowering producer, “ you’re professional prospects are low.”  He paused, savoring the power he could exhort at will over his supplicants.

Mary Beth, clearly shaken, tried to soothe her boss.  While she received at least one of these tirades a week, she hadn’t expected one today, after a good, if innocuous show. “I’m sorry, Ronald,” she placated him, “ the research staff has gotten a little slack.  We’ll find you something much better for tomorrow.”

“Like,” he growled.  He had her on the run, which is how he liked to keep his subordinates.

“Like, a…,”  she crossed over to his massive desk and punched in a few numbers on his phone/intercom.  Part way into the first ring the other end answered.  No-one let Ronald’s line ring more than once.

“ Yes Mister Elder, Perez here.”  Perez was a 28 year old  Ph.D. candidate in government from the Kennedy school, taking a semester’s internship in the intellectual sweatshop of the great Voice, which had become, for conservative academics, something akin to clerking for a supreme court justice.  Only more prestigious and important.

“ Michael, this is Mary Beth.”

“Oh hi, Mary Beth,”  Perez’s voice noticeably relaxed. “I thought you were…”

“I’m with Mister Elder,” she hastily interrupted, least Perez be impolitic enough to say anything less than absolutely glowing about Elder.  A man who could accuse the Pope of being soft on the devil, Elder was notorious for being intolerant of anything but the highest exaltations by anyone—friends, family, associates or enemies included.  “We wanted to know how things were shaping up for tomorrow’s show.  Hot topics?”

There was a pause as Perez could be heard tapping on a computer keyboard.  “Our top five are the flu vaccine bill, subversive messages in the networks’ mid-season reality shows,  clips from Maria Getty’s speech to the DNC banquet tonight, subversive messages in the networks’ news broadcasts, and the President’s trip to Canada.”

Mary Beth turned to Elder, hoping he would be pleased.  He wasn’t.

“Canada?” Elder practically screamed.  “Freakin’ Canada? Home of the neo-socialists, land of the spineless?  What’s he,” meaning the President, whom Elder knew on a first-nickname basis, “ doing going to that shithole?  And how am I supposed to fill three hours of airtime talking about beaver-loving Canucks?”

Perez, no doubt envisioning his career being smothered in its crib, was deathly silent at his end of the line. Mary Beth looked from Elder to the phone.

“Er,  thank you, Michael. I’ll get back…”

Elder strode to the desk, almost shoving Mary Beth out of the way.  With both hands palm down on the gleaming desktop, he starred at the phone.  Now he was shouting.

“Look, Perez or Paris or whatever the hell your un-American name is.  You want to keep your job, you get me something good.  I want dirt on precious Maria Getty banging the goddam DNC, not giving them some limp-wristed pep talk.  I don’t even ever want to hear the word ‘Canada’ again.  I want Tehran.  Get me what’s happening in Tehran.  Do you understand me, Perez.  I want stuff on real, breathing, oozing enemies of the Republic.  I want stuff that will scare the hell out of people and get their backs up.  Make them want to kill, goddam it, kill liberal scum.  Do you understand me Perez? “

“Yes, Mister Elder,”  Perez prattled, nerves rattled, “ Right away, sir.”

“Good!” Elder yelled.  He punched the disconnect button with a sharp, knife-like jab, then turned on Mary Beth yet again.

“And you better ride them like a hot one night stand until they come up with something good.  Enough of this transportation crap.”

“Yes, Ronald,” she gulped.  On the Elder scale of tantrums,  in which punching people in the gut was a one and garroting them a ten, this one was about a seven.  Which was pretty bad so early in the week.

He sighed, rubbing his eyes. Then he looked at her—hard, but less threatening.  “You know, it’s hard being the only competent person in this organization.”  He walked around his desk and sat in his  Neiman Marcus Private Retreat executive  chair.   Mary Beth remained at attention, a few feet away.

Maybe a six.  She risked a question.  “Tehran?  Why do you want stuff on Tehran? Nothing is going on in the news?”

Elder gave her a piercing look.  “The news?” he spit.  “Of course there’s nothing in the news.  There’s never nothing in the news.  All is hunky-dory in Tehran. And Baghdad.  And  Damascus. And Beirut.  But I don’t get the news.  I get the facts.”  He leaned forward, ruffling through files on his desk.  He took out one, opened it, and pulled out a sheaf of papers.  Mary Beth could not fully read them, five feet away and upside down, but she could make out “Department of Defense” and “Top Secret.”

He picked up the documents and waved them at her.  “I get the real news.   I know as much as he does.  I’ve got connections.  I’m permanently in the loop.”

Mary Beth eyed the documents with apprehension.  She, of course, knew all about Elder’s personal pull in getting inside information.  He flaunted it to her at least once a week.  And, while it was not common knowledge, she and a handful of his handlers knew he was briefed periodically by cabinet secretaries and even the President himself.  All in secret, of course.  Just like his ability to, every now and then, harass a particularly harsh critic by sic’ing the IRS on them–a little favor thrown his way by the Administration as much for the fun of watching those critics squirm through months of audits as for actually silencing voices no-one really listened to anymore.  He’d boasted they’d shared laughs on more than one occasion in the Oval over such hijinks.

But DoD secret documents, left on his desktop?  That could not be wise. She looked over at the engineer’s booth – the glass was still open and people were working on the equipment.

“Ah, Ronald,” She nodded towards the glass and then towards the documents.”

He looked over, saw the engineers, then grunted.  “Right.”  He pushed a button on the phone console, and a shutter slid down from the wall recess, sealing off the window.  “Anyway,” he re-waved the documents at her.  “I know things aren’t all puppy dogs and ice cream in Iran.  They’re dog shit.  We just got hit in the Zagros mountains.  An ambush. Lost two hundred.  And guns are pouring over the borders.  Bought with Saudi money. Bought from the Chinese. The goddam Chinese.”  He slammed the documents down.

“We let them have Korea, and our reward?  Treacherous slant-eyed bastards. And you know why we keep getting kicked in the chops?”  He pushed on before Mary Beth could inadvertently respond to the rhetorical question.  “Because we’re too soft.  We don’t want to make waves.  Well we gotta make waves.  Or, better yet, Mushroom clouds.  We oughta nuke Riyadh, for starters.”

“But Ronald,” Mary Beth interjected, concerned.  “ You support the administration on Iran.  You always have.”

“Yeah, right.  I support him.  But sometimes he needs a kick in the ass, and I’m gonna give it to him.   They all lead him to water, but I’m gonna make him drink.”

“But don’t you run a risk of running up against Carter?”

“Carter?!  Me?  No-one would have the balls.  No, dammit.  Things have become too relaxed around here.” He looked around the paneled room. “Around the entire goddam nation.  I’m gonna stir things up a bit.  And you just watch those ratings fly.  And then the corporate assholes will really have to cough up the dough.”

Mary Beth was all too well aware that Elder was heading into new contract negotiations with MultiCom, which owned his syndication rights and pumped him out to 15% of the nation’s radio channels.  She also knew that Elder always got a little crazy around such negotiation time.  She’d gotten her job three years before when Elder had felt her predecessor had done too little boost ratings into the negotiation run up.   But jumping on Iran?  Taking on the Chinese and the Saudis?  That was pushing things, even for Ronald Lewis Elder.  She needed time to think this through and figure out how to handle it—and him.  So she distracted him.

“Speaking of Corporate,” she said, remembering a useful item that had just popped up for Elder’s schedule that afternoon.  Upstairs wants to have a quick chat with you.

“What,” he frowned.  “What do those pantywaists want?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, hesitantly. “Bob Nelson’s office called down and asked if you could come up after today’s show.”  Nelson was senior  VP for production for Starnet, the syndication company which owned Elder’s show but which, in turn, was owned by MultiCom.

“Bob Nelson?  That little prick wants me to come up to his office?  Tell him to kiss my skinny little ass.  He wants to talk to me he can come down here—no—tell him the formal office.  And at seven.  After I’ve had a sauna, a shower and a couple of big cocktails.”

“Nelson’s office was pretty insistent…,” she began, but was cut off by Elder’s glare.  “Yes sir, I’ll call them.”

“Good!”  Having made the world kneel before him, Elder was now in a more pleasant state of mind.  He stood up and made toward the door, stopping just inches away from Mary Beth.  At five ten, she was taller than Elder, something heels only made more obvious; she usually wore low ones.

“We on for dinner at nine?”

“Yes, Ronald, of course,” she replied, smiling.  A false smile. Her stomach had been tied into knots by his little tirade, which took the smiles out of her.”

“Good,” he leered, caressing her buttocks as he slipped by her and out the door.

She loved the power of her job.  And the pay.  But there were some parts of it she really hated.  That was one of them.

She paused for a moment, watching him leave.  Then she went to the desk, picked up the top secret documents and crossed to the bookcase, where she opened Elder’s safe –tackily concealed behind a painting of a fox hunt–and locked them away.

Like most men, she sighed. Elder was still a child who left his toys everywhere when he was done with them.

She stored the incriminating documents and closed the safe, swinging the painting back in to place.  Wall safe behind a painting in a faux study.  Gauche. Turning away, she slipped her Blackberry out of her pocket and made a call.

There were still some parts of her job she really loved.

The War Between the States (of corporate desperation) and a Short History of American Economic Time (and if this title was any longer it could never make it as a bumper sticker.)

If you are a frequent flyers accumulator for any of the airlines you may have gotten this letter in your email inbox.  If not, I’ve linked it here. The letter, signed by all of the major airline CEOs, amounts to a political declaration of war by one side of American corporationality (the producers of goods and services) on another (the producers of finance and speculation.)  In short, the airlines are declaring political war on Wall Street over the issue of oil futures contracts speculation.  And asking you to be their foot soldiers in the assault on Washington.  I find the letter worthy of note as I’ve never seen anything quite like it. But then, the airlines have never been in anything quite like this.

The last time the bottom fell out of the economy and oil prices hit the sky the airlines will still in the transition from protective government regulation to bare knuckles free markets.  Given that airlines have hardly had stellar profits ever since they left Uncle Sam’s wing to solo on their own, the current economy and out of whack oil markets has been spelling gloom—and doom—for the heirs to the Wright Brothers. Many of the airlines are on the brink of bankruptcy–as many have been for years.  Out of desperation comes acts of desperation.  And this letter smacks of political desperation—and political anger—that comes form seeing ones very survival as an industry on the line.

Politically this may portend that, come November, yet another crack in the Reagan coalition will hurt John McCain and his fellow members of the GOP at the pools.  The RC of big business and heartland American social conservatives (which has always been an odd—and often contradictory—alchemy of Hamiltonian pro-big government, big finance and big business industrialists and Jeffersonian anti-big government, rural populists (giving the GOP the best of both worlds:  access to urban money and rural and suburban votes) is fracturing.  Social conservatives have finally woken up and realized they are the African Americans of the Republican party, being sweet-talked and wooed every election and then seeing every hollow promise hollowed out in between.  Just how many years have  Republicans controlled the Presidency, the Congress or both?  Just when did Roe v. Wade get overturned? (Or  an anti-Gay Marriage, Balanced Budget, Pro-Prayer in Schools, Term Limits, Pro-life amendment get passed?)

Now the façade of corporate America, seeing what is shaping up to be the worst economy since the 1970s—or earlier (which leaves only one other really rough patch to compare with, bucko) is splintering at the money—filled seems.  If corporations don’t pony up the big bucks and unified front as it has done to oppose Democrats (you remember them—pro labor, pro environment, pro progressive taxation, pro pro-consumer government regulation, or at least they used to be back in some primordial pre—Reagan time) historically, John McCain will be standing on a three-legged stool of political support sans two legs.  And the third—moderate GOP voters–aren’t strong enough to hold up the campaign increasingly swollen by its own incompetence.  (Of course, John McCain’s senior economic advisor, Phil “Let Them Eat Weight Watchers” Graham may be right and all of our problems may be reducible to whiny, fat, old people.  But don’t bet on it.)

E.J. Dione, speaking on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday, said very concisely something I teach in my classes about economics.   He said that, just as the economic problems of the 1970s produced the supplyside Reagan Revolution  of the 1980s, the economic problems of the early double naughts  may produce a shift towards more government intervention in the economy to help average people.  That would be workers and consumers.  That would be demand-side economics, aka Kenyesian economics, aka New Deal economics.

In economics only two things matter:  supply and demand.  Government policy can try to affect one over the other—it can’t really effectively and successfully influence both significantly at the same time.  When one of these paradigms dominates but, then, crashes and burns, government can only—and must—shift to the other.

American economic history can be divided into three great epochs.  From the 19th Century—particularly after the Civil War—to 1932 that policy was Laissez-Faire industrialism.  Laissez –Faire has never meant “hands off” the economy, as many simplistically believe.  Adam Smith never wrote that it did nor believed it should.  Laissez-Faire means government hands of the decisions of supply and demand in the economy but it also, for Smith, meant active government in maintaining an efficient and—most importantly—fair free market.  Smith, a dower, Scottish moral philosopher, understood that people are people and, given the chance, they cheat.  Hence his famous admonition that “People of the same trade seldom
meet together, even for merriment or diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public,or in some contrivance to raise prices.”  The role of government was to prevent such “conspiracy” and “contrivance.”

In practice, however, whenever you hear someone advocating so called Laissez Faire policies for government, they are calling for pro-supplyside policies:  anti-labor, anti-consumer, pro-capital and a pro-producer.  These were the policies of the industrial revolution—and the gilded age. This model crashed and burned in the ravages of the Great Depression, ushering in the Keynesian, demand-side, New Deal model.

The American New Deal model ushered in the greatest period of economic prosperity affecting the broadest segments of a society in human history.  And, before you naively say the New Deal didn’t end the Depression, the War did, please understand that, economically, American policy during WWII amounted to Keynesianism on steroids, on crack, with the government not just stimulating labor and industrial markets but the government becoming the labor and industrial markets. What really drove American economic dominance in the post-war period, however, was a simple fact of geography: we had sent our boys “Over There” to fight, not them sending their boys “Over Here”. As a result, “Over There” got blown to hell in a handbasket and “Over Here” emerged from the war relatively unscathed.  In 1950 the US strode the world as a colossus with no real economic competition.  Britain and France were bankrupt by two successive world wars, so bankrupt that they would be forced to hold going-out-of-the-empire-business sales and dismantle, in a few years, the empires they had spent centuries assembling.  Germany and Russia were bankrupt and burned to the ground.  Japan was bankrupt, burned to the ground and glowed in places at night.  The rest of the world was what it had always been: poor.

In 1950 if you wanted to by a skilled-labor industrial product you had to buy it from us.  That would be U.S.  And the wealth of nations poured into our own.  So much wealth poured in to the U.S. that we could be magnanimous, giving billions of dollars of aid to Europe and the world to rebuild from the war and develop from poverty, confident in the knowledge that much of that money would flow right back into American accounts as the world bought our stuff.  John Maynard Keynes once said that the tailor would gladly lend you ten dollars every Friday if he was confident you would use that money to buy a ten dollar coat from him every Monday.  Such was the relationship between the US and the world (and, currently, is the relationship between China and the US, with China playing the role we once did.)   That prosperity party which today haunts us as the American Dream: the God-given–if historically unique—right if each generation to expect to live markedly better than the generation before.  From the 1941 to 1973 American standard of living doubled and almost doubled again.

Then in 1973,  as Don Mclean sang,  the music died.  The American prosperity party came to a stuporous conclusion.  Done in not by the excesses of government intervention in the marketplace but by global economic realities.  By the 1960s they—Europe and Japan—were back, with industries modernized, more efficient and cost-competitive (in part thanks to US aid) to challenge American producers on a global stage.  By the end of the 1960s the US was sending more money to the world than the world sent to us.  The resulting “Dollar Glut” caused the value of the dollar to tumble and the Bretton Woods dollar-tied to gold based global monetary standard collapse.  Arab oil producing nations, seeing the value of their dollarized-oil fall as a result, used the pretext of the Yom Kippur war in 1973 to inflate oil prices.  The result of all this: the American economic recession known as “stagflation” and, by the end of the 1970s, a global economic downturn.

The traditional Keynesian response to the “Stag” part of stagflation–driven by the loss of jobs in the face of rising energy costs and massive amounts of dollars leaving the economy to purchase said energy overseas–during the Carter years was to bump up social spending.  That, unfortunately only further inflated the “Flation” side of the problem, driven by the impact of high oil input costs on all segments of the society.    It would require massively supply-side monetary policy—the Federal Reserve jacking interest rates to almost twenty percent—to crush inflation and, with it, the American economy. Out of the worst recession since the 1930s supply-side II—Reagonomics with its pro business and capital tax cuts, labor policies, environmental policies and, perhaps most importantly, regulatory policies was born.

The result: three decades of strong to middling economic growth. (The last eight years hardly being the golden age of Reaganomics, hence all the nostalgia for all things Reagan and ‘80s in Republican pundit circles.  All that’s missing is for Dana Farino to start wearing big hair and padded shoulders to White House press conferences…) But also three decades of declining middle class fortunes.  Where the WWII generation saw standards of living double every generation, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers now need wait three generations for the same gain.  Perhaps this is why Baby Boomer attitudes towards the economy is so glum.  Throw in the Enroning of the economy as corporate America and Wall Street, shorn of true regulation and oversight, ran amuck, the Dot.Com bubble and, now, the subprime mortgage meltdown (all foreshadowed by the looting and collapse of the S&L industry in the 1980s, the first great manifestation of Reagonomic ubercapitalism gone astray) and the result is an overleveraged, unstable economy on the brink of the worst economic recession of the last seventy years and the possibility of a global recession to match it.  With all the geopolitical instabilities that would portend.

The Reagan Revolution.  Born: 1980; died: ?  You might start etching that date on the economic tombstone: 2008.  If Barack Obama—or John McCain, for that matter—are actually serious on changing economic course from the one charted by Reagan and followed by his three successors–including Bill Clinton—there is only one direction to tact towards.  Demand-Side II.  The Return of Keynes and Roosevelt.

Summer Reading

And, to keep you entertained, dear three readers, a little more summer reading lite: Installment 2 of my unpublished best-seller “And to the Republic.”  Click here for the first installment. (And apologies for the line-breaks between paragraphs–I still can’t get WordPress to indent for me..)

And To The Republic
(A work in progress by Carl J. Luna.)

Chapter 2

I found Travis in his office, door ajar, staring at his computer monitor and tapping away on his keyboard. The office was the standard cubicle but with floor to ceiling walls-– all grays and topes with modular furnishings.  His office, however, was about half again larger than most.  And it had a window. I had an interior office with no window.  Kind of like a phone booth (if anyone remembers that quaint bit of antiquity) on steroids.

Travis was dressed in his usual two-piece faux Brooks Brothers, no doubt bought at one of the chain outlet stores that specialized in brand-name knock offs.  He was higher on the totem pole of power than regular professors, to be sure, but that hadn’t come with too great a pay increase.  Many things had changed since Spokane, but not the lousy pay.  Dark blue suit, white shirt, blood red tie: he always looked like a cross between a real estate agent and a Watchtower peddler.  Not that you saw much of either, as of late.  I, more than most, should know,  being married to one.  A real estate agent, that is, not a Watchtower peddler.  Though I hadn’t been seeing much of my own personal real estate agent much as of late.

I stood at the door a moment, waiting for Travis to notice my presence.  At six foot two inches and two hundred (ok, who am I fooling, two hundred twenty) pounds of pear shaped splendor,  I was hard to miss as a presence.  But Travis kept tapping away at his desktop, eyes glued to the screen, oblivious to the world.

Right.  Travis saw all, knew all.  He knew it was just after four thirty—regular quitting time for nine hour days that started at seven thirty– and he had commanded me to be there just after four thirty so I would be there just after four thirty.   Leaving me standing in the doorway was just another way of letting me know whom I was and, more importantly, whom he was.

Travis Nixon, Curriculum Integration and Coordination officer of Tidelands College, our local campus liaison to both the State and Federal Departments of Homeland Security: Education Division, Secondary and Post-Secondary.  B.A. University of Chicago,  Ph.D in Philosophy, Duke.  Like me, a fellow with an educational pedigree that should have led to a place other than a large community college on the edge of the Pacific.

Not that there was anything wrong with community colleges.  They served their critical niche.  They provided more than a decent education .  Where sending your kid to  a big name school meant you forked out seventy or eighty thousand dollars a year to have your kid spend most of his college career being taught by graduate students who often spoke lousy English, California community colleges provided real live Ph.D.’s to enlighten your kid at a literally a few percent of the cost.  And the people were nice and professional and collegial.

But it lacked the panache, the ego-sastisfaction and the social clout of working at a brand name.  Once you thought you were heading for Broadway, local dinner theater just never feeds the career hunger as thoroughly. He and I shared that hunger.  A hunger that, since you couldn’t feed it, ate you instead. You could see it in his eyes – restless, darting and dark.

I remained at his threshold a few moments, unwilling to make the commitment of fully entering the office, least I was able to deal with him with a handful of sentences and make my escape, small talk dispensed with.  He knew I was standing there—I saw his eyes shift from the screen just enough to pick me up in his peripheral vision before they returned to the data—but he continued staring and tapping away at the keyboard for a good thirty seconds before he acknowledged me.  And then it was only to look up for a moment and nod at his visitor chair before returning his gaze to the screen.

Travis thought I was an arrogant prick.   He was right on the last count, to be sure.  Indeed, by my own count, my prickishness quotient had skyrocketed over the past decade or so.

Once I was the epitome of the “nice guy.” Always armed with a  joke and a smile to brighten the day of  others, I used to  work my way through the office like a warm spring breeze, sincere compliment to a colleague here, a conspiratorial commiseration with an over-worked secretary there.  I was a freakin’ force of social nature.
As hopes and dreams faded, as mundane reality overturned misplaced fantasy,  I hardened.  Ungracefully, rudely even.  The happy joke replaced with biting sarcasm.   Compliments left unspoken, eyes averted to avoid the necessity of conversation.  I became something of a social armadillo, wrapped up around a chewy center of self pity, self loathing and a general disinterest in the plight of others, covered by a sugary shell of puerile wit.

In other words, a prick.

But arrogant?  No, that had disappeared long ago.

Yes, once I had been arrogant.   One of the youngest to earn a Ph.D in poli sci  in Georgetown history – twenty six, for chrissake.  Award winning dissertation on processes of social change.  I was an easy shot at tenure track at one of the top twenty, if not top ten schools.  But Mary wanted California.  She wanted out of DC and the east coast as soon as possible. So I took the first tenure track offered—a small but prestigious private school in the Bay area.  Took it and blew it.  I took seven years to blow it, but what the heck.  In my twenties and thirties life looked like an endless highway of opportunity.   That I had blown my professional head gasket without even knowing it, leaving my career a wrecked heap on the shoulder of said career highway, would take years for me to realize.

Okay, so I didn’t publish.  I decided I was in it for the teaching, anyway.  The chance to influence young minds, mold the next generation and all that.  Okay, so I didn’t play politics, didn’t kiss up to the department Chair or Dean, didn’t fawn over their works and accomplishments.  And maybe, amidst the happy little conspiratorial winks and nods with secretaries and grad students, I impugned the Chair’s and Dean’s reputation a tad.  And getting totally looped the night before a major presentation at the American Political Science Association convention one year and being a lot too honest about what drivel our Chair’s new book, “On The Record:  Management of Public Records in the Veterans Administration”  really was and, then, being so hung over I was barely coherent during my own panel, certainly didn’t help.  And my chair walking out of the hall halfway through my presentation was certainly not a good sign.

So, when tenure didn’t come, I left.  Not in a huff, but in an optimistic burst of good will, looking forward to new opportunities.  (Well, maybe there was a little huff.  But it didn’t last long.)  Mary had hated the Bay Area – too damp, too expensive, too far from her family to the south. Of course my family lived in SoCal, too, which I took as a darn good reason to stay north.   But I gave in and took the job in LA at a California state school.  Not tenure track, but sure to lead to it once my brilliance was fully appreciated, I reasoned.  A few years and no publications of note later (oh, there was the book review here, the odd chapter contributed to an anthology – completed only after months of desperate pleading by the editor—there) and I was back on the market.

Then came the job at Tidelands Community College—“Where Knowledge Meets the Sea” as the motto went–back in my ancestral homeland of San Diego, the town I’d been running from for two decades.  Tenure track.  Good pay and benefits.  Job security.  And, best of all, they were gaga for me – what with my Ph.D. from the big school and all.

Yeah, I was really arrogant back then.  But a few more years of no publications, having my few feeble tries rejected by the peer reviewed journals, a few more years of a sagging gut and receding hairline to help underscore that my best years were probably already behind me, a few more years of Mary passively aggressively letting it be known she had thought she had married better than what she got, a few more years of watching my happy toddlers turn into increasingly sullen and resentful, jaded, teens, and the arrogance leeched away.  Along with the bonhomie that arrogance can afford.   I wasn’t arrogant any longer.  Just disinterested to the point of rudeness.

Tenure meant I wouldn’t lose my job short of shooting one of my students or superiors for stupidity beyond the right to live, I suppose.  But that left me, at 46, with 16 years of drudgery to retirement in a job I didn’t really like any more.  And who knew how many years of an increasingly loveless marriage, until one of us worked up the nerve to pull the trigger and put the damn thing out of its misery.  My best years were behind me, and the years ahead looked increasingly less promising.

So Travis was only half-right about me.  But I was entirely right about Travis.  He was one hundred percent, FDA certified, grade A arrogant prick.  And, as CIC, he didn’t have to even try and hide it for niceties’ sake.

He turned at last, after another minute or so of determined tapping, and looked at me, a smile only as deep as his lips plastered across his chinless face.

“Hi Travis,” I said, subtly but observably holding his little summons in my clenched fist.

“Marcus, I need to talk to you about your upcoming program review.”  The smile drew tauter, his little lizard tongue probing anxiously—hungrily—at the back of his perfect, capped teeth.

Program review?  That’s what he wanted?  When Travis called for one of his little tête-à-têtes you were never certain if it was over some bureaucratic drivel like that or to help him raise the undead.  He was capable of dealing with either–of that I was sure.

I inadvertently sighed, feeling a bit of relief that the matter was so trivial.  In days gone by I would have blown off program review in which  I, as department chair, was responsible for documenting all the goals and plans for our department so deans would have something to read to justify their pay.  Eventually, after suitable hounding from the requisite dean, I would have tossed something off on the word processor and submitted it– fashionably late, of course.  No longer. Under the Travis New World Order,  to miss such a deadline got you a tick, and we’ve already discussed why you didn’t want to get ticked off.  So I had completed my review, which was due the following Monday, five days away.  Digitally stored, it awaited but one key stroke to unleash it in all its fury.

In retrospect the sigh was a rookie mistake. A classic dropping of the guard.
“Yeah Travis,” I smiled.  “All done and ready. Want me to send it to you before Monday?”  I tried to play it cool, but I fear relief tainted my inflection.

Travis stared at me for a long moment.  And, for a moment, what looked like an honest to God real smile seemed to be tugging at the corners of his liver-lips.  “I’m sure you’ve got it all together, Marcus,” he said, the pure smile now gone, the public smile back in place, “I just wanted to be sure you covered the points in the new directive on curriculum guidelines development.”

“Sure,” I smiled back.  “I’ve got the guidelines and reviewed each of our department member’s syllabi for compliance.  Everything’s okey-dokey.”

He frowned, pursing his lips, looking like a sad basset hound.  A rabid sad basset hound, to be sure.  “You are aware that new revisions to the State guidelines on curriculum content were released yesterday?”

I looked at him, mouth open but nothing coming out for a few seconds.  “New guidelines?” I answered, hesitantly. “Yeah, I saw them. And read them,” I hurried to add.  Of course I had seen and read them.  They’d arrived in my inbox that day in an email from Travis, red flagged and all.

“And you integrated them into your review of all course content, including lecture materials and readings?” He stared intently at me for a moment, than settled back in his chair, bringing his hands together to form a contemplative teepee with his fingers.

I felt suddenly like a five year old having to tell his kindly old (if psychotic) kindergarten teacher he had thrown up in the finger paints.    “Well, no, I haven’t, Travis,” I answered, inadvertently displaying my unease by rubbing my brow.  “I thought the guidelines were for next time around and we were to use the existing ones.”

Travis frowned, which was actually his most natural expression.  “The revised guidelines come directly from DHS-E through State CIC for immediate implementation,” he stated.  “DHS-E” – Department of Homeland Security, Educational division.
Responsible for ferreting out subversive ideas from the national educational complex.

State CIC was where Travis wanted to be, one day. The state watch dog agency on all California public education, always looking to sniff out subversion.  I’m certain he thought he would—or should—make that big league soon.

“It’s not enough to simply look at a syllabus and compare it to the legally mandated course outline of record under the new guidelines,” he explained.  “Anyone can write a syllabus that complies with the state outlines.  It’s what goes on in the classroom after the syllabus has been passed out that really matters.”  He sat forward abruptly, putting his hands palm down on his desk.  This was a sign Travis the true believer had appeared – or, at least, Travis the bureaucratic climber who knew how to look like a true believer.

“The only way to know what goes on inside the classroom is to have a detailed auditing of all course materials.  Lecture notes, readings, videos, powerpoints–the whole enchilada.”

I resisted the urge to sit back and roll my eyes, something a younger me would have done automatically.  “I didn’t think we had to implement those guidelines yet,” I repeated instead, keeping my eyes and voice steady.

“I figured you had, Marcus,”  Travis answered in an understanding voice. “That’s why I wanted to chat with you.  The public demands that what is taught with their taxpayer’s dollars conforms to what they believe, not whatever some tenured old liberal professor takes it into his mind to teach.  That’s what the new guidelines seek to guarantee.”

My younger self would, at that point, have stood, lifted my chair and hurled it against a wall before stating the mantra “academic freedom” and  storming out of the office and lodging complaints with both the Academic senate and our Union president.  But the union was gone – busted like the old airport screeners’ had been, in the name of national security.  And our Senate President, Gabriel Acosta, was as much a true believer as Travis.  I had already resigned myself to the simple truth that, post-Spokane, academic freedom–to teach and say in the classroom what our professional training told us we should–was a nice little piece of a past we professors could no longer afford. Not if we wanted to keep our jobs.

What I was gearing my self up to was the task of sifting through all the course materials of the other five members of the poli sci department – not to mention the dozen plus adjuncts I had on staff—in time to meet the Monday PR filing deadline.  What I was gearing up to was accepting the realization that my weekend had just become  FUBARed and, worse than that, explaining that fact to Mary.  Who I feared, might have theater tickets or something already.  Then again, Mary hadn’t been putting a lot of effort into our relationship, so I was probably over worrying on that score.

“Gee, Travis,” I managed, “I didn’t realize the guidelines applied this time around.”  I kept to myself the thought that he hadn’t bothered to mention that in the email.  What thy visited upon Travis would be visited a thousand bureaucratic ways back on thyself.

Travis paused for a long moment, starring at me.  And then that honest to God smile came back to tug at his flapping lips.  “Well,” he said, drawing out each consonant and vowel sound, “I guess it really doesn’t matter so much this time around.”   I must have visibly relaxed, because he became sternly serious immediately, the smile gone.  “But I want you to be aware of them and be ready to file a revision after the initial review next month.”

I fought off the urge to smile.  Or look at the wall clock behind him.  Four forty-five,  I figured.  If my luck held I’d be out and into the gridlocked rush hour traffic in a few minutes.  “No problem, Travis,”  I smiled, my body preparing to launch itself out of the chair.  Travis tilted his head in a motion of agreement, which I took as the termination point of our little meeting.  I began to rise.  “Well then….”

“There is,” he said softly, almost whispering, “one other thing.”

I drained back into the chair, the commutation of my sentence revoked.    Travis turned and tapped at his computer for a moment, read something on his screen, then turned back to me.  “You have several faculty evaluations to do this semester.”

A statement.  I nodded.  “That’s right.”

“Teddy Franklin is one of them, correct?”

“I believe so,” I nodded again.

“Teddy,” Travis sighed.  Audibly, deliberately sighed.  “He is a bit of a character.”

“Teddy has his moments,” I said, carefully.

“I was wondering,” Travis continued after a thoughtful pause, “ who would be assigned to the evaluation committee?”

I now paused for a few moments.  What would Travis care about who would be assigned to an eval committee.    That was the province of deans and chairs. Some things had changed, but eval committees were still a relatively rote affair. True, there was a bill pending in Sacramento, likely to be passed and then signed by our former businessman billionaire turned governor who replaced our former millionaire actor turned uber-governor turned Senator—a particularly strong supporter of Patriot III  that had come about after Spokane—that would effectively end tenure in state education.  But that little bit of the past still existed.  Getting rid of us tenured professors was still a Herculean task, no matter how incompetent – or unpopular—we became.

“I don’t really know, Travis.  I haven’t given it much thought.”

“Teddy gets to recommend his faculty evaluators, of course. But you, as chair, can pick a chair designee.  And your dean may pick a dean designee, as well.”

“Well, yes,” I answered slowly. “Of course.  So?”

Travis took a nice, long time to continue, sitting back in his chair, looking me over intently.  “It’s been my experience that Teddy is no strong supporter of curriculum integration.  Indeed, I’m probably fielding two or three complaints a month about him.”

Complaints. Student snitches, he meant.  Members of Students for the American Way, the self-appointed student enforcers of the new Political Correctness.  Well, actually, not truly self-appointed.  More a quasi-state organization, the SAW had increasing influence on national education policy, it’s leaders national figures in their own right, receiving preferred attention from Washington, its regular members something of a cross between a fraternity and the old Soviet Young Pioneers.

“Well, you know Teddy…” I dissembled.

“Yeah, I know Teddy.  And I doubt strongly that much of what he does in the classroom really reflects current course outlines.  Look…” he  continued, leaning over his desk towards me, his voice dropping into a conspiratorial near-whisper, “…people like Teddy represent a past we can no longer afford. This college can’t afford.   He threatens our reputation, our integrity…”

For a moment my old self—the arrogant one—fought to resurface.  “Come on now, Travis.  Teddy may be an old curmudgeon.  But a threat?  And anyway, students love him.  He’s smart.  He’s fun….”

“Which is exactly why he’s dangerous,”  Travis practically hissed.  He paused for a moment and composed himself, the false smile reappearing.  “Look, we all want what is best for the college – and for Teddy.  He’s—what?—fifty-eight?”

“Fifty-nine, I believe.”  Suddenly I really didn’t like the direction the conversation was going.

“Fifty-nine then,” Travis nodded. “He’s already at early retirement age.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think he’s planning to….”

“Here’s what,” Travis interrupted.  “I want you to appoint Andy Locke as chair designee for Teddy’s eval committee.”

“What!?” I exclaimed before I could bite the words back.  Locke despised Teddy, a feeling that was fully reciprocated.  I tried to recover.  “Well, that really isn’t for me…Dean Nguyen…”

“Don’t worry,” he waved me off.  “I’ve already talked to Nguyen about it and she has no problems with it. Look, all I want is to be sure Teddy has a fair and balanced committee. No rubber stamp, no firing squad.  For his good and the good of the college. Right?  And you don’t need to be in the middle of this.  You got a ton of evals coming up.  So take a pass on this committee and appoint Locke as your designee.”

I broke Travis’s gaze—that of a reptile staring down a small mammal—and shifted my focus over his shoulder.  Four-fifty.  The traffic would be horrific now. I’d be late coming home, which would tick Mary off even more than usual.  I looked back at Travis.  The last of my youthful arrogance died.

“Well, if Nguyen’s on board, I guess…”

“Great.”  The honest to God smile actually engulfed his lips yet again.  It was not pleasant to look at.  “So, keep me appraised.”  With that he turned back to his monitor.

Dismissed, I stood and left.  Having just agreed to help gut my mentor.  And my friend.