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 รก 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