Monday, September 10, 2007

"With a Harvard MBA"

Of Principalities and Powers ~ “With a Harvard MBA”

For years the GOP has told the public sector that it needs to operate like a business. Now, for the first time ever, we have a president with an MBA from Harvard Business School. After more than six years of watching the administration in action, it is easy to envision the following scenario in the White House.

“Good morning, James. Ready to take my breakfast order?”

“Certainly, sir. What would you like?”

“Let’s start off with some orange juice.”

“I’m afraid we don’t have any orange juice, sir, and aren’t likely to have some for at least six months.”

“Six months! Why’s that!”

“We ordered it at the same time we ordered body armor for the troops, sir. I’ll try to get them to rush your orange juice.”

“Can’t you call them and tell them it’s an emergency?”

“That’s a possibility. We ordered through an old college chum of yours. In an emergency, we can probably get through to him in three or four days.”

“Just let me have apple juice this morning, then.”

“All right, sir, but it’s a little pricey.”

“Pricey? How much does it cost?”

“Eighteen thousand dollars a glass.”

“Eighteen thousand dollars! How can apple juice cost eighteen thousand dollars a glass?”

“I took the liberty of asking that myself, sir. Our supplier has the same kind of contract we’ve used with Halliburton. It’s a cost-plus contract, where he’s guaranteed a profit percentage, and the more he runs up the cost, the more money he makes. He dumps apple juice down the drain as fast as it comes in, just to inflate the price.”

“What! I’m going to see that so-and-so in court!”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible, sir. Under the terms of the standard contract, he’s untouchable. He has complete immunity from liability for misconduct, as well as immunity from prosecution for crimes he or any member of his staff might commit in carrying out their contract.”

“Give me a glass anyway. I’m thirsty.”

“If you say so, sir, but that will run us over our food budget for September, and it’s only the 9th of the month.”

“No problem. Just list it as an off-budget expense. If we can run a trillion dollar war off-budget, a glass of apple juice ought to be a snap. [President gulps down apple juice.] After breakfast, I’m going to refer this matter to the Consumer Protection Division of the Justice Department.”

“Very well, sir, but I’m afraid it won’t do any good.”

“Why’s that?”

“In keeping with your policy of appointing people who oppose the laws they’re supposed to be enforcing, the Consumer Protection Division simply doesn’t pursue cases by consumers against corporations, just as the Civil Rights Division drags its heels on enforcing civil rights, and the Environmental Protection agency works to undermine legislation protecting the environment.”

“Let me talk to them anyway. This is outrageous! Get me a phone.”

“Here it is, sir. [Hands president the phone.] Good luck with that.”

[President dials.] “Hello, thank you for calling the Justice Department. You have reached our automated answering service. Please listen carefully to the following menu. You may enter a number at any time. If you are calling to submit your resignation, press 1. If you are scheduling a visit to serve a subpoena, press 2. If you are calling for any other reason, press 3. [President punches 3.] All of our representatives are busy handling other calls right now. Calls are answered in the order in which they are received. Your call is important to us. Please hold, and a representative will be with you as soon as possible. [Theme from ‘Gunsmoke’ plays over and over as president sits, holding phone to his ear.]”

© Tony Russell, 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007

“Chinese in Less Than Thirty Days”

Of Principalities and Powers ~ “Chinese in Less Than Thirty Days”

Washington, September 6 -
At a joint press conference held in the White House today, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, flanked by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NCAA President Myles Brand, announced a major new initiative to promote language skills.

Secretary Spellings said, “Historically, America’s students have lagged far behind the rest of the world in learning foreign languages. Indeed, our inability to read or comprehend what the rest of the world is saying may be an important factor in why we have so much trouble valuing other people’s viewpoints and cultures.

“Therefore, it gives me great pride to announce that, starting with the 2008 season, all radio and TV coverage of both NFL and NCAA football will be available only in Spanish, French, Russian, or Chinese.”

Secretary Spellings explained that, given the vast viewership of these contests, the passionate involvement of their listeners and viewers, and the staggering repetitiveness of the descriptions and accounts of the games, they present an almost ideal forum for teaching language skills.

“Consider this,” she said. “If you watch fifteen hours of football a week for twenty weeks—and our research shows that is a low figure for the typical fan—how many times will you hear a broadcaster say, ‘He is some kind of player’? According to our statisticians, at least 1,200 repetitions—enough for even the slowest learner to pick up the phrase. Soon, in millions of bars and living rooms all over the United States, one viewer with his eyes glued to the set will be telling another, ‘Él es un tipo de jugador,’ without even thinking about it. At any level.”

She added, “Research shows that 95% of football coverage—excluding the names of players, coaches, and products advertised on the shows—can be mastered with a vocabulary of 400 words or less and fewer than 20 phrases. (‘That tackle saved a touchdown.’ [‘Ce tacle a sauvé un atterrissage.’] ‘The try for extra point is good.’ [‘El intento de el punto suplementario está bien.’] ‘He’s brought down after a one-yard gain.’ [‘Il est déprimé après une augmentation d'une yard.’] ‘So-and-so drops back to pass. Here comes the blitz.’ [‘Он роняет, чтобы пройти. Здесь прибывает блиц.’ Etc.) We expect the normal fan to be football fluent in French, Spanish, Chinese, whatever, in less than thirty days.”

President Brand pointed out that the language benefits conferred by watching football, while seemingly confined to a minor area of life, would actually meet up to 90% of the daily conversational needs of the typical football fan. The real challenge, he said, would be to find a way to extend those benefits to women and to active adults of both genders.

In the question-and-answer session which followed, Commissioner Goodell acknowledged that commercial breaks, which take up approximately 60% of air time during game coverage, will continue to be in English. “But we still think that an hour and a half’s worth of language instruction in a three and a half hour broadcast is a viable educational tool.”

When another reporter asked if using televised games to overcome educational deficiencies was a revolutionary new concept, the Secretary pointed to groundbreaking work by Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Captain Kangaroo.

© Tony Russell, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"That Old Black Magic"

I was in one of my usual haunts after work when I overheard two guys talking.

“Get outa here, Ferdy,” laughed one. “No way you can get him to do that!”

“Oh thou of little faith,” scoffed Ferdy. “Listen, Beelzebubba. Remember when you said there was no way I could get him to push a tax cut shifting the load from the briefcases of the rich to the backs of the poor and middle class? Not only did he do it once, but I got him to go back and do it a second time! How do ya like them apples?”

“Shades of Adam and Eve,” said Beelzebubba. “You didn’t wear your snakeskin outfit, did you?”

“Hey, nothing fancy,” said Ferdy. “Just me and him, diablo á mano.” That got my attention, and I peeked around the corner of the booth. Nothing special about the two of them; they looked like dozens of other corporate lobbyists in the joint.

“Yeah, but that was when he was in tall cotton,” said Beelzebubba. “Anything went back then. After 9-11 he practically had a ‘Get into Hades Free’ card. Lie, torture, invade a country on excuses a grade school teacher would have laughed at. ‘Weapons of mass destruction.’ ‘Yellow cake uranium.’ ‘Our dog ate my homework.’ What’s the big deal? Anydevil could have done what you did back then.”

“Listen,” said Ferdy, “don’t make dark of my accomplishments. I was on fire back then, and I’ve still got the spark.” He snapped his fingers and began to croon, “That old black magic’s got him in my spell,/ That old black magic that I weave so well….” I had to admit, the guy had a hell of a voice.

“I still say you can’t get him to stiff Congress for another fifty billion dollars for the war in Iraq.”

Ferdy snorted. “Are you kidding? That’s fifty billion dollars on top of a supplemental bill for $147 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan that’s pending right now, plus $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 military budget.”

“Unholy smokes!” whistled Beelzebubba. He did some quick calculating. “That’s $657 billion. That’s a hell of a lot of money!”

Ferdy tried to look modest, but I could tell it just wasn’t in him.

“There’s no way he can pry that kind of money out of Congress,” persisted Beelzebubba. “Not with three-fourths of the country in favor of withdrawal. Not after voters sent a message in the last election that Iraq was an albatross hanging from the nation’s neck. Not when Democrats keep threatening to cut off funding for the war!”

Ferdy roared until his sides split. I hastily averted my eyes. “Democrats?” he wheezed. “Don’t make me laugh like that. I’ve got green pus oozing all over the booth. Listen, there’s a whole platoon of new imps who are making their bones with these donkeys. We’ve installed rubber spines in most of them, and the creatures bend whatever way we push them.”

“Rubber spines?”

“The newest operation. Rubber spines, forked tongues, and a flexible conscience—it’s the total package.”

“Hey, I’m impressed,” said Beelzebubba. “That was quick work!”

Ferdy rubbed his thumb back and forth over his first two fingers in a form of sign language that I happen to be able to interpret.

“Lord of Darkness,” swore Beelzebubba, ”the whole planet is simmering like a pot somebody left on the stove and forgot, and his country’s falling apart—bridges collapsing, flood walls caving in, rivers running wild, the weather going berserk. And you think you’re gonna get him to take money that could fix all that and pour it down that rat hole in Iraq?!”

“It’s even better than that. I’ve got this coordinated with our agents overseas,” said Ferdy. “At least half the money gets stolen, used for bribes, sucked up by contractors’ overcharges, or chalked up as obscene profits. Then a small part of the profits goes back into lobbying and campaign contributions in the States!”

“Sounds like a political version of a perpetual motion machine,” marveled Beelzebubba.

“Nah,” said Ferdy. “It doesn’t run by itself. You’ve got to keep pouring new cash into it.”

“The devil’s in the details,” agreed Beelzebubba. “Do you really think you can pull this off?”

“Just watch my smoke!” boasted Ferdy. He lit a match, and the smell of sulphur filled the air.

© Tony Russell, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

"A See-Through Blouse and a Leather Miniskirt"

“A See-Through Blouse and a Leather Miniskirt”

“It’s getting late, Stanley. What are you working on?”

“I’m ready to launch my campaign for the presidency, Irene. I thought I’d put together a list of the positions I’ve held all my life—the things that I’ve been most committed to.”

“That’s a wonderful idea. You can lay out your positions and tell voters this is what you are, who you’ve been, and who you’re going to continue to be. People will respect that, even those who disagree with some of your stands.”

“Don’t be silly, Irene! I’m making up a list for my handlers so we can compare my positions with what the party’s regulars expect. Then I can announce that I’ve had a change of heart on anything I need to switch.”

“Oh, Stanley! You wouldn’t abandon your opposition to the death penalty, would you?”

“I’m afraid so, honey. A willingness to kill people is practically a prerequisite for being president.”

“What about a woman’s right to choose? Surely you wouldn’t give that up?”

“Sorry, sweetheart, but I’m coming out for the sanctity of life.”

“Then you still oppose preemptive wars?”

“My base stays fighting mad, honey.”

”What’s all this talk about your base? I thought your base was God, our marriage, and your self—your values, your integrity.”

“People don’t care what I used to believe, Irene. They just want to know if I’m with them now. A candidate says his position has ‘evolved,’ or he’s had some kind of a conversion experience, and the true believers are okay with that.”

“That’s crazy talk, Stanley! People will see right through it. I can’t believe you think voters are that shallow or stupid!”

“Everybody tells me this is the way it’s done, Irene. You can be a Dennis Kucinich and never rise above single digits in the polls, or a John McCain, sinking under the weight of his support for the war. Or you can throw your convictions overboard as if they were lead weights, and start climbing to the top. Look at how well Willard Romney is doing.”

“People don’t expect heroism from a president, Stanley. Or nobility, or grandeur. Those things are nice if a president rises to an occasion, but they’re not expected. What people do expect, and deserve, is a generous spirit, decency, intelligence, trustworthiness, and compassion—not just a slogan, but the real thing. You know that. In fact, I’m quoting your own words back to you.”

“I hear what you’re saying, pumpkin. What you don’t understand is that the price tag of ambition is abandoning conviction.”

“Stanley, what would you say if I put on a see-through blouse and a leather miniskirt, and started peddling my body on 42nd Street?”

“There’s no need to do that, sweetheart; my fundraising is going really well. And you look just fine in that cocktail dress with those strands of pearls.”

“Just answer my question, Stanley.”

“I’d file for divorce. I didn’t marry a prostitute. What’s your point?”

© Tony Russell, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007


My neighbor Harold was squatting on his heels, talking at me, while I was under my truck, changing the oil. “Did you see that big sign Ralph put up in front of his house?” he asked.

“No, what’s it say?” I grunted, trying to loosen the drain bolt in the oil pan.

“’WIN THE WAR!’ in letters two feet high.”

“Do you suppose he’s getting frustrated?” I speculated. “Maybe he thinks the president needs a little prodding to get serious about winning this thing.”

“I believe he’s just flat-out delusional,” said Harold. “You can no more win a war on terrorism than you can a war against stupidity, or halitosis, or marital infidelity.”

“Maybe he’s just talking about the war in Iraq,” I suggested, digging my heels in and giving the socket wrench a mighty tug.

“In that case, I’m afraid he’s headin’ for a hurtin’,” said Harold.

“Who put this *#@$% thing on so tight?” I swore. “Hand me that hammer, will you? Why do you say he’s headin’ for a hurtin’?” I added.

“Come on, Ace,” he laughed. “You may not be much of a mechanic, but you’re not completely stupid. The chances of our winning the war in Iraq are about the same as my chances of finding a diamond in my coal shed.”

“How do you figure?” I said curiously, meanwhile giving the end of my wrench a tap with the hammer.

“Just add it up,” said Harold. “On this side you’ve got a worn-out group of invaders and a ton of mercenaries we call ‘private contractors.’ Their morale is bad and their attitude is worse. This side doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t understand the culture, despises the religion, disrespects the people, and doesn’t know who to trust. The Iraqi forces we’re supposed to be training to replace us are either AWOL half the time or secretly part of the resistance.

“This side left Iraqi weapons depots and storage facilities unsecured in the early days of the invasion, and the resistance has been well-supplied ever since. Plus, a big percentage of this side’s weaponry has been stolen and ended up in the resistance’s hands. This side disbanded the Iraqi security forces and created a huge pool of unemployed trained fighters for the resistance to draw on.

“The soldiers on this side have been fed one justification after another for the invasion, and all of the excuses have turned out to be bogus. Even the most patriotic are wondering why their lives are being squandered.

“The local people despise us for our arrogance and our ignorance, our itchy trigger fingers and our ineptitude. Conditions for them are constantly getting worse, not better—contaminated water, sick and dying babies, electricity only two hours a day, food shortages, gasoline shortages, huge unemployment, sectarian hatred enflamed, mosques and sacred sites destroyed, and over a million refugees just trying to survive. Iraq is plunging headfirst into chaos, and we’re the guys who threw them off the diving board.

“The few countries who were either bribed or browbeaten into becoming part of the ‘coalition of the willing,’ or who thought they would side with a winner and share the spoils, are melting away like polar ice caps.

"This side has spent five and a half years and half a trillion dollars already, and all we have to show for it is ruined lives, corpses, a recruiting bonanza for terrorists, an army on the verge of a breakdown, and a train wreck of a nation."

“Sounds like a winner to me,” I said, giving the end of the socket wrench a harder tap.

Harold was really wound up. “On the other side,” he said, “you’ve got a variety of resistance groups, well-armed, most of them Iraqis defending their homeland, able to move freely in and out of the general population. We don’t know who they are, what their command structure is, or where they’ll strike next. They know everything about our movements and plans, while we don’t have a clue about theirs. We’re shadowboxing in the dark, fighting phantoms and ghosts.

“They’re a classic guerilla movement, constantly improving its tactics. They’ll fight for as long as it takes to drive the foreign occupiers out. As soon as we secure an area and move on, they move right back in and take it over again.

“They’re passionate about their cause. They’re at home in the language, the culture, the religion, and the terrain. They’re not leaving. That sand is sacred soil for them. They’re fighting for Allah and country, mom and pita.

“Let’s face it, Ace. If you were a gambling man, which side would you lay your money on?”

Just then I drew back and gave the end of the wrench a huge ‘WHAP!’ with the hammer. The bolt flew out and a stream of dirty oil splattered my face.

“Whoo-ee!” yelled Harold. “I believe you were supposed to be trying to turn that bolt counterclockwise instead of clockwise, Ace. But you’ve struck a gusher there. Oil!”

“That’s what it’s all about,” I mumbled, trying to wipe the stuff out of my eyes. “Hand me a rag, will you? I can’t see a thing.”

© Tony Russell, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Getting Commoners to Do the Dying"

Romney Brothers Volunteer for Fight in Iraq

At a hastily called news conference, Republican presidential hopeful Willard M. (“Mitt”) Romney’s five sons issued a joint announcement that they are volunteering en masse for combat missions overseas.

The brothers’ decision followed close on the heels of a highly-publicized exchange at one of Romney’s “Ask Mitt Anything” events in Bettendorf, Iowa.

Rachel Griffiths asked Romney at a campaign breakfast how many of his five adult sons were serving in the military. Romney responded that none of his sons had chosen to join the military, but they were serving in other ways. “One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I’d be a great president,” he explained.

More than one commentator has remarked that Romney seems to have confused self-promotion with serving the nation.

With obvious embarrassment, Tagg Romney, the candidate’s eldest son, said, “I’m sorry that it took a question at a campaign event to help us realize that we need to put our bodies where our mouths are. Dad has been supportive of the war and of President Bush’s ‘surge’ policy, and it was embarrassing to see him put on the spot like that. Other people’s sons and daughters are being blown up or mutilated by roadside bombs or poisoned by depleted uranium or hit with post-traumatic stress disorder, and here we are living the good life and chasing all the power and prestige of the presidency for our family, without making any sacrifice at all for our country. How self-centered does that sound?”

His brother Matt Romney spoke from a different perspective, but also emphasized the idea of service. “Dad and Mom are worth a quarter of a billion dollars. Maybe more. I haven’t checked with them lately on a precise amount, but I can tell you this: people all over the country are losing their homes every day because they can’t make mortgage payments, while our folks luxuriate in beautiful homes in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Utah. I’m a commercial real estate developer in San Diego, and I know what property is worth. This nation has been good to us, and we feel as if we ought to give it our combat service in return.” He added, “It’s funny how you don’t think of things like that when you’re so busy making millions. It’s time to shed our Gucci’s and hike a mile in somebody else’s combat boots.”

Josh Romney shared his brothers’ new convictions. “Traveling around the country to stage events on Dad’s behalf, wearing expensive suits, living in a Winnebago and hobnobbing with real string pullers and power brokers—this high living has suddenly lost all its attraction. My eyes have been opened. I’d much rather be living in a tent in the desert, halfway around the world from everybody I love, blistering under 120 degree heat, eating canned rations, and sweating under the constant threat of death. I can hardly wait to put on my uniform.”

Ben Romney sounded the same note. “If Dad wants to put other young men and women overseas, risking their lives to assure American corporations a grip on Iraqi oil, we think we ought to be risking our necks too. I’m sure Dad wouldn’t want it any other way. Medical school can be put on hold.”

Craig, the youngest of the five brothers, added, “We realized that we’re not alone in this. In fact, it’s not really about us at all. We’re just emblematic of a larger reality. The whole upper echelon of government—Congress, cabinet members, other people in the administration—virtually none of them have sons or daughters actually fighting the war our government started. We’re like a privileged class that gets commoners to do the dying for them.

“We intend not just to set an example, but actually to go out and act as volunteer recruiters among our peer group,” said Craig. “We expect to enlist an entire combat brigade to take some of the stress off those troops in Iraq who are doing their third or fourth tour of duty. I don’t know why we didn’t see the need to share the suffering before now. It’s almost as if we were brainwashed.”

© Tony Russell, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Crows in the Waning Years of a Second Term"

Crows in the Waning Years of a Second Term

Outsized birds, taking over the neighbors’ lawn—
slickly black from beak to heart,
as slick as if they’ve been dipped in oil
and thoroughly soaked.
With their dark sheen they mock
undertakers and churchgoers,
politicians mixing with the folk.
They have a good ear,
mimicking tunes
of gentler birds without effort,
but their natural song
is a jeer.
I watch them strut
and picture jackboots.
A warning: these creatures live to loot.
Prepare to protect your dog food bowl,
your garbage can, your bird feeder.
Lock your refrigerator door.
Their appetites are bottomless;
good times, bad times,
they always do well.
Public birds with public vices,
what do they really caw about,
except what they can devour?

© Tony Russell, 2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Make Us YOUR Candy Store"


Radio ad: Candy Company Commences Clearance Campaign

Directions: Read breathlessly, just below shouting pitch.

As they head into their August recess, the Congressional Candy Company is staging a once-in-a-lifetime sales event! Retiring members and those trailing badly in the polls have joined together to bring you this unprecedented clearance sale! Prices will never be lower! Pay just pennies on the dollar! Take advantage of these gigantic savings now!

Prices have been slashed to the bone on items such as:

· Sugar and tobacco subsidies!
· Highway construction funds!
· Timbering, drilling, and mining permits in national parks and forests!
· Tax breaks for your firm or industry!
· Grazing rights on range land!
· Water diversion for irrigation, development, and industrial expansion!
· Oil drilling in pristine areas and wildlife refuges!
· Defense contracts!
· Drainage and development of coastal wetlands!
· Deregulation!
· Maintaining high fuel consumption standards!
· Licenses for the emission or discharge of pollutants!
· Broadcast licenses and market monopolies!
· Unneeded military bases!
· Federal judgeships
· No-bid, no-risk construction contracts!
· Mercenary assignments in Iraq!

Yes, you heard me right! All of these things and more are for sale at unheard of low prices! This is just a sampling of the items available in our mammoth national warehouse! They won’t last long at these prices! Call our congressional offices today to see what is available in your area!

Is your accountant a nuisance about traceable purchases of influence?
Not to worry! No cash needed! We accept:

· Seats on your Board of Directors!
· Lobbying assignments for your industry!
· Positions at think tanks!
· Endowed chairs at colleges and universities!
· Jobs for our spouses and children ($60,000 minimum)!
· Use of yachts and private jets!
· Golf outings!
· Presidencies of foundations and universities
· Bulk orders of our memoirs!

And that’s only the beginning! Let your imagination run wild!. Surprise us with what you have to offer! Make us YOUR candy store—CONGRESS! “How sweet it is!”

© Tony Russell, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"Political Poetry in Motion"

An Open Letter to Diane Berry and Rick Really:

I was disgusted after watching your TV show last week previewing the U.S. Diving Championships. You so-called experts batted around the names of numerous title contenders, and completely failed to mention John Conyers, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee! That is like covering baseball without mentioning Barry Bonds! Or dog fighting without Michael Vick!

Already this year, Conyers has pulled off one of the most difficult dives in congressional history. It was immediately recognized as one of the ten most spectacular dives ever taken, and has been replayed over and over again on ESPN.

By now everyone has seen the video clip. YouTube reports more than two million hits. Conyers poses on the diving tower when Republicans control the House, screaming for impeachment of the president and vice president. He bounces on the board, and springs into the air. He launches a petition drive where citizens can add their names to the impeachment cause, and establishes a website devoted to the administration’s crimes and the case for impeachment. He sends out e-mails to those who signed the petition, urging them to greater effort on behalf of impeachment.

Then, in a stunning upset, Democrats win control of the House of Representatives, and Conyers becomes chair of the House Judiciary Committee, where impeachment proceedings are supposed to begin.

With breathtaking aplomb, he goes into a sensational back flip, announcing his decision that the committee he chairs will not take up impeachment. The audacity of this move alone would insure him a place in the Divers’ Hall of Fame!

But that was only the beginning! It is the next stage of the dive that has made this an instant classic: A group of pro-impeachment citizens who have signed Conyers’ petition, who have joined with him in his impeachment effort, and who have supported his campaign for office show up to protest his action. In a maneuver that still draws oohs and ahs, he has them arrested and hauled off to jail!

As a combination of showmanship and technical mastery, Conyers’ dive may never be equaled. Only a few divers are capable of Conyers’ contortions; none can match the betrayal at the end. That twist, with its marvelous screwing effect, is political poetry in motion.

And this is the man whom you fail to even mention in your broadcast. How can you begin to account for such a glaring omission? John Conyers has been to impeachment what Paul Wolfowitz was to Iraq—theoretician, cheerleader, advocate, and architect. He deserved the spotlight, and you left him in the darkness. You owe him and all the other divers he represents an enormous apology. I will continue to champion Mr. Conyers’ cause until he gets the recognition he so richly deserves.


© Tony Russell, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Dear Senator X"

Dear Senator X:

I recently sent you an e-mail via your congressional website about U.S. involvement in Iraq. I asked whether you supported a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, or whether you supported a partial withdrawal with substantial forces left behind through the foreseeable future.

The directions on your website told me to select the topic of my e-mail from a drop-down menu, and I clicked “Iraq.” The letter I got from you did not give an answer to my question. It simply thanked me for sharing my thoughts on this topic and then went into talking points on Iraq that contained noble sentiments but remarkably few specifics.

I mention this because my neighbor also e-mailed you about Iraq. He wanted to know if multiple tours of duty were stretching our troops too thin. When he showed me the letter he received from you, we noticed that it didn’t address his question either. He compared his letter with mine, and they turned out to be identical, except for the name, address, and date.

My question is this: Does somebody actually read these e-mails, or is your website set up so that different form letters go out, depending on which topic the citizen clicks?


Raymond Snodgrass

* * * * * *

Dear Senator X:

After my earlier experience with my e-mail on Iraq, I e-mailed you at your official website with my thoughts on immigration policy. Instead of clicking the “Immigration” tab on the drop-down menu, however, I clicked “Impeachment,” just to see what would happen.

Yesterday I received your letter thanking me for sharing my thoughts on impeachment, and assuring me that this was a subject of the gravest importance to you.

Actually, I do care about impeachment, but immigration policy was the real subject of my last e-mail. Did an actual human being ever look at it? I am clicking the “Global Warming” tab with this message as an experiment. I am curious to see what will result.


Raymond Snodgrass

* * * * * *

Dear Senator X:

I believe your computerized answering system has a glitch in it, as my last e-mail to you dealt with your response to my ideas on immigration. However, I clicked the “Global Warming” tab at your website out of scientific curiosity. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to find your letter in my mailbox today thanking me for sharing my thoughts on “Genetic Research and Stem Cells.” With this response, I am clicking the tab on “Gay Marriage,” and can hardly wait to see what comes back. Your letters have become one of the highlights of my day.

I must say that I admire the warm, personal touch at the end of each of your letters, where you thank me once again for taking the time to write, express the hope that I will continue to be an involved citizen, and assure me that you rely heavily on input from people like myself.


Raymond Snodgrass

* * * * * *

Dear Senator X:

My neighbor suggested that the best way to get an actual person to read an e-mail sent to Washington would be to include words and phrases that would kick the message out of the system and trigger human involvement. He thought that putting words like assassinate and president close together would probably do the trick. As you can see, I have just done that. My question about your position on the continued deployment of troops in Iraq—which is where this all began—is attached.


Raymond Snodgrass

* * * * * *

Dear Senator X:

Imagine my surprise when Secret Service agents showed up at my home only two hours after I sent my last e-mail to your website. I am presently being held in a federal detention facility, and desperately need your intervention here. I am clicking the “Request for Assistance” tab and hoping for your immediate attention.


Raymond Snodgrass

© Tony Russell, 2007

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Congress Takes a Dive"

Of Principalities and Powers ~ “Congress Takes a Dive”

“Welcome to the U.S. Diving Championships. I’m your host, Diane Berry, and here with us today to add his unique perspective is four-time U.S. champion and sports columnist Rick Really. Rick, this shapes up to be a spectacular event, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does, Diane. Everybody has been pointing toward this one. The Republican team, which will be wearing red suits, has been taking dives for six years. The Democrats, who will wear blue, are playing catch up, but they’ve taken some incredible dives since winning a majority in both houses of Congress.”

“So we’re looking for close votes by the people who will serve as judges?”

“No question about it. At this point, Congress ranks even lower in the polls than the president, voters are depressed by how unrepresentative their “representatives” are, and turnout is on a steady decline. I look for the winner to be decided by a handful of votes among the few voters who show up.”

“Wonderful, Rick. Are there any divers we ought to keep our eyes on?”

“There sure are. In recent weeks we’ve seen some absolutely unbelievable dives taken by a group of Republican senators. They’ve been in panic mode with Mr. Bush’s unpopularity acting like a heavy anchor chained around their necks”

“Let’s take a look at some of those dives to show our viewers what you’re talking about, Rick.”

“Okay, Diane. Our first clip here is Susan Collins. After years of support for Bush’s war, she joins with Chuck Hagel in announcing here that she will back Democratic legislation ordering combat to end next spring.”

“Her timing is beautiful on that twist, isn’t it?”

“It certainly is. We’ll take a quick look here at Gordon Smith, Pete Domenici, John Warner, and Olympia Snowe, each talking about switching his or her position—and then, in most cases, ending up voting to back the president rather than support a change.
That’s a very difficult double flip technically, where the diver is actually rotating backward and forward at the same time.”

“The Republican divers look awfully impressive, Rick. How does the Democratic team match up?”

“Well, first up, take a look at Nancy Pelosi, shown here going into the tank on impeachment, immediately after being elected Speaker of the House.”

“Wow, that was mind boggling!”

“No question, Diane. But don’t think this is just a Pelosi show. The Democrats owed most of their resurgence in this last election to voters’ expectation that they would end the war in Iraq. Mr. Bush has just ignored them, as usual, and done as he pleased. There’s a simple solution: the Democrats in Congress could just refuse to vote more funds for the war. A simple majority vote. But they’ve taken a vast collective dive on the issue.”

“A collective dive?”

“You heard me right. Wait until you see this! This next clip here will knock your socks off! It’s really a stunning sight to see over two hundred Democratic members of Congress, hands joined, coming off the boards simultaneously and hitting the water without making a splash.”

“That’s fantastic! How did they do that?”

“Well, the trick is that instead of cutting off funds, they keep offering proposals to set timetables for beginning a withdrawal, modify tours of duty, and so forth, and then water them down by making them non-binding. They can’t get the votes to actually pass any of them, but they can pretend they tried to do something and then blame the Republicans for defeating the bills.”

“So the Democrats are picking up points with those dives?”

“Fewer than they expected. Republicans, on the other hand, use this trick: if the bill has no binding elements, they dismiss it as meaningless; if it has specifics, they reject it as tying the president’s hands.”

“They have beautifully controlled spin on that move, Rick.”

“They do. Their coach, Karl Rove, has made that one of his trademarks.”

“You know, watching them, I’m just amazed that these politicians do all their diving in the shallow end of the pool.”

“None of them want to get in over their heads, Diane, or go off the deep end, so they dive down here in the portion normally reserved for small children.”

“Let’s talk about the diving conditions, Rick. There have been complaints circulating that the water has been muddied.”

“You’ll get that in any political contest, Diane. The divers are not only used to it, but they actually prefer it that way. There does seem to be an abnormal amount of money being laundered in the pool, however, and that has raised concerns. Some critics have charged that it has a toxic effect on the level of democracy. But the Supreme Court just recently gave the go-ahead, saying all that corporate money was allowable, so it looks as if we’re all set to go. In fact, millions of dollars more are being pumped into the system even as we speak.”

“Does the money have any effect on the divers themselves?”

“There’s no medical evidence to that effect, Diane. People around the divers have sometimes talked about the money ‘going to their heads’ or ‘rotting their souls,’ but that’s just anecdotal. There are no double-blind studies to confirm it. As you can see in this next clip, most of them actually enjoy having so much money in the pool. Look at them wallow in it!”

© Tony Russell, 2007


Monday, July 23, 2007

"A Wonderful Assortment of Pastries"

Of Principalities and Powers ~ “A Wonderful Assortment of Pastries”

“Ace, I’ve never been so embarrassed! Your stomach kept rumbling all through dinner. I’ve heard jackhammers that made less racket!”

“I’m sorry, Patty. When the Pelosis invited us to the victory dinner, I decided to skip lunch. I figured they’d lay out a big spread, and I wanted to save a lot of room for the banquet. When we walked in and I saw everything spread out there, my mouth started to water. Then when Nancy began to take things off the table, I just couldn’t believe it. My stomach went into panic.”

“Don’t be silly, Ace. All she took off the table was the impeachment. That wasn’t even the main course.”

“You must have been too busy swapping recipes with Nancy to watch what she was doing. When she carried the impeachment back to the kitchen, all kinds of other things went with it.”

“Leave it to you to have eyes for nothing but the table. Men!”

“Well, I thought there were some things you would have liked to try, too, but she just whisked them away.”

“Like what, for instance?”

“Patty, when she took away the impeachment, the meat dishes all went too. Torture, kidnapping, illegal wiretapping, election rigging, lying to start a war… all the meaty items were there for just a minute, and then they disappeared, before I could stick a fork in them.”

“Is that what happened? Darn, I was really looking forward to trying them. I’ve heard they were the genuine article.”

“Well, I guess we’ll never know. I’m just so hungry for something substantial that I can’t wait to get home and see what’s in the fridge.”

“Ace, there is absolutely no excuse for your still being hungry. You were there when Nancy said, ‘Let them eat cake,’ and they brought out a wonderful assortment of pastries. You ate more than anybody else. I kept hoping nobody else was counting how many times you went back to the table.”

“Patty, if nobody is supposed to notice everything that went back into the kitchen, surely they can pretend they didn’t see how much cake I ate.”

“I’ll bet Nancy was counting, even if she was too polite to say anything.”

“Look, Patty, can we talk about something besides my appetite?”

“Oh, all right, Ace. Say, did you notice that pretty blue dress Monica was wearing?”

“Are you kidding? How could I miss it? It’s the same dress she was wearing a few years ago when they put her on the table to sing and dance!”

© Tony Russell, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"The Floodwall"

Of Principalities and Powers ~ “The Floodwall”

I spent many hours during my boyhood along the Ohio River, exploring land that lay behind a floodwall. On one side of the wall was the city, busy with people and traffic; on the other side, the strange fecund world of a waste wilderness. I loved the river side of the wall—the rank vegetation, the strange fungi, the groundhog burrows, the driftwood and debris tossed up on the shore, the sheer freedom to roam. I could stand on the sandy bank of the river, watching its oily surface and an occasional barge float by, and hear, at the same time, behind me, cars and truck streaming along the avenue on the other side of the wall. Our national discussion on Iraq has that same feeling of a strict, partitioned duality.

Debate in Congress, and on corporate radio and television, has turned—albeit slowly and reluctantly—to a consideration of how we can pull ourselves out of the disaster in Iraq. Yet several things are so thoroughly taken for granted in this debate that the imperial audacity of the assumptions is well nigh invisible.

Off the top of my head, here is a list of the controlling assumptions: The assumption that the time and pace for a U.S draw down is entirely a U.S. matter. The assumption that we will leave only when western energy companies are handed the keys to the oil fields. The assumption that a large U.S. force will be permanently garrisoned in Iraq at five huge bases under construction. The assumption that, if the present government of Iraq can’t deliver, the U.S. will have to make changes in the Iraqi government. The assumption that the Iraqi police and army can be developed into an effective force responsive to U.S. priorities and loyal to U.S. aims. The assumptions that we are the “good guys” here, just trying to spread a little democracy around the world, and the “bad guys” hate freedom. The assumption that any outcome which doesn’t operate with the other prior assumptions will lead to a vast “bloodbath” and an unacceptable U.S “defeat.” The assumption that operating with these assumptions will avoid a “bloodbath” and will salvage some kind of American victory.

Those are the continuous assumptions on talk shows and in our corporate news. They are the traffic you hear on the other side when you stand on the bank of the river. And it is startling, once you focus on it, how these assumptions frame the entire official public conversation on Iraq. There is nothing else. Any “debate” revolves around details confined by those assumptions, details such as the date for starting our pullout, the timetable for the Iraqi government to sign off on our oil arrangement, and the size of the U.S. contingent which will remain behind. That’s it. There is nothing more.

In fact, it might be a healthful awareness technique to sit in front of your television, or open a news magazine, or scan the editorial page of your newspaper, with a little checklist of these assumptions, and see how many you can tick off each time Iraq comes up.

On the river side of the wall, where millions of ordinary citizens stand, is a broad stream of consciousness which challenges those assumptions at every turn. On this side of the wall is knowledge that the U.S. invaded Iraq on the basis of lies which had already been exposed as lies in Europe and on the Internet prior to the invasion. Knowledge that the invasion violated international law, basic morality, and human decency. In short, an awareness that we shouldn’t have been there to begin with, are an occupying army despised by the people we pretend to be helping (confirmed by all Iraqi polling data), and don’t belong there now.

On this side of the wall, we see transparently manipulative attempts to sell the U.S. invasion by portraying soldiers as lovable heroes, first with Jessica Lynch, then with Pat Tillman. Both stories turn out to have been sheer fabrications, with the strands of lies going right up the chain of command. There’s no question about this; documentation is readily available.

We see, too, the undemocratic control of reporting on the war. The “embedding” of reporters within U.S. forces. The prohibitions on travel. The murder of numerous reporters, photographers, and members of news teams. The withholding of images of death and suffering and destruction unless they were the result of enemy action. The return of bodies of U.S. soldiers at odd hours of the night in out of the way corners of airports. The alarming effectiveness of efforts to render this an invisible war.

On this side of the wall, we see statistics revealing that a “bloodbath” has already been drawn and is ongoing—close to 700,000 excess deaths in Iraq since the war started, the majority of them children. On this side of the wall we see that the deaths of U.S. military personnel (now nearing four thousand) are mourned, while the deaths of fifteen to twenty times as many Iraqis, most of them entirely innocent, go unlamented and unregretted.

On this side of the wall, we see the murderous ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods and towns where Shi’ites and Sunnis once lived together peaceably, and recognize that this tragedy is a direct consequence of our invasion and our policies after the invasion. We see daily reports of car bombings and suicide bombings, with ghastly carnage, all of that set into motion by our assault and occupation.

On this side of the wall, we see millions of Iraqis uprooted from their homes and set adrift as refugees, having lost nearly everything they own and everything that gave them a familiar place in the world, at the same time we claim the war is to give Iraqis a better life.

On this side of the wall, we see that the sizable U.S. forces slated to remain in Iraq after our “withdrawal” make a mockery of Iraqi sovereignty and provide an ongoing insult and provocation to Islamic believers. The claim that U.S. forces are present only to “provide security for Iraq’s fledgling democracy” is a transparent falsehood. U.S forces are there to insure American dominance over the Iraqi oil industry and to hold a powerful military threat over the heads of other nations in the region.

The huge new bases we have raced to construct in Iraq also represent a tradeoff with the bin Ladens. The U.S. closed its bases in Saudi Arabia, where Osama bin Laden and many others regarded them as an affront to the holiness of their homeland. The new bases in Iraq are to be their replacement.

On this side of the wall, we see the president of the United States asserting repeatedly that we are locked in a struggle with al Qaeda in Iraq, while our own intelligence estimates say that our primary opposition is from Iraqi nationalists resisting the occupation and from Shi’ite militia, with a small al Qaeda force far down on the list of enemies. We see the president’s absurd distortions reported as straight news, without challenge or contradiction.

On this side of the wall, we see that victory in Iraq, by any normal standard, is impossible. Powerful empires repeatedly overestimate their capacity to control the world around them. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. assault on Viet Nam, and now the U.S. invasion of Iraq, were all based on imperial hubris, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq will fail as the others failed. Placing hope on a “surge” and the development of Iraqi forces as reliable surrogates are fantasies familiar to anyone who lived through the Vietnam War.

On this side of the wall, we see that our supposed effort to “spread democracy” has been undertaken in the most undemocratic way possible, with contempt for the public will, with state-sanctioned torture and kidnappings, with secret prisons, the denial of legal representation and rights to the accused, and numerous other attacks on fundamental liberties.

We also see that the undermining of our own democracy and the loss of our own liberties are not even issues in what passes for political debate among the collection of candidates currently campaigning for president. An authentic patriot would be campaigning on an end to torture, an end to secret wiretappings, an end to wild claims of executive privilege, an end to denial of habeas corpus, and an end to imperialism. Those would be major issues in the campaign to lead a genuine democracy.

Now, why is it that the views I’ve described on the “river side” of the wall never make it into the official public discussions of policy? Some, after all, are indisputable, based on easily-found polling data, historical data, our own government’s reports, eyewitness accounts, et cetera. Some are arguable, but at least legitimate alternative views, as plausible and in accordance with the facts as the views publicly circulated. All are steeped in the love of liberty, the mistrust of rulers, and the passion for democracy that characterize our history at its best. Why are they walled off?

Beyond that, why do people who want peacefulness, wisdom, and compassion get a government that is bellicose, foolish, and unfeeling? Why is the electoral system so near-totally devoid of candidates who address our hopes and our deepest beliefs?

One world, with a division separating two viewpoints as effectively as the earthen levees and concrete barriers of the floodwall separated the worlds of my boyhood. What is the floodwall cutting through our country, separating an official public world reliant on force, lies, coercion, and manipulation on the one side from an alienated private world left adrift and unrepresented on the other? Who built the wall? How is it maintained? Why is the wall invisible?

It flabbergasts me that William Greider’s wonderful book Who Will Tell the People, which raised and addressed all of those questions, is now fifteen years old and largely forgotten. Current polling data, reported in the vaguest possible terms, says that a substantial majority of Americans believe the country is “on the wrong track.” That “wrong track” was Greider’s starting point in the introduction to Who Will Tell the People. Mind you, this was written in 1992!

…a climate of stagnant doubt has enveloped contemporary politics, a generalized sense of disappointment that is too diffuse and intangible to be easily confronted. The things that Americans were taught and still wish to believe about self-government…no longer seem to fit the present reality. …American democracy is in much deeper trouble than most people wish to acknowledge. …The substantive meaning of self-government has been hollowed out. What exists behind the formal shell is a systemic breakdown of the shared civic values we call democracy.

“On the wrong track” indeed! Greider’s analysis of the “floodwall” I’ve alluded to was prophetic; it is even more relevant now than the year it was written. It is an original, highly recommended study of the unraveling of our democracy, a process only accelerated by the war in Iraq and the current administration.

© Tony Russell, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Bootlickers and Lickspittles"

Of Principalities and Powers ~ “Bootlickers, and Lickspittles”

“What’s the matter, honey? You’ve got me worried. You look so tired all the time.”

“It’s all this fuss over the firing of federal prosecutors, Linda. Won’t it ever die down?”

“But why would you be upset, sweetheart? You didn’t get fired. The president and the attorney general are really happy with your work.”

“That’s just it, Linda. Everybody treats the attorneys who got fired as heroes because they insisted on doing what was right rather than what Karl Rove wanted. And those of us who kept our jobs are looked down on as bootlickers and lickspittles.”

“Surely people wouldn’t think that about you, darling!”

[Bitterly] “When I enter the office in the morning, it gets as quiet as a mausoleum. Suddenly everybody has to sharpen a pencil or stare at his or her computer screen. When I invite people out to lunch, they all tell me they have other commitments. I’ve been referred to as a ‘loyal Bushie’ four times this week, Linda, and it wasn’t intended as a compliment.”

“It just doesn’t seem right, darn it! You headed up President Bush’s re-election campaign in this state, you personally rounded up more than $5,000,000 for his war chest, and you were given this job to build up your résumé for a run at a seat in Congress! And now people want to sweep all that aside, just because you’re loyal?”

“It’s not just that, Linda. You remember those three staff attorneys who resigned when I wouldn’t pursue that bribery investigation with the defense contractor? They’ve all been subpoenaed by the Senate. And I know those three. They’re going to go in there and claim that I dropped the investigation because the House members involved were Republicans and the election was just a few months away.”

“But that’s not true, is it?”

“Of course not. It’s just that I was so busy trying to find voter fraud by the Democrats that I didn’t have time to devote to another major case.”

“Why couldn’t they see that, honey? Why do people always put the worst interpretation on perfectly reasonable acts? It must be partisan politics. I’ll bet all three of them are Democrats!”

“Unfortunately, that’s the bad part. Two of them are registered as Independents, and the third is actually a lifelong Republican. They were career attorneys with the department, and together they had over fifty years of experience.”

“Well, see there? That’s the problem, isn’t it? They were stuck in old habits. They weren’t able to adapt to this administration’s new approaches.”

“You see that, and I see that. But 80% of the country has decided it doesn’t like those new approaches. They keep telling pollsters they think the country is on the wrong track.”

“If this is all so hard on you, honey, maybe you ought to resign.”

“I already tried, Linda. But they won’t let me. They say not only would it look bad right now, but the media would be all over me, wanting to know why I quit. Karl said he’d have the president issue a statement that he has complete confidence in me and is behind me 100%.”


“I told him he didn’t have to threaten me like that. I’d stay.”

© Tony Russell, 2007