My Grandmother said “The Good Old Days Were No Damn Good”

12.10.12

by Dwayne R. Deslatte

My grandmother Rose Deslatte had this great line – I use it a lot.  “The good old days…they weren’t no damn good.” She kept her old washboard hanging over her prized possession – her electric washing machine. That one phrase has kept more sentimentality out of my brain that about anything else I have heard.  But, since I recently made 43 years of age, I thought instead of going on about the economy, politics, or education this week I would just mention a few things from “the good old days” I have really enjoyed, learned or were just plain good memories.

I still like that moment where it gets brisk in Texas, say around late October. We had this screen door in the front of the house and sometimes it was not locked.  Working on my homework I could hear the door gently bang against the frame and smell that clean, slightly crisp air.

In 1977 my parents took my sister and I to the Smoky Mountains.  My mother had a great-aunt that lived in the hills there in Missouri. The house was 100 years old then and it sat on a true subsistence farm. It was a look at the world that existed for MOST of human history before we cranked up this big megaindustrial monstrosity called modern life.  Glad I got to see it.  Even made use of the outhouse. There was a strange little detail to that story that made it a bit spooky. At some point, my great great aunt had a close relative whose husband died. He was a blacksmith. My mom told me the day he died, the relation left the house as is. We drove right by the empty house, abandoned and overgrown in the hills for years, dishes still visible in the window. It has always made me wonder what exactly the details of that story might have been. Probably a good southern gothic style novel in that bit of business.

Magic as a first grader was coming home to find out  that I needed to get ready quick because my dad was taking me to the Astros baseball game.  I would strain through the car window to get the first peek of the Dome as we curved around I 610.  Walking in and hearing the crack of the bat – still love that sound when the roof is closed here in Phoenix. I remember my dad banging on the dugout roof to try to get me Pete Rose’s autograph.  All to no avail.  I saw some incredible ballplayers play the game in my youth: Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, Cesar Cedeno, Steve Carlton, and of course Charlie Hustle.  I will never forget having the good fortune on my one and only trip to Dodger Stadium as a 9 year old.  Had great seats at Chavez Ravine compliments of my dad’s good friend and saw Tom Seaver of the Reds square off against Don Sutton for the Dodgers.  Sunny day. Two Hall of Fame pitchers.  Good stuff.

The first moment of the Aggie Band striking up the Noble Men of Kyle still gives me goosebumps. Marching to Duncan Dining Hall with Senior Boots on in the Cadet Corps on a fall evening was no different. One day I remember looking around the Quad and really taking the whole scene in and I knew it was special.  Hats off to myself for having figured that out at 22.

I had this great little dog named Andrew, although I did not appreciate him as much growing up as I should have.  My dad was incredibly attached to that little guy and at 43, I now know exactly why.  Few things give me more pleasure at my age than my dogs.

Having a sibling you trust and always enjoy hearing from is one of the great things in life. Having a mother who could cook like no one else came in a close second.

I learned more from the Boy Scouts than in any class. We had great leaders in my Troop.   My Scoutmaster was a true man, Eugene Woytek: World War II Veteran and retired Master Chief Petty Officer. He wore a veneer of toughness, which was about a nanometer thick. His is one of the few funerals I made it a point to attend. Along with Mr. Woytek; my father, Mr. Beltz, Mr. Laird and Mr. Erwin were all incredible role models.  I would not be the same guy without having been in Troop 282.

Being on camp staff each summer through high school was a great laboratory to grow up in.  Not only did I spend the whole summer relatively independent, I learned a lot about how to work, how to act, and had some incredible 2 a.m. conversations about the meaning of life. Not to mention free camp grub and a lot of time on aquatics staff in the swimming pool.

I worked mowing yards for “Mac” McDonald from age 13 all the way until I was out of college and teaching school. Along with my friend Reagan McDonald and my current business partner John Beltz, and my off and on business partner George Jarkesy, I learned how to WORK.  We mowed 30 yards a week and were the richest guys in Middle School.  “Mac” was the first guy to explain trickle down economics to me, was one hell of a guy and treated us like men.  In around 1985 we went out to Llano County and we went dove hunting.  I had never hunted anything but the land was awesome, I shot a dove and we watched “Red Dawn” that night eating our game. The testosterone flowed.

Around seven summers later as I was about to graduate from college and still smarting from a few relationship wounds. Reagan and I sat in the knee deep crystal clear waters of the Llano with a 12 pack cooling in the river and solving the worlds problems. It was a hot sunny day and about as good as it gets.

Llano-River

My good friend Henry Patlan and I took off to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the spring of 1991.  On the way there we suffered an immediate flat tire, saw the LBJ Ranch, and took a scary road from Van Horn to the park listening to “The End” by The Doors.  Henry thought we might die on that road.  Later that week, we took off to Carlsbad Caverns and on the way back saw a huge thunderstorm approaching the mountains where we were camped.  Upon arrival, a hippy guy approached us who was camped nearby…He says, “Hey man, we did what we could but…” A dust devil had come through and ripped our tent to shreds, and splintered my camp cot.  It was a LONG 24 hours of being in the car till we got back to College Station.

And lastly, thinking again of Grandma, nothing beat her shrimp e’toufee with some Boudin from Nicks Grocery store in Port Authur.

A few other notes:

- I am still in a mild state of shock that Texas A&M has a new Heisman Trophy winner.  What a season and I am sad to say that it will be the first time in 27 years I have not been able to attend at least one A&M game.  What a season.  Gig ‘Em Johnny Football!

- This week I intend to go see “Lincoln“.  Daniel Day Lewis is by far the finest actor of our generation and I know it will be a real treat. Review to follow.

- I read this article by a U.S Marine Corps Reserve Officer and current Naval Academy professor. It has had me thinking quite a bit and you should read it too.  Balanced and serious look at the military and our society. It hits on some themes from last week’s missive.

- Lastly a little true life humor.  Back when I was working on the Ortho Ward at Texas Children’s I had a patient I had really taken a shine to.  He was around eleven years old.  Whenever anyone has surgery we always want to know if they are passing gas and little dudes his age always think talking about “cutting the cheese” is the most hilarious thing in the world (Humor is everything in medicine).  So I ask my young patient, “Have you started farting yet?”. His reply, “I havent…but my MOM sure has been!” True story. Have a great week.

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What Would I Say IF Elected?

inauguration-podium1

12.6.12

(Its been three weeks in coming but here is my Inaugural Address if I were elected President today – which not bloody likely today or any other day. These are just the KINDS of ideas we should be looking at – the actual numbers would need to be fully vetted – but you get the idea)

The Place: Some saner alternate reality

The Scene: Every television set and every computer screen in the United States

The Moment: Every screen is replaced by the newly elected United States President – LIVE

My Fellow Americans,

Many of you know I promised in my campaign to shoot straight and lead – not just work to pander and get re-elected.  So tonite I have instructed the FCC to make sure that all programming is interrupted so I could share my thoughts with you on moving the country forward.  Those of you born in the 1980′s and 90′s will not know this, but typically when the president had something to say to the country since the age of radio, he had the undivided attention of the citizens.  Today, this is no longer the case – so a few times over the next few years we will need to have my thoughts on where we are headed and they will be relayed in this manner.

Where are we? In my opinion we are in a great mess and tonite I would specifically like to talk about the fiscal situation.

We are in trouble folks and the simple answer over the last few years has been to stick one’s head in the sand or kick the can down the road.  No more! It must stop now. We have to face a simple reality.  Our national debt is just like your credit card.  The more credit card debt you have or, especially in the case of the United States, having a high ratio of what you owe to what you bring in will raise THE INTEREST YOU ARE CHARGED.  Folks, today we have the equivalent of Ultra Titanium Card, we can borrow money from the bond markets with impunity at a very low-cost.  We have done so aggressively. We have also seen our bond rating lowered in the last 2 years to AA+ from AAA.  That has never happened in the last 70 years that such bonds were graded. How much money does the U.S. government owe? $16.3 TRILLION.  This represents around $52,500 for every man woman and child in the United States. Let that sink in.

I am not completely against some deficit spending as it has been utilized to great benefit – see World War II as an example.  But this is not a World War II situation.  This is a problem created by our own greed, our own irresponsibility, our lack of integrity in Washington, and corporate welfare for the boardroom.  The problem is that we have borrowed SO much that the interest on what we owe is growing to the point where the bond market (the market where money is lent to big corporations and governments) will begin to charge the United States much higher interest on that Ultra Titanium Card.  We must show some ability to begin to pay back what we owe and everyone needs to participate. If we continue to put money on the Ultra Titanium Card we will spend all of our taxes paying interest on the debt instead of protecting our shores and restoring our infrastructure.

I have a caveat for all of my recommendations that follow here today. I would like to see them implemented for four years – whether or not I am reelected does not concern me at all – I just want to make a stronger country and by setting a goal we can all work towards. Knowing WHY we are making sacrifices, should pull americans together to create a better place for our children and grandchildren. We have pulled together before as a nation and if we do not do it now the consequences will be severe.

Recommendations

1. Raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans for the next 6 years with an automatic ratchet back to 2012 levels.  The current tax rate for the very wealthiest Americans pales in comparison to  the 91% tax rates that were seen under President Eisenhower. Calls by the wealthiest that this is socialism is bunk – last time I checked Ike was not much of a socialist. I would start these tax hikes to the Clinton levels for those making greater than $200K a year.

2. Raise tax rates for those making lower than $200K by approximately 2% a year with the income specifically going to debt reduction. This may vary by a percent or two but everyone needs to participate and get our overall debt down to manageable levels and show the world we are serious about getting our house in order.

3. While those on the right side of the aisle may not like the plan of 6 years of increased taxes – those on the left will need to accede to no more increases in the debt ceiling.  We simply have  to live within our means. At some point the people in this country need decide what poverty really looks like.  I do not mean to sound draconian – but who is poor? What really decides when the government needs to step in?   Who is really disabled? The Social Security Administration reports that the percentage of our population on disability has gone from 1.5% of americans to 6% of americans.  Now that cannot be correct.  I am sure the truth is somewhere in the middle.  Where help is truly needed the government truly should help.  Where it serves as a crutch or worse yet creates a welfare mentality it is anathema to our way of life.

4.  And just as welfare for those who could work is a bad idea, an even worse idea is the corporate welfare lobbying cabal.  I want to fight this three ways.  An amendment to the Constitution that would extend the U.S. House of Representative’s terms to 4 years, thus decreasing the influence of money in electing the members of the people’s house.  I am tonite proposing we limit our elections to just 12 weeks of campaigning: including primary and general elections.  This approach has worked successfully in other countries and I see no reason why it cannot work here in the United States. It will again decrease the influence of money in politics.  The last two decades has been the height of what has become a kleptocracy by corporations through loopholes, pork and special subsidies.  Unless those subsidies protect an industry vital to the United States security those subsidies need to be abolished. The way Washington ineffectively works is directly linked to our fiscal condition. I came here to protect the great number of americans stuck in the middle and trust me neither the right nor the left has had their best interests in mind.

5. We need a serious examination of our defense spending and some slow but sure decrease in defense spending as we can no longer be the world’s policeman – we just cannot afford it.  Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen called our debt the United States “greatest security threat”. One way to decrease that threat is to slowly decrease defense spending. We have eleven aircraft carriers, the next highest number owned by a country is two and the one the Chinese “built” was from the hulk of a never finished Russian carrier from the end of the cold war.  It has yet to have a plane take off from its deck. We need to begin to gradually pull that number down to a reasonable level. We are developing a F-35 fighter that will cost $137 million apiece.  Every country makes the mistake of fighting the last war but this time we have to see past it. And we cannot do it overnight because again to invoke Ike – we DID create a military industrial complex.  So we cannot dumps thousands of high paying jobs overnight – it must be done slowly. I am by NO MEANS a dove on military-strength, but we have to be realistic.

6. Boomers (those citizens born from 1946-1964) you have had three Presidents: One has been impeached, one led us into two wars not paid for with the bill now due, and the last who floated a lot of flowery talk with little follow though. More style than substance.  Your time is done.  In addition - your spoiled generation, who has bankrupted us, will need to work a little longer to pay for it.  Social Security and Medicare when created was never set up to pay for folks deep into their 80′s or 90′s.  On average, most folks died right around the time when their benefits began.  So prepare to keep working because I intend to not rest until the retirement age and Medicare benefit is set at 70. Raising the retirement age will save billions of dollars a year and you OWE it to your children and grandchildren.  You lived through the greatest boom in wealth creation in the history of mankind. It was created on the backs of the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation. If you blew your wealth or did not save along the way – I suggest you start saving immediately. If you have been prudent and saved and invested in the big gains in wealth made in the market in the 1980′s, 90′s and the middle of the last decade, my hat is off to you and please enjoy the fruits of your labor.

This is the time to be serious and being a patriot means that BOTH sides come together to make the hard choices – not the easy ones. Constant pandering to the “true believers” who merely re-echo talking points is the worst thing we can do as a country. Coming together to make hard choices and then reevaluate those choices in a few years is the best thing we can do to increase our prosperity and mutual well-being of these United States of America.

May God Bless  You All and May God Bless the United States of America

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A Nation of Cheerleaders

November 13th, 2012
by Dwayne R. Deslatte

Well one week later the whole thing is over and the president was reelected. The New York Times reported on October 31, 2012 that right around $6 billion was spent in the election in all races. And guess what? As a nation we wound up almost exactly where we started. So what does it mean? Probably not much either way from my standpoint because we have become a nation of two cheerleading squads, both of which mostly enjoy amplifying their own biases.

Washington D.C. is in total gridlock with each side having its own respective cheerleading squad.  (Queue boxing announcer) “And in the RIGHT corner the Republicans… weighing in (rather heftily) is Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, Las Vegas mogul Sheldon Anderson’s Pro Israel Super PAC Money, The Wall Street Journal, and  FOX News.  And in the LEFT corner we have the Democrats…weighed down HEAVILY with cash from the teachers and auto worker unions, with varsity cheerleaders such as  MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow & Chris Matthews and the New York Times as all the news (on the left) fit to print. Each side engaging mostly in caricature and a self-reinforcing message that says “we are the good people and are right and those guys on the other side are (at best) crazy and at worst – evil.”

Journalism began to obtain the outlines of a true profession after the Hearst style muckraking of the Spanish-American War and the disillusionment of World War I.  Post W.W. II saw a whole new breed of journalist; one that had a relatively defined code of ethics and was driven more by the story and the facts (think Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley in the broadcast realm). While many on the right when I was in school in the 1980′s posited there was huge left wing bias in the media, I maintain ANY bias that exists is NOTHING compared to where we sit today.  Each side has its own cheering section replete with its own intellectuals, think tanks and pom-pom girls (take your pick: Soledad O’Brien or Megan Kelly).

What created this mess? I believe the 24 hour news cycle and CNN was a big piece of it because it introduced the concept of “talking heads” in broadcast journalism. Headline News and its foxy newsreaders put style above everything.  Let’s face it, Walter Cronkite was not exactly a looker but he was a significant force on WHAT he reported.   Another force was the end of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine abolished back in the Reagan administration in 1987. But lastly, and I think most importantly, from the early 50′s until the advent of cable and then the web we had very few sources of broadcasted content.  When President Kennedy was shot we knew immediately. When Jimmy Carter felt his “malaise” we all heard the speech.  Why? Because there were only 5 channels and they all were pre-empting whatever was on to show the big news.  Now, we have literally millions of content streams.  Don’t care about politics or that sort of thing (and I have heard that one a lot) – no problem my friend! Snooki, The Kardashians, the NFL Network, or the Food Network will receive you with open arms.

If I was elected President of these United States (a prospect which is as likely as me growing a second nose) the FIRST thing I would do was get ahold of every cable broadcaster, ever major content stream and get the ATTENTION of the citizenry!  The speech would be as follows…wait a second.

You better tune in next week for that.  IF – you can pull yourself away from the Food Channel.

A little side note that I have to add in this week: Congratulations to my Texas Aggies.  Coach Sumlin and his incedible quarterback Johnny “Football” Manziel have made each and ever weekend of this fall a blast.  Beating Alabama on the road ranks up there as some of the greatest Aggie football I can recall in 30 years of following them.
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The Next Great BUBBLE!

11.5.12 by Dwayne Deslatte

Outstanding Student Loan debt in the US now exceeds Credit Card debt in the U.S. – this IS the next bailout/bubble/crisis in the making – and if you think about it – it’s all eerily similar to the housing crisis:

Guilty Party #1: MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES sending their kids to incredibly high priced private schools they cannot afford (think Baylor, Pepperdine or any private Catholic college) or pay for play schools (think U of Phoenix) instead of utilizing the reasonably priced public school systems such as community colleges and state universities. This is analogous to the housing bubble where folks took down huge mortgages on McMansions they could not afford.

Guilty Party #2 – UNIVERSITIES – they have had an increase in tuition to the tune of 400% over the past 25 years in an environment that has had a relatively low amount of inflation (compared to the Nixon – Carter days).  Part of the problem is the emphasis on research at EVERY university. We need big research Universities like Texas A&M, U.C.L.A. and Arizona – but EVERY school does not need to be a huge research lab.  For the vast majority of university level education such as accounting, math, history, and English you need a blackboard, maybe a calculator and a computer/wifi connection AND a Committed TEACHER.  (The K-12 System is another similar story – more on that another day!)

Guilty Party #3 – THE MEME that says “Everyone should go to college” – no way – not a chance – when we insist everyone goes to college we water the whole system down.  I have a suspicion that at some lower tier institutions a B.A. in Sociology (and YES I have a B.A. in History) is roughly equivalent to a High School Diploma back the 50s-60′s.  Are we moving to an economy where only higher level skills are necessary for a good job?  ABSOULTELY – unfortunately not EVERYONE is CAPABLE (intellectually) of doing these types of jobs.  I am afraid that there will be winners and losers here and I don’t have the answer.  What I do know is that the following scenario acted out daily is bad…bad news. Average to below average students burdened by huge loans they were saddled with to get a degree they will never use.  All of which is funded through the financial aid department of a for profit college WHICH now receives all of the loan money through the next guilty party…

Guilty Party #4 – The FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PROGRAM– I know that the government has begun to put standards into place for the for profit entities regarding default rates – but it’s a little too late.  With the overall debt exceeding $1 Trillion, I foresee the next big federal bailout coming in the student loan bubble.  Combine that with the fact that Sallie Mae now makes all of the loans and you have a situation ripe for “Federal Loan Forgiveness” and more spending that our bottom line just cannot afford.

I personally have benefitted from a student loan.  The amount was $15,000 and considering the amount of money I subsequently made being gainfully employed it was a well calculated gamble on the part of myself and the government.  I received a degree in Nursing that allowed me to be a very productive tax paying citizen, and they had a loan that was paid off (more or less in time). I worry though that subsidizing loans to kids in programs there are no jobs for is going to lead to just one more bailout the middle class cannot afford.

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