The most patriotic of all 


It was a used-car dealer’s election
And the choice was rather small
The boys agreed it’s the war we need
So there’s no president at all.

—Phil Ochs, “Ten Cents a Coup,” 1970


Last week, for about the millionth time since the smirking chimp became first banana, I silently cursed Phil Ochs for having the bad taste to celebrate the bicentennial by killing himself all those years ago.

He never suspected how much we’d need his voice and, especially, his pen today. Sourly, watching Colin Powell, first proconsul of the current empire, I put on Ochs’ sarcastically misnamed Greatest Hits album:

I thought that Johnson was the devil / I thought we couldn’t do no worse / Now the White House stands in Disneyland / This country must be under a curse.

Yeah, and you didn’t know the half of it, Phil baby.

Anyway, as we continue to slouch toward war, it occurred to me it’s too bad that along with his token blacks, the Shrub didn’t name a few token artistic gays to his administration. If nothing else, the imperial color chart could use some serious updating.

Now I’m not anyone you’d trust to decorate a phone booth, but I did have the big box of Crayolas (64 colors!) as a boy, and if we have to scare people with meaningless security alerts, we can do better than the present stale set of hues.

“Condition Orange” sounds like construction-paper Halloween pumpkins, and all the other colors in the Homeland Insecurity Rainbow are predictably dull.

Why can’t we have Condition Taupe (friendly aliens; stay mellow), Candy-Apple Red (Osama is in the building), Saffron (Donovan has joined the Axis of Evil!) or Burnt Sienna (whoops; our intelligence dropped the ball again!)?

Those colors would be sure to get our relapsing-into-apathy citizenry riveted to CNN once more. By the way, there was a story last week that got too little attention, a story about how the most purely American group of all came to the aid of a teenage boy in Dearborn.

His name is Brett Barber, and he is a junior at Dearborn High. On Feb. 17, he wore a T-shirt with Bush’s picture and a caption, “International Terrorist,” which expressed how the boy felt about little big man’s warmongering.

School officials ordered him to take it off, turn it inside out or go home. Brett was a better American than they are, however, and called the ACLU.

That’s the American Civil Liberties Union to you, a group that exists to defend our most sacred heritage, the Bill of Rights. That’s what makes America great, and those rights are under attack. Not by Osama or Saddam; by John Ashcroft, the Bible Belt ayatollah the voters tossed out of Missouri.

“It’s time to acknowledge that liberty has been stolen by our government with the blessing of George W. Bush, who has let loose his attorney general to pillage our rights,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.

She fears, rightly, that most people have no idea what Ashcroft and Bush are trying to do to this country. “For the first time it has been written into federal law that the government can use sneak-and-peek warrants for physical searches of our homes, cars, computers and reading materials without providing notice to the target of the search,” she said. That’s thanks to the neo-fascist USA Patriot Act, which the Ashcrofts are even now trying to make worse.

“If you dare to engage in dissent over U.S. policies in the Middle East, if you socialize or work with Muslims or Arabs, if you surf the Web to read alternative or radical political thought … you, more than likely, are already under surveillance,” said Moss, a lawyer who works hard to keep us free for a fraction of what she could be earning defending, say, white-collar criminals.

Well, at least the snitches are getting jobs. Isn’t it nice to know that Bush finally has a full-employment program for America? Memo to the warden at Dearborn High: Let the kid and his T-shirt alone! He’s probably got Homeland Security spies watching him every minute. Let’s hope we always have an ACLU to watch out for him, and us.


Why medical malpractice matters: Doctors and hospitals whine a lot about “unreasonable” high malpractice awards granted by juries when they do something like saw off the wrong leg. Creatures like John Engler are always striving to lower the maximum amount of such awards.

But before you agree, consider the case of little Jesica Santillan, whose family gave up everything, came from Mexico and waited three years so that she could get a desperately needed heart-and-lung transplant. The world knows what happened. The medical geniuses at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina gave her a set of organs from someone with the wrong blood type.

They then somehow got another set, did a second agonizing operation, but too much damage already had been done. When they told her parents Saturday that Jesica was brain-dead, they understandably asked the hospital to keep her alive till they had time to get a second opinion.

Know what happened? Apparently the hospital told them no, they didn’t need any second opinion … and turned off her machines anyway! Being punished in the pocketbook is the only thing monsters like that understand, and here’s hoping someone makes everyone who destroyed little Jesica’s life pay.


Patriot game: So what happens when the Shrub finally starts his war to liberate Iraqi oil — oops — people sometime before April? Does politics stop at the water’s edge? Do we who opposed it patriotically fall into line?

Absolutely. As long as Bush, who pretends to be a strict constructionist, follows the Constitution and gets Congress to declare war. Otherwise his military adventure would be outrageous and illegal, and must be loudly opposed.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail comments to

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