Sunday, December 11, 2011

Political Exercise

  Last week I received an invitation on Facebook from my friend Lee Gordon Seebach to come to a Ron Paul town meeting in Marshalltown yesterday at the Fisher Community Center. I’m not an especially political sort, but I hadn’t seen Lee in a couple of years and decided to head over to meet up with him and catch up on some old times.

  I first met Lee in 2008 at a chess tournament in Cedar Rapids. He had just retired from his career as a professional artist and had relocated to his hometown of Dysart, Iowa where he had started a chess club at the brand new Dysart library. Lee and some of his club members would come to Marshalltown on occasion for our tournaments and I would get some of our members to head up to Dysart to play in Lee’s tournaments. Lee started working as a truck driver in 2009 in Dysart and his club went dormant when none of his club members parents could help with it on the weekends Lee was away. As a chess player, I found Lee a very solid player who could be counted on for a tough struggle. Lee has now resumed his career as an artist in nearby Traer (You can see his works here) and is a precinct captain for the Ron Paul campaign.

Left : An interview with a Ron Paul supporter held before the town hall meeting.
Right : An exerpt of Ron Paul's speech with his ever-present bodyguard in the background. I wanted to ask him his name, but I was afraid to.

  I’ve been following the Republican nomination process this year and it appears the voters are not willing to anoint the semi-liberal Mitt Romney and are dissatisfied with all their alternative choices, leading to a ‘flavor-of-the-month’ of frontrunners. I registered as a Republican last year to vote for fellow chess player George Eichhorn’s attempt to be the nominee for the Secretary of State so I’ve been getting phone calls and mail from all the nominees. I hadn’t been planning on attending the caucuses but if I was, I’d probably support Bachmann since she seems to be the least phony of all the people running. I didn’t know much about Ron Paul except that he is the most libertarian of all the candidates and is just as anti-taxes as Bachmann.

Left: here I am with friend/artist/chess player/truck driver/Ron Paul precint captain Lee Gordon Seebach. Right: No iPod for the bodyguard!

  There were about 30 cars in the Community Center parking lot when I pulled up at 9:45 for the 10:00 meeting. As I was walking in, I saw a news reporter videotaping an interview with a Ron Paul supporter and I decide to tape the interview myself. The interviewee was spitting out so many sound bites I think he should try to run for president. I went into the Community Center and there was a lady selling political buttons and a Ron Paul supporter at a table giving away bumper stickers and literature. I went inside the art gallery and started looking for Lee when I ran into Jack McCord and his mom Kathy. Jack Is going to Marshalltown Community College and used to play chess at the Salvation Army on Thursday nights with his dad Jon (who still plays every week). Then I ran into Mike Donahey. Mike is a reporter for the Marshalltown newspaper and was covering the event. Mike started interviewing me, but I explained that I was looking for Lee when I heard my name being called from the front row and sure enough, it was Lee. I introduced Lee to Mike since a story about a professional artist/truck driver/ chess player/ political activist would be right up Mike’s alley. Mike interviewed Lee for a few minutes (here is Mike's article with a quote from Lee) and then a fellow came to the podium and introduced Ron Paul so we all sat down to listen. Paul had a small entourage with him including a massive fellow who never smiled, but just looked into the crowd. I looked back into the crowd and the gallery was packed with about a hundred people.

  Ron Paul started by talking about his main campaign themes: following the constitution, getting rid of the Federal Reserve, balancing the budget, drastically reducing income taxes, an isolationist foreign policy, not borrowing money, and having a small government protect the citizen’s liberties instead of taking them away, which he claims the Patriot Act does. One of his more interesting economic tenets was that rather than have the government and Federal Reserve continue to attempt to print money to get the country out of the recession, stop printing and borrowing money, let the banks and insolvent companies default, and the economy will rebound quicker than it would with government intervention.

  All these themes met with a lot of applause, which is to be expected since Paul was mostly preaching to the choir. I’m not too sure about the idea of letting the economy crash and relying on free market forces to revive the economy. After all, don’t free market forces drive companies to produce their goods where they can be made the cheapest? Of course, I don’t see the current system of borrowing $5,000 for every person in the country as a means to economic salvation either.

  When Paul started talking about how he was going to go about balancing the budget, he started making more sense to me. He said he wanted to cut a trillion dollars off the budget in his first year and he was going to start by slashing military spending because he thought he could build a left-center coalition to support the idea. I liked that he had practical plans to achieve his impractical-sounding objectives. I also liked that he was upfront that he was going to transition to some of his other big objectives like eliminating entitlement programs and not just eliminate them all at once.. I doubt if Paul could actually get enough congressional support to achieve his objectives if he were to become President, but it would be interesting to see him have the chance.

  I think that most economic plans would work in the absence of corruption and the support for politicians to undertake unpopular tasks. Paul talks about the failure of Keynesian economics and he is correct that in the USA it leads to unchecked spending, but that is because while the public and their elected politicians embrace the notion of stimulating economic demand during recessions by tax cuts and government spending, no one will go along with the flip side of Keynesian economics which advocates limiting demand during economic expansion by increasing taxes and reducing government spending in order to recoup the deficits incurred during recessions. The USA started running budget surpluses in the late 90’s, but instead of paying down decades of debt, the American public elected a government that promised to cut taxes. After 9-11, the public wanted to fight the terrorists but not at the expense of their tax cuts and was OK with the government borrowing trillions of dollars to allow for the financing of a war and the tax cuts. Everyone wants to balance the budget as long as other people are paying for it, but except for a few select billionaires, I don’t see anyone wanting higher taxes or fewer benefits.

  I partially agree with Paul that the government makes everything it touches worse. Paul talks about the health care reform being written by health care lobbyists, but when the free market runs the health care system, the insurance companies act in their own best interests by collecting as much in premiums as possible and attempting to deny coverage by rescission when a policyholder gets sick and it is time to for the insurance companies to pay out. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of crazy things the government does. I’m not sure why we pay Pakistan billions of dollars in foreign aid each year, but when it’s time to go after the terrorists, we have to send drone planes to do the dirty work, while our ‘well-paid allies’ burn our flag in protest and the government cuts off our supply routes. Government waste hit a little closer to home when I went to the Walgreen’s this week and saw every snack food item accompanied by a little sticker reminding me how easy it is to pay for them with my Food Stamp Card. No wonder Cheetos are so expensive!

One side of the button lady's display board looked like a Ron Paul/Tea party shrine, but after the meeting, she turned the board over and showed she was ready for every eventuality!
A worthy choice for Secretary of Commerce, in my opinion.

  I shot a few minutes of video of Paul’s speech, but I tried to catch the bodyguard and the other members of his entourage as much as possible. The bodyguard looked like he stepped right out of GoodFella’s or the Soprano’s. When the speech was over, Paul took 3 questions and was off to his next speech. His Iowa coordinator wanted to talk to the organizers privately so I had to leave the room while Lee and the other organizers talked over some top-secret organizer stuff. While I was waiting for Lee, I struck up a conversation with the lady selling the buttons. I used to sell buttons of rock bands in my youth and have been having buttons made up for my chess tournaments and chess class. I told her how in 1980 I tried to sell ‘Carter Sucks’ and ‘Reagan Sucks’ buttons, but I couldn’t find anyone willing to print them for me. She agreed that I wouldn’t have that problem today, but nowadays I can print the buttons myself. We were talking about printing issues and what the top sellers were. I was expecting that a Ron Paul button would be her top seller since her button board was full of Ron Paul and Tea Party buttons, but then she turned over the button board and there was a whole new batch of buttons for all the other candidates. She told me that her top seller was a button of a pizza and the slogan ‘Herman Cain Delivers’ and since he dropped out she was now stuck with a bunch of obsolete product. It turned out the button lady was an independent business person and not a Ron Paul groupie. In fact, 4 years ago she was selling Democrat buttons. I have political buttons going back to Nixon-McGovern and bought some of her buttons to add to my collection. One of the buttons was a Revolutionary War style ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ logo that I put on my coat. It’ll be interesting who will see it and spark up conversations when I walk around.

After the meeting, the organizers gathered by themselves to discuss top secret organizer stuff. I took this picture on my way out.

  The button lady had to leave to get to the next campaign stop and the debate, but then Lee’s meeting was over. We went to Hardee’s for a cup of coffee and to catch up. Lee tried to convince me to come to the caucuses and support Ron Paul and I said that I would. I didn’t know a lot about him before listening to him, but I liked listening to him a lot, am convinced he’s not a phony, and as long as I’m a registered republican, why not?

  When people ask me about politics, I normally say ‘I play chess’ and I mean it, so while Lee was trying to convince me to support Ron Paul, I was trying to convince him to come play chess in Marshalltown on Thursday nights. I even suggested he carpool with Joe from Waterloo. Lee played tournament chess in 2008 from February to September and has a rating of 1373 down a bit from his high of 1383. When I looked this up, I noticed that his rating would have hit 1400, but he lost his last competitive game in the final round of a CyChess on 9-28-2008 against…guess who?

  A tough game, but I'm sure this isn't how Lee wants his chess career to be remembered, so I'm looking forward to his return to the board!