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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Sunday, December 31, 2006

John Edwards, Champion of the Po' Folks

In 2004, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards did not seek a second term, since he knew that he would probably lose. In the unlikely event that he becomes president, Edwards will have to move into a smaller house.

The following is from NewsMax.com.

John Edwards tried to cozy up to America's poor by announcing his presidential candidacy Thursday in the Lower Ninth Ward of Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans.

It's doubtful that any on hand live in splendor comparable to the $3.1 million mansion the former senator and vice presidential candidate is building in North Carolina.

Edwards, worth upwards of $30 million thanks to a career as a personal injury lawyer, is building the home on a 100-acre estate outside Chapel Hill, the New York Post reported.

The 10,700-square-foot mansion boasts 10 rooms, 6 1/2 baths, two garages, and verandas with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

Edwards is also building two smaller homes on the estate — a two-story, 6,366-square-foot mini-mansion with a $570,000 price tag, and a 2,817-square-foot, $193,000 house.

One home is for Edwards' 22-year-old daughter Cate and the other is for visiting friends and family, according to the Post.

On top of all that, the White House hopeful is constructing a 1,180-square-foot pool house.

In the 2004 campaign, Edwards often spoke of "Two Americas," one wealthy and privileged and the other struggling to survive.

There's no doubt which America Edwards belongs to.

Remembering Past Political Battles

This commentary is from the Mississippi Politics Web site.

Billy Mounger, Wirt Yerger, and Clarke Reed are Mississippi Republican elder statesmen. Mounger and Yerger both live in Jackson, while Reed lives in Greenville.

On Dec. 28, 2006, Sanders wrote:

The 1976 Republican National Convention is the subject of a section of Billy Mounger's book, "Amidst the Fray." Anyone interested in Mississippi politics should read it. Billy does not -- to put it mildly -- pull any punches.

On Dec. 29, 2006, Steve Rankin wrote:

I haven't read Billy Mounger's book yet, but I well remember the Ford-Reagan fight for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination. Aided by such Mississippi Republicans as Clarke Reed, Gil Carmichael, and Rep. Thad Cochran, Ford narrowly won.

In the Southern states which held primaries, Ronald Reagan won decisively, as he would have also in Mississippi. But we didn't have a primary that year, and a lot of pressure was put on our 30 delegates. We then had the unit rule; the delegation wound up being 16-14 for Ford, which meant that Ford got all 30 votes. This was a travesty, since grassroots Mississippians were strongly for Reagan.

Gil Carmichael, who had run against Sen. Jim Eastland in 1972 and against Cliff Finch for governor in 1975, did himself a lot of damage with his performance in 1976. After Ford had clinched the nomination at the Kansas City convention, Carmichael popped up on TV, advocating a Ford-Reagan ticket-- as though he thought that would placate Reagan's supporters.

Unlike national party conventions nowadays, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the 1976 GOP convention-- although, from my viewpoint, the wrong man won the presidential nomination. The most dramatic moment came when Ford asked Reagan-- who was sitting in the balcony-- to come to the podium and address the convention. Reagan spoke off the cuff, and I still get chill bumps just thinking about that speech.

On Dec. 30, 2006, Kingfish wrote:

Haven't read Mounger's book but is this one of the reasons he doesn't think too much of Carmichael? Got the idea he wasn't too crazy about him listening to him on the radio one day recently.

On Dec. 30, 2006, Steve Rankin wrote:

I'm sure Mr. Mounger gives all the details in his book, but I'll give you my recollections.

In the '75 governor's race, Carmichael made the issue of a new state constitution the centerpiece of his campaign; that may or may not have been a good idea, but it wasn't a high priority with the average voter. Gil also came out for GUN CONTROL (!!), which probably cost him the election, as he only lost to Cliff Finch by 7 percentage points.

In '76, there was a party position that was supposed to go to Billy Mounger automatically, but Carmichael ran against him for this post. Mounger, who had raised tons of campaign cash for Gil, naturally took great offense. Mounger swore that he would never raise another dime for Gil, and he kept his word.

Carmichael also helped put the shaft to Ronald Reagan in 1976, and Mounger was a big Reagan fan.

In 1979, Mounger and Wirt Yerger recruited Leon Bramlett of Clarksdale to run against Carmichael in Mississippi's first-ever contested Republican primary for governor. The unknown Bramlett ran a six-week campaign and got 47% of the vote. (Almost all of the candidates for county offices were running in the Democratic primary, and thousands of voters went to the polls expecting to be able to vote in the Carmichael-Bramlett race and also vote for their county officials. There were a lot of mad folks that day-- but that's another story.)

In the '79 general election, Carmichael was pulverized by William Winter, 61% to 39%. In his final campaign, Gil ran as an independent for lieutenant governor in 1983 and was beaten even worse by Brad Dye.

On Dec. 30, 2006, Sanders wrote:

Steve, you don't need to read Mounger's book. You remember it all, chapter and verse. What you recount is exactly concordant with Mounger's memoir. The only person who possibly comes off worse than Gil Carmichael is Clarke Reed. Billy doesn't mince words.

On Dec. 30, 2006, Steve Rankin wrote:

Sanders: I'm definitely going to read the book.

When Reagan designated Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker as his putative running mate, Clarke Reed used that as an excuse to endorse President Ford. So did John Connally, the ex-Texas governor and ex-Treasury secretary.

In 1980, as I recall, Haley Barbour had a regional campaign position with John Connally, whom Sen. Thad Cochran also backed for the GOP nomination. Connally had Sen. Strom Thurmond campaigning with him in the South Carolina primary, where Reagan and GHW Bush both finished ahead of Connally, who wound up with a grand total of ONE DELEGATE for the whole campaign.

Getting back to 1976: another of Carmichael's pro-Ford allies was Doug Shanks, who had been elected Jackson city commissioner in 1973 at age 26, and who is now head baseball coach at MVSU. Shanks, who also got crossed up with Billy Mounger, made losing races for Jackson mayor in 1977 and 1981; he beat city Commissioner Fred Johnson in the '81 GOP primary for mayor.

BTW: You know that Julia Reed is Clarke's daughter, don't you? She sometimes appears on TV shows, including Chris Matthews's show.

On Jan. 2, 2007, Steve Rankin wrote:

I made it sound as though Ronald Reagan won all of the Southern Republican primaries in 1976. In fact, he lost to President Ford in Florida, 53% to 47%. This came on the heels of Ford's 51-49 win in the first primary in New Hampshire.

Reagan also stumbled in the Tennessee primary when he suggested that the privatization of the Tennessee Valley Authority should be considered.

Reagan didn't get his first 1976 win until the March 23 North Carolina primary, where he beat Ford by six percentage points. (I almost ran off the road when I heard this news on the car radio.)
Reagan then went on to make the nomination fight a close contest.

Reagan next got a landslide win in the Texas primary, where he took two-thirds of the vote and all of the delegates. Texas has an open primary, and Reagan attracted a lot of votes from independents and conservative Democrats. He followed with victories in Alabama and Georgia, which also have open primaries.

I said that John Connally ran third in the 1980 South Carolina Republican primary. Actually, Connally was a distant second to Reagan, who got 55%. George H. W. Bush finished third. (The two Texans, Connally and Bush, hated each other's guts.)

After that, Reagan had a cakewalk to the 1980 Republican nomination. In the other Southern primaries, he got these percentages: 89% in Mississippi; 75% in Louisiana; 74% in Tennessee; 73% in Georgia; 70% in Alabama; 67% in North Carolina; 56% in Florida; and 51% in Texas, Bush's home state. (SC, MS, TN, GA, AL, and TX all have open presidential primaries.)

In the general election, Reagan carried 44 states against President Jimmy Carter.

On January 5, 2007, Steve Rankin wrote:

I'm going to comment on Bill Minor's Jan. 5 Clarion-Ledger column here, as it ties in with the theme of this thread.

I'll never forget when Ford, then vice-president, flew into Jackson in early August, 1974 as President Nixon faced impeachment in the Watergate scandal. On a hot Saturday afternoon in front of the War Memorial building, Ford spoke to a very sparse crowd.

But you did forget the correct date, Mr. Minor. I was also part of that "very sparse crowd," and I bookmarked the date in my memory: it was May 25, 1974, two and 1/2 months before Ford became president. He said that he believed that problems were best solved by governments that were closest to the people.

About a month earlier, President Nixon, who was still popular in Mississippi, had addressed an overflow crowd at the Mississippi Coliseum. Sens. Jim Eastland and John Stennis were also there. I was part of the crowd that listened on the loudspeakers that were set up outside the Coliseum.

In his introduction, Gov. Bill Waller said, "Mr. President, Mississippians are obedient to the law!" Several of the black people who were standing near me laughed sarcastically.

Earlier in the column, Minor mentions Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker, whom Ronald Reagan named as his running mate in 1976. Minor calls Schweiker a "liberal"-- as Minor's good friend, Sidney Salter, also did in his Dec. 31 column.

As political scientists Earl Black and Merle Black note in The Vital South, Schweiker was in fact a moderate Republican. He was pro-life on abortion and favored school prayer and a strong national defense.

For people like Clarke Reed to use the Schweiker selection as an excuse to abandon Reagan and endorse Ford was the height of hypocrisy. After all, it was Ford who made former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who was anathema to conservatives, his vice president. Rockefeller, a big-spending liberal, had run a nasty campaign against Sen. Barry Goldwater for the 1964 GOP presidential nomination. Rockefeller then refused to support Goldwater against President Lyndon Johnson.

"What's This Lignite Used For?"

lignite: A soft, brownish-black form of coal having more carbon than peat but less carbon than bituminous coal. Lignite is easy to mine but does not burn as well as other forms of coal. It is a greater polluter than bituminous coal because it has a higher sulphur content. -- The American Heritage Science Dictionary

The Clarion-Ledger ran an edited rendition of this letter on December 26, 2006.

Ackerman is the seat of Choctaw County, Mississippi, while Kemper County is north of Meridian and borders Alabama.

I read with interest Laura Hipp's article ("Utility weighs $1.8B plant," Dec. 13) and your editorial ("Lignite: State's resource finally to blossom?" Dec. 14) on the prospective power plant in Kemper County and the Red Hills Plant near Ackerman.

In the mid-1970s, a friend of mine was involved in exploring for lignite coal in parts of Mississippi, including Choctaw County. His job was buying rights of way from landowners.

My first question was, "What's this lignite used for?" Andy explained that it was used to generate electricity. Having recently experienced the "energy crisis," people were very much aware of the need for new energy sources. Several of the farmers related that they had encountered the brownish-black substance on their land.

The initial tests were done about a mile apart, and it was much like drilling a water well. The hole was three to four inches in diameter and 300 feet deep. The actual test was performed when a radioactive probe was sent down the hole and the soil contents were logged. The entire operation usually took about an hour and a half.

Then, of course, we had no way of knowing that 1) any power plants would be built in Mississippi, or 2) it would be a quarter century before electricity would be produced from the lignite.

Today coal fuels about 50 percent of this nation's electrical generation. Nuclear power is a distant second with some 20 percent.

Andy has passed on, but his and his colleagues' legacy shines when switches are flipped in homes and businesses.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Little Red Hen

In 1976, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan narrowly lost the Republican presidential nomination to President Gerald Ford. In the late 1970s, Reagan had a 30-minute daily radio commentary. (As president, Reagan originated the Saturday radio address, which has been emulated by every president since Reagan.) One of those radio programs I remember from the late '70s was a debate between Reagan and his daughter Maureen on the so-called Equal Rights Amendment. She was pro-ERA and he was anti-ERA.

I also recall a program on which Reagan told the story of the Little Red Hen. The allegory is self-evident.

Once there was a Little Red Hen who lived in a barnyard with her three chicks and a duck, a pig and a cat.

One day the Little Red Hen found some grains of wheat. "Look look!" she clucked. "Who will help me plant this wheat?"

"Not I", quacked the duck, and he waddled away.

"Not I", oinked the pig, and he trotted away.

"Not I, meowed the cat, and he padded away.

"Then I will plant it myself," said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

When the wheat was tall and golden, the Little Red Hen knew it was ready to be cut. "Who will help me cut the wheat?" she asked.

"Not I," said the duck.

"Not I," said the pig.

"Not I," said the cat

"Then I will cut this wheat myself". And she did.

"Now", said the Little Red Hen, "it is time to take the wheat to the miller so he can grind it into flour. Who will help me?"

"Not I," said the duck.

"Not I," said the pig.

"Not I," said the cat.

"Then I will take the wheat to the miller myself," said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

The miller ground the wheat into fine white flour and put it into a sack for the Little Red Hen.

When she returned to the barnyard, the Little Red Hen asked, "Who will help me make this flour into dough?"

Not I," said the duck, the pig and the cat all at once.

"Then I will make the dough myself," said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

When the dough was ready to go into the oven, the Little Red Hen asked, "Who will help me bake the bread?"

"Not I," said the duck.

"Not I," said the pig.

"Not I," said the cat.

"Then I wll bake it myself," said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

Soon the bread was ready. As she took it from the oven, the Little Red Hen asked, "Well, who will help me eat this warm, fresh bread?"

"I will," said the duck.

"I will," said the pig.

"I will," said the cat.

"No you won't," said the Little Red Hen. "You wouldn't help me plant the seeds, cut the wheat, go to the miller, make the dough or bake the bread. Now, my three chicks and I will eat this bread ourselves!"

And that's just what they did.

(A Golden Book, New York) Western Publishing Company, Inc, Racine, WI 53404

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Secret Santa's Further Adventures

This story by Richard Lake appeared in The Clarion-Ledger of December 17, 2006.

For nearly half his life, Larry Stewart kept a secret identity, like a superhero without the super powers.

Every year around Christmastime, the Mississippi native dressed up in special clothes and did good deeds.

And then this year, Stewart removed his mask. He left his secret identity behind and began granting interviews.

"I had no idea what an impact there'd be when I went public," said Stewart, 58, who has been handing out wads of cash to strangers from coast to coast since 1979.

Over time he earned the nickname Secret Santa and his story appeared in newspapers across the country.

Stewart did not start out wealthy. He was raised mostly by his grandmother in the tiny north Mississippi town of Bruce.

He was born out of wedlock in 1948, and his mother left her son with her parents.

Stewart's grandfather died when the boy was just 11. He and his grandmother collected $33 a month in welfare, he said, and survived on government commodities: free cheese, oats, peanut butter and powdered milk.

Stewart learned to pick cotton, haul timber from the woods, plow the fields and bale hay. His mother had moved to Memphis and begun another family.

In the summertime, the teenage Stewart worked in a sawmill and dreamed of a way out.

Sports provided his opportunity.

He earned a football scholarship to a junior college a couple hours north of home. In the off-seasons, he sold vacuum cleaners and magazines door to door.

He continued selling door to door after college, but bad luck followed him. The company he worked for went out of business.

That was in 1971. He was in the town of Houston, Miss., just around the corner from his old home in Bruce.

He parked his beaten-down four-door Datsun in the town square, backed into a parking spot because the license plates were expired. The gas tank was empty, and so was his belly.

Down the street sat the Dixie Diner, and so Stewart cooked up a plan: He'd eat breakfast there, then pretend he'd lost his wallet. Perhaps he'd be allowed to wash dishes or clean the tables as payment.

"I put on what I thought was an Academy Award-winning performance," he recalled.

It did not fool the man behind the counter.

"Son, you must have dropped this," the man said to the filthy Stewart, flashing a $20 bill in his face.

Blown away, Stewart knew he had no choice but to accept the money, and the ruse.

He paid for his meal, left a tip, pushed his Datsun to a gas station to fill the tank, and screamed out of town.

On the road, Stewart marveled about what the man in the diner had done. He made a vow to God that he'd return the kindness one day.

But for now, he was homeless and broke, and so Stewart allowed his car to be repossessed, and he took a bus to Kansas City, where he had a cousin who'd invited him to stay for a week.

Eight years went by. Stewart stayed in Kansas City, working steady.

Two weeks before Christmas 1979, he was fired. He had no plan for the future.

He'd long ago forgotten about his promise to God.

And then one day, he was getting a burger at a drive-in restaurant, the kind where carhops bring the food out to you.

The girl who came with his food "had that look," Stewart recalled. "That lost look of hopelessness. I recognized that look."

He paid with a $20 bill, and for no reason at all, he told the girl to keep the change.

"Her face began to tremble. She put her hands over her lips and she began to cry," he said.

"Sir," she told him, "you have no idea what this means to me."

That was when Stewart remembered his promise.

And so he drove to the bank, withdrew $200 of the $600 he had left to his name in $5 and $10 bills, and proceeded to give it away.

He drove to thrift stores and random parking lots and handed money to strangers.

"That was a great Christmas," he said. "That's where my life began to turn around at a fast pace."

Indeed, as he continued his burgeoning new tradition of giving money away at Christmastime, he began to succeed elsewhere.

"The feeling that comes from that kind of giving," he said, "it's almost an addiction it feels so good."

Though he values his privacy and does not want to reveal his line of work, he was successful.

He made his first million by 1982, and kept on making money. He began giving away $20 bills instead of fives, and then $100 bills.

Soon, he invited newspaper and TV reporters on his Christmas treks around Kansas City. Because he wanted to protect his identity - he hadn't even told his family about his deeds yet - he earned a nickname in the media: Secret Santa.

All along, Stewart never forgot what that man in the diner had done for him so long ago.

And so, in 1999, he tracked that man down. Though Stewart had long believed the man was a simple cook at the Dixie Diner, he was in fact Ted Horn, the diner's owner.

"It's an amazing story," Horn said last week.

Horn, 88 years old now, retired and living in Tupelo, said he remembers the episode in 1971 clearly.

"He was a pitiful looking sight," he recalled of the young man who tried to pretend he'd lost his wallet.

Stewart returned the favor during his 1999 visit and gave Horn $10,000.

"I feel like I owe you my life," Stewart told him.

Through the years, Secret Santa's giving became legendary. He ventured beyond Kansas City, to New York after the terrorist attacks, to Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, San Diego, even to Jackson in 1998.

All along, Stewart estimates he gave away $1.3 million. His adventures always were chronicled in the local papers, his identity kept secret.

But for the last couple of years, he said, "the tabloids" have been trying to out him. They want to find out who he is, and go public with it.

He beat them to it. Last month, Stewart outed himself in the pages of his hometown paper, the Kansas City Star.

He also revealed that he has cancer of the esophagus. He's undergoing treatment, but his future is uncertain.

He'll be out there again this year, giving away cash. But after that, who knows?

The future of the organization he started, the Society Of Secret Santas, is certain, he said.

He said he's received more than 6,000 e-mails since he went public, and 2,800 people have signed up so far to be Secret Santas like him.

That, he said, is what his story is really about: inspiring other people to do the right thing. Just like Ted Horn did for him.