Summer of Discontent

Good grief.

If you’ve been following politics lately — and that would require ignoring the larger stories (including the gnarly potential of skewed weather to turn our lives into a bad sci-fi film sometime over the next year or so) — then you must be aware of the heated battle currently going on in Washington for our souls.

I am no longer surprised by the aggressive stupidity, unabashed greed and sniveling cowardice of the scurvy mob pretending to run this country. Both parties and their leaders are deservedly getting historic low approval ratings from the populace. (This crop of politicos are making used car salesmen and lawyers look good.)

But I AM surprised — and very much depressed — by the “whatever” attitude of voters.

I’m a fool for doing so (because it eats at my gut), but I’ve been a lifelong reader of “letters to the editor” of local news rags. I’ve moved a lot in my life, living in both major metro areas and isolated little burgs… and the best way to judge the local zeitgeist is to see what the letter writers have to say about things.

It’s a slow process, because the most motivated people to write are harboring deep simmering rage against humanity and city hall. The wing-nuts will dominate the letters section on any given day. You have to be patient — sooner or later, they will trod on someone’s sense of fair play or justice, and then the less neurotic folks will chime in.

Over a few months, you can get a good read on the temperment of the locals.

The genius of the Founding Fathers comes to light when you get a full frontal taste of what some of your neighbors consider good public policy. Back when I was in college, we used to regularly offer people a copy of the Bill of Rights (freedom of speech, restrictions on search and seizure, etc) — minus any identifying titles, and ask them if they thought Americans should adopt these kinds of rules.

Almost without exception, very likeable and very nice people would insist that everything in the Bill of Rights sounded like a communist plot, and the country would collapse if such rules were instigated. Even other college students didn’t recognize their own Bill of Rights.

It was scary.

And it hasn’t changed.

I’ve been reading newspapers from several different cities over the past few months… Washington DC, San Francisco, New York, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Miami… and I see a thread of common thought that sends fresh chills up my spine.

This surveillance thing the government (through the NSA) has been conducting on citizens? Tapping the phones of millions of people (and possibly a lot more than “just a few million)? The general reaction of the populace reminds of what we heard over and over again as hippies back in the late sixties/early seventies: If you’re not doing anything bad, then you have nothing to fear.

Surveil away, FBI man!

All this leaves me severely disgruntled.

I no longer wish that, one day, a wave of honest patriotism will sweep the joint, and droves of regular people will take a curious peek at the Bill of Rights. Just a peek.

It’s not gonna happen. The majority has been opiated into walking slumberland with bad TV and computer-generated isolation. (There has never been a time like now in our history where most people live where every single neighbor thinks and votes exactly like them. The creation of gated communities and gerrymandered subdivisions in the suburbs has turned us into a nation of tiny islands, where dissent is muffled and rare.)

And it’s true that the FBI would be bored shitless tapping most people’s phone lines.

But here’s the rub: The “red meat” that motivates the most active political movements are not restricted by any kind of common sense.

The majority — the bored, clueless masses whose worst crime against the state is occasionally speeding on the freeway — neither understands nor appreciates why some people just cannot conform and “go with the flow”. The laws that restrict the rebellious souls among us seldom affect the contented middle class.

And yet… protecting the rebellious and the non-conforming minorities was exactly WHY the Bill of Rights was created. It’s what makes this country work. It’s why we’re the place people wanna migrate to.

For cryin’ out loud, it’s the reason entrepreneurism thrives here.

I refer to my college-era self as a hippie, but really I was just a long-haired slacker. We were unmotivated by money, mostly because our long hair prevented us from securing a real job. Hard to imagine today, when you’re being served fast food by kids with mohawks and tatoos… but back then, you needed a crew cut to get a gig at Radio Shack.

The national mood was: Conform, or starve.

We found ways not to starve — communal living helped — and actually enjoyed living outside the mainstream. I didn’t watch television for ten years, and didn’t own a car for five. When I did own a car — a beautifully beat-up ’62 Impala, with bench seats you could camp out on — I learned to build in time each weekend, while on a date, for being pulled over by the cops. The grubby car, long hair, and insouciant attitude they expected (and got) was enough to warrant a warrantless search.

My “straight” friends found this difficult to believe. And actually refused to believe it, in fact. I knew African Americans back in Los Angeles when I was a rookie writer there who talked about being pulled over for a DWB — “driving while black”. Most white folks insisted on believing they were kidding, or exaggerating.

They weren’t.

And yet, for most Americans, the concept of being harrassed, searched, and bullied by authority merely because The Man doesn’t like the way you look… remains an absurd notion.

If we weren’t doing anything wrong, why should we fear a quick, friendly rousting by the constables?

Look — maybe you’re the type who is so vanilla that you wouldn’t mind the government putting a camera in your bedroom. You have nothing to be afraid of, because you’re “normal” and content to conform to whatever social norm Dr Phil says you should conform to.

So look at it from a business point of view: The large corporate powers love conformity. In their perfect world, every soft drink machine dispenses only Coke and Pepsi products, every store is a Wal-Mart or Target, and every radio station;s playlist is dictated by headquarters.

Pirates and ne’er-do-wells and rebels who make waves are not welcome or tolerated.

Tyranny begins when a frightened populace cedes freedoms in exchange for security. The Founding Fathers knew this, and did their best to cork that bottle tight. With the Bill of Rights.

This NSA surveillance program is bullshit, and a naked power grab by a government who can’t balance a budget.

This nonsense goes hand-in-hand with efforts to rein in the Web and put it under corporate control — so it’s “safer” and doesn’t frighten the grandmas and horses.

I am disgruntled, disillusioned and just irritably hot this summer. I don’t want to live out a bad sci-fi movie where The Man controls everything and the world disintegrates into nightmare.

Sometimes you have to stand up and risk getting pulled over for not conforming.

Sometimes, real democracy requires waking up, and finally telling the Bozo’s “No — you cannot get away with this bullshit any more.”

Sometimes, the need for action comes at very inconvenient times, and harshes your mellow.

This summer — whether you’re a conservative, liberal or independent — if you’re not riled up, you’re not paying attention.

Okay, I’m done.

Thanks for letting me rant.

Try to stay frosty.

John Carlton

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  • John,
    Excellent post (as usual)!

    I will absolutely agree that too many are surrendering their rights in the name of freedom…

    Ironic isn’t it?

    They think that by letting big bro take over their lives that they will be free from terrorism…

    What a crock!

    People need to wake up from their dream state before it’s too late…

    perhaps it might already be too late, I dunno???

    I personally believe it’s an orchestrated plan by the “higher-ups” and has been planned out for years.

    I should know, I’ve spent a good time of my life in the intelligence field…
    I know some of the behind the scenes stuff that goes on… it aint pretty!

    All I gotta say is: “People, Wake Up!”

  • Brian Clark says:

    Thanks for this. And I’m feeling better becasue I think what we’re seeing (at least I hope) is a bit of the ol’ tide turning. Some people will never get a clue, but getting things done has never been about everybody.

  • BW Griggs says:


    Love the blog – ordered your newsletter over 2 months ago via Paypal. Diane responded immediately noting that my order lacked my physical address (you need to setup Paypal to require physical address) and I responded with my address. And then nothing… I have emailed Diane twice since then with no response. I hop Diane is OK. In short, I purchased back issues as well as a 1 yr. sub to your newsletter and I have not received either. Since I am having such challenges reaching you and your people, I have been forced to post this comment to your blog. Can you assist?

  • Mark Keeney says:

    Hey John,

    Stirring letter.

    I am one week into your Gary Halbert Copywriters program, so I moving ahead.

    I have already written out 4 of your letters by hand, and and adapting your Nickle Letter for my home security, fire alarm and security camera business.

    But… I really appreciate your e-mail blogs for the rest of the story of politics.


    Mark Keeney

  • John,

    Government is finally stripping away privacy rights from the general public that were taken away from licensed professionals years ago. Want to practice law or sell securities? Fingerprints and an extremely intrusive background check are required.

    How about practicing medicine or being a dentist? Your timely payments of alimony and child support via the nanny state are more important to maintaining your license than professional skills.

    The power of the government to grant and withhold licenses has obliterated privacy rights. Fitness to be a professional is determined by a government bureaucrat based on criteria that has absolutely nothing to do with skills.

    With respect to the general public, the government is starting to do the same for driver’s, fishing, and hunting licenses. Forgot to mail that alimony check? Better do it if you want the ‘privilege’ of driving.

    However, the decline of privacy rights in the private sector is even scarier. Big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart, are now testing facial recognition software. Not only does Wal-Mart know if you buy condoms and a carton of cigarettes every Thursday between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. with your credit card, it will be able to identify you when you pay cash and present no identification during the purchase.

    Yet the masses don’t care. Most would surrender all privacy rights in a heartbeat just for 15 minutes of fame on a ‘reality’ TV show or a sob session with Oprah.


  • Kevin Allen says:

    Bravo from a Red State Right Winger, now seriously pissed at both paries and soon to change my voter registration back to “Independent”.

    I just finished conducting a 2 and 1/2 day Continuing Ed. Seminar, something I do on a monthly basis.
    Attendance ranges from 40 to 100 people per session. All students are fairly well educated adults,most with college degrees.
    At least once each session, I ask the group if they are concerned in any way about the future, not to mention the present, of information gathering done by the Feds, i.e., plans for DNA Registry, individual’s medical records contained on a microchip, phone tapping, etc.
    To my surprise and dismay, the vast majority-nearly 95%,I’d say-show NO CONCERN whatsoever.
    Then I ask “Do you trust the government to keep your information private, away from prying eyes, hidden from public view in a lock box owned by Al Gore?(okay, I never mention Al Gore).
    Nearly 100% say they do NOT trust the government to safeguard this info.
    I let them chew (and stew) about that for a few minutes.
    Later I ask if any have read the USA Partriot Act and if so, do they consider it unconstituional in any way, shape or form.
    Most of course have not read it and show little, if any concern about the erosion of our rights contained in this act.
    The overiding theme of audience reaction to my queries:
    1) I have nothing to worry about because I’ve done nothing wrong ( as mentioned in your Rant )
    2) The info is out there anyway and anyone can get to it, so what’s the big deal?
    AND, sadly…
    3) Complete and utter apathy.

    The exception to the rule: Senior Citizens.
    When they see where I’m going with my questions, they nod their heads.
    They read.
    They are aware.
    They “get it”.
    Maybe they’ll be our saving grace.

    Lastly, I say to the audience, paraphrasing a wise politico from the past, ” The people should NEVER fear their government. The government should fear the people.”

    I hope some of it gets through.
    In the meantime…
    Thank God for the “old folks” who “get it”.

    Kevin Allen
    Tulsa, OK

  • Jay Barnson says:

    I guess I’ve only recently gone from fuming privately and ranting only to close friends (and VOTING) to actually taking political action and taking views public because of the absolute insanity I keep seeing coming out of Washington that keeps getting ignored by the general populace. I wasn’t always this way – I’m a white, middle-class, Christian, college-educated kid from the right side of the tracks who grew up with the same kind of “What do the law-abiding people have to fear?” attitude you mention.

    It took me getting shocked into actually listening, I guess. You mean the government doesn’t always have my best interest in mind? We’re dealing with attacks on several fronts:

    The surveilance actions getting passed off as being for “Homeland Security.”

    The “Nanny-State” laws being proposed, passed, and only later contested that circumvent the first amendment by making free expression only PARTIALLY illegal. Because the government is here to PROTECT you from yourself, you see.

    The attacks on the neutrality and fairness of what may be the greatest form of free, unfettered expression and distribution of free expression in human history, the Internet.

    Yet people quietly sit it all out and quietly accept the claims of what these bills are SUPPOSED to do, without thinking through the ultimate consequences of these constant restrictions on our freedom and rights. With few exceptions, these things pass without even being mentioned by the media. Even those “in the know” get blindsided by these little erosions of our basic liberties.

    I hope I won’t end up retiring in a world turned pablum, watched by Big Brother as I nurse my Cassandra complex.

    I did end up getting a viewpoint article published in the local paper, and I was surprised to find people read it. So maybe not all is lost. And I’ve been throwing my effort (time, attention, and money) to those running for office who claim to oppose this type of legislation.

    So maybe there’s some hope. Maybe not of the citizenship of the United States shaking themselves out of comfortable complacency (I know I’ve still got a comfortable complacency in several other areas of my life, and I don’t know how to summon the energy to fight on so many fronts). But at least we can get one little victory at a time and do our best to publicize that it is a victory of common sense.

  • Louis says:

    Aaron Russo’s new movie, “America: Freedom to Fascism” releases today. I’ve already bought my ticket. See It’s independent so it might not be in your city yet.

    Aside from that, the only real solution is the same one as for Wal-Mart. If you don’t like it, don’t shop there. Don’t ask government to fix it. It can’t. Voting isn’t going to change anything. Both parties have made a practice of expanding government with no end in sight. It seems like the only solution is to stop shopping at Uncle Sam’s. Don’t work for him, don’t give him money you don’t owe him, avoid him as much as possible. If enough people stop depending on him and start stigmatizing him, he won’t be able to keep expanding. It’s when people keep asking government to solve all their problems that government has an opportunity to expand.

  • Zeek Young says:

    There are trends that have existed in the world since it began. Great civilizations destroying themselves is one of them. Listen and you’ll see people think this is different. The USA will last forever, etc.

    The ancient Egyptians were around for thousands of years… but eventually came tumbling down. So have the rest. We’ve been around for 200 and think we’re invincible. We’ve come into a lot of power while we’re still young and dumb. Which means people like Georgie Porgie Bush come into a lot of power and they’re stupidity can be devastating.

    I agree this is a 1984 society, but I doubt it’s the end of the world. Things will probably keep going down this tunnel for decades. At some point there may be a revolt. Maybe will blow ourselves up and a 1000 years from now they’ll try to figure out what happened.

    In summary: Don’t get too uppity 🙂

  • David Franks says:

    1. John you’re too old not to accept the status quo.

    2. Years ago Devo observed:

    “Freedom of choice
    Is what you got
    Freedom from choice
    Is what you want”

  • Hi John,

    I am not an American, I am Belgian, but I really feel alike.

    In response to a recent discussion with friends on the democratic situation in the US and Europe, I rewrote the Miranda Warning, and I guess it pretty much applies to what you have written.


    You have the right to remain

    Anything you say or won’t say
    can and will be used against you
    in a court of law.

    You have the right to speak to anyone
    and everything

    and to have an attorney present
    during any questioning.

    If you cannot
    afford an answer

    one will be provided for you
    at government expense.

    Somehow people have to be reassured that they CAN make a difference, that this thing we call democracy or this thing we call society (or capitalism, or communism, or anti-globalism, or…) is simply “us doing what we do”. These are not just abstract nouns referring to some abstract and totally unhuman systems.

    Using these terms has turned into a lame excuse to convince ourselves that we can’t really make a difference.

    Has it really come that far that we pay the government to provide us all the answers to all our questions in our lives? Do we really feel there has to be an attorney present at our questioning aka during the challenges we meet in life?

    Hell no. We’re damn smart people. And it’s not because some sports giant has taken some kind of copyright on these words that we shouldn’t adopt the following line as our personal motto.


    Keep up the Big Damn Good writing.

  • Thank You !!!

    Here’s a quote I’ve taped to my bathroom mirror and look at everyday.

    Crazy Wisdom is, of course, the opposite of conventional wisdom. It is wisdom that deliberately swims against the current in order to being swept along in the numbing wake of bourgeois compromise, wisdom that flouts taboos in order to undermine their power; wisdom that evolves when one, while refusing to avert one’s gaze from the sorrows and injustices of the world, insists on joy in spite of everything; wisdom that embraces risk and eschews security, wisdom that turns the tables on neurosis by lampooning it, the wisdom of those who neither seek authority nor willingly submit to it.

    “In Defiance of Gravity”, Tom Robbins

    Dude, You Rock!

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