Thursday, December 22, 2005

“A Hell of an Idea”

The Inferno, December 22 –

It was time for the shift change in the furnace room. “How’d it go?“ asked Modoc, who was just coming on.

“I don’t know,” said Belial, the group leader he was replacing. “Maybe I’m getting too old for this shift. Century after century, the same old shift. Make sure the rotisseries keep turning, baste the clients on the half hour… I’ll be glad when this batch moves on to the waterboard. You won’t hear all that whining about people being thirsty after the first few minutes of being tilted downward, their faces covered with plastic, while heavy streams of water pour into their mouths and noses.”

“Well I’ve got something that will improve your mood,” chortled Modoc. “Did you hear about the Boss’s new gimmick?”

“I got a hot tip,” said Belial. “Isn’t it beautiful? Absolutely fiendish!” The tip of his forked tail quivered like a cat’s when it’s stroked.

“You’ve got to give the Boss credit. He knows a good idea when he comes across one, and he’s not afraid to swipe it,” said Modoc admiringly.

“Hey, I’ve always given the Boss credit for stealing!”

“Sure, sure. No offense meant.”

“Spreading the story we don’t torture in Hell! Isn’t that a hoot?!” Belial gave an evil smile. “How’s he gonna work it?”

“He’s paid some columnists to write the stories and bribed some papers to run them,” said Modoc.

“A page from the Bush administration! All the news that’s fit to plant! What happens then?”

“He says there are plenty of fools out there who’ll read them and figure they’re got a blank check to do anything their shriveled souls desire. Why not launch a war? Or bomb civilians? Or poison the landscape with uranium? Or sell government to the highest bidder? There won’t be hell to pay because we don’t ‘torture’ any more.”

“That’s what I can’t figure out. The Boss always keeps his end of the bargain. But you’d better read the fine print with a microscope before you sign on the dotted line. What’s the catch this time?”

“It’s so simple you’ll wish you’d thought of it. He’s just redefined ‘torture’ in a way that allows us to do almost anything we want.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. What’s his definition of torture?”

“’Interrogation methods severe enough to cause organ failure or death.’”

“The Devil you say! That’s it? Anything else is fair game?”


“So we can still roast people over fires? And waterboard them? And pull out their fingernails? And pierce their eardrums with needles? And drill holes in their teeth with no anesthetic? And hit them in the mouth with a hammer? And force them to stay in agonizing positions for days on end? And attach electric wires to their nipples and testicles? And wake them every twenty minutes? And piss on their Bibles and Korans? The full works?”

“That’s the beauty of it. Do any of those things cause organ failure or death?—not that death is an issue here. They just hurt like hell.”

“Well, that’s the idea, isn’t it? So we just keep on torturing the same as we always have, but it’s not ‘torture’ anymore because of the definition. That’s a hell of an idea!”

“And since everybody here is already dead…”

“The depth’s the limit! How in Hades did he come up with that definition?”

“You know damned well where he got it! The same place he’s been getting all those other neat ideas: W, Vice, and Rummy. Aren’t they a hell of a team? The President got his own lawyer, Alberto Gonzalez, to sign off on this one.”

“Are you sure this wasn’t the Boss’s idea to begin with?”

“Give these guys some credit, will you. Listen, if we don’t watch it, they’ll have our jobs. They came up with this one all on their own.”

“But he’s planted ideas with them before….”

“Oh sure. The tax breaks for the rich to steal from the poor. The Patriot Act to invade people’s private lives. The campaign of lies to invade Iraq. He’s given them a ton of ideas.”

“How does he do it?”

“Nothing to it. He just whispers in the President’s ear, and the President thinks it’s a message from God!”

© Tony Russell, 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

“This Pen for Hire”

“It’s OK to satirize the President, as long as you do so with respect.”
- Memo from CBS censors to the Smothers brothers, 1967

Dear President Bush,

We have not yet received payment for the columns you ordered. If you will check the record, my “Spineless Democrats” column ran on July 17 of this year, and on November 14, I published a column attacking Sen. Harry Reid, per your request. In accordance with the terms of our contract, no reference to White House sponsorship was included in the articles. In the event that our original billing was misplaced, a second invoice is attached.

At the time of our original discussion, $1,000 each for the columns seemed reasonable, and in line with my usual fee in these matters. Since then, however, disclosures in the press indicate that I am being compensated for my efforts at well below the going market rate.

Specifically, it has been revealed that my colleague Armstrong Williams, a black conservative, received $240,000 from the U.S. Dept. of Education and the Ketchum public relations firm to advocate for your “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) program. That is approximately one hundred twenty times what I am slated to receive.

I recognize that although Mr. Williams’s contract required him to write a number of opinion columns supporting NCLB, it also required that he comment favorably on the program on his nationally syndicated television and radio shows (“The Right Side”). He was also expected to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige, and to attempt to persuade other black journalists to interview Secretary Paige and promote your NCLB policy.

So it could be argued that Mr. Williams was paid more because he was being hired for a variety of additional services. However, I had already indicated my willingness to write additional columns, appear on FOX News talk shows, and ask embarrassing questions during interviews with various liberal political figures.

In addition, syndicated columnist Doug Bandow is now alleged to have received substantial payments from Republican fundraiser and lobbyist Jack Abramoff to write somewhere between a dozen and two dozen positive stories about Abramoff's clients, at $2,000 a column. You promised to put me in touch with Mr. Abramoff to see if he had additional clients I could promote, but he was repeatedly “out of the office” or “unavailable to take your call” when I attempted to contact him.

And, as you may recall, conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher got $21,500 from your Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to advocate for your ideas on marriage. Ms. Gallagher, after having been condemned for receiving unreported payments from your administration, wrote in a subsequent column that she would have informed readers of the payments if she had just remembered them. I can assure you that I will remember whether or not you pay me $21,500.

Likewise, conservative columnist Mike McManus received $10,000 from DHHS for promoting the same cause in his syndicated column, 'Ethics & Religion,' which appears in fifty newspapers. It is unfortunate for his column that his failure to mention he was being paid to promote the cause was widely seen as an ethical lapse.

As revelations of your administration’s bribery of the press continue to emerge, I have been shocked—just shocked—at how much I have been underpaid. A free press cannot be bought on the cheap.

You seem to have realized this in Iraq, where your military leaders spent $20 million, much of it to bribe journalists and publishers, in a two-month campaign to plant stories favorable to the U.S. in Iraqi media. I must say that, as an American citizen, I resent those funds going to Iraqis, when a host of journalists at home would have been more than happy to generate favorable news for payments on that scale.

In light of your administration’s payments to Mr. Williams, Ms. Gallagher, Mr. McManus, and a bevy of Iraqi journalists, the $2,000 for which I contracted is clearly inadequate compensation, totally inconsistent with the stature and wide readership of my work.

If you have already sent payment, and our correspondence has crossed in the mail, please disregard this letter.


Tony Russell

P.S. This is your last chance to order columns at the current rate. Starting January 1, the price for a standard promotional column will rise to $2,000. Graphs, charts, photos, and other supplements will cost an additional 10%. We regret this increase, but a price restructuring was necessary to remain competitive in a rapidly changing market.

P.P.S. Remember that Christmas is less than a week away. Order gift columns now for your cabinet secretaries, allies, and campaign contributors. They make the perfect gift!

P.P.P.S. Note my return address. Any correspondence or payments should be sent to my personal post office box rather than care of the Hur Herald, as the owner/publisher/editor is inclined to be old-fashioned in these matters.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

“Gang Co-Founder Executed in Texas”

Note: The following column closely parallels an actual news report on Yahoo! of the execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams in California, often word for word, sometimes simply with names, ages, and locations changed. The irony the column turns upon, of course, is that Williams, a founding member of the Crips, was executed for four murders he denied having committed, while Mr. Bush, whose responsibility for perhaps 25,000 times as many deaths is based on evidence at least as strong as that used to convict Williams, is a free man admired by millions. “The Vulcans” is the name that Bush's core national security advisors, (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Condoleeza Rice, and a few others) gave themselves.

Gang Co-Founder Executed in Texas

Huntsville, December 12, 2015 -
George “W” Bush, co-founder of the notorious “Vulcans” gang, whose case stirred a national debate about capital punishment versus the possibility of redemption, was executed Tuesday morning.

Bush, 69, died at 12:35 a.m. Officials at Huntsville State Prison struggled to inject the lethal mixture into his muscular arm, strengthened by years of clearing brush on his Crawford, Texas, ranch. As they probed repeatedly for a vein, Bush looked up irritably, shaking his head at supporters and other witnesses, asking one of the men with a needle "What’s the problem here?"

Bush was condemned for deliberately starting a war by manufacturing and twisting evidence which he knew was false at the time. Bush claimed he was innocent. Witnessess at his trial said he boasted about the war, shouting, "Bring it on!" Bush then smirked and joked for five to six minutes, according to the transcript that the governor referenced in his denial of clemency.

The case became the state's highest-profile execution in decades. Radio talk-show hosts, televangelists, and politicians who had formerly been fierce capital punishment advocates argued that Bush's sentence should be commuted to life in prison because he had made amends by writing children's books about the dangers of torture and war. Bush had spent the past decade writing books to deter young people from following his example and using his "street" credibility to broker peace agreements between warring elements in the United States and abroad.

In the days leading up to the execution, state and federal courts refused to reopen his case. Monday, Gov. Rick Perry, Jr. denied Bush's request for clemency, suggesting that Bush’s supposed change of heart was not genuine because he had not shown any real remorse for the 100,000 or more deaths directly attributable to the gang known as “the Vulcans.”

"Is Bush's redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?" Perry wrote. "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption."

About 1,000 death penalty opponents and a few political supporters gathered outside the prison to await the execution. Singer Lee Greenwood, former actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Rev. Jerry Falwell were among the celebrities who protested the execution.

"Tonight is cold-blooded judicial murder, and I think everyone who is here is here to try to recover the morality and soul of this country," said Greenwood, who sang "God Bless the USA" from the back of a pickup truck just outside the gates.

A contingent of 30 people who had walked the approximately 67 miles from Houston held signs calling for an end to "state-sponsored murder." But others, including Darrell Bias, 52, of Willis, Texas, said they wanted to honor the victims.

"If he had admitted his responsibility for lying to start a deadly, evil war, and had shown some remorse for the slaughter of thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children, the governor might have had a reason to spare his life," Bias said.
During Bush's years on death row, a Swiss legislator, college professors, and others nominated him for the Nobel Prizes in peace and literature.

Former Vulcans member Irve Lewis Libby Jr., 65, was among those attending a candlelight vigil outside the prison. He said he would work to spread Bush's anti-war message. "His work isn’t going to stop," said Libby, who said he was known as "Scooter" as a young cabal member. "W's body might be buried, but his spirit is free. I want everyone to know that, his spirit lives."

Bias rejoined, “That’s the problem in a nutshell.”

"I’m not the same man who started the war," Bush said recently during an interview with The Associated Press. "I haven't had a lot of self-knowledge in my life. But in here," he said, pointing to his head, "I know I’m right."

Bush's statements did not sway some relatives of his victims, including Lorena Orwell, whose son Andy was among four soldiers who died when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy. In the years since his death, she has been one of the outspoken advocates who argued the execution should go forward.

"(Bush) chose to put Andy in harm’s way through three tours of duty in Iraq. Andy didn't do anything to deserve to die. He just joined the Guard to get money for college. He had big plans for his life," she said during a recent interview. "He didn’t die right away. He was covered with horrible burns over 90% of his body, and had massive internal injuries. I believe Bush needs to get the punishment he was given when he was tried and sentenced."

After he was officially pronounced dead, three of his supporters chanted, "The state of Texas just killed an innocent man," and waved small American flags as they walked out of the chamber.

© Tony Russell, 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

“Three More Years! Three More Years!”

“…the member of Parliament maintained a confident air of satisfaction,
which was why politicians were assassinated, Blair thought, because
nothing else would faze them.”

- from Martin Cruz Smith’s novel Rose

“Hello, this is Mr. Insider. How may I help you?

“Mr. Insider, a bunch of us here in the office were talking about impeachment, and we’re stumped. You know Washington from the inside out. We’re hoping you can settle an argument for us.”

“I’ll do my best to justify your confidence. What’s your question?”

“Well, actually, it’s not just one question. We’ve got several questions.”

“Okay, let’s just take them one at a time. From the top.”

“That’s easy. The first one that’s on everybody’s mind is ‘What’s keeping George Bush from being impeached?’”

“What do your friends in the office think?”

“They think Republicans will never let it happen as long as they control both houses of Congress.”

[Mr. Insider bursts into a huge belly laugh. Finally, gasping and wheezing from
the effort, he brings it to a stop.] That’s what they think? [Can’t help himself, and breaks into laughter again.] Listen, Republicans are desperate to dump him! They’d throw Bush out in a minute if they could. Every Republican politician in the country is panicked. They’re afraid—with good reason—that voters will blame them for the mess the country is in. They’re all scared spitless that come election day the public will toss them over the side of a bridge like a sack of unwanted kittens weighed down with a stone.”

“So it’s not the Republicans dragging their feet on impeachment?”

“Oh hell no! They’re all for it! It’s the Democrats who want to keep him in office. He’s the best thing they’ve got going for them. There’s a lot of arm-twisting going on in the cloakrooms right now, with Republicans trying to get a few Democrats to sign on for impeachment. But the Democrats won’t budge, and the Republicans don’t want it to look like it’s strictly a partisan affair.”

“Do you think there’s a good case for impeachment?”

[Mr. Insider snorts.] “You must be kidding, right? Clinton was impeached for lying about oral sex. Bush and his cronies lied about a war that’s bloodied the whole Middle East. Our fiscal future is a nightmare. Iraq is draining billions out of our budget faster than waste flushed down a commode. They lied about the cost of a prescription drug benefit. They lied about the cost of their tax breaks. They’re shredding the Constitution, holding people without charge, denying them the right to see a lawyer, kidnapping people from the streets, and torturing suspects all over the globe. If you impeach Clinton and you don’t impeach Bush, it’s like executing a jaywalker and excusing a serial killer.”

“So why hasn’t it happened already? Why do we have to put up with this guy for three more years? Are we just stuck?”

“That’s easy enough. Who fills Bush’s slot if he’s out?”

[A pause. Then a groan.] “Dick Cheney.”

“Exactly. The Torture Master himself. Bush took a page from his father’s book. You know what they used to call Dan Quayle: Bush’s life insurance.”

“But couldn’t you impeach them both at once—some kind of two-for-one special?”

“You haven’t thought this through. Who’s next in line after Cheney?”

“Let’s see… it’s the Speaker of the House, isn’t it?”

“Exactly. Dennis Hastert. Tom DeLay’s man of the House.”

“Suppose you could somehow get past all three?”

“Then you get the President Pro Tempore of the Senate—Bill Frist, currently under investigation for insider trading.”

“That’s it then? We’re stuck with this schmuck? For three more years?”

“Hey, if you don’t think long enough about your vote before you cast it, you’ve got a long time afterwards to regret it.”

© Tony Russell, 2005

Friday, December 09, 2005

“None So Blind”

“Ed,” I blurted out, “what happened to you?”

He swiveled his head, trying to hone in on my voice. I flinched when I saw his eyes straight on, soft milky tissue where the pupils had been. But his posture was stiffly erect, like a caricature of a soldier on parade.

“Chuck,” he said, “is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me. But, my God, Ed, what happened to your eyes?”

“I became a patriot!” he announced, voice brimming with pride.

That seemed a non sequitur to me. “A patriot?” I asked, perplexed. “I always thought you were a patriot, Ed.”

He looked frustrated for a minute. “Let me see if I can explain it to you,” he said. “Do you remember when we were part of that home schooling group, and some of the members wanted to make it a Christian home schooling group?”

“Uh huh.”

“And then it turned out that when they said ‘Christian,’ the term didn’t really include the Catholics and Methodists and what-not in the group. It only meant the fundamentalist kind of Christian?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, it’s the same thing with ‘patriot’ as it was with ‘Christian.’ When we say ‘patriot,’ we don’t mean some wishy-washy relativist who sees good in some other countries and some evil in the United States. For us, the President’s word is an article of faith, and our country is righteous by glory and by God.”

“But you’re blind,” I said, afraid I’d hurt his feelings by stating the obvious.

“That’s just the way it appears to you,” he said. “I’ve replaced my eyesight with a superior kind of vision. The President, the Vice President, Joe Lieberman, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter—they all kept telling me I needed to get this done, and I finally decided to stop putting it off.”

“Don’t your eyes hurt?” I asked, wincing at the very thought of losing my eyes.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s one of the best things about it. My vision is less painful than it was before. In fact, I don’t feel a thing.”

“But the operation must have hurt like the devil.”

“Nah,” he laughed. “It’s not like they poke a stick in your eyes. It’s all done through the power of suggestion, mass hypnosis, that kind of thing.”

“It just seems so… extreme,” I said hesitantly.

“You sound like some kind of terrorist,” he said, laughing again. “No offense meant, Chuck.”

“And how do you feel about the operation now …?”

“Just great,” he said. “Those people who say ‘My country, right or wrong’ have it all wrong. My country is always right.”

“So the terrible tortures in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay?”

“Invisible,” he said. “It’s like they never happened.”

“The tens of thousands of slaughtered Iraqis, including women and children? Just innocent civilians, killed by white phosphorus, or cluster bombs, or the massive illegal bombings carried out by the U.S. before the war even began?”

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“The incredible corruption, the billions stolen in so-called Iraqi reconstruction funds?”

“Out of sight, out of mind,” he said dismissively.

“Prisoners held without charge for years, unable to see a lawyer, let alone family and friends?”

“I’m blind to it. Literally,” he said.

“The unmitigated gall of calling an unprovoked attack on another nation ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’?”

“I don’t understand those words,” he said.

“The sheer stupidity of imposing a phony democracy at gunpoint?”

“Don’t see it,” he said. “Can’t see it.”

“The buying, bullying, bribing, and browbeating of news media, until they’re gun-shy about anything that doesn’t toe the right-wing line?”

“It’s not there,” he said. “There’s no ‘there’ there.”

“Our own government organizing kidnappings, secretly transporting suspects to other countries, and brutally interrogating them at clandestine detention centers?”

“Why would you even ask a question like that?” he said with a note of concern. “Do you really hate this country that much? Let me tell you, Chuck, you ought to do what I did, and go and have your eyes checked. Before it’s too late, and they can’t do anything to help you.”

© Tony Russell, 2005

Monday, December 05, 2005


Annapolis, Nov. 30. –

“I don’t know, Condi. I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”

“It’s too late to worry about it now, Scott. You know how he is. Once he gets an idea in his head, it’s safe from everything except a nuclear attack.”

“But he looks kind of …funny… up there, with that short skirt, bouncing around in those boots with the tassels on them, shaking those red, white, and blue pompoms.”

“Relax. He was a cheerleader at Yale, remember? He loves this kind of stuff. It’s second nature to him.”

“You’ve got to think, though, a college crowd like this could be a tough audience for him.”

“Nah. You just have to be careful where you take the show. There are at least eight or nine schools in the country he can go to with this routine and not get booed or hooted off the stage.”

“That many?”

“Sure. You’ve got the Naval Academy here, and then West Point, and the Air Force Academy. And don’t forget the Coast Guard Academy. Then there’s Bob Jones University, and Patrick Henry, and—what’s that place of Jerry Falwell’s, Liberty? That’s seven right there.”

“How can he do it? Plaster that smile on his face, swish around in front of all those ‘Plan for Victory’ signs…?”

“The Pep Club put those up on the stage and all the lockers before the rally. Takes you back to your high school days, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does. Wait! I recognize that cheer!”

Victory, victory, is our cry!
Bush and Cheney is our name!
Oil and money are our game!

“That was so cute!”

“But it doesn’t make any sense! How can you have a victory rally when you’re getting the crap kicked out of you, and everybody knows it?”

“Well sure, it’s hard. But does a cheerleader pack in the pompoms just because the team’s down by six touchdowns? They’d jerk the letter off your varsity sweater in a heartbeat. You just smile and keep pleading with the crowd to cheer. Remember? ‘Come on, you guys, let’s hear some spirit.’”

“But think of all those wounded players carried off the field on stretchers. Some of them weren’t moving. I’m kind of anxious about them.”

“These are just college kids, Scott. War, football—they just like the excitement of the game. The band, the uniforms, the roar of the crowd, us against them. Get ‘em jazzed up, and they forget all about torn ACL’s or amputations.”

“Hey, who’s that guy climbing up on the stage with him?”

“Don’t be silly, you know him! That’s Joe Lieberman.”

“Is that Joe? He sure looks different in that cheerleading outfit.”

“Shhhh. Watch, this’ll be good. They’ve been working on this routine all week. [Pause] Well, what did you think of it?”

“That was really something! The way he boosted the President up on his shoulders, and then did the splits! That just defies reality!”

“You think that’s a neat trick, wait until you see the President’s next move. When he talks about ‘fighting for freedom,’ he really means we’ll continue a strategy of torture, death squads, betrayal of women’s rights, massive corruption and profiteering, and heavy bombing of civilians. Talk about doing the splits!”

© Tony Russell, 2005