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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- President George Bush still clings to the fantasy that invading and occupying Iraq will make our nation safer and the world more peaceful. In his speech on Sunday night, he repeated the same deceptive rhetoric that led us into a war that will not end until we leave and allow the Iraqis to repair their shattered nation.

Never mind how invalid the reasons for war were, Bush proclaims, "I did it." And now we must slug it out for however long it takes. Bush assures us "we are winning the war." He says his war requires "more sacrifice." It will. And the names of the brave people doing the sacrificing will be names from my family -- Buckley, Edwards and Nichols, not Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld.

Hard facts often interfere with my natural optimism. But unexpected, unpredicted events can shift me from the literal and spiritual long darkness of these early winter days to behold the lightness of hope.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) has found friends, at long last, willing to support his opposition to provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which could be more aptly labeled the USA Stalin Tribute Act. The USASTA has been put on hold for now, since Feingold has gotten nearly all the Democratic and three brave Republican senators to refuse to rubber-stamp an extension of the act without major revisions of its assaults on civil liberties. These are the very rights our real patriots fought and died for in the American Revolution.

The Senate leader-serpent, Bill "Dirty Hands" Frist (R-Swamp), slithered into the muck of hyperbole that has made him the least effective Senate majority leader in memory. He smeared the senators seeking to put some restraints in the legislation, claiming, "We have a clear choice today. Do we advance against terrorism to make America safer or do we retreat?" Frist is a fool and a fraud. How did he ever get out of medical school?

He was unable to get 60 members to vote to end debate on modifying the act. The Busheviks want to continue unrestrained powers to read anyone's mail, seize our medical records and monitor the books we read. The senators who still believe in the Constitution want the government to get subpoenas, ask independent judges to approve some actions and generally show some accountability.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged the Senate to support the extension of USASTA, saying, "Trust us." He keeps telling us how effective the law is, but he has consistently refused to provide any evidence to support his unsubstantiated claim. How did he ever get out of law school?

"It is time to have checks and balances in this country," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said during the debate, in a voice filled with frustration and disbelief that he had to remind his colleagues, "We are a democracy." Not with George W. Bush in office.

Bush holds the Constitution in disdain. Like no other president in our history, including Richard Nixon, Bush sees himself as above the law and any restraint. He does as he pleases and lacks the temperament, introspection and historical perspective that guided most presidents.

Capitol Hill Blue, a wonderful online journal that often reports on Bush's wild rants and obsessive behavior months before the stories show up in the mainstream corporate media, had a recent report on what he really thinks about the framework of our government.

At a White House meeting discussing some of the most controversial sections of the Patriot Act, a brave soul told Bush, "There is a valid case that the law undermines the Constitution." Bush fumed, shouting at the aide, "Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It's just a goddamn piece of paper." I can just hear him saying that in his insufferable twang.

We now know that Bush secretly ordered the National Security Agency to secretly eavesdrop, record telephone conversations and carry out other domestic spying activities. In doing that, the president committed a serious crime, a felony and an impeachable offense.

The seriousness of the high crime and misdemeanor became apparent when Vice President Dick Cheney made a speedy departure from his bunker to visit Capitol Hill and assure lawmakers the spying program was perfectly legal.

Lord Halliburton, Attorney General Gonzales and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld form the administration's "We Don't Torture" triumvirate. They just enable torture and call it something else. Bush's agreement last week to accept Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) anti-torture amendment to the defense appropriations bill was a joke. Bush will do as he damn well pleases. He knew his threatened veto would be overridden. At least the members of the Torture Triumvirate are not hypocrites. They don't hide from their fondness and justifications for cruelty and inhumane treatment of detainees.

But why am I worrying about freedom, liberty, the Constitution and other sobering thoughts when a far greater threat is upon us: the unrelenting assault on Christmas. Before Mass at my parish, the Servant Church of St. Alexander, in Farmington Hills, Mich., we've been lighting the advent wreath, while praying liberals and secular humanists don't disrupt the liturgy and persecute us for our faith.

Christmas is under attack. I guess I didn't realize it until the screaming heads on talk radio and TV started hyperventilating over the heresy. Never mind the people still suffering from Katrina, the poor, the unemployed. Attacks on Christmas are destroying this nation.

Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.), who just marked his 50th year in the House of Representatives, offered this poem prior to passage of House Resolution 579 aimed at protecting Christmas.

'Twas a week before Christmas and all through the House,
no bills were passed 'bout which Fox News could grouse.
Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
so vacations in St. Barts soon should be near.
Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds,
while visions of school and home danced in their heads.
In Iraq, our soldiers need supplies and a plan,
and nuclear weapons are being built in Iran.
Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.
Americans feared we were in a fast track to ... well.
Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily,
a fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly.
We will pretend Christmas is under attack,
hold a vote to save it, then pat ourselves on the back.
Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger,
Wake up, Congress, they're in no danger.
This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go,
From churches to homes to schools and, yes, even Costco.
What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy
when this is the season to unite us with joy.
At Christmastime, we're taught to unite.
We don't need a make-up reason to fight.
So on O'Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter and those right-wing blogs.
You should sit back and relax, have a few egg nogs.
'Tis the holiday season; enjoy it a pinch.
With all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?
So to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight,
a Merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O'Reilly, Happy Holidays.

To family and friends, especially my old pal Ted Foster, who taught me so much about the joys of this wonderful season, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. To everyone, even my three or four critics out there, enjoy these days in peace. Like most things, it sounds better in Italian: Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Dec. 20 2005