By Tony Russell

Shorty was sitting in the barbershop, chewing the fat with Bert, when I stopped in for my daily dose of local news. "Hey," I said, "how's Uncle Sam doing? He's got a birthday coming up, hasn't he?"

"To tell the truth, he's not doin' that well, Ace," Shorty said. "But what can you expect? He's gonna be two hundred and twenty-nine years old. You can't expect him to act like a young nation forever."

"I always thought he had an iron constitution," I said.

"Me too," confessed Shorty. "But his constitution's not what it used to be. Jailing people without charging them with a crime. Not allowing them to see a lawyer. Torturing people. Feeding lies to the public. Forking out money to religions. I'll tell ya, he's changed. It's pathetic to see him go downhill like that."

"I heard he's having blackouts," said Bert.

"Yeah, he just had one that lasted about six weeks," said Shorty. "Proof that the President had lied to drag us into war. The story broke in England, and for six weeks, not a single major network, newspaper, or news magazine in this country gave it any notice."

"That's scary," said Bert. "Anything could happen to him if he's having episodes like that."

"It's funny how it came on him all of a sudden," I reflected.

"Well, you know, he had that war fever a few years back, and then that patriotic fever right after that," said Shorty, "and he's never been the same since."

"I don't know that he's over those fevers yet," said Bert. "I think it's like malaria. Once you get it in your system, you have these recurrent attacks."

"You might be right," said Shorty. "But the family has called in all kinds of specialists—Dr. Rice, Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld—and they all say to stick with their prescription."

"Gee, I'd have to think twice about that," said Bert. "If something's not working, maybe it's time to try something different."

"A couple of people have suggested that," said Shorty, "but these specialists insist their new treatment will work if you give it enough time."

"Their treatment seems pretty harsh," said Bert. "Are you sure that's what Uncle Sam wants?"

"They're hard on the poor and the middle class," admitted Shorty. "But that's what you get when you choose those guys."

"Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld, Rice. Boy," I mused, "their bills must really be something. Help like that doesn't come cheap!"

"You can say that again," agreed Shorty. "Over two hundred billion dollars is what I've heard."

I whistled. "That much! I've heard the family has money, but how can they afford bills like that?"

"They can't in the long term," said Shorty. "They're mortgaged their future to the hilt, they're saddling their children and grandchildren with debt, and they're in hock to China and other Asian nations for huge sums. And it's not just money. It's the human cost too. Over a hundred thousand people dead. People blinded, crippled, maimed, and emotionally devastated. Cities leveled, homes gutted, futures ruined, families destroyed."

"Is that what the specialists said would happen?" I asked.

"No, it's not," said Shorty, after thinking about it for a minute. "They painted a pretty rosy picture at the start. They said the treatment would be cheap and practically pay for itself. They figured the war would be over in no time."

"You know," said Bert, "if they were so wrong about that, maybe they're wrong about the rest of it too. Uncle Sam's old ways worked pretty well. Maybe he knew what he was doing all along."

"If he's in that kind of shape," I said, "it's a good thing he's got Medicare and his Social Security."

"Oh yeah," began Shorty. "I forgot to mention …."

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