Wednesday, November 30, 2005

“Appreciate One When You See One”

“What’s up, Wendell?” I asked, sliding into the booth. “You look like a cat that just swallowed a two-pound canary.”

He flipped the Hur Herald around and jabbed a finger at the front page. “Take a look at that,” he said gleefully. “Another Republican politician caught with his hand in the till. So many of these guys have been indicted now the court’ll look like Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving!”

“And that makes you happy?” I said.

“Damn straight,” he said. “I’ve had it up to here with those hypocrites.” He snorted. “These were the guys who were gonna restore honor and dignity to politics. The family values guys, the guys who prayed every time you put a mike in front of their mouth. They turned evangelical churches into party headquarters. If you listened to them, God punched a straight Republican ticket. And now it turns out they’re no better than a den of thieves.”

I glanced over the story. “Wow,” I said. “Duke Cunningham. Eight-term Congressman from San Diego. Pled guilty to taking $2.4 million dollars in bribes from three defense contractors! He didn’t play around with chicken feed, did he?”

“Look at the perks,” said Wendell. “A mansion, a suburban Washington condominium, a yacht, and a Rolls Royce. The man liked the high life.”

Madge was standing there, waiting to take my order. “I’ll have the health-food special,” I said. “Two over easy, three slices of bacon, a couple of waffles, and a cup of coffee, cream and sugar.”

“You’re feeling good about the wrong thing,” muttered Madge, as she jotted down the order on her pad.

“What’s that?” said Wendell.

“Read the rest of the story,” she said. She pointed with her pencil to the middle of the page. The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office. I know I will forfeit my reputation, my worldly possessions –and, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. I can't undo what I have done, but I can atone. I'm almost 65 years old and I enter the twilight of my life. I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends, and I will.

“It’s just part of the plea agreement,” scoffed Wendell. “He had to show contrition.”

“Oh, for God’s sake. Don’t be such a damned cynic, Wendell,” she snapped. “Yes, the guy betrayed everybody who ever voted for him. And yes, that’s your money and mine he was pissing away. There’s no excuse for that. He deserves his punishment. But he looked at himself, in front of all of us, and said he was ashamed of what he saw. And then he promised to do something about it: ‘I can’t undo what I have done, but I can atone.’”

“So what’s your point?” he asked.

“You’re always griping about Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush. How they never admit they’ve made a mistake. How everybody acts as if Bush is such a he-man because he never looks back, never admits he was wrong, and never says he’s sorry.”

“Yeah. So?”

“So now you’ve got a guy who was a Navy fighter pilot, had medals saying he was a hero, turned into a crook and a liar—and has finally become a real man. You ought to appreciate one when you see one.”

“Madge,” I said, “could you make that flapjacks instead of waffles? And add some biscuits and gravy on the side?”
© Tony Russell, 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

“Deserting a Sinking Ship”

Washington, Nov. 28 –

Reports from the Potomac basin today indicate that the Presidential yacht is taking on water at an alarming rate. Despite administration efforts to spin water overboard, the ship is said to be in danger of capsizing and going to the bottom.

The yacht suffered major damage during Hurricane Katrina, although nautical experts say that hairline cracks had already been detected below the ship’s water line. Efforts to repair the craft in the hurricane’s aftermath were hampered by aides’ inability to get the President’s attention for five days while damage worsened. The President was reportedly riding his bicycle at the time.

Stories of the vessel’s grave condition have gained added credibility from accounts of rats racing to leave the craft, squealing and nipping at each other in their frenzied haste to abandon ship. Republican politicians, who were partying on the ship at the time it ran into foul weather, are increasingly alarmed at the vessel’s condition. Old hands Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Wilkerson, who served aboard when the current captain’s father was at the helm, jumped ship in the past few weeks.

Republican Jerry Kilgore, locked in a neck-and-neck contest with Tim Kaine in the Virginia gubernatorial race, called Mr. Bush in for a last-minute joint appearance in hopes of giving his campaign a boost. He lost by a stunning six percentage points. Commentators are unable to account for the sudden shift in voter sentiment. It is reported, however, that the results sprang another leak in the vessel’s hull.

Subsequently, Senator Rick Santorum, trailing his challenger by sixteen points in recent polls, was unable to rearrange his schedule to appear with Mr. Bush during the President’s recent trip to Pennsylvania.

Eyewitnesses say that ropes mooring the craft are so crowded with panicky rats biting and infighting that the ropes are slick with blood and hazardous to cross. Several rats have been knocked off and apparently drowned; others are expected to fall now that Patrick Fitzgerald has convened a new grand jury.

Unconfirmed reports describe an exodus of huge rats with a purplish hue to their turncoats. These so-called Democ rats took up lodging on the Presidential ship in fair weather, voting for a series of Presidential measures, including tax cuts for the wealthy, the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and the bankruptcy bill. Almost all are said to have fled the ship now, and are attempting to mingle with their brethren and sisters who had stayed ashore.

© Tony Russell, 2005

Monday, November 21, 2005

“Behind Dick Cheney’s Back”

The guy sitting next to me looked up from his newspaper. “Did you see this?” he asked. “Scooter Libby was indicted on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.”

“Yeah, I heard about it on the radio before I left work,” I said.

“It’s just hard to believe, isn’t it?” he said, with a note of lingering surprise.

“What do you mean?”

“You know. That the Vice President’s Chief of Staff—the guy who had such a reputation for loyalty and dedication to the Vice President—would do something like this behind Dick Cheney’s back.”

“I’m not sure where you’re going with this,” I said.

“Well, he’s supposed to be doing what the Vice President wants him to, isn’t he? I mean, he’s the Veep’s right-hand man, his go-to guy.”

“Uh huh?”

“But instead, here he is, heading off on his own, just completely out of control. Tying up the office phones calling journalists to talk about Joe Wilson’s wife, using precious work time to try to get revenge on someone who’d attacked the administration’s credibility on that Niger yellowcake thing.”

“He seems to have been pretty busy,” I admitted.

“God, Dick Cheney must feel so betrayed,” he mused. “Counting on Scooter Libby, and Libby pulls a stunt like this.”

“What in the world could have motivated him?” I wondered.

“He must have just lost it,” the guy theorized. “It’s so out of character for him. He worked like a dog for Cheney, always carrying out his instructions with such zeal and thoroughness, maybe he just got carried away. It happens.”

“How do you suppose he kept it a secret from the Vice President?” I wondered.

“That’s really the sad part, isn’t it?” said the guy. “Imagine trying to hide something like that from a boss who trusted you with everything. They were so close that people called Scooter Cheney’s ‘alter ego.’ Cheney has to be devastated, to discover that Libby was doing all those rotten things and keeping him in the dark.”

“You’d think Libby would have ‘fessed up to his boss at some point.”

“You would, but I guess he was just too ashamed.”

“How’s Cheney taking it?” I asked.

“Hard to say. According to the paper, he put out a statement that he had accepted Libby’s resignation ‘with deep regret.’”

“That was generous of him.”

“You know Dick Cheney. He’s not a vindictive man.”

© Tony Russell, 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

“Inflammatory Rhetoric of the Most Violent Kind”

Leaders from both political parties have joined together to denounce Sen. Harry Reid’s statement that President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney should apologize for the actions of their aides. Both Scooter Libby and Karl Rove have been implicated in efforts to silence opponents of the administration’s covert plan to pull the nation into war in Iraq.

“This is outrageous!” said Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) of Reid’s statement. “It’s inflammatory rhetoric of the most violent kind.”

“Extremist positions of this type are precisely what have cost Democrats any credibility on national security issues,” added Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn).

Reid’s bare-knuckled assault on the administration was hastily rejected by leading Democrats as well. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), frequently mentioned as a potential Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, issued a statement saying, “The administration can be faulted for not sending in enough troops to do the job in invading Iraq, and for not having a plan in place for the resulting occupation, but as Americans, we can all agree that our brave men and women, living and dead, who fought so valiantly against Iraqi forces, living and dead, deserve our full support.”

In a veiled reference to her husband’s tenure in the White House, Sen. Clinton said, “My husband and I still recall the civility and evenhandedness with which the special prosecutor and his staff treated us in our own difficulties. It is unthinkable that we would not extend President Bush and his staff the same courtesy and respect.”

Sen. Reid defended his remarks. “I understand that asking for an apology is really bringing out the big guns, but I believe, given the circumstances, it is not inappropriate. We are a nation of law and reason, and even something as extreme as a call for an apology can be justified in some situations.”

Opponents of the war were heartened by Reid’s stand. “It’s this kind of tough, hard-nosed behavior that has been lacking for so long in Congress,” said a spokesperson for “It’s about time somebody called the administration to account. Hopefully, Sen. Reid’s forceful leadership on this issue will inspire other Democrats to take up the fight.”

Republicans, who led impeachment proceedings against Pres. Clinton for having a blowjob in the Oval Office, rejected Reid’s explanation. “Clinton’s behavior struck at the very heart of the Presidency,” said Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. “The actions of a few aides, taken in the context of their patriotic fervor to defend our country, pale by comparison.”

Since the Bush administration plunged the nation into war in Iraq, over 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died, with no end in sight. An estimated 42,000 Iraqis have died as well, many of them women and children. Thousands more have been wounded. Many have been tortured. It is now clear that the administration used discredited, unreliable, and even forged evidence to make the case for war. At the same time the President was publicly saying he hadn’t made up his mind whether to go to war, he had already told the Saudi ambassador privately that war was in the works. Plans were coordinated with Britain, the main U.S. partner in the adventure, and the head of Britain’s intelligence reported to the British cabinet that “intelligence was being fixed” around the push for war. Meanwhile, the administration secretly diverted $700,000,000 intended for the war in Afghanistan to preparations for an Iraqi war, concealing the spending from Congress. The U.S. budget is deep in red ink, and programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are being slashed to help cut the deficit.

Republicans have called upon Sen. Reid to apologize for calling for an apology.

© Tony Russell, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

“Out of Gas”

We were off on the side of the road, hoping somebody with a gas can would stop. “If we had to run out of gas, this is a great place to do it!” I said enthusiastically. “I’ve seen a six-point buck and an eight-point buck already, and we’ve only been here a little over an hour.”

Patty was seething. “Ace, I pointed out four exits back that the gas was low. I reminded you three exits back. I told you two exits back we were almost on empty. Right before the last exit I told you the gas gauge was in the red.”

“Whoa there, Patty,” I said. “Let’s not play the blame game. Who could have known that you can go less than thirty miles when the gauge shows empty? They just don’t make ‘em the way they used to.”

“That’s what you said the last time we ran out of gas,” she complained. “And the time before that. And the time before that.”

“These things happen,” I said. “Nobody could have predicted it.”

“I hope you’re happy that we’re missing my baby sister’s wedding,” she said bitterly.

“Hey,” I joked, “if we miss this one, we’ll just catch Louellen the next time around.”

“She’s only been married twice,” hissed Patty. “At least she’s got sense enough to know when she’s made a mistake. Unlike some people I know.”

“Hey, wait just a minute there,” I said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Ace,” she said, “you remind me of George Bush.”

“Well, it’s about time you had something nice to say about me,” I said with relief.

“He gets a briefing that al Qaeda has a plot cooking to use domestic airplanes in a terrorist attack, and he decides to stay on vacation and chop some more wood. Then, when they level the World Trade Center, he’s all outraged innocence. Taken completely by surprise.

“He ignores warnings from the State Department and people like Senator Byrd that he needs to have a plan in place for managing Iraq once we’ve conquered it, and then he skips ahead to get a war going in time for the election. When everything turns to chaos—looting, power and water supplies cut off to huge parts of the country, security nonexistent—he acts as if it was inevitable.

“He ignores the almost-unanimous warnings of scientists that our auto emissions and old power plants are major contributors to the greenhouse effect, and fights to let them both keep spewing out pollution. Then when the warm ocean turns mild hurricanes into killers, he claims they’re acts of God.

“He cuts funding to repair levies in New Orleans, lets his developer buddies drain the marshes that acted as natural buffer zones, guts the Federal Emergency Management Agency of its professionals and turns it over to incompetent cronies, ignores warnings of what would happen if a major hurricane should hit, and decides to hang out for another five days of vacation when the city is drowning and people are dying.”

“What are you saying here, Patty?” I asked. “That the guy’s unlucky, or what?”

She cut loose with some language which, frankly, I found shocking. “Patty,” I said, “your mother raised you better than that.”

She glared at me. “’Moron’ is not a four-letter word.”

“Look, Patty,” I said, “cut me some slack. If you’re going to make me out to be George Bush, how about your being a little more like Harriet Miers, and a lot less like Cindy Sheehan?”

“Ace,” she said, “I’d cut my tongue out with a rusty jackknife before I’d tell you you’re the most brilliant man I’ve ever known.”

“Wait a minute,” I protested. “If Harriet Miers can do it, what’s your problem?”

© Tony Russell, 2005