This Just Ain’t Right…

I’m all for free trade and a robust international economy, but I’ve begun to see a rather alarming trend in American industry of late. We can’t seem to do anything for ourselves anymore.Try purchasing an American-made shirt, frying pan, ballpoint pen or ball peen hammer. Or an American-grown bell pepper. Chances are you’re going to have a tough time. It seems as if every other product to be found in your local hardware store, supermarket, auto parts outlet or electronics emporium these days is made in China – with an occasional contribution from India, Sri Lanka or Chile.

Has America forgotten how to sew a pair of boxer shorts or cobble a decent pair of shoes?

If China quit exporting goods to the United States for as little as one week, we’d undoubtedly find ourselves in the midst of a national panic not seen since the Great Depression. People would be wearing potato sacks (made in Guatemala) for shirts and muskrat skins (imported from Canada) for shoes.

I was reminded of this alarming trend just last week after wandering through the side streets of strategically ambiguous Sonoma and discovering a small shop that sold, among other arcane items, “Grow Your Own Redneck” kits.

“Whoa!” I thought. “I don’t have any of those. Better get a half dozen…”

(This is an example of good ol’ American impulse buying. It makes life better for all of us).

For those of you unfamiliar with the “Grow Your Own” phenomenon, it involves little bitty plastic dinosaurs and lobsters and body parts that you can drop into a bowl of water and have big old honkin’ plastic dinosaurs, lobsters and body parts in 24 to 48 hours.

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

At only $3.49 apiece, my “Grow Your Own Redneck” kits were a solid bargain and, best of all, they had to be American-made because they were, like, rednecks. What could be more American than rednecks?

Sad as it may seem, I was wrong. The “Grow Your Own Redneck” kits in question were, in fact, made in China.

Is nothing sacred?

Admittedly, China manufactures some fine products, but rednecks?

I thought America’s southernmost states and portions of San Joaquin County had an inviolable patent on the manufacture and distribution of rednecks – even little bitty ones that swell up in water.

I’m no xenophobe, but this has got to stop right here and now.

The United States has few enough of its own icons left and one of them is the American redneck, whether he swells up in water or swells up in beer.

Join me in writing the White House, the Secretary of Commerce and state legislatures from Texas to West Virginia to protest this infuriating international encroachment upon a fine American tradition.

“Rednecks and America: They’re a beautiful team!”

Say it loud and say it proud, amigos…

(Originally published May 16, 2006)

Credulous crooks conned by cops

Throughout history, canny con artists have been fleecing the gullible with offers of something for nothing, roping in the unwary with unbeatable deals on everything from new TV sets to fat wads of cash somehow lost during civil unrest in Nigeria. Or Libya. Or, er, Wyoming…

Impersonating diplomats, bank examiners and attorneys, crooks have known for a long time that people can almost always be suckered when they’re offered a golden opportunity to increase their material wealth regardless of how ridiculous the offer may seem.

Not long ago, law enforcement authorities in San Joaquin County took a page from the con man’s handbook – sorry, not available in any store – and scored big on fugitive felons who couldn’t pass up something they should have known was just too good to be true.

Layla Bohm of the Lodi News-Sentinel reported in February that investigators with the District Attorney’s Office in Stockton rounded up dozens of felony suspects by sending them official-looking letters that promised payment of unclaimed money that was owed to them if they would be obliging enough to simply stop by a downtown Stockton office and pick up a check.

I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, I’d never fall for something like that. Not even if it was an official representative of the Nigerian government.”

Well, you might not fall for it and I might not fall for it, but 60 wanted felons who had somehow eluded arrest warrants enthusiastically took the bait and were reeled in by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.

According to the report, the DA’s investigators sent out letters to more than 800 county residents who, for whatever reason, had decided that responding to felony arrest warrants might not be in their best interest.

The notifications purportedly came from the “California Unclaimed Funds System” (Probably a sister agency to the “Angola Post-Revolutionary Funds Distribution Ministry”) and were considerably more enticing than a court summons, saying basically, “Come and get it!”And they did.

One man reportedly traveled all the way from San Diego to get what was coming to him.

And he did…

Let’s face it, amigos. This is a whole lot more amusing way to round up fugitive felons than venturing out before dawn, kicking down doors, lobbing tear gas hither and yon and then discovering that your intended prey moved to Reseda three weeks ago and you’ve just captured a pair of bewildered Mormon missionaries.

This way, the felons come to you. When they skip into your cozily bureaucratic office space with open arms, you greet them with open handcuffs – no fuss, no muss. It’s, like, a kinder and gentler arrest.

(And best of all, no tear gas. Yech…)

Of course, if this trend is going to catch on statewide, lawmen will have to vary their techniques from time to time to keep clever crooks getting wise to the con – maybe opening a “California Office of Unclaimed Methamphetamines” or the “State Office of Misplaced Education Funds.”

The latter should draw in fugitive politicians like flies to honey…

Originally published March 13, 2005