Eat or be eaten

Bites anonymously takes a look back at the year that bit

Put 2007 down as the year Bites almost stopped believing that anything could be done to prevent the ongoing decline of western civilization. It was a strange, degrading and ultimately depressing year. The Sacramento Kings picked an untested sophomore from the University of Washington in the first round of the NBA draft. A homophobic senator from Idaho got busted trolling in a Minneapolis men’s room. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts fried its last sugar-coated confection in Sacramento. And that was the good news.

The bad news was … well, don’t worry: There was plenty of bad news. But in the beginning there was optimism, expressed in this inspirational New Year’s Eve poem Bites wrote to Gary Pruitt, CEO of McClatchy Co., whose flagship newspaper is The Sacramento Bee:

Gary, Gary, quite contrary,
How does your income grow?
With mergers and buyouts and cutbacks
And layoffs and myriad employee woes!

Don’t get Bites wrong. Gary works hard for the money—approximately $2 million in annual salary and bonuses. The McClatchy purchase of Knight Ridder in the summer of 2006, engineered by Pruitt, was as stroke of genius. The problem was, no one on Wall Street recognized it. By New Year’s Eve, McClatchy’s stock price had declined 27.5 percent to $43. It would get worse. Much worse.

McClatchy’s precipitous fortunes presaged a year in which the economy, democracy and the nation’s esteem in the eyes of the world continued their rapid declines. The largest real-estate bubble in history collapsed, threatening to knock the global economy off its axis. The Democratic Party, swept into power by what was widely perceived as an anti-war referendum, betrayed voters by continuing to enable the Bush regime’s “democraticization” of the Middle East. Australia became the latest ally to pull its troops out of Iraq as the rest of the world shunned the United States, including its currency.

The Mexican went NorCal this year. (We’ll bring back 15 Minutes, too, if you’re nice.)

There were few silver linings in this dark and stormy night of a year. An iconoclastic Republican from Texas threatened to upend the political status quo. Global warming took on a new sense of urgency. Bites scored the occasional scoop. Other than that, from the very beginning, 2007 was a full-tilt race to the bottom. Bites was there all the way, marking the milestones on the road to Armageddon.

The New Year got off to a flying start as Sacramento cemented its status as international capital of bizarre and demeaning contests after Jennifer Strange, a mother of three, died from water intoxication after holding her urine in too long during a “hold your wee for a Wii” contest sponsored by local radio station KDND 107.9 FM. Strange’s death, Bites wryly noted, demonstrated “just how far today’s parents will go—or not go—to satisfy the whims of children.”

January offered up what would prove to the year’s bitterest pill, the betrayal of Congressional Democrats to the wave of antiwar sentiment that swept them into the majority for the first time since Bush hijacked the presidency in 2000. Bites argued that Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, deserved to have protesters on her doorstep after she claimed she opposed the war in Iraq, but refused to publicly commit to cutting off its funding. Unfortunately, Matsui wasn’t the only Democrat to turn her back on the anti-war vote. New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, proved Dems could be just as duplicitous as their Republican cohorts.

The Nuge called out Dem presidential hopefuls early in ’07.

SN&R Photo Illustration By David Jayne

The cost of their betrayal is borne in blood. By the end of January, the estimated number of Iraqis killed ranged from 43,937 to 655,000. More than 3,000 American soldiers had been killed, including 278 Californians.

Super Bowl XLI MVP Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts were upstaged by Kevin Federline, who played a daydreaming fry cook on a Nationwide Insurance commercial aired during the game. Bites wrote that “K-Fed’s self-effacing act instantly transformed him from never-was to Super Bowl XLI’s biggest winner.” To prove once and for all that we’ve lost our sense of humor, the American Restaurant Association publicly complained the commercial was demeaning to fast-food workers.

As if being an American wasn’t demeaning enough. The betrayal of voters continued as the Bush administration pursued its disastrous policies in the Middle East, aided and abetted by the Democrats as much as it ever was by Republicans. With evidence embarrassingly similar to the phony intelligence used to justify the Iraq invasion, Bush and the neocons began pushing for an attack on Iran. The newly empowered Democrats were only happy to oblige. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, reluctant warriors in Iraq, were just itching to get it on with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. An invasion seemed imminent.

We&#8217;re on the <i>Deadline or Flatline </i>tour.

SN&amp;R Photo By Shoka

“Like letting a crank-addled carnie Okie-rig the Tilt-A-Whirl, invading Iran just isn’t a good idea,” Bites wrote. “But that won’t stop every cotton-pickin’ member of Congress from supporting President George W. Bush’s attempt to secure his place in history by escalating the conflict in the Middle East and potentially igniting World War III.”

By the end of the year, George Bush would be making those WWIII references himself.

Bites didn’t know it at the time, but the only thing that prevented the United States from invading Iran was Admiral William J. Fallon, commander of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees all military operations in the Persian Gulf. In a show of backbone that has become increasingly rare during the Bush years, Fallon assured foreign journalists the United States would not invade Iran on his watch. Somehow, Bites must have known the Navy was involved, because the first column in March concerned the glossy color cover of the latest issue of Mom Guess What magazine, which depicted two of the cutest, buffest, gayest sailors you’ve even seen locking lips. Bites imagined the pornographic pair steaming toward the Persian Gulf, where they implored their fellow seamen to throw down their weapons, tear off their clothes and make love, not war. Don’t ask, do tell.

March marked the month that outsourcing first reared its ugly head in 2007, after Bites was contacted by Don Linville, a partner in the local Web developing firm Black Dog Studios and a dues-paying member of the Sacramento Metro Chamber. Linville was incensed when he learned that the chamber had outsourced the upgrade of its Web site without even offering it up for local bid. Linville told Bites that Metro Chamber president and CEO Matt Mahood ignored his complaints about the issue.

Joe, you have to <i>cast</i> SN&amp;R in your movies to get favorable press. Just ask Bob Moricz.

“He genuinely seemed perplexed as to why I would find it both ironic and hypocritical that an organization whose existence is based on promoting local business would offer such an important contract to an out-of-state vendor without so much as surveying their members for the experience and expertise to do the job,” Linville said.

“In retrospect, we probably should have put it out to our membership, because that would have been following our own internal process,” Mahood told Bites.

Then again, sometimes you follow your own internal process and wind up being thwarted anyway. That was the case in March when KVIE president and general manager David Hosley decided not to air the propagandistic documentary Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence on Sacramento’s public-television channel because the film was “journalistically flawed.” He didn’t make the decision lightly, inviting KVIE’s board of directors, as well as members of the community—including a minister, a rabbi, an Islamic Cal State Sacramento professor and an imam—to review the program. Their decision was unanimous.

“Without stating my views about it, I asked what their thoughts were,” Hosley told Bites. “Their feeling was that more harm than good would come from playing that program.” Hosley chose not to air Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century—apparently the only general manager in the country to do so. Nevertheless, according to The Sacramento Bee, members of the Sacramento Jewish Federation pressured the station to change its mind. In its headline, the Bee called the decision to air a journalistically flawed program a “blow to bigotry.” In Yiddish, that’s what’s known as chutzpah. [page]

Greed got the best of our local daily&#8217;s parent company, McClatchy Co., in &#8217;07.

April began on a pleasant note with a voicemail from Sacramento filmmaker Joe Carnahan, who politely suggested that Bites had erred in a recent column that claimed Smokin’ Aces, his latest film, had “utterly flopped.”

“I hope you use these words in your chicken-shit column,” Carnahan sputtered. “Since when does nearly $40 million in domestic box office and a projected $80 million in international box office, and another possible $100 million in DVD, constitute a flop, you fucking idiot? If you have any balls, you’ll call me back. I would love to know who’s running me down in my hometown. So give me a call back unless you’re a complete coward. … I’d love an explanation, so give me a call … you fucking ponce. I’m looking forward to it, I really am. Let’s see if you’ve got any guts.”

Robert McKeown&#8217;s Shiny Object film series moved to West Sacramento this past year. Is this the beginning of a grid exodus?

SN&amp;R Photo By Larry Dalton

An e-mail containing a similar rant was titled simply, “Hey fuckface.”

So naturally Bites called Carnahan back. A slightly more civilized Carnahan explained the nuances of Hollywood economics.

“You can say it was critically derided, that’s fine,” he said. “But to say it flopped is not correct, man. That implies some kind of financial failure, and it wasn’t.”

The exchange with Carnahan alone would have made April worth living. But it got better. The story actually began in July 2006, when the Virginian-Pilot newspaper began a series of reports on Blackwater USA, the controversial North Carolina-based security corporation. At the time, Blackwater provided more private mercenaries in Iraq than any other firm. It was also seeking to expand into the field of providing emergency services.

“On the home front, Hurricane Katrina’s $73 million purse has persuaded Blackwater officials to position themselves as the go-to guys for the natural disasters,” the newspaper reported. “Operating licenses are being applied for in every coastal state on the country. Governors are being given the pitch, including California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom a Blackwater official recently visited to discuss earthquake response.”

The problem was, the governor’s office told Bites it had never met with Blackwater. That seemed odd to Bites, since neither the governor’s office nor Blackwater had disputed the original report, even when it was reprinted in Jeremy Scahill’s recently released book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Suddenly, upon the release of the book, both Blackwater and Schwarzenegger were denying the meeting took place.

It never happened, Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear told Bites.

Ditto, said Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell.

Here comes the neighborhood.

SN&amp;R Photo By Shoka

Bites called the Virginian-Pilot, where the reporter who wrote the story stuck by the Blackwater source who told her that a meeting had taken place. “No one ever called to say it was wrong,” she said.

Scahill clued Bites in on an even tighter connection between Blackwater and the Schwarzenegger administration. Chris Bertelli, director of communications for the California Department of Homeland Security, formerly served as a registered lobbyist for Alexander Strategy Group, which counts Blackwater among its major clients.

Meanwhile, Blackwater called back to say that although there had been no actual meeting with Schwarzenegger, “There was discussion with the governor’s office about the potential of setting up a meeting. … A meeting was tentatively scheduled, though it fell through … and it was never rescheduled.”

McLear could not confirm whether a meeting between Blackwater and the governor had ever been in the works.

Remnants of the 24th and Q streets fire this fall.

SN&amp;R Photo By Shoka

Very interesting, Bites noted. Very interesting, indeed.

Unfortunately, Blackwater didn’t find Bites’ curiosity about the matter interesting at all. Via certified mail, Blackwater’s attorney put it this way:

“It is my understanding that you may intend to state that Blackwater met with Governor Schwarzenegger or his staff and that both the Governor’s office and Blackwater are attempting to conceal their hidden relationship,” the attorney warned. “Such reporting would be utterly false, and Blackwater hereby places you on notice that it will deem any such reporting as a malicious and reckless attempt to injure Blackwater’s reputation.”

Sacramentans got a little bump in their grind this year with coffeehouses serving fair-trade, organic, single-origin coffees, like Temple Fine Coffee and Tea downtown.

SN&amp;R Photo By Larry Dalton

As is turned out, in terms of injured reputation, Blackwater had a lot more than Bites to worry about. But for a moment there, Bites actually felt like a real journalist.

In early May, the 2008 presidential race suddenly turned interesting, thanks to Rep. Ron Paul, the 10-term congressman from Texas. Paul’s libertarian philosophy, which limits government involvement in the lives of individuals and the country’s affairs only to the extent the Constitution allows, makes him the only Republican opposed to the Iraq War and the Patriot Act.

Daric Barton now plays for the Oakland Athletics. He was the 2007 champion River Cats lone All Star.

SN&amp;R Photo By Michael Miller

“That makes Ron Paul, not John McCain, the Republican Party’s real maverick,” Bites wrote. “No doubt there are many aspects of Paul’s political philosophy regular readers of this space will find abhorrent, such as his staunch stance against illegal immigration. But Republicans seeking a true anti-war candidate to get behind have found their man.”

Outsourcing made its second appearance of the year when the Associated Press reported that Pasadena Now, a Web-only newspaper, was seeking a reporter in India to cover Pasadena City Council meetings via streaming video. “I think it could be a significant way to increase the quality of journalism on the local level without the expense that is a major problem for local publications,” Pasadena Now editor and publisher James McPherson told AP.

Bites could make nothing out of Delta and Dawn’s abbreviated visit to the River City, which capped off the last half of May. For weeks, the pair of wayward whales captivated crowds in West Sacramento as well as a nationwide TV audience. Sensing the sensational cetaceans were not long for this world, Bites provided readers with various recipes for whale flesh from around the world, so that not a single scrap of meat from their rotting carcasses would go to waste. Fortunately for Delta and Dawn, they somehow found their way back to the ocean before winding up on our dinner tables.

Hear that? No hands &#8230;

SN&amp;R Photo By Jeremy Sykes

The Democratic Party’s betrayal of the American people continued in June as Congressional Democrats, in a half-assed bid to cut off the conflict’s funding, managed to be for the war and against the war at the same time. Not to be left out, the state Assembly unanimously approved Assembly Bill 221, which calls for California’s largest public pension funds to divest approximately $2 billion from Iran. The reason? Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program—which thanks to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate, we now know was yet another Bush administration fabrication.

“Given, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a bit of a nut job,” Bites admitted at the time. “But no one with real knowledge about foreign affairs takes Ahmadinejad or Iran’s alleged nuclear program seriously. However, quicker than you can say, ‘What WMD?’ California has become the first state to declare war against Iran.”

Coincidentally, according to indispensable political rag Capitol Weekly, those $2 billion in Iranian assets were helpfully identified by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is apparently not content with heavily influencing the nation’s foreign policy and now hopes to dictate California’s.

On the upside, Bites was finally able to view Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces, which made a rather abrupt departure from local theaters before winding up in Bites’ Netflix queue. Bites said that Aces, while not recommended for those unaccustomed to ceiling-to-floor splatter and gore, was as fast and as violent and as funny as they come. [page]

Don&#8217;t you wish every issue could be Choose Your Own Adventure?

Any hopes Bites had for the world turning around pretty much dried up in July, when President Bush commuted the sentence of convicted perjurer and former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Libby faced two-and-a-half years in prison for lying and obstructing justice in the CIA-leak investigation; he wound up doing less time than Paris Hilton served for driving without a license.

“As this space has consistently, persistently noted, don’t count on the front-running Democratic presidential candidates to do anything but whine about the ongoing destruction of our democracy,” Bites warned. “Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards have issued nothing but meaningless platitudes; Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who co-authored legislation calling for Cheney’s impeachment, is apparently the only Democratic candidate with a clue, which probably explains why he’s polling at the 1 percent level.”

Are the American people stupid? Bites wondered. With the possible exception of the Sacramento Kings’ first-round draft pick Spencer Hawes, who sports a “God Bless George Bush” bumper sticker on his vehicle, Bites has always resisted the notion that anyone is intrinsically dimwitted. But the continuing lack of outrage at what ostensibly is the most corrupt regime in U.S. history gives cause for concern. Sure, 70 percent of the population thinks Bush is a war criminal. So why aren’t they out in the streets doing something about it? Do they really think the Democrats will fix this mess?

Break it. Scrape it. Lick it. Dump it. Smoke it.

August began ominously. “This is the way the world ends,” Bites declared. “Not with a bang, but a crash. Wall Street is going down, and in a big way.” Bites warned that a stock market crash on par with Black Monday (1987) and Black Tuesday (1929) would hit before the end of October, as the collapsing real-estate bubble threatened to suck the rest of the economy down with it.

The numbers were not good. Home sellers were lopping huge chunks off their properties to get them to move on the sluggish market. How’s $451K sound for a four-bedroom home in Elk Grove that languished on the market for 350 days at $799K? That’s a drop in price of 36 percent, brothers and sisters. The record number of days on the market so far? How’s 482 days sound? Sharpest drop in asking price? Forty percent. “Like gravity, economics is inevitable,” Bites informed. “What goes up must come down.”

Certainly that was the fate that befell Krispy Kreme doughnuts, which closed the doors on its final Sacramento location in mid-August.

“Remember that first Krispy Kreme encounter?” Bites reminisced. “Remember the lines of cars circling around the place that made you wonder what all the fuss was about? Remember that first bite of mouth-watering wonderfulness that explained what all the fuss was about?”

All to no avail, Bites lamented.

“Trans fats and accounting errors doomed the chain financially not so long after it went public, not so long after its doughnuts started popping up in grocery stores, not so long after Krispy Kreme just didn’t seem so special anymore.”

Slayer brought the metal, R.V. Scheide did the moshing.

SN&amp;R Photo Illustration By David Jayne

Rocker Ted Nugent shocked Sacramento out of its summer doldrums with an appearance at the Jackson Rancheria in late August. It seems the Nuge has taken to stalking the stage with an automatic weapon, inviting Democratic politicians such as Sens. Clinton and Obama to “suck on my machine gun.”

No doubt the draft-dodging gun nut would have done better if he’d prowled the men’s room at the Minneapolis airport, where he might have encountered Idaho Sen. Larry Craig bellying up to the glory hole. Craig, according to the undercover police officer who arrested the senator, attempted to engage in conduct decidedly counter to his support for the Defense of Marriage Act, his opposition to declaring gay bashing a hate crime and his endorsements from homophobic wing nuts such as American Family Association, Concerned Women for American and the Family Research Council.

The Hornets went 3-8 in &#8217;07.

Bites began September by asking, “How bad are things at The Sacramento Bee?” Pretty grim, according to an anonymous Bee source. It seems every year the Bee throws a party for employees who’ve faithfully served the company for 25 years. Generally, it’s a pretty lavish affair, held at a posh location such as the Hilton, the Sheraton or the Crocker Art Museum. But that was before Gary Pruitt bet the family farm on acquiring Knight Ridder last year. This year, Bee management proposed holding the party for its most valued and beloved long-term employees in the musty old warehouse used to store all those inserts jammed into the Sunday paper every week. As the anonymous source put it: “In the warehouse? What the fuck?”

What the fuck, indeed. While Bites continued to believe that McClatchy was one of the most undervalued stocks on the market, Wall Street begged to differ. By September, McClatchy’s price per share had sunk to $22.57, a precipitous drop of nearly 70 percent from its all time high of $74.80, recorded in March 2005.

About the only solace for McClatchy was that it was by no means alone. Advertising revenue for all daily publications continued to decline in 2007. Fortunately for high-profile Bee journalists, the revolving door between government agencies and the reporters who cover them remains well-greased. Consider former Bee Capitol Bureau journalist Gary Delsohn, who covered Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before becoming his chief speechwriter last year. Or Pulitzer Prize-winning water-issues reporter Tom Philp, who took a job with the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles. Or former voice of the downtrodden Mareva Brown, who now works the other end of the bread line as a flak at the state Department of Developmental Services. It’s an ugly sport, journalism, in which ethics and scruples play only a limited role. [page]

Fried funk more solid than Coke at the State Fair.

SN&amp;R Illustration By Larry Dalton and Andrew Nilsen

By October, even a pollster as objective as John Zogby was down with Bites’ assessment of the general situation. Zogby’s latest national poll found that 71 percent of Americans believe President George W. Bush is either a moron or Satan. Nearly 90 percent think Congress does a better job servicing itself than serving the country. How bad is it? “The public mood is not just dark,” Zogby reported. “The mood is getting ugly.”

What else to make of former President Bill Clinton’s shilling for wife, Hillary, on the campaign trail? Clinton’s stature used to rise every time Bush opened his mouth, but it turns out Big Dog has gone blood simple. A Mrs. Clinton presidency would keep Americans safe, Mr. Clinton suggested, by encouraging G-men to emulate the torture tactics practiced by Jack Bauer, the fictional counter-terrorism agent played by Kiefer Sutherland on 24. If doing the “right” thing means breaking the law by torturing a suspect, then break the law, Bill cooed sagely. But be prepared to pay the price. He would know.

So discouraging is this year’s crop of presidential candidates that Bites stooped to begging New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and even former Vice President Al Gore to enter the race. Neither man has categorically ruled out a run, and a grassroots national movement to draft Gore, “the conscience of the Democratic Party,” was sweeping the country. That’s right. The same Al Gore who shamelessly championed NAFTA. The guy who pulled us out of Kyoto at the last minute. The coward who conceded defeat instead of fighting for the presidency he obviously won in 2000. Now perhaps the reader can sense the depth of Bites’ desperation.

The guv and legislative Dems were half-assed in their efforts to save high-speed rail; the &#8217;07 budget gave Mehdi Morshed&#8217;s High-Speed Rail Authority less than half of its needed budget.

SN&amp;R Photo By Larry Dalton

After all, we live in a world where tree stumps like Ann Coulter are given regular public forums. Coulter outdid herself on an episode of CNBC’s The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch when she explained that her Jewish host should “perfect” himself in order to become a Christian. An exasperated Deutsch spent the remainder of the segment unsuccessfully attempting to regain his composure, apparently having never encountered the cultish offshoot of evangelicalism known as Christian Zionism to which Coulter belongs.

What Coulter unintentionally revealed to Deutsch was the perplexing alliance between Jewish and Christian Zionists that has become known as the neoconservative movement. While Jewish neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith have risen to prominent roles in the Bush administration, prominent gentiles in the club include Pat Robertson, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and the late Jerry Falwell.

By the end of the month, the stock market crash Bites has predicted back in August came to pass, culminating in a 366 point plunge October 19, on the 20th anniversary of Black Monday. As of this writing, the market has regained some stability, but don’t expect it to last. Oil is going through the roof, the dollar is going through the floor and all the ingredients are in place for an unparalleled economic contraction.

Some folks weren’t waiting to abandon ship. For reasons still shrouded in mystery, Sacramento Bee executive editor Rick Rodriguez resigned from his job. Bee publisher and president Janis Heaphy, who lately has taken to entering the Bee offices through a side door so she doesn’t have to look anyone in the eye, blamed Rodriguez’s departure on “a disagreement about the future long-term direction of The Bee.”

Apparently, Rick doesn’t enjoy going down.

Daniel Pont of La Bonne Soupe Caf&#233;.

SN&amp;R Photo By Jeremy Sykes

What’s the new Sacramento Bee employee look like? In November, Bites imagined it was something like Baghdad correspondent Bobby Caina Calvan. Baghdad Bobby has an issue with authority, or at least with the MPs who guard the entrance to the Green Zone. When Bobby flashed his ID at the gate and the guards failed to recognize the name of his news organization, the hapless reporter pitched a fit. Even worse, he wrote about it on his blog. Here’s Bobby, in his own words, showing the guard who’s boss:

“What’s the use of these media badges if people like you aren’t going to honor them?” Bobby scolded. “Is this for nothing? Why don’t you call? That’s your job, isn’t it?”

Then Bobby told the guard he was jotting down the guard’s name.

That’ll show ’im!

Unfortunately for Bobby, such shenanigans aren’t taken lightly in the blogosphere, and he was deluged with negative comments. “I wish I’d been that soldier,” reads one of the nicer posts. “You would have had a difficult time typing this blog entry with your broken fingers up your dumb ass.”

Bites could find no solace in professional sports, at least locally, as the Sacramento Kings entered what could quite possibly be their worst season since the Maloofs took control of the team. The catalog of deficiencies was daunting: Turns out that unheralded first-round draft pick Spencer Hawes has glass knees. Trouble magnet Ron Artest can’t take a punch, not even from his own wife. The King’s $11-million point guard Mike Bibby missed the first 10 weeks of the season thanks to a boo-boo on his thumb.

Could it get any worse? In a word, hell yes.

We&#8217;ve never written a solitary word about this duo, Agent Ribbons, but we promise to do a music feature or two on them in &#8217;08.

SN&amp;R Photo By Erik schorr

It seems Cal Expo is paying former Gov. Pete Wilson $400 an hour to cajole the Kings and the citizens of Sacramento into building a new arena at the state fairgrounds. Frankly, Bites has about had it with this sorry excuse for a professional sports franchise, which played much of the pre-season in Sin City, where the Maloofs are actually considered respectable business people. Too bad what practices in Vegas can’t stay there.

But just as Bites was ready to consign 2007 to history’s dustbin, along came Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul with an Internet ad campaign that truly made this a November to remember. “People should not be afraid of their governments,” the ad stated. “Governments should be afraid of their people.” The quote comes from the film, V for Vendetta, and Paul put it to stunning effect, raising a record $4.3 million in 24 hours, transforming the iconoclastic libertarian from Texas into a contender.

This was good, since the Democrats continued to demonstrate that there’s not a dime’s bit of difference between them and the Republicans. Paul, who’s earned the nickname “Dr. No” for vetoing virtually every spending bill that’s ever come across his desk, is an unabashed free marketer and an opponent of abortion rights as well as popular programs such as Social Security. In other words, he’s the kind of politician who normally drives Bites nuts. But these are troubling times, and Bites couldn’t help feeling a glimmer of hope when Paul appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The Sex Pistols were the musical guest, and after a searing version of “Anarchy in the U.K.,” Paul did something virtually unimaginable by any other U.S. politician. He walked across the stage and shook Johnny Rotten’s hand.

The hope of November gave way to despair in December, as crass Christmas commercialism kicked into gear and the presidential campaign turned to the oh-so-important topic of religion. And why not? As Bites noted, all of this season’s candidates, Democrats and Republicans, are believers. At issue? Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Is it true, as pastor-turned-politician Mike Huckabee asked, that Mormons think Jesus and Satan are brothers?

Well, as a matter of fact, it is true. And sure, it’s weird. But is it any stranger than talking to a burning bush? Or believing that crucifixion victims get up and walk away three days later? Bites thinks not. What’s more odd is the apparent need by most of the candidates to wear superstition on their sleeves. Huckabee insists he has “more respect for an honest atheist than a disingenuous believer,” unless that honest atheist happens to believe in evolution. Twice-divorced, pro-abortion Rudy Giuliani appears to have benefited little from his Roman Catholic upbringing. John Edwards claims “faith informs everything I think and do,” including his 2002 vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq, which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and thousands of U.S. military personnel.

SN&amp;R&#8217;s very own delivery Santa checkin&#8217; the Best Of twice.

It’s left up to Paul, a Baptist father of five who’s been married to the same woman for 50 years, to put religion in its proper perspective. “Most religious institutions abandoned their independence long ago, and now serve as cheerleaders for state policies like social services, faith-based welfare, and military aggression in the name of democracy,” he writes on his Web site. The government, he adds, “has co-opted religion and family as the primary organizing principle of our society.”

God is dead, but we keep digging him up again. Not that it’s going to help much. As 2007 came to a close, The Sacramento Bee began outsourcing its advertising design to India. McClatchy stock was sitting at just above $12 a share as this story went to press, down from $43 at the start of the year. The number of U.S. servicemen and women killed in Iraq is approaching 4,000; as many as 1 million innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed since the 2003 U.S. invasion. As this goes to press, it has just been announced that Ron Paul raised $6 million one day over a December weekend, shattering the record he set the previous month. Who knows? Perhaps Paul or somebody will turn the tide. If not, it’s going to be hell, and there’s not much we can do about it, except reach for the shovels and start digging.