Photo by Sheba Also, ewmixed by me, both images subject to this creative commons license
Read all of VISIONS
I wish I had a time machine, or at least a more accurate memory. As recollection fades with age the easier it becomes to let the mind paste over the gaps with more flattering, if less honest, facts. The fish become longer, youthful triumphs grander, and long ago girlfriends more beautiful and more easily seduced by your charms.
In 1959 my father took a job with General Atomics in San Diego. My parents loaded me and my two redheaded younger brothers into Dad’s shiny green (?) Oldsmobile Rocket 88 and we trecked west from east Tennessee through the mid summer heat. My memories of that trip are fragmented: crossing the wide Mississippi, stopping in Oklahoma City to visit my paternal grandparents, talking to Clint Eastwood and other cast members of the popular TV show Rawhide somewhere in New Mexico (or was it Arizona?). Finally, my first glimpse of San Diego: a semicircle of twinkling city lights ringing the blacked out bay late on the night we arrived.
We spent the first few days in a motel in La Jolla, an upscale subdivision of the city. We were, I think, quite close to the shore. I swam in a small cove in restless blue water surrounded by high, richly colored rock (at least that is my memory). A boy, younger than me, pointed out a rocky promontory where, he claimed, a “woman was eaten by a shark!”. Years later I learned his improbable tale was true; she had been attacked by a great white in shallow water shocking close to the beach.
We moved into a apartment complex: a vast array of identical, sand colored buildings. I recall playing with a balsa wood model airplane with a bright red propeller and a single brief, sexually charged, furtive encounter with a girl a year or so younger than I was (she was the aggressor).
We finally settled in Del Mar, then a small, sleepy town further up the California coast, where we remained for the rest of our time in California. My parents never bought a house; we lived in a series of rented homes. In the winter we’d take a house on, or very near, the beach; in summer, when the popular race track on the north edge of town was crowded with affluent outsiders, and rents rose precipitously, we’d have to move up into the hills. One summer day I ended up briefly surf fishing with Jimmy Durante. As I’ve written before, I found a stash of old Playboy magazines in one hill house we rented which was owned by absent Navy flyers.
I quickly became a juvenile beach bum, especially after my parents relented and bought me a used blue surfboard. By that time most boards were light foam covered in fiber glass; mine, however, was crafted from balsa wood and was relatively heavy, especially compared to the newer models. I didn’t care. I was a surfer! I even purchase a black, zippered wet suit jacked so I would look cool and brave the colder, and rougher, winter surf.
Here, perhaps, my fifty plus years spent since those distant days may refine and enhance my recollections. Perhaps those waves have grown higher, my skills become more masterful, and those early morning rides stretched longer. Yet the memory of those countless hours I spent straddling my board, scanning the horizon in search of just the right incoming swells, and competing for those promising waves against the dozen or so other youthful surfers sharing the same patch of dancing blue water, remain vibrant and visceral: my dash across hot sand with burning feet, the clean smell of melting wax, the chill as I plunge into the green, foam laced water, the burning in my shoulders and back as I paddle furiously out through the rumbling surf, the heat of the rising sun on my bare back when the cooling offshore breeze died in mid morning, the giddy exhilaration as the quickly gathering swell catches my board and then hurls me forward with increasing speed down, and then across, its steepening, glassy face. And sometimes, the memory is panic when I plunge out of control to the dark, rough sea bottom after an uncaring wave beats me, then effortlessly tosses my upside down, spinning board toward the distant beach.
We left California and returned to east Tennessee in the summer of 1962, just before I started high school. The mostly rural western edge of Knox county was deadly dull. I wasn’t very popular. I went out for the freshman football team only to discover I was laughingly inept. My timid attempts to woo girls fared no better. I sank into teenage despair.
But I at least had those California memories to sustain me. I was a surfer! The sweet recollection of my heroic adventures on the restless water at the California shore buoyed my flagging spirits.
They still do so today.
Read all of VISIONS
Newt Gingrich’s blowout win in South Carolina left Democrats giddy and national Republican leaders morose. The thought of running against a candidate with with sky high negatives in national polls had Obama aids laughing last night. Romney’s loss of the “inevitable” label and his curious stumbles in the week before the primary also brought joy to the west wing.
National Republican leaders who thought that while their field of Presidential contenders was weak they had one candidate, in Romney, who could mount a viable national campaign are now wondering. Romney, never embraced by the party’s base, now seems to have lost his appeal to independents and moderates (he even lost women). His remarkable collapse despite his superior ground game and financial advantage has raised uncomfortable worries in the upper echelons of the Republican party. Their eyes now turn to Florida and they hope for a convincing Romney victory.
But before we liberals jump up and down and clap our hands, we need to consider an alarming possibility. What if the Republican convention becomes deadlocked. With two weak candidates, and with neither of them having majority of delegates or any real support, a dark horse could crash the convention and end up with the nomination.
With an entirely fresh face, a candidate who could galvanize the grateful Republican base, the Republicans might find themselves with a strong chance to win the White House and Congress. Obama and the Democratic party would have less than three months to run against the new shiny Republican saviour. With little vetting, and benefitting from a still anemic economy, the Republican could shoulder his (or her) way into the White House.
Who could the dark horse be? A conservative governor would be the most likely choice, someone like Bobby Jindal or Jon Kasich. Add a red meat conservative as the VP candidate – Paul Ryan? – and the Republicans could field a strong ticket. With no primary damage to repair, the pair could slide through the campaign uttering only empty platitudes and hash attacks on Obama.
How likely is the above scenario? Who knows. The Republican race has been one surprise after another. The smart money remains on Romney. He has the best organization and the most money. If Gingrich had only won South Carolina by a point or two I’d share the view Romney would still win the nomination with ease. But the twelve point victory, particularly given the fact Gingrich was ten points down only ten days or so before the election, gives me pause. As most of the ten thousand political pundits have pointed out, no Republican has won the nomination without winning the South Carolina primary in a long, long time. The prospect of Romney’s downfall is still something of a long shot, but the odds are considerably better than they were two weeks ago. If Gingrich can win Florida, or come close, real panic will set in the Romney camp.
How good is all this for Obama? It remains to be seen; but we need to be careful what we wish for…
December, 2011. Obama reluctantly signs defense act allowing indefinite detention of Americans suspected of terrorist acts or affiliations, but he vows not to use those provisions of the bill.
January, 2013. Newly elected President Romney vows to detain anyone – including American citizens – if he feels it is necessary to protect the nation from grave harm.”An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, my friends” During 2013 over 90 people, all Muslims, including twelve American citizens, are secretly detained. Over the next three years the number of detainees rises to 529.
September, 2015. By a vote of 5 to 4 the Supreme Court, after a secret hearing (lawyers for detainees are not allowed to hear the government’s argumene to protect national security), upholds indefinite detention. Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, declares: “just as pornography does not enjoy First Amendment protection because of its threat to our nation’s moral culture, those who commit thee outrageous crimes threatening the very survival of our republic must also be outside the protective embrace of the Constitution…”
January,2016. At the urging of the President, and after the Republican Senate majority suspends the Democrats’ right to filibuster, Congress narrowly approves law allowing the extension of detention to Mafia dons and drug kingpins. “Organized crime, and particularly the drug trade, are just as much a threat to America as terrorism,” Romney declares, “if we are to vanquish these criminals we need the same tools as we have used so successfully in defeating world wide terror.” Within weeks of the bill becoming law just under six hundred persons are detained.
March, 2017. Learning the New York Times is about to report critically on the validity of thousands of detentions and expose the egregious conditions of confinement, President Rubio sends dozens of FBI agents on a midnight raid to seize the paper’s offices and printing presses. “Our national security policies are far too important, far too vital, for our great nation’s safety to allow their disclosure. We are at war. Anyone publishing this kind of story is surely giving aid and comfort to our enemies and must be stopped.” The Times seeks immediate Supreme Court review. A divided Court refuses to hear the case and the Times is silenced for almost five months. When the FBI finally withdraws the Grey Lady is forced to file bankruptcy and is purchased by Rupert Murdoch. Criminal charges against two editors and six reporters are dropped after an outcry by civil libertarians (Murdoch’s Times called them quislings).
January through July, 2018. Five states – Alabama, Missouri, Arizona, Texas and Arkansas, pass legislation providing for the indefinite detentions of anyone charged with child sexual abuse for a second time. By a vote of 4 to 3, the supreme court of Arkansas overturns the law. Within a week the heavily Republican legislature impeaches and convicts the four justices who voted to overturn the law and then passes the bill again. In Arizona the governor declares she will ignore any court action. Over the next three years seventeen more states adopt similar measures. Colorado goes further than most, including rapists, armed robbers and murderers in the law allowing detention. The state supreme court overturns the law as it applies to robbers but leaves the rest of the law intact.
July, 2019. Congress passes the “National Crime Early Prevention and Detention Act” granting the President power to indefinitely detain anyone he has reasonable suspicion to believe will commit a federal felony offense; the law does allow for military style tribunals to review a detainees status once a year. Within three months the number of detainees grows to more than six thousand; the government opens “security camps” to house those detained for national security reasons and detainees subject to criminal detention. Camp Securing Freedom is the first to open and receives its first hundred inmates on August 21, 2019; the First Lady attends the opening ceremony, which is carried live by all five Fox networks. An editorial in the New York Times lauds the “new efficiencies” in federal criminal laws and encourages their expansion. The act also reduces the number of federal district court judges by seventy percent.
October, 2020. In the face of another deep economic recession, President Rubio trails his Democratic challenger, Chelsea Clinton, by more than fifteen points in the polls. On Halloween, citing an imminent major terrorist attack, Rubio asks the Supreme Court to delay the election for six months. With only the lone liberal justice dissenting, the Court rules in favor of a three month delay. “Surely it would be the greatest folly to cripple the defense of our vital security interests by risking the loss of such an experienced commander in chief, and replacing him with a woman whose only experience of conflict was living with her notorious parents in the White House. Our enemies are standing at the gates. They are poised to brutally attack our sacred shores. … The people are entitled to vote and we do not vote today to stop their right to do so but merely to delay the election for the briefest time consistent with our national security needs.” At the end of January 2021, upon the assurance of the justice department the terror threat remains, the Court extends the extension for six more months. “To those who shrilly demand the Court require the President, like some errant schoolboy supplicant, to proffer us sufficient evidence and documentation of the continuing national crisis necessitating further delay, we only reply thusly: Constitutionally, the President is our leader both in peace and in war. He is, of course, bound to uphold the Constitution. He assures us his oath to do so requires his demand. We defer to his wisdom and are untroubled by our decision.”
December, 2020, through February 25, 2021. Thousand and then tens of thousands of “Election Now!” advocates, led by Chelsea Clinton and scores of other prominent national figures (including a handful of Republicans), descend of Washington and stage a massive protest. Thousands more arrive every day and by the second week of February more than a million people march through Washington and protests have spread to over fifty other cities; in New York alone, estimates put the crowd at more than a two and a half million. At first relatively peaceful, the protests turn violent when the Rubio administration sends federal troops to two dozen cities to “monitor the situation”. At the same time, in an effort to cripple the movement’s ability to mobilize, the President orders the seizure of the internet and the blocking of cell phone service in all of the effected cities.
Although almost a quarter of the troops refuse to participate, on February 25th the army uses massive and lethal force, including tanks, blackhawk helicopters, and cluster bombs, simultaneously in thirteen cities and the protestors are quickly dispersed; while the death toll is suppressed by the government, independent sources claim more than twenty-five thousand are either dead or wounded. Rubio orders detention of Clinton and other leaders of the movement. Thousands more are arrested; troops even search hospitals for wounded protestors.
March 1, 2021. Federal elections are suspended indefinitely. With no House members, and one third of Senate seats vacant, President Rubio declares it is now necessary for him to assume all government functions. Detainees now number more than 100,000. Ninety-four congressmen, all but one of them Democrats, along with hundreds of other prominent politicians, writers, academics and artists, are held in a special “VIP camp” just outside of Dallas.
July 4, 2023. With the return of economic good times, and with virtually all of his critics in detention, Rubio holds a “Presidential Referendum” asking citizens to approve his continuing tenure. Fifty-four percent of the voters approve (this figure is “corrected” to almost seventy percent by federal election monitors). New York, California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, the states with the highest “no” votes are placed under marshall law. Detention figures, now classified, reach 1.14 million. In an effort to reduce the now astronomic costs of detaining so many, the government privatizes the camps and allows inmates to be put to work (and sanctions the elimination of unnecessary services such as medical and dental care).
Read all of VISIONS