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I took Kevin to the DMV yesterday to get his learners permit. I’d planned on sleeping in, but Patty roused us at 7. “It could take most of the morning,” she said, “and you’ll never get the grass cut if you sleep in.” She seemed to believe that was a negative.
We got there early, before the doors opened, but two dozen people were already ahead of us. We slowly worked our way toward the front of the line, and were almost there by 10 am. I’d read the sports section of the paper twice, and Kevin stayed busy texting on his phone. But then things took an odd turn.
I was setting out our trash when Ann Willard came up the street, walking their St. Bernard, Boris. “How’ya doing, Ann?” I said. “Have a good holiday?”
She looked a little red-faced, but that was probably the stiff, cold wind gusting up from the river. Or being a hundred pound woman being dragged by a two hundred pound dog. “I don’t want to sound like a complainer,” she said, “but we’ve had better.”
“You said that the F.B.I. cleared Edward Snowden of acting with anyone else or as part of a spy ring. Why are we even talking about this then? How can Mike Rogers pretend the F.B.I. report doesn’t exist, go on TV, and accuse Snowden of being a spy for the Russian secret police?”
I was out walking my dog the other morning, and my neighbor Tom--known locally as “the gentle radical”--was out shoveling the snow from his walk. He was puffing, and I asked him if he’d like to take a break and give me a turn at the shovel.
“Thanks for the offer, Ace,” he said with a smile, “but I need to do things like this to work off my frustration. If I couldn’t shovel snow, rake leaves, and tend to my garden, I think the top of my head might periodically blow off.”
“Excuse me for interrupting, Congressman, but I thought you might like to know that Theresa has been in the waiting room for almost two hours now, hoping to see you.”
“She’s the new aide in our Scottsville office.”
“Congressman, you have a noon meeting with a group of peace activists who want to talk with you about your position on Syria. And I should warn you that there are some TV vans down in the parking lot.”
“A person could perish of entertainment....” - Garrison Keillor
“Did you see that the Pope has called for people around the world to get together for a day of prayer and fasting this Saturday?” asked my neighbor Harmon, looking up from his newspaper.
The routine never varies here, so I was startled when there was a knock, followed immediately by a key turning in the door. “It’s not time for breakfast yet,” I told Henry, the massive attendant.
“Get dressed anyway,” he told me. “The Director wants you in his office in fifteen minutes.”
This summer’s blockbuster is a remake of Steven Spielberg’s 2004 romantic comedy The Terminal. The main figure in the earlier film, Viktor--played somewhat awkwardly by Tom Hanks, affecting a nondescript all-purpose Eastern European accent--is trying to immigrate to New York. He becomes stranded in Kennedy Airport, however, when his home country suddenly undergoes a violent coup and no longer officially exists.
In this 2013 remake, director Glenn Greenwald reverses the East-West aspects of the earlier plot and blends the Spielberg film’s storyline with elements of the 1998 Will Smith/Gene Hackman action flick Enemy of the State. Result: instead of a comedy we now have an international thriller. Edward Snowden plays a former U.S. spy agency contractor who is stranded in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after he reveals that an invisible coup has occurred in the United States, and the US government is no longer what its citizens think it is.
The thread connecting the two films is that both central figures--Viktor and Edward--are so honest, straightforward, and devoid of hidden motives that their simplest words and acts make the officials trying to deal with them look bad by contrast. When the officials continue to operate as rule-bound, duplicitous, and sometimes vindictive servants of the institution, we become appalled by both the bureaucracies they serve and their own limited moral imaginations.
This column is a lightly-modified version of one that first appeared back in March of 2006. The Bush administration was the focus of that earlier column. It’s only fair to apply the same standards now to the Obama years. Readers are encouraged to take the quiz themselves. I’d be delighted to know your scores, if you would like to self-report. And I’d welcome your suggestions for additional questions that might be used in a third version of the quiz.
This column imagines a simple switching of roles in the recent forced landing of Bolivian president Evo Morales's plane, orchestrated by the U.S. in an attempt to lay hands on whistleblower Edward Snowden. The connection described between the U.S. and deposed Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, unfortunately, is historically accurate.
Vienna, July 2 ~
“...the church ought to be a community of liberated people, committed to the liberation of all..
- Fr. Bernard Haring
This one looks at yet another revelation that the military-industrial-spying 50+% of the federal government doesn't operate with the kind of oversight and accountability rules everyone else has to play by.
I was flabbergasted when the the Congressional Research Service reported on May 17 that the Pentagon didn’t have a clue what the 108,000 contractors the Department of Defense (DOD) has in Afghanistan were actually doing--let alone how well they were doing it.
The KGB alumni portion of the following, which sounds realistic, is actually fiction; the NSA portion, which sounds like science fiction, is actual news from the real world.
It’s June again, and around the globe, in the northern hemisphere, alumni groups are gathering. In Russia, the KGBAA (KGB Alumni Association)--former officials of the Soviet Union’s “Committee for State Security”--held their annual reunion this week at the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, nearly 22 years after the agency’s dissolution in 1991.
This one contains a tongue-in-cheek look at the wealthy "decision makers" who are deciding to "fix the debt" by cutting services to ordinary people rather than take simple steps like closing tax loopholes designed by and for the benefit of the rich, raising the current cut-off level on the Social Security tax, eliminating offshore tax shelters, going after income tax fraud, and raising corporate income taxes, which have plunged over the past few decades. My apologies to any political figures I may have inadvertently shamed by low-balling their income. I will gladly make any needed corrections.
This one takes a look at the offshore tax shelters which corporations use to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars of tax liability, thereby leaving... you and me... to carry the load, while our country sinks deeper into debt.
Afghan president confirms he received tens of millions of dollars from the CIA in suitcases and sacks 'for access to Karzai's inner circle'
- Headline, The Daily Mail, 29 April 2013
Childhood joke: What kind of keys can’t open a door?
* * * *
“Channel 16 continues its election night coverage. Results are pouring in now that the polls have closed around the country. We take you now to Washington, DC, where Channel 16‘s Scott Wamsley is live at Democratic headquarters. Scott, what’s the mood there?”
“Erin, people have been gathered around the television, watching as results are announced from state after state. Excitement began to build early on, when it became apparent that Democrats were likely to lose the House, and champagne corks began popping once it became clear that Democratic losses are going to reach historic proportions. They may be able to lose the Senate as well, but right now several of those races are too close to call.”
“Is this what people there were expecting, Scott?”
Of Principalities and Powers ~ “War? What War?”
If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again
be any war.
Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military
censored graphic footage from the Gulf War
* * * *
“Ace! Bob’s on the phone!” called Patty.
Bob didn’t waste any time. “Ace!” he barked out. “Get over to the courthouse right now. There are half a dozen people down there carrying anti-war signs. It’s the biggest peace protest here in years, and I want you to get some pictures and interview them before they get too cold and head home.”
“I’m on it, Chief,” I assured him, then grabbed my coat and headed out the door.
One of my neighbors, Uncle Whitt, was just walking past the house, dragging his rat terrier Roscoe, who--as usual--was doing his best to lift his leg at every tree, bush, hydrant, gate, and signpost they passed.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Radio ad: Congressional Candy Company Commences Clearance Campaign
Directions: Read breathlessly, just below shouting pitch.
* * * *
Midterm elections are only days away, and the Congressional Candy Company is staging a once-in-a-lifetime sales event! Members locked in tight races as well as 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!
In the aftermath of Glenn Beck’s Washington rally, I’ve drawn a picture of what “restoring honor” in this country might actually mean, using the example of Colin Powell. The column, as harsh as it may seem, isn’t intended to sit in judgment of Powell; that’s a matter between him and his Maker. What he did, however, was public, and the consequences likewise. Moreover, Powell admitted, in a 2005 interview with Barbara Walters, that his performance at the UN was a “blot” on his record, adding that “It was painful. It’s painful now.” Clearly, the enormity of the wrong he committed was far more than a “blot,” and it had far greater consequences than marring his personnel record.
As soon as Janet stepped through the kitchen door, she could hear the sound of crying--deep, gasping, soul-wrenching sobs. “Oh no,” she sighed to herself. “Not again.”
She put the tea kettle on and then walked over to put her arm around her friend’s shoulders. “Brenda, honey, what is it? What’s wrong?”
Brenda kept her head bent, tears pouring down her cheeks, as she stared at the kitchen table. “It’s Barry,” she finally managed to choke out. “He and his friends are saying the meanest things about me.”
“What kind of things, Brenda?”
Brenda had temporarily brought her crying under control. “He accused me of being unfaithful. He said I didn’t really love him, that I didn’t understand all the things he has to struggle with. He acted as if I was stupid and ungrateful!” And she burst into a new round of tears.
Angry on her friend’s behalf, Janet said, “What’s the matter with him? Why is he saying those things?”