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Bloated Battalions of Lobbyists

On the Beat


CASH FOR MY VALIANT? A guy came up to me at Renaud’s coffee shop and asked, “Are you planning to sell your Valiant to the Cash for Clunkers program?”

What? I was horrified to think of my 1963 Prints Valiant, which carried my children on so many jaunts, being smashed to scrap. And no way would I brand my beloved convertigirdle-the moniker the kids gave it-a (gasp!) clunker.

On the Beat

Here’s why: I’d rather see it crumble to rust in a garage than have the Valiant sold for junk to some anonymous gov’ment program, no matter how worthy. Even if President Obama personally stopped in with $4,500 cash in hand.

I no longer own Prints Valiant. A few years ago I sold it to an S.B. couple that restores cars. I was assured that it was going to a good home and would be restored to good health. It needed too much work for me to tackle. Oddly, I haven’t seen it around town since.

Interestingly, the Cash for Clunkers program would turn up its snobbish nose at the Valiant or other pre-1984 senior citizens of the infernal combustion persuasion. Why? Well, something happened to a good idea in Washington-where civics students or anyone with an idealistic belief in democracy wouldn’t want to witness laws being hammered out.

Once again, Washington’s bloated battalions of lobbyists put their heavy feet on the brakes. Pressure groups forced Congress, as easily molded as kindergarten clay, to exclude nearly 5 million of America’s most polluting vehicles, those built before 1984.

Lobbyists for companies that sell replacement parts to classic and antique car collectors opposed the whole Cash for Clunkers program. They don’t want older vehicles destroyed, no matter how much pollution they’re spewing.

Of the millions of pre-1984 trucks and cars on the road, I submit that only a small fraction are true classics or antiques, which I agree should be preserved. Certainly my old Valiant isn’t a classic. In its latter years it never got driven out of town, but pollute it did during those few miles. (I truly hope it’s bright and shiny, running like a top, in a good home.)

THANKS A MILLION: (I should say millions.) How can we ever thank the healthcare industry for spending an estimated $1.4 million a day to educate us about how bad reform would be? I have read that there are approximately 3,300 lobbyists beseeching Congress to strangle healthcare reform, which works out to six for each representative. (It only really takes one with enough money.) The Center for Responsive Politics says healthcare companies spent $230 million on lobbying in the first half of 2009, a full half of that by pharmaceutical corporations.

You understand that this does not involve “bribes” to Congress. Bribes are illegal. These are “campaign contributions,” and Congress has ruled that these are legal. Cynics complain that this is further evidence that Congress is corrupt, that in fact the whole system is corrupt.

Of course it’s corrupt. Even a bright high school freshman in a civics class understands this. But in reality, all these millions being spent by corporations for our education can be challenged by good-government people. All they have to do is raise equal millions through bake sales and car washes.

THE MUSIC MAN: Despite the impression given by the title of Iowan Meredith Willson’s beloved tribute to his home state, Marian the Librarian seems to share as much of the spotlight as the fast-talking con man. At least that’s what I noticed while thoroughly enjoying the PCPA Theaterfest production of The Music Man in Solvang’s Festival Theater. Jackie Vanderbeck was loveable as the vulnerable Marian and Andrew Philpot was excellent as “Professor” Harold Hill.

WATCH OUT, IVOR! “I am not a happy camper,” howls Ivor Davis. He’s the South Coast author who just published an updated version of his 40-year-old book about Manson and the Tate/LaBianca killings, Five to Die: The Book That Helped Convict Manson. Authorities have released Manson-ette Squeaky Fromme, who’s been serving a life sentence for attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Protests Ivor: “It was Squeaky who, as you noted, threatened my life, and I cannot believe they are giving parole to a woman who tried to kill an American president!” Squeaky is now 60.

PROSECUTE BUSH? As I was researching for a recent column about Charles Manson, I found that his famous prosecutor, author Vincent (Helter Skelter) Bugliosi, has written a far less famous book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. In it, Bugliosi argues that a case could be made that if Bush took the nation to war under false pretenses, by lying, then the deaths of American servicemen and women there would be unlawful and therefore, murder. Although Helter Skelter has sold 7 million copies, Bugliosi says he had a very hard time getting his latest book published and couldn’t get a single TV interview. (Relax, Republicans. Chances that the government will file murder charges against the former president are less than zero.)

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.

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