Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Too Little to Fail"

I had only been asleep for two hours before I was awakened by the ringing phone. As a veteran of eight years on night shift, I was used to these interruptions. Blearily, I rolled over and glanced at the caller ID. The digital readout showed “Fannie Mae,“ my mortgage holder. Uh oh. I snatched it up.
“Hello,” I croaked.
“Hello, may I speak to Mr. O’Doyle, please?”
“Mr. O’Doyle, I’m calling on behalf of Fannie Mae to let you know that we have yet to receive your mortgage payment for this month. As I’m sure you’re aware, this payment is due on the fifth of every month, and your payment is currently two weeks late.”
“Sorry about that,” I said. “I made a few bad investments down at the grocery store. I thought sure that those four boxes of macaroni and cheese would last us all week, but there I was on Friday, buying Ramen noodles.”
“Excuses aside, when can we expect to receive payment, Mr. O’Doyle?” he demanded.
“Just be patient,” I said, “help is on the way. I saw on television last night that Uncle Sam has realized that folks like me are having trouble paying our mortgages, and he’s stepping in to assist us. I believe the number I heard was $200 billion, so that ought to square us for a while, right? I know that this will increase our tax bill down the road, but Uncle Sam understands that these are tough times, and he’s willing to work things out.”
“Mr. O’Doyle, you seem to have misunderstood,” he said. “The $200 billion in government relief is to rescue Fannie Mae from our bad debts, not you from yours.”
“What? That can’t be right! They’re the same debts, aren’t they?” I asked. “I mean, you guys are struggling because you made idiotic decisions on mortgages like mine. There’s no way I should have been approved for a home loan worth six times my annual salary to begin with. But here I am, stuck with it, and a flexible mortgage rate that keeps going up. Luckily, Uncle Sam knows that we make bad decisions from time to time. He’s willing to step in so we aren’t forced to suffer from our bad decisions. Despite the fact that you never should have issued the mortgages, you still get your money. Are you telling me that when I, as a taxpayer, am giving you the money to cover your losses on my bad mortgage, you still expect me to make good on that same debt?”
“Ummm, yes, well the government is bailing us out, not you,” he explained again.
“So even though the blame lies primarily with your policies, we’re expected to pay not once, but twice? And even though we’re saving you from your own folly with our tax dollars, you figure you deserve to be paid not only the money owed to you, but $200 billion tax dollars on top of it?” I demanded, my voice rising.
“Well, sir, you have to realize that not everyone who owes us money will, in fact, be able to pay it,” he reasoned. “The bailout is designed to cover our losses in those instances.”
“I bet they’d be able to pay it if the government gave them the money,” I said. “And furthermore, if the debt has been covered, shouldn’t they be off the hook for it? You guys foreclosed on my neighbor, Lou, two months ago, and his family has been living in a camper behind his mother’s house ever since. Now that his debt has been covered, where can he pick up his house keys?”
“I’m afraid the bailout doesn’t apply to individual cases,” he said. “Rather, it applies to our institutional debt. The government has decided that we’re ‘too big to fail.’ You aren’t.”
“I’m willing to bet that come tax time, this bailout will be individualized plenty,” I said. “Nobody’s too little to qualify on April 15.”
© Micah Russell, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

"You Can Actually See Russia from Here"

John McCain and other Republicans are defending his choice for the vice presidency against charges that she is totally unqualified. Mrs. Palin herself vouched for her extensive foreign policy credentials, saying she has lived next door to Russia for years. As she told ABC News, "They're our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska."

I was explaining this to Patty. “I don’t understand how people can call her unqualified,” I said. “Look how she answered her critics on the foreign policy issue.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Patty. “People are so quick to ignore the importance of experience like that. And her thinking opens up all kinds of possibilities. Take you, for instance. You lived in Detroit for a couple of years when you were growing up. That’s just a stone’s throw from Canada. I’m sure you’re qualified to be vice president too.”

“I don’t know about that,” I began modestly. “It’s just Canada. They all spend their winter vacations in Florida anyway. But what about that trip we took to Houston in 1974 to watch the Super Bowl? We were practically in Mexico.”

“A weekend might not be long enough to become an expert,” said Patty. “But think about this. The hospital is only ten minutes from our door, and we’ve lived here for over twenty years. Maybe I should set up shop as a cardiologist. I’m probably qualified to deliver babies and perform appendectomies, too.”

“What makes you think that?” I asked. “You’re not qualified to practice medicine. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of!”

“Just following her logic,” Patty said. “We’re only a few miles from the university as well. You can actually hear the chapel bells when the wind is blowing this way. That should be all I need to edit an economics journal. Or give a lecture on Elizabethan drama. Or to head up a biochemistry research lab.”

“Come on, Patty,” I said. “Quit joking about stuff like that. You’re talking about important jobs where you really have to know what you’re doing--doctors and economists and biochemists and literary scholars and what not.”

“Right,” she said. “Whereas, if she and McCain are elected, and anything should happen to him--God forbid--, she has her finger on the nuclear red button, and the fate of the world is in her hands. She’s in charge of dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, Cuba, Venezuela, and every other nation in the world. No doubt living across the Bering Strait from Russia has more than prepared her. I imagine she has a grand global strategy all worked out.”

“There’s probably not much chance she’ll be placed in that position,” I said hesitantly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Patty responded. “Eight vice-presidents have stepped in so far when the president died, and Gerald Ford took over when Nixon resigned. That’s 9 out of 43. When you consider that McCain, if elected, will be the oldest man ever to take the office, has a history of melanoma and a medical record 1,200 pages long, you’ve got to consider the odds that she’ll replace him are pretty good.”

“Ouch,” I said. “I’m developing a headache just thinking about it.”

Patty whipped out a pen and tore a piece of paper from a notebook. “Here,” she said, “let me prescribe something for that.”

She handed me the note. In capital letters she had printed “VOTE.”

© Tony Russell, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Only God Knew"

Once upon a time, before the current administration, only God knew what your government now knows--your shame, your guilt, your weakness, your doubt, your beliefs, your political bent:

how you borrowed money from your sister again to keep from losing your home;

how you omitted your kidney problem from the pre-existing conditions you listed on your insurance application;

how you failed to report thousands in tips on your income tax return;

how you exchange romantic e-mails with a man who isn’t your husband;

how you and a dozen others held a candlelight vigil, trying to prevent the invasion of Iraq;

how you saved more than 70% by faxing your prescription to Canada;

how your auto insurance was canceled when you got a second speeding ticket;

how your family has a history of schizophrenia;

how you tried to form a union at the plant, before they closed down and moved over to Taiwan;

how you think “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a paradigm for our time;

how you took those earrings you always wanted when your aunt was placed in a nursing home;

how you used your credit card to donate to MoveOn.org;

how you had a crush on someone of the same sex when you were a high school sophomore;

how your purchases of whiskey and vodka have been on the rise;

how you squandered your house payment on lottery tickets;

how you unhooked the odometer on your pickup;

how you were molested by your uncle when you were eight;

how you thank your Higher Power that your brain still works after all the coke you’ve snorted up your nose;

how the police have responded to three domestic disturbance calls at your house within the past six months;

how your taste in library books runs toward left-wing politics;

how you despise televangelists for worshipping success;

how you have prescriptions for painkillers from four different doctors;

how you downloaded photos of women wearing latex boots and fishnet tops;

how you donated fifty bucks to Ron Paul’s campaign;

how your daughter was caught shoplifting at the mall;

how you had two abortions before you turned 21;

how you lie to your wife to conceal your gambling addiction;

how you printed out instructions on anal sex;

how you keep a folder for “election fraud” on your hard drive;

how you tried to commit suicide by cutting your wrists;

how your herpes infection dates back to your high school years;

how you’re outraged that our government tortures;

how you support the right of gays and lesbians to teach, preach, marry, and be ordinary;

how you maintain a small arsenal of automatic and semi-automatic firearms, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition;

how you’ve upped your contributions to Emily’s List, the ACLU, Amnesty International, and the Environmental Defense Fund;

how you hide a baggie of grass in a shoebox in your closet;

how you check out the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue online when you get bored;

how you have Googlle Alert send you articles on impeachment;

how your orders from NetFlix are heavily weighted toward “R” ratings;

how you harbor a persistent fear that the cancer that killed your sister is lurking in your cells, waiting to claim you as well;

how you have two books overdue, both on global warming;

how you ranted that the Patriot Act spits on the nation’s spirit;

how you spend your paycheck, every transaction on your credit card and in your bank account laid as bare as Judgment Day;

how your psychiatrist keeps tweaking your medication, trying to allay your depression;

how your calls to your AA sponsor show increasing desperation;

how what terrifies you is the War on Terror;

how your doctor is treating you for impotence, insomnia, high blood pressure, and possible paranoia.

© Tony Russell, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

"Happy Hour at Beelzebub's Bar"

‘Happy Hour’ at Beelzebub’s Bar, and two young devils with a powerful thirst stepped through the swinging doors. It was broiling hot outside, but the barroom was like an inferno.

“Whew, it feels good to get in out of that warm air!” said the taller one. “Let’s grab a booth.”

A waitress in a scanty scarlet outfit, wearing a cute little ‘devil’s horns’ headpiece and swinging a realistic tail from her tush, sashayed over to take their order. “What’ll it be, tall, dark, and handsome?” she grinned. “Working hard today, or hardly working?”

“Going full bore,” said Nick with a wink and a leer. “Keeping a lid on the global warming debate isn’t easy. My costume’s wringing wet.”

They watched her retreating form as she hustled to get their drinks. “Come on,” said Scratch, the shorter of the pair, “you don’t really think you can lull a planet full of people to sleep while you turn their world into a miniature Hades, admit it.”

Nick snorted. “Hey, it’s easier than you think. I don’t have to deal with six and a half billion people--just a handful of corporate execs.”

“Surely you jest,” laughed Scratch.

“Did you see the Pew survey? Two-thirds of the public in both Japan and India are worried sick about climate change. But you know what? The people who are doing the heavy damage, the Americans? No sweat! Only one out of every five say it worries them a lot. I’d say that’s pretty good proof my method works.”

“Pagan poop!” swore Scratch. “How the heaven did you pull that off?”

“Scratch, Scratch,” said Nicky, shaking his head sadly. “It’s so basic. You’ve gotta get back to your roots.”


“What’s the root of all evil?”

“Oh, the love of money. I always thought ‘all evil’ was an over-simplification. ‘The love of lucre is the love of Lucifer.’ But I see where you’re coming from.”

“I get off on working with giant corporations. If shareholders aren’t happy with the bottom line, they boot out the current management and bring in a ‘leaner, meaner’ team. Love the sound of that, don’t you? Who’s leaner and meaner than me? Think about it for a minute. These corporations exist for a single purpose--to generate a sizable profit. That makes them a perfect devil’s instrument, since by definition, they worship Mammon! Brothers, hello!”

“You’ve got a track record with some of the best.”

“Hey, I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I’ve been in bed with the big boys--ExxonMobil, Chevron, Halliburton, Ford Motor Company, GM, Massey Energy, American Electric Power, Boeing, Alcoa, Phillip Morris, Cargill.... Carbon emissions, poisons, carcinogens, smog, bribery, polluted rivers and earth and air... poke around in that list and you’ll find it all.”

“I wonder about their consciences,” mused Scratch.

Nick stared at him. “Didn’t you know? Each one of them’s considered a ‘person’ under the law, but they have no conscience built in. It’s Frankenstein’s monster in a real-world version!”

“I don’t get it. Don’t they care what they’re doing to Creation?”

“A corporation doesn’t care one way or another about Creation. They can be totally committed to Destruction, as far as that’s concerned, and hire a PR firm to paste a pretty face on the pig. Then they pick compliant state legislators and judges, Congresspeople and presidential candidates, and bankroll their campaigns. They dictate the limits of action and the terms of debate.”

“Wow,” said Scratch. “That sounds like a process planned in hell.”

“How did you guess?” beamed Nick. “Here’s the beauty of it. Corporations are like us; they’re immortal. People come and go, but corporations are going to be here till the earth bakes in its own greenhouse gases.”

“A day to dream of,” said Scratch. “But the executives and people on their boards--doesn’t all this worry them?”

“Why would it? They’re rich; they demand and get insulation. They live on private estates, belong to exclusive clubs, and travel in private planes; their kids go to exclusive prep schools and private colleges; they only hobnob with people like themselves on the boards of charities and museums. They’re respected. They’ve got it all!”

“Except their souls,” noted Scratch with a grin.

“That’s a small clause in our bargain. Even the rich can’t have everything,” said Nick.

“Doesn’t it bother you when executives blast critics for ‘demonizing big business’? You do all the work, and then somebody else gets all the credit?”

“Nah. I’m not in this to make a name for myself. I do it just for the hell of it.”

© Tony Russell, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008

"Some Minor Editorial Changes"

“We’re really excited about your new science textbook series. It’s clear, well-written, and beautifully illustrated. What we like best about it, though, is the way it helps students understand how scientists work. You get a real feel for their passion, their curiosity, their commitment to following evidence wherever it leads.”

“I appreciate the kind words. Thanks very much! So you’re going to publish the books?”

“We’d be crazy not to. All you have to do is make some minor editorial changes, and we’re good to go.”

“Sounds great. What changes did you have in mind?”

“Well, here in your section where you talk about glaciers, you say that the Great Lakes were formed when glaciers carved deep basins in the northern part of the country and then retreated. You write that all of that took place during the Wisconsin glacial period, which was at its height twenty thousand years ago.”

“Yes. That’s pretty much agreed upon by geologists everywhere. Is there a problem?”

“Uh, the issue is, counting generations back through the Old Testament, folks have calculated that the earth is six thousand years old. So you’re saying the Great Lakes were created before the world existed.”


“And here in the section on botany, you have a fascinating piece on the dawn redwood. That was all new to me--I’d never heard of it. You write that it had been found as a fossil dating back to the Miocene epoch, and everybody assumed it had been extinct for over five million years, until a small stand was found in China in 1944, still alive. It’s a wonderful story. But that number ‘five million’ presents a difficulty, of course.”

“I think I follow you. The tree species is four million, nine hundred and ninety four thousand years older than some people want it to be.”

“Right. Then there’s your profile of Jack Horner, the paleontologist who discovered a colonial nesting site for a new dinosaur species on Egg Mountain in Montana. You say he concluded that they built colonies of nests and watched after their young when they hatched out. According to your chapter, they lived in large herds; Horner calls them ‘the cows of the Mesosozoic.’ It’s all really well done. Kids are crazy about dinosaurs, and they’ll eat that stuff up. I’ll bet lot of them reading your book will be motivated to get into science.”

“I’d love to see that.”

“The problem is, you say the so-called Mesozoic era ended sixty-five million years ago.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“Then there’s this section on birds. You mention that the ‘first bird’ that we have evidence of is Archaeopteryx. By the way, that’s a stunning photo of that fossil; you can see the clearest details of the feathers! But you say that this bird lived 150 to 155 million years ago.”

“Right. That dating has been thoroughly researched and validated.”

“Surely you see the difficulty, though. The gap between six thousand years and a hundred and fifty million years is a bit wider than we’re comfortable with.”

“I’m getting the picture.”

“And then, of course, there’s astronomy. Where to begin? You write that by studying meteorites, which are presumed to be remnants from the creation of the solar system, astronomers put the age of the system at four billion, six hundred million years.”

“Yes, that’s the consensus among astronomers and astrophysicists.”

“I don’t suppose you could scale back that timeline somewhat?”

“All the way to six thousand!?”

“I’m not suggesting you compromise your standards. But is that asking too much to sell a lot of books?”

© Tony Russell, 2008

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"A Vast Ex-Staff Conspiracy"

Washington, May 30-
A stunned Bush White House reacted strongly today after the release of scathing excerpts from former press secretary Scott McClellan’s new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, in which McClellan describes how the Bush administration propagandized the U.S. public to sell the war in Iraq and bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina.
In her daily press briefing this morning, current press secretary Dana Perino was highly critical of her former colleague. “‘’Scott was well paid to repeat the propaganda devised by the White House,” she said. “It’s not just bad form to reveal that the President, the Vice President, and Karl Rove have been manipulative and deceitful; it is disloyal.”
Perino continued, “This is not the Scott McClellan we knew and used. This Scott McClellan has a conscience he is unable to silence. We are puzzled, and we are sad. Who would have thought that a man who was with us every step of the way as we contrived a bogus rationale for launching a war against Iraq would someday expose our efforts? Certainly not me.”
Perino concluded, “Can you imagine how I feel, having to stand before you now and declare that none of what Scott says is true? I mean, who’s going to believe me, now that I’m press secretary, after a previous press secretary details all the lies and nonsense he had to mouth for the White House? This puts me in a really bad position, and shows incredible insensitivity on Scott’s part.”
Following these remarks, Perino took questions from the reporters assembled. The following is a transcript of that portion of the briefing.
Q. “Dana, has the president read Scott’s book, and if so, what was his response?”
A. “Scott’s book has been described to the president, and I do not expect the president to issue a response. He has more pressing matters than to spend time reading or commenting on books. Or newspapers or magazines, for that matter. Ask him how the [Texas] Rangers are doing this season.”
Q “Dana, isn’t there a remarkable consistency between what Scott has to say in his book and what former administration officials like Richard Clarke wrote in Against All Enemies, Paul O’Neill said in Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty, Karen Kwiatkowski wrote in The New Pentagon Papers, Paul Pillar wrote in Foreign Affairs, Jack Goldsmith wrote in The Terror Presidency, Christie Todd Whitman wrote in It’s My Party Too, David Kuo wrote in Tempting Faith, Ricardo Sanchez wrote in Wiser in Battle, and so forth?”
A. “That’s an excellent point. We think it is no accident that all of these people seem to be singing the same tune. We suspect there is a vast ex-staff conspiracy to portray the administration in an unflattering light, and we’ve asked the FBI to determine if this poses a threat to national security.”
Q. ”Dana, which of the administration’s usual responses to tell-all memoirs will you be following this time? ‘The author is “deeply troubled” or “in need of help”’; ‘The author is a disgruntled ex-employee who nursed a grudge’; ‘The author is a closet leftist whose true colors have emerged’; or ‘The author is a crass opportunist who spiced up his memoirs to get big bucks from a publisher’?”
A. “All of the above. The president, of course, issued an ‘above-the-fray’ statement yesterday in which he played the ‘bothered and bewildered’ card, saying he was ‘puzzled’ and ‘didn’t recognize this as the Scott McClellan that he hired and confided in and worked with for so many years.’ I’ve already said that ‘Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House.’ And we’re dispatching surrogates out to the talk shows. Karl Rove will play the political card, comparing McClellan to ‘a left-wing blogger,’ and Trent Duffy, Scott’s former deputy, will play the money card, suggesting that Scott ‘appears to be dancing on his political grave for cash.’ So we’ve covered all the bases.”
Q. “Dana, do you think the administration can maintain any shred of credibility, with these continuing revelations by people who were once part of its core?”
A. “No matter what happens, the president’s approval rating has never sunk below 34%. We believe there is a dedicated body of true believers out there who wouldn’t lose faith in the president if God Almighty pointed a finger at him.”
Q. “Given your experience so far with former staffers, will you handle things differently the next time someone leaves?”
A. “We’re considering a proposal by vice-president Cheney, who said, ‘The next time somebody tenders a letter of resignation, I’ll just invite him out for a duck hunt’.”
© Tony Russell, 2008

Monday, June 02, 2008

"A Mistake in Your Paperwork"

“Next case, please.”

“Here I am, Your Honor.”

“According to the information before Me, you’re here to appeal My original decision. Is that correct?”

“Yes, Your Honor. There must have been a mistake in Your paperwork. I’ll admit I wasn’t perfect, but I worked hard at carrying out Your wishes. Damned hard, as it turns out.”

“We haven’t made a mistake yet, but We’re certainly willing to hear your testimony. You may proceed.”

“Thank you, Your Honor. First off, I diligently carried out Your anti-homosexual program. I have to say, I made their lives miserable, exactly as You desired. Can You believe they wanted to work, marry, have health insurance, work with kids, teach, all that kind of thing, just like normal human beings made in Your image? My efforts to defeat their ‘gay agenda’ apparently weren’t included in your accounts.”

(Paging through the folder in front of Him) “We find extensive documentation for those activities on pages six through forty-eight of your file.”

“Is that right? I thought my zeal in this matter would carry a lot of weight in Your decision.”

“It was a factor. Is there more?”

“Yes, Your Honor. I want you to know that I strongly supported the holy war against Islam.”

“I have it right here in front of me. Over a million Iraqis dead, all told, the majority of them children, and more than two million displaced refugees, barely managing to survive.”

“Gee, You had that too? I can’t take credit for all of them, but I was proud to play my part. I would have thought those numbers alone might sway Your judgment.”

“Again, they were a factor. Are there other ‘good deeds’ you wish to draw to Our attention?”

“I chased wealth so that other people viewing my prosperity could see how You bless Your followers. I had a large house, a big SUV, closets full of clothes, a snowmobile, a jet boat, and a motor home. I want you to know I enjoyed every one of them. Thanks for all the neat stuff!”

(Scanning file) “I can’t find any record that We made those shipments to you.”

(Surprised) “The Devil you say! I wonder where they came from?”

“Is there anything else you’d like to add, before We rule on your appeal?”

(Pulls out his notes) “I have a few more things to add, Your Honor. I subjugated my wife, as per your written instructions. And that was a toughie. She didn’t give in without a fight.”

“She has already spoken with Me about that a number of times.”

“I made sure my kids understood that this nonsense about Your taking 4.54 billion years to create Earth as we know it robs the world of its wonder. What’s impressive about that? Doing the job in less than a week a few thousand years ago--that’s what really rocks. So to speak. No reference to the decay of long-lived radioactive isotopes in so-called ‘ancient rocks’ intended, Your Honor.”

(Unable to suppress a groan, mutters, “God-in-a-box, everywhere We turn.”) “Tell me, are you familiar with the phrase ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions’?”

(Defendant gulps) “That sounds ominous, Your Honor. Does that mean...?”

“No. We have decided to remand you to Our Work/Study program. You have fifty years to pull up those paving stones.”

“God Bless You, Your Honor. I mean, Bless Yourself. I mean.... I’m eternally grateful. Or will be. You know what I mean?”

“Of course. Next case, please.”

© Tony Russell, 2008

Monday, May 26, 2008

"Is That the 'Incompetent' Part?"

Cookout time again--the odor of charcoal lighter hanging over the backyard; the picnic table loaded with body parts of birds and mammals, soaking in their own grease; macaroni and potato salad, awash in mayonnaise; baked beans gooped up with pork fat and brown sugar. Heavy eating for heavy people!

I was pulling another cold one out of the washtub when my neighbor Lee came over, wearing a big grin on his face.

“What do you say, Ace?” he asked. “About ready to admit that this administration has lived up to its promise?”

Politics is the last thing I want on top of a bloated stomach. But Lee already had his hand locked on my arm. After years of trial and error, I’ve found ‘Never argue with a drunken neighbor’ to be a good rule of thumb. We were going to have this conversation or have a wrestling match there on the lawn.

“Almost eight years into it, we have a pretty good idea what to expect from them,” I ventured cautiously.

“Damned straight!” he said. “They campaigned for office as the anti-government government. They told us they wanted to starve government or drown it in a bathtub. They said that big government was the problem--that government was inefficient, incompetent, untrustworthy, and corrupt. Did they get it right, or what?”

“So you’re really happy with the way things have turned out?” I asked.

“Who wouldn’t be?” he chortled. “You’ve got a few years under your belt. How many other administrations have delivered like that on their basic premise?”

“Not many,” I admitted.

“Not many?” he scoffed. “Try ‘none.’ They really came through for us. This group is totally committed to discrediting government. They’ve been everything they warned us about. Who could ever trust the feds again, after what these guys have accomplished?”

“I think I see your point,” I said.

“It’s hard to miss, Ace. Can you believe they got us into war based on weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist!”

“Is that the ‘incompetent’ part or the ‘untrustworthy’ part?” I wanted to know.

“You can’t tell!” he said enthusiastically. “That’s the great thing about it. Did they lie, or were they just incompetent? They can’t reveal which it was, because they’ve classified everything as a state secret. But either way, they’ve proven their point.”

“You know, now that you mention it, I just read this week about fifteen billion dollars of funding for the war in Iraq that simply vanished, with no record of where it went. Is that another ‘incompetent’?”

“That can’t be ‘incompetent,’ with that much money there for the taking. That’s got to be ‘corrupt,’” he said with conviction. “They’re trying to cover all the bases.”

“So whenever they screw up, it’s a win/win for them?” I asked.

“Right,” he said. “It’s all an attempt to shred your faith in government. Kidnapping guys off the street, flying them to secret prisons, torturing them, holding people for years without releasing their names or telling their families where they are, never charging them with any crimes--are you ever gonna think about government in a warm, fuzzy way again?”

“Not anytime soon,” I had to confess.

“A government that reads your e-mails, listens in on your phone calls, even demands to see what library books you’ve checked out?”

“It makes my skin crawl,” I admitted.

“That’s just what they were hoping for!” Lee said, leaning my way, while his beery breath held us together in a boozy bonhomie. “How about standing government on its head? Civil rights divisions that uphold racial and sex discrimination? Regulatory agencies that team up with industries they’re supposed to regulate? Environmental agencies that protect polluters? Agencies that turn emergencies into catastrophes?”

“I see what you’re saying. It’s as if government with this administration exists to prevent anything happening that really needs to be done.”

Lee wasn’t even listening--nothing new for him. He was on a roll: “Food prices going through the roof? Record home foreclosures? $4 a gallon gas? Colleges that cost more than $40,000 a year? Unaffordable health care? Tax breaks for the rich while the income gap is widening like an interstate? Tax cuts while the country is bleeding red ink? A prescription drug program that’s a bonanza for drug companies and a nightmare for the sick? Denying global warming exists, when the whole planet is at risk? Two and a half trillion dollars for wars stretching into infinity?”

“Whoa! Slow down! That’s a heck of a list. What are you saying, Lee? That they’ll go to any length to prove their point?”

“You’ve got to commit yourself to your ideals,” he said with a belch. “‘That government is best which governs least.’”

“This seems more like ‘That government is best which governs worst.’ Are they prepared to pay the price?” I inquired.

“Well, they don’t really pay the price,” he said. “Other people do. That’s the great thing about it.”

“Gee, I don’t know,” I said. “I have Patty and Kevin to think about. And maybe grandkids down the road. I hate to stick them with a mess like this.”

“Don’t sweat the long term stuff,” he said. “Learn to think in the short term. What I wouldn’t give for four more years of this team.” He jerked his arm up and down in a hammering motion. “That just might be enough to drive the last nail in government’s coffin.”

Then I heard myself say something I never imagined myself saying: “Lee, why don’t you have another beer?”

© Tony Russell, 2008