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The Joy of Sax


      There aren't many people more thrilled than I am about the week-long inaugural festivities of President Clinton (See, that doesn't sound so bad, does it?)
      After 12 years of abstinence during the Reagan-Bush era, but now inspired by the new administration, I am planning to go to my local music store, buy a few reeds and cork grease, and resume saxual activity. I'm frightened by the possibilities, but I know it's the right thing to do.
       At one time, saxophones had defined the sound of the "Big Band"era, then were the driving beat in the beginnings of rock. But, during the Reagan-Bush years of deregulation, saxophones could no longer compete against instruments that were picked, plucked, and strummed, and became just another instrument whose sole purpose seemed to be to provide a musical bridge in high school marching bands between the ranks of trumpets and clarinets.
      Unable to get steady work as a rock saxophonist, I packed away my silver alto sax into its case and my golden tenor sax into its case-->       Into the "me era,"a generation of Americans shoved music and the other creative arts out the back door while escorting greed into the front door. Then, when the administration declared family values were more important than problems created by Irangate and Iraqgate, the savings and loan debacle, unemployment, American corporations moving to other continents to exploit a whole new class of workers, a recession, wars in the Balkan, starvation in Somalia, and even a war in the Persian Gulf desert to defend the sanctity of oil in countries more sexist and racist than anything America ever envisioned, then turned its back on the suffering of the Kurds who didn't control oil, we knew sax was no longer important. But, secretly, I wondered how families could survive and regenerate themselves without a little bit of sax in their lives. Although the nation had committed numerous indecencies against itself, what the administration did those 12 years was nothing short of saxual harassment.
       While the Republicans were pushing family values, the people of Arkansas were quietly applauding (or at least tolerating) the rebellious Gov. Clinton's saxual escapades. But, most of us didn't become aware of Clinton's obsession with sax until he grabbed his instrument and a pair of shades and blew out "Heart Break Hotel"on the Arsenio Show . That's when I knew that I had to vote for Bill Clinton. Anyone that brave, who was willing to stand up for his beliefs, was going to get my support.
      So now I'm watching the inaugural festivities, listening to my fellow Americans honestly tell me about their saxual orientations, and hoping to resume where I left off a dozen years earlier. Only this time, I plan to buy a mute and practice safe sax.

SPINNING THEIR WAY TO SUCCESS


       With his popularity lower than plankton on the food chain, President Bush had to do something dramatic if he had any hope of a second term. Something came in the form of a top secret meeting of the White House Office of Presidential Spin (WHOOPS).
       In the Silverado Room inthe West Wing one Mondaymorning, WHOOPS planned to spin the President into reelection. With only a few months left before they were unemployed or, worse yet, had to return to jobs in advertising, the spin doctors were desperately searching for solutions. Since the President's popularity was its highest during the Persian Gulf War, it wasn't unusual for the first solutions to center around the War. The reality there was little discussion about Saddam still being in power, the Kurds were being massacred, or there was still no democracy in Iraq, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia was already a tribute to the effectiveness of the President's image makers. But it wasn't enough.
       "We need something new. Something dramatic,"said Dr. Clement P. Fielgut, the chief doctor of WHOOPS.
       "We nuke the Soviets,"said Susie Sweetwater. "No one likes them Commies anyhow."
       "There's no more Communists,"said Dr. Fielgut sadly. "Didn't you read the papers?"As soon as he said it, Dr. Fielgut knew he made a mistake since Sweetwater had been a TV anchor before moving to Washington.
       "What about China?"countered another member of the staff. "We declare we're saving the world supply of Wedgewood dishes?"
       "Wars are out,"said Dr. Fielgut. "Besides, in the past 12 years, we invaded every land mass on earth that has oil or Communists."
       "We launch a battle cruiser to Mars!"declared another doctor. Dr. Fielgut just looked at his staff, knowing they were Presidential appointments and the result of inbreeding among financial contributors.
"We could focus on something the President did the past four years that benefited mankind, then exploit that,"suggested one tactician. After the laughter died, the faceless manipulators tossed around all kinds of ideas. A redirection of national priorities. A larger information program. A national health care plan. An increase in the number of social workers with a concurrent decrease in personnel in the executive management branch of the federal government. Naturally, all the ideas were seen as unworkable and thrown out.
       "What is it that we do here?"Dr. Fielgut asked rhetorically.

    
   "Modify the truth, of course,"came the unified reply. A light flickered in the mind of Lance Redux, a recent honors graduate in public relations, and the newest member of the WHOOPS staff.
       "If we can convince the people that the President was the one responsible for curing AIDS,"said Redux, "we'd be able to make people forget about Irangate, poverty, the health care crisis, crime, drugs, and even Dan Quayle. The President would be a shoo-in not just for re-election but for the Nobel Prize as well. He might even make more money than Millie this year!"
"It could work,"said Dr. Fielgut, "but first we'd have to make up an AIDS policy."
       "Remember back seats of cars?"Lance Redux asked, patting down his lacquered hair. "Remember how wide and soft they were. What happened in the back seats?"
       "I don't know how she got there!"one doctor shrieked.
       "It wasn't mine!"squawked another.
       "I wasn't even in the state at the time,"burbled a third.
       "Now, remember the Recession,"the junior spin doctor asked.
       "What Recession?!"thundered Rockhead, one of the doctors. "There never was a Recession! There is no Recession! There never will be a Recession!"
       "That's right,"said Dr. Fielgut, explaining a version of reality to the newest staff member. "We had a downward modification of an upwardly spiral economy. There may have been some temporary lapses of continuing income maintenance. But we didn't have the `R' word."
       "We do now,"said Lance Redux. "We need to identify the past four years as a Recession. We need to exploit it. We need to make everyone now believe that the President was responsible for the economy."
       "Treason!"shouted one member.
       "Sedition!"proclaimed another.
       "Heresy!"the others ordained.
        But Lance Redux pleaded for just a minute more. The others granted him his one last request.
       "What happens in a Recession?"he asked.
       "People can't buy anything. Any fool knows that!"came a hostile reaction.
       "And when people can't buy anything,"said the newest spinner, "they don't buy cars. Even if they had downsized economy cars, they still couldn't afford the gas. And when they don't have gas and don't have cars, they can't have sex. And when they can't have sex, they can't get AIDS."
        On one fine Summer morning, 10 spin doctors (and one up-and-coming cabinet secretary) walked into the President's office to announce that because of the President's leadership the only screwing that occurred in the country the past four years had nothing to do with sex. They had finally found something the President could take responsibility for.

COATTAILS FOR TWO


       The President awakened one morning and found his coattails were soiled. When all the detergent and whitewater in the White House couldn't make them come clean, he went to see Morrie the Tailor.
       "A nice set of coattails as long as the Mississippi and wider than the prairies I made for you less than two years ago,"said Morrie. "What happened?"
       "It was the strangest thing,"said the President. "One day they were long and clean, but then not a month after I became president, a corporate lawyer and her illegal alien-nanny turned them into a diaper and stained them."
       "That truly is strange,"said Morrie, "but for you, we can make another pair."
       "As long and as wide as the first pair,"said the President. "Not so long. Not so wide. But a nice pair."
        A few months later, the President returned, holding a very ragged pair of coattails.
       "Morrie, I need your help again,"said the President.
       "These coattails,"asked Morrie, "why did you allow your cat to use them for a scratching post?"
       "If only it were Socks,"said a wearied President. "First, Ross Perot started nipping at them, then some military officers who didn't ask and don't tell me anything shot them full of holes, and some lady in Arkansas accused me of horrible things, and soiled them."
       "Ach, a tragedy it is,"said Morrie. "But, for you, another pair of coattails I will make."
        And so Morrie the Tailor made another nice pair of coattails. They weren't long. They weren't wide. But at least they were coattails, and they fit perfectly. Not a few months later, the President was back. The coattails had shrunk worse than if they were cotton that had been spun-washed and heat-dried."
       "Again with the coattails?"Morrie asked.
       "Somalia. Haiti. Cuba,"said the President wearily. "Every time I make a policy, someone objects, so I make another one, sometimes in less than an hour, and someone else objects. It's so frustrating."
       "Not as frustrating as to make coattails and watch them disintegrate,"said Morrie.
       "I don't understand,"said the somber president, "in the first year alone, I did more for my fellow Americans than the Republicans did in 12 years."
"You must look at your past,"said Morrie, "for history is made by the quest of mankind for its survival."
       "What does all that mean?"asked the President.
       "Go home. Get a good night's rest, and focus like a laser beam."
        In a few weeks, the President was back at the tailor shop. Not only didn't he have any coattails, his hair looked as if it were run through a Vegematic�and, he wasn't wearing any pants.
       "Oy gevalt!"cried Morrie. "What to you has happened?"
       "I tried to focus like a laser beam,"said the President.
       "So what happened?"
       "Bob Dole happened,"said the President. "He and his cronies have blocked, barred, and barricaded. Hindered, impeded, and obstructed. Foiled, frustrated, and filibustered so long that the coattails just went limp, and before I knew it the pants were also missing."
       "Pants I will make you,"said Morrie. "And coattails? Perhaps this pair you might make of Teflon. Just like the pair you made for President Reagan."
       "A frying pan? Is that what you think I make? Teflon I never use!"
       "But how did everything slide off of him?"asked the President. "Not even Irangate stuck!"
       "Illusion,"said Morrie. "People thought he had Teflon coattails. It made no difference if he did or didn't. In politics, illusion is more important than reality."
       "Can you make me an illusion?"the President pleaded.
       "I am but a simple tailor,"said Morrie, "From whole cloth I can cut anything, but an illusion I can cut not."
       "But what can I do?"the President pleaded. "If I don't have any coattails, none of the politicians will be able to hold onto me for support. The crime bill isn't everything it should be, the health care plan is almost dead, and I won't be able to help the people."
        Morrie thought a moment. "Have your people tell the public the President has coattails as long as the Mississippi and wider than the prairies, and that anyone can hold onto them. For the people, you tell them they have to believe there are coattails."
       "And if they believe�?"
       "They will clap, and the coattails will be there."

CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT TOMORROW


        On an asphalt parking lot, beneath a 97-degree Summer day almost six years ago, my wife, Rosemary, and I waited more than an hour to hear what Bill Clinton and Al Gore had to say, to see why we should vote them into their first term of office. We had driven almost two hours to get to this rally, the first of a cross-country bus tour following the national convention.
        "We are out to change the political process!"said Al Gore to the cheers of more than 1,000 people. "We are out to change the government!"He had us chanting the campaign mantra that as far as incumbents Bush and Quayle were concerned, "It's time for them to go!"
        But it was Bill Clinton who electrified the audience, made us want to be a part of the political process. "If we take the elections away from the special interests,"said Clinton, "and the government away from the lobbyists and give them back to you, America can be great again!"If you didn't know any better, these two politicians sounded like idealist `60s radicals. It made no difference if it was Clinton, Perot, Bush, or Daffy Duck who said it, this crowd was going to cheer anyone who promised a change in government, who promised hope.
        Their campaign, said Clinton, is "a wake-up call to America."It is a future of education, he declared. It is a future for the "sons and daughters of stenographers and steelworkers and truck drivers to be able to go to college if they want to."
        With Gore on the ticket, the party's commitment to the environment was established. "We believe we can protect the world's environment and create jobs at the same time,"said Clinton.
        "The cost of health care,"said the Governor, reflecting concerns of his wife, Hillary, "is spinning out of control. We want health care for all our people, not just a few."
        On the asphalt, by the campaign buses after the crowd began to leave, and before a lunch with some truckers, Clinton and Gore, dressed in jeans, sneaks, and casual shirts, tossed a football back and forth and traded quips with staff, politicians, and reporters. One of their staff noticed a miniature golf course nearby; they went there, trailed by photographers, secure in the knowledge that the next day's news coverage would show a candidate who was a part of the people, who made "People First!"as his campaign promised. For awhile, it seemed as if Clinton was resurrecting the Camelot years of John F. Kennedy.
        After the Clintons and Gores and a few assorted politicians had lunch with some truckers, and my wife and I had sandwiches with reporters at a nearby hotel that was serving as a temporary local headquarters, the candidates returned. There were only a couple of dozen people now, and the campaign, as it would do all Summer and into the Fall, was running late. But, Clinton and Gore found us. When Bill Clinton shakes your hand, he looks through your eyes and into your soul, and you believe he cares about you and what you want to tell him�and, maybe, he does. He looked into my wife's eyes, shook her hand, and chatted. A minute, perhaps, maybe two at the most, but long enough to make her, and eventually me, hope there would be a new America beginning in 1993.
        We believed in the charismatic populism of these two men who wanted to change America, while tolerating the ineptness of the campaign staff who had not yet learned to discard their arrogant pomposity and become a part of the middle America the candidates needed to reach. It's been almost six years since we first met the men who would become president and vice-president, and their idealism has been tarnished by a Congress more intent upon blocking reform and keeping their political agenda than in leading a country, and a President who has committed many indiscretions in his life. We saw our President vacillate, pragmatically changing as political expediency demanded, and become the leader of a "new Democrat"philosophy that looked more moderate Republican than liberal Democrat. It's political survival, we sighed, knowing Clinton is very good at that, but we sighed, nevertheless.
        Last Saturday afternoon, my wife and I went to see Primary Colors, the 2-1/2 hour movie about an idealistic Southern governor in his first presidential campaign. We laughed. We snickered. And we cried. For what has happened to Mr. Clinton. For what Mr. Clinton has done to his own credibility. For what has happened to America's idealism. But, more important, for allowing ourselves to be so manipulated that we believe sex scandals are more important than health care and worker rights, and for allowing our government to spend more than $40 million for an "independent prosecutor,"three dozen lawyers and dozens of more staff assistants and clerks, who have thrown a shroud of terror over our Constitution and personal liberties, demanding lists of what people have read and threatening witnesses who may have only tangential evidence of whatever it is he thinks he's investigating.
        It took less than two years for a special prosecutor to present a damaging case against Richard Nixon who was forced to resign; it has taken twice as long for this special prosecutor, who has even flimsier evidence, and who has yet to make a case against the President. There is no doubt the special inquisitor, now salivating for what he thinks is a kill, will find just enough evidence to hang an indiscrete president. There is also no doubts that the investigation, cheered and manipulated by the Republicans, desperate to reclaim the White House, will force America into a political stagnation of sex and scandal.
        There are more than two years left in President Clinton's administration. The President has already given business five years of a great economic ride. But, I keep thinking about tomorrow, worrying about which of our liberties is being destroyed, hoping for a restoration of my faith in government. The latest polls indicate most Americans support the President. Maybe with the Paula Jones case thrown out of court as having no legal basis, this nation may give the President a little time so he may restore his�and our�idealism.

JOURNEY OF THE TEDDY BEAR


      He's as cute a plush toy as ever existed. A chubby white- fuzzy teddy bear, with silver sparkles randomly spread throughout his fur. Big black appealing eyes and a thin cloth smile broader than the Kansas plains entice you to at least stop and grin right back.
      On his head is a red-and-white striped broad-brim top hat, with a red-white-and-blue band for emphasis. On his body are a vest and oversized stuffed bowtie made from what appears to be a U.S. flag.
       Shake his hand and three AA batteries snap to attention. He wiggles and shakes, says "America! Home of the Free and the Brave,"and "U.S.A. Number 1."From somewhere in his delightful little body comes a full verse musical rendition of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."
      He's about 16 inches around and 18 inches tall when standing. But he'll sit in his blue-white-and-gold striped cardboard box, with bold text and round glossy tags that implore you to pay $14.99 to release him into your arms. Buy him for Memorial Day, Flag Day, or even Independence Day. Be proud! Display your pride in your country!
       The bear, complete with a bar code, is from Dandee International Ltd., a New Jersey company, with sales offices in Florida. But, the cardboard platform and its bold buy-me advertising was made in Hong Kong. The bear, like most plush toys, was made in China.
       The Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) Act, passed 237-197 by the House, guarantees that China will be able to make even more jingoistic American teddy bears, while costing Americans jobs. Under PNTR, American companies will be allowed to ship more products to China in exchange for lower tariffs, and full trading rights with the U.S. It also guarantees that Congress will drop its annual reviews of China's human rights policies. The Senate is expected to easily approve the legislation, but probably not by Flag Day.
      President Bill Clinton, who in his seven years in office has often acted more like a moderate Republican than the liberal Democrat his critics claim, pushed for approval of the legislation. The Republican leadership, allied with Big Business, supported the trade proposal; the Democratic leadership, allied with Labor, opposed it. Both George W. Bush and Al Gore supported it.
      Money and favors of all kinds from lobbyists flowed into the nation's capital faster than the Yangtze rushing into the Yellow Sea. Helping assure passage of PNTR, according to the Congressional Quarterly, were extensive pork-barrel exchanges, with several key Texas congressmen agreeing to vote for the bill after significant Administration log-rolling that left key military plants in the state and promises that EPA officials would meet with the congressmen regarding an oil pipeline in the state.
      Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said a key issue is that the China market, with billions of dollars available to American corporations, is opening, and questioned who would get it�the U.S., Japan, or the European Union. Last year, according to the Beijing Review, China exported goods valued at $194.9 billion, against imports of $165.8 billion. Its leading trading partner was Japan, with about $66.2 billion, almost equally split between imports and exports. Second was the U.S.; China imported $19.5 billion in goods from the U.S., but exported products worth about $42 billion. Its leading export was toys and sporting goods, accounting for about $17 billion of its exports. Other major exports included flags�American, as well as most of the Cuban flags waved by Miami's Cuban ex-patriots who demanded the U.S. keep Elian Gonzales from returning to his father.
      "Our new-found trading partner is a country where the military itself owns factories and uses prison labor,"said George Becker, president of the United Steelworkers of America. Other opponents argued that, as with NAFTA, American jobs will be dissolved as Big Business finds cheaper labor to exploit in the Asian market.
      David Bonior (D-Mich.), House minority whip, argued that NAFTA, which had also been pushed by the Clinton administration, had cost American auto workers 100,000 jobs. The displaced Americans, said Bonior, are "working in nursing homes, at gas stations, at convenience markets, and making a fraction of what they once earned."The auto industry, said Bonior, now has workers "making pennies on the dollars in Mexico's economic fire zone called the Maquilladora."NAFTA also cost Americans jobs in the food processing, consumer products, and high-tech industries.
       After victory in the House, President Clinton declared, "This is a good day for America."Joining him in jubilation was Republican whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) who bubbled, "This is a day that we continue to export American values all over the world."Apparently, those American values are to increase corporate profits at the expense of American labor.
      Somewhere, a lot of teddy bears should be crying.