Monday, February 27, 2006

“Dem Leaders Jubilant”


Washington, Feb. 15 –

Party leaders were jubilant this evening when Cincinnati attorney Paul Hackett announced he was withdrawing from the Democratic primary for the Ohio senatorial race. Hackett, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve who just recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, had drawn enormous grassroots support from voters across the political spectrum. Polls showed him defeating incumbent Republican Michael DeWine by a comfortable margin, a prospect that clearly frightened Democratic Party elders.

Hackett first drew national attention when he ran an unexpectedly strong campaign against Republican Jean Schmidt in the heavily gerrymandered 2nd District in Ohio—one of the most conservative areas in the United States—losing by only three and a half percentage points in what had been expected to be a Republican shoo-in.

During that campaign, Hackett had blasted Republican leaders as “bullies” who liked to talk tough, but got offended when somebody swung back. He described President Bush and Vice-President Cheney as “chicken hawks,” and called Bush’s famous “Bring ‘em on” comment to Iraqi insurgents as “the most incredibly stupid comment I’ve ever heard a president of the United States make. He cheered on the enemy.”

In addition to his willingness to mix it up with Republicans, Hackett also blistered the “me-too” approach top Democrats have taken on Iraq, charging that the Dems’ call for more troops in Iraq was “not grounded in reality.” Why not just admit that Iraq is going to fall apart, whether we leave tomorrow or five years from tomorrow, he had asked, and save a lot of lives, pain, and suffering by bringing everybody home now.

Such comments hardly endeared him to Democratic Party leaders, who have worked hard to show they were tough on the national security issue by “joining the parade over the cliff,” as one party critic put it.

“Hackett was a Democratic Party nightmare,” admitted a veteran political observer. “Young, tough, energetic, connected with blue collar workers, openly opposed to the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq…. If you dreamed up a candidate who was the exact opposite of current Democratic senators, it would have looked a lot like Hackett. He never would have fit in.”

Party bigwigs were disturbed by the meteoric rise of Hackett, whose political career has been aborted after just eleven months. “It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had started by running for the local school board or county executive committee and then worked his way up over the next few decades,” complained one official. “We have a guy already lined up for the senatorial race who’s been paying his dues for thirty years.”

Democratic leaders had been appalled at the prospects of a contested primary. “Can you imagine allowing voters a real choice?” asked one Washington insider. “Nobody wanted to get into that scenario, as you can well imagine.”

Said another, “He was a fresh voice. People who had despaired of politics-as-usual were coming back into the process. He brought enormous enthusiasm and momentum to the campaign. It’s a relief to see him go.”

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, February 23, 2006

“Executive Privilege”

Given the current polarization of politics in the United States, it’s no longer possible to offer an analysis of issues that satisfies both Bush administration backers and the administration’s critics. Consequently, Of Principalities and Powers—following the lead of other media—has been forced to run competing versions of events in order to satisfy readers from both camps. Today’s topic is “executive privilege.”

Administration’s Scenario

Mr. Bush: “What have you got for me on those e-mails the special prosecutor is asking for, Al?”

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: “Nothing has changed, sir. I would love to turn them over to Mr. Fitzgerald, but we simply can’t. It’s a matter of executive privilege.”

Mr. Bush: “Surely we can find some way around that, Al. Those e-mails would prove conclusively that Vice President Cheney, his top aides, and other officials here in the White House had nothing to do with leaking Valerie Plame’s secret identity as a CIA operative.”

AG: “I know they would, sir, but our hands are tied.”

Mr. Bush: “Doggone it, Al, we have nothing to hide. We’ve got to cooperate with the special prosecutor any way we can. I’m firmly committed to running the most open and accessible presidency possible.”

AG: “Of course you are, sir, and I wish there was a way around this executive privilege thing.”

Mr. Bush: “Well somebody leaked her identity. That information didn’t just materialize out of thin air. Can’t we find out who did it?”

AG: “We’ve tried, sir. Believe me, we’ve tried. We’ve left no stone unturned, and we haven’t a clue. Nobody knows a thing about it.”

Mr. Bush: “Al, I can’t tell you how much it bothers me to have people thinking this administration would do anything so underhanded and vindictive as to expose a CIA agent and her contacts just to get back at her husband for saying we had our facts wrong when we were assembling the case for attacking Iraq. I mean, that would be totally despicable!”

AG: “It bothers all of us, sir. When people are alleging unfairly that the documents incriminate the Vice President, Mr. Rove, and your other top advisors, we would love to be able to set them straight.”

Mr. Bush: “Why can’t we, Al? Why don’t we just waive executive privilege in this case and give them the darned things?”

AG: “It’s not just executive privilege, sir. There are national security concerns. The e-mails referring to Valerie Plame also contain classified intelligence information about Iraq. Believe me, I went over every e-mail related to Ms. Plame-Wilson, and every single one Mr. Fitzgerald is seeking also contains classified material.”

Mr. Bush: “Couldn’t we just redact or black out the classified parts, leaving the parts referring to Ms. Plame unedited? That would satisfy security concerns and clear the Vice President once and for all.”

AG: “That a great idea, sir! Why didn’t I think of that? Let me just run that by my staff, to make sure there are no legal problems, and I’ll get right back to you.”

Mr. Bush: “Be sure you strike any vulgarities or obscenities that might have slipped out in the heat of the moment as well, Al. The public needs to be protected from anything offensive.

AG: “Of course, sir. I’ll see to it.”

Critics’ Scenario

Mr. Bush: “What have you got for me on those e-mails the special prosecutor is asking for, Al?”

AG: “It looks as if we found them all, sir. He hasn’t asked for anything yet that we didn’t either shred, delete, or withhold.”

Mr. Bush: “Good job, Al. I know it took you and your staff two weeks of round-the-clock work to comb through all that stuff and destroy the incriminating material, or squirrel it away under a claim of ‘executive privilege.’”

AG: “Well, you do what you’ve gotta do. If Fitzgerald had gotten hold of those e-mails, half the administration would have been impeached, and their staff hauled up on criminal charges.”

Mr. Bush: “I’m still worried about that time in ’04 when Cheney told federal prosecutors that neither he nor any of his senior aides had any involvement in revealing Wilson’s wife’s undercover CIA status to reporters. To top that off, he claimed that no one in his office had attempted to discredit her husband for criticizing our pre-war Iraq intelligence. I’m afraid that stuff’s too easy to disprove, and will come back to bite us.”

AG: “It’s not really a problem, sir. He didn’t testify under oath or under penalty of perjury, so there are no real consequences for the lies.”

Mr. Bush: “Well, that’s one weight off of my shoulders. Have you heard anything new from Fitzgerald?”

AG: “I’m afraid so. He sent an official letter to Libby’s defense team saying, and I quote, ‘In an abundance of caution, we advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.’"

Mr. Bush: “Okay, so he’s on to us. He’s learned we’re withholding stuff from him. Big deal. What’s he gonna do about it?”

AG: “We’ll claim the usual—executive privilege, national security concerns, et cetera. It worked pretty well for Nixon. If it hadn’t been for those damned tapes, he’d have finished out his term in style. I’m not sure there’s anything Fitzgerald can do about it, without enormous pressure from the public and Congress. And we’re not going to get any pressure from this Congress.”

Mr. Bush: “That damned hothead Cheney! If he didn’t go off half-cocked all the time, life would be a hell of a lot easier. I spend half my time cleaning up after his messes.”

AG [Jokingly]” “Speaking of going off half-cocked….”

[Both men laugh, in spite of themselves.]

Mr. Bush: “Listen, I don’t care what Fitzgerald does or says. If it looks like he’s closing in, burn every shred of evidence, drench the whole lot with acid, bury the remains in a nuclear waste repository, and dare him to do anything about it. You didn’t hear me say that, and I want no minutes taken of this meeting. Do I make myself clear?”

AG: “Of course, sir. I’ll see to it.”

There you have it, reader—two conflicting views. Which appears more plausible to you? You decide!

© Tony Russell, 2006

Monday, February 20, 2006

“Whether I Feel Like It or Not”


Big Springs, Feb. 14 -

In a survey taken three days after Vice President Dick Cheney’s hunting accident, bird hunters nationwide have scoffed at claims by Cheney advisor Mary Matalin that the Vice President “was not careless or incautious and did not violate any of the rules” when he shot another hunter in his party on a Texas ranch.

“First off,” said Bud Reaser, an Arizona real estate developer, “Harry Whittington may be a tough old bird, but it’s a cardinal rule that you don’t wound a bird and then just keep on hunting. You find the crippled bird and wring its neck.”

Cheney aides insist, however, that the Vice President and a pair of Secret Service men accompanying him spent thirty minutes trampling over every inch of terrain within a fifty-yard radius of where Whittington went down, but were unable to locate the wounded lawyer. “This was rough, brushy cover,” said one of the Secret Service agents. “A crippled old bird like that can conceal himself in spots you wouldn’t believe—just the slightest dip in the ground.”

Earl Nutter, a partner in an Ohio accounting firm, also found fault with the Vice President’s conduct. Said Nutter, “Cheney and his friends failed to discharge a primary obligation of hunters—to dispose of their empties properly. They should have picked up the aluminum cans from their empty six-packs, crushed them, and saved them for recycling. They also should have segregated the beer cans and the empty whiskey bottles, as recycling centers refuse to take mixed materials like that.”

Numerous hunters faulted the Vice President for his long delay in notifying authorities of the shooting. Whittington was reportedly wounded at “about 5:30” on a Saturday evening, and Cheney was not available to meet with officials until fourteen hours later. “Teddy Kennedy only waited six hours to report at Chappaquiddick,” said Nick Rothman, COO of an Indiana turf business.

“I realize that Cheney is considerably older than Kennedy was then,” Rothman continued. “His metabolism is slower, and it takes longer for that stuff to clear out of his system, but fourteen hours is still really excessive. Whenever I shoot a hunting partner, I make it a rule of thumb to check in with the police within ten hours, whether I feel like it or not.”

Despite a rising chorus of protest, however, the Vice President—who was not responsible for any misjudgments about Iraq’s presumed possession of weapons of mass destruction, or errors in asserting a connection between September 11 and Saddam Hussein, or mistakes in claiming Iraq was on the verge of having nuclear capability, or for orchestrating the outing of Valerie Plame—appears not to have been responsible for the Whittington shooting either.

It remains to be seen whether Whittington will be charged in the incident.

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, February 16, 2006

“A Man I Want by My Side”


Washington, DC, Feb. 16 –

Visibly angered, White House press secretary Scott McClellan responded “No comment” to a reporter’s inquiry about rumors that prominent Republican attorney Harry Whittington may have been wounded by friendly fire.

Questions about the incident have arisen just four days after the White House held a special Sunday press conference to announce that Whittington and Vice President Dick Cheney had been ambushed by “a large force of illegal aliens” while on routine patrol early Saturday evening at a ranch in Texas owned by wealthy Republican lobbyist Katharine Armstrong.

According to press releases distributed at the Sunday conference, the Land Rover in which Cheney and Whittington were riding was disabled by a mortar round during the attack, and Whittington was wounded in numerous parts of his body by shrapnel.

In complete disregard of his own safety, the releases said, Cheney pulled Whittington from the burning vehicle, dragged him to the shelter of a nearby golf bunker while under heavy fire, commandeered an unarmored golf cart, and raced for help.

“Vice President Cheney’s quick action and courage under fire no doubt saved Harry Whittington’s life,” McClellan had said on Sunday. “He is a true American hero. As with Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman before him, his story is a reminder that this administration will stop at nothing in its efforts to win the global war against terrorism.”

“The President and Vice President have both sworn that they will work tirelessly to defeat terrorism. They will not rest until that war is won and Osama bin Laden is brought to justice for his role in the scurrilous attack on September 11,” McClellan had added. “Vice President Cheney’s patrol in Texas demonstrates his desire to share the risks and dangers of our brave forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and—we anticipate—in Iran. And maybe Syria.”

Cheney’s exploits at the Armstrong ranch had promised to put quietus, once and for all, to accusations that he was a “chicken hawk” for seeking and receiving a reported five separate deferments to avoid military service during the Vietnam era. Critics had charged that Cheney—an avid duck, quail, pheasant, and dove hunter—only enjoyed shooting at things that couldn’t shoot back.

On Sunday, looking tanned and fit after his most recent month-long patrol in Texas, President Bush had basked in the reflected glory of his Vice President’s derring-do. “This is the Dick Cheney I’ve always known and admired,” said the President, “a man I want by my side when the going gets tough.”

Harry Whittington, who had been at the Vice President’s side on Saturday evening, was unavailable for comment.

© Tony Russell, 2006

Monday, February 13, 2006

“Job Application Form”


Your name:___________________________ Soc. Sec. No.:______________________

Nickname given to you by the President: ______________________________________

Prep school attended:______________________ College attended:_________________

College club or fraternity:__________________ Golf handicap:_______

1. List all position(s) for which you are applying (e.g., Federal Emergency Management Agency, Atomic Energy Commission, Civil Rights Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Board of Corporation for Public Broadcasting, etc.) _________________


2. Describe any experience, training, or academic preparation you have for any of these positions. (Please note that prior experience or training, while not necessarily a disqualifying factor, may be weighed as a negative consideration.)__________________


3. How do you know the President? Please be specific—e.g., former roommate, college chum, former drinking buddy, member of the Bush Family retinue, friend of a friend, etc. Be precise in your answers. Do not, for example, claim you were a former roommate of the President if you actually lived down the hall.
: ______________________________________________________________________


4. Are you willing to ignore evaluations and recommendations from experts and professionals in your agency, and to base decisions solely on political expediency, as determined by Karl Rove or his designee? Circle one: Yes No

5. Are you willing to conceal information from Congress and the public as needed? (Examples: actual cost of Medicare benefits, absence of weapons of mass destruction, minutes of meetings with oil company executives to discuss energy policy, etc.)
Circle one: Yes No

6. What are your Party credentials? (Examples: former member of Young Republicans, former member of county or state executive committee, current officeholder, etc.)


7. Do you have the technology skills to delete and destroy such e-mails, letters, logs, files, etc., as might be demanded by prosecutors when your agency is under investigation? Circle one: Yes No

8 Have you been born again, or are you willing to be? Circle one: Yes No

9. In the past ten years, how many times have you raised or personally contributed $100,000 or more to the President’s political campaigns? Circle one:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

10. If you have not already taken an oath of fealty to President Bush and the Bush Family, are you prepared to do so at this time? ______ If your answer is ‘Yes,’ please kneel and repeat the oath after me; you may rise once your shoulder has been tapped with the flat of the sword.

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, February 09, 2006

“Texas Lethal Injection Massacre”

Movie Review: Texas Lethal Injection Massacre

This Grade B horror show has become a cult classic. Gore and corpses abound as a seemingly endless parade of inmates are strapped to gurneys and meet their fate. The movie seems to have no purpose other than to disgust the viewer with a series of pointless executions, each shown in gruesome detail. As Roger Ebert wrote about the film’s obvious prototype, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, “No motivation, no background, no speculation on causes is evident anywhere in the film. It's simply an exercise in terror.”

But perhaps the point was to advance the career of the male lead, who was catapulted to stardom by the film. The star is a young George Bush, playing governor of Texas in a role later reprised, with less success, by Rick Perry in TLIM 2.

Bush’s performance lacks heart and nuance. We see him go through the motions of reviewing each capital case, but his thoughts appear to be elsewhere. It’s almost as if he finds reading the anguished case histories of many of the prisoners both laborious and boring. The film aborts the drama inherent in a series of Death Row appeals, once we catch on that nobody ever receives clemency. And yet, in its own appalling way, the movie is disturbingly effective. Its oddball genius is that Bush’s seeming detachment from the mayhem he supervises renders it almost normal.

Although Bush’s limitations in this role are painfully obvious, Texas Lethal Injection Massacre served as a vehicle to jump-start his career, thanks to a clever, well-bankrolled promotional campaign. Karl Rove, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, has been widely credited with arranging for favorable reviews. The two collaborated again on the blockbuster hit The White House, a complex war/spy/adventure epic featuring Bush in the role of Commander in Chief.

The rest of the casting is equally lackluster, including a monotonous series of look-alike executees, almost all of whom appear to be low-income black and Hispanic males. A nod is made toward variation with the execution of several juveniles, some mentally handicapped prisoners, and a few women—most notably, one great-grandmother.

Texas Lethal Injection Massacre is devoid of the titillating sex featured in many films of this genre, but earned a “PG-13” rating for its occasional use of profanity. The deaths of one hundred and forty-seven inmates, shown in excruciating detail, were not deemed violent for rating purposes, since reviewers considered these executions to be the norm in Texas.

Texas Lethal Injection Massacre’s success at the box office only serves to validate Ebert’s earlier conclusion: “Horror and exploitation films almost always turn a profit if they're brought in at the right price. So they provide a good starting place for ambitious would-be filmmakers who can't get more conventional projects off the ground."

© Tony Russell, 2006

Monday, February 06, 2006

“Birds of a Feather”

At his weekly press conference this morning, celebrity lobbyist Jack Abramoff brushed aside journalists’ requests for photos purportedly showing him shaking President Bush’s hand, and in other shots smiling and embracing the President.

“I hug and shake hands with thousands of people,” Abramoff said. “Generally, there’s a long line of people waiting to be photographed with me, and we run them through in ten-second intervals. We call them ‘grip-and-grin’ sessions. I don’t see any point to digging them out of some huge file when they’re essentially meaningless.”

People who have seen the photos say that the background appears in some instances to be the Oval Office, and in other cases various White House meeting rooms. Abramoff explained that it is not uncommon for Mr. Bush to wander into the Oval Office or pop into a meeting for a few minutes. “They’re just staff-level meetings,” he said. “No big deal.”

Asked about the inscription “For the best administration money can buy” on several of the photos, Abramoff told reporters that the phrase was his lobbying firm’s mission statement. “Let the good times roll,” which appears on several other photos, is his personal mantra, he said.

“It’s not as if the inscriptions on Mr. Bush’s photos are something out of the ordinary,” he claimed. “Half the members of the Cabinet plus the majority of the Republican members of Congress have photos of themselves shaking my hand, with the same inscriptions.”

Abramoff, say legal experts, is reluctant to have photos of himself with Mr. Bush released while he is awaiting sentencing. Being associated with an administration guilty of torture, kidnapping, illegal wiretapping, and unlawful invasion could very well result in a harsher sentence, says Mark Spott, a veteran political crimes attorney. “Birds of a feather get plucked together,” he said.

© Tony Russell, 2006

Thursday, February 02, 2006

“This Is That Day”

“What’s that odd clicking noise on our phone?” I asked as I hung up.

“I don’t know,” said Patty. “It started the day after you wrote that column about people who are saying the President should be impeached for violating free speech and privacy rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

“Was that about the same time my e-mail started acting funny?” I asked.

“Now that you mention it, I believe it was,” she said.

“Well, never mind,” I said. “I think I’ll go out and rent a movie and then pick up a good biography at the library. That last one I read, on Osama bin Laden, was fascinating.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” she said. “Something funny happened at both those places when I went in last week. The clerk at Blockbusters fainted when I handed her our card, and the librarian turned pale and shook like a leaf when I started to check out my books.”

“When was that?” I wondered.

“She thought a minute. “It was the same day you got the letter from the IRS saying you needed to come in for an audit,” she said.

“Was that right after the night somebody broke into my therapist’s office and rifled my files?” I queried.

“They probably found out you’re paranoid,” joked Patty. “But I believe you’re right about the day. That stands out in my memory because I got into an argument with our mailman after I complained that somebody has been opening half the mail he delivers.”

“Are you positive?” I asked. “Because I thought it was the day all our financial records temporarily disappeared at the credit union.”

“No, that was the next day,” she said. “I’m sure of it, because that was the same day those nice men from the telephone company came to inspect our phone service, and the dogs kept barking at them and wouldn’t shut up.”

“You’re right,” I said, snapping my fingers. “I remember now. That was the day the FBI came into the office for some kind of hush-hush interview with my editor.”

“Could you talk a little louder, Ace!” she yelled. “It’s hard to hear you with that helicopter hovering overhead!”

“They must be med-evacing somebody in the neighborhood,” I offered.

“I don’t think so,” she said, looking out the window. “It must be one of the news channels, because a man is leaning out of the copter with a camera.”

© Tony Russell, 2006