At the close of last week's Jacko Rubba-thon, Last Days promised readers a week of all real news. As few things are "realer" than deciding the fate of the world, this week's column follows the comings and goings of our speciously elected, unprecedentedly inept man-of-God, President George W. Bush.


As news reports swirled about the hideous damage done to the gardens of Buckingham Palace during the recent state visit of President Bush (whose entourage and helicopters reportedly damaged trees and shrubs surviving from the Victorian era, traumatized the Queen's flamingos, and caused enough horticultural carnage to make the Palace's head gardener break down sobbing), the president himself was busy authorizing the most expensive piece of defense legislation in the history of the United States. Today's $401.3 billion defense bill includes a 4.15 percent pay raise for members of the military, continues $250 monthly "hostile fire/imminent danger" pay for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and expands veterans' benefits; the bill also allots $9.1 billion for ballistic missile defense, $12 billion for the purchase of Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force fighters, and, after a decade-long moratorium, allows research into new types of nuclear weapons. After signing the measure, President Bush flew to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he attempted to deflect ongoing criticism of his commander-in-chief-hood (Bush has yet to attend the funeral of any soldier killed in Iraq) by meeting with the families of several Operation Iraqi Freedom casualties (an event described by Rocky Mountain News columnist Mike Littwin as a "pep rally/photo op" where reporters were forbidden to speak to any members of the military).


In what was trumpeted as a resounding political victory for President George W. Bush, today the Senate gave final congressional approval to a $400 billion expansion of Medicare. While critics will deride the expansion as a freakishly costly sellout to drug companies and HMOs during a time of runaway budget deficits, the move is a coup for President Bush, who's managed the neat trick of taking a traditionally lefty issue and making it his own, simultaneously appeasing his moneyed masters and furthering his reputation as a human blessed with a basic allotment of compassion and good sense.

-- Meanwhile in Pittsburgh: The United Steelworkers of America called for a congressional investigation into the "massive police state" created to intimidate union members and other critics of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas during last week's FTAA meetings in Miami. "The Miami police... systematically repressed our Constitutional right to free assembly with massive force, riot gear and armaments," wrote Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard in a letter to congressional leaders. "It is doubly condemnable that $9 million of federal funds designated for the reconstruction of Iraq were used toward this despicable purpose. How can we hope to build democracy in Iraq while using massive force to dismantle it here at home?" In closing, the steelworkers' union called for the dismissal of Miami Police Chief John Timoney, the dropping of all charges against peaceful demonstrators, and the launching of an immediate investigation into "the Miami Police Department's systematic repression."

-- And finally: Following last week's reports of the mutilation and degradation of two American soldiers killed in Iraq (whose bodies were reportedly dragged from a car and pummeled with concrete blocks by bloodthirsty Iraqis), today U.S. military officials corrected initial accounts, reporting that they found no evidence to support Iraqis' claims of dragging and pummeling. Whoops.


Nothing happened today, unless you count numerous gloating reports of Bush's visit to Carson City, Nevada, where the president set the locals' teeth on edge by repeatedly mispronouncing the state's name. (For the record, it's "Nevada," with the first "a" pronounced like "gamble," rather than the Dubya-favored "Ne-VAH-da.")


Today was Thanksgiving, the national holiday devoted to gluttony and sloth. To celebrate, President George W. Bush paid a surprise visit to Iraq, where nearly 300 U.S. service members have died of hostile action in Operation Iraqi Freedom (including 188 since Bush declared an end to major fighting on May 1). Meeting with some 600 American soldiers in Baghdad, Bush told the "surprised and delighted" troops, "You are defending the American people from danger and we are grateful." Sadly, reports of the president being dragged from a car and pummeled with concrete blocks proved to be false.


Today brought what is famously if inaccurately known as the "biggest shopping day of the year." To celebrate, a rampaging mob of shoppers in Orange City, Florida, trampled a 41-year-old woman who was inconveniently having a seizure on the floor of a Wal-Mart. According to Florida's Local 6 News, Patricia Van Lester arrived at the Wal-Mart at 3:00 a.m. for an early sale on a DVD player that Van Lester hoped to purchase for her mother. When the store's doors opened at 6:00 a.m., Van Lester grabbed the DVD player--but was soon overcome by hundreds of shoppers rushing into the store. Upon being knocked to the ground, Van Lester whacked her head and suffered at least one seizure, with Orange City paramedics arriving to find Van Lester lying on her left side on top of the DVD player, surrounded by seemingly oblivious bargain hunters. Van Lester was airlifted to Daytona Beach's Halifax Medical Center, where she's expected to remain for several days.

-- Meanwhile 2003's hottest trend--horrific child abuse--struck terrifyingly close to home today, with the discovery of a brutally murdered toddler in Aberdeen's Sam Benn Park. Tomorrow the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will offer heartbreaking details on the killed kid, identified as four-year-old Lyle Smith, whose body--riddled with "horrific wounds" inflicted with a "large, fixed-blade hunting knife," according to police--was found near the equally dead Janna Brown, the 41-year-old woman believed to have murdered Lyle Smith (whom she was babysitting) before taking her own life. While the cause of Janna Brown's death had not been determined (toxicology tests are due in two weeks), police believe Brown stabbed Lyle Smith repeatedly on the park's tennis court, then walked back to her apartment, took some pills, returned to the park, and died. This isn't Janna Brown's criminal debut: Earlier this year, she was convicted of killing a dog she believed to be the devil, but after a 72-hour evaluation at Western State Hospital, officials decided Brown was not mentally ill, but suffering from the ever-popular "methamphetamine-induced psychosis." As for Janna Brown's latest alleged crime, police say that young Lyle Smith's injuries were so gruesome that responding officers required grief counselors. "Many of our officers have young children at home," Aberdeen Police Captain Dave Johnson told the P-I. "They were just devastated."


In other comforting news: Today America's Newspaper®, USA Today, reported on the likelihood of a massive al Qaeda strike on U.S. soil sometime in the next year. According to a "top counterterrorism official," al Qaeda operatives have dropped plans for several small attacks in the USA to focus on plotting a "more spectacular" assault comparable to the September 11 attacks. Unfortunately, officials have no specific evidence on how or when al Qaeda might strike, but according to recent intelligence reports, al Qaeda "remains fascinated by the idea of using aircraft as missiles."


Nothing happened today (unless you count the killing of 36 Iraqi ambushers by U.S. troops in Samarra).

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