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The Autumn  Foliage Gallery, a/k/a Pam spends time with the  Secret Service
[Posted 28 October 2004]

Click to visit VeggieCooking.com Autumn in the northeast...  The trees explode with color.  For years I lived in the southwest, southeast, or midwest -- I'm not always in an area with entire hillsides of color.  If my next "real job" (as opposed to the short-term, temporary jobs I get whenever a Bush is President) sends me somewhere other than the northeast, I won't have the chance to make a photo gallery of fall foliage.  And so I decided to use the opportunity while I'm here, carefully selecting last weekend (October 23-24) as the best week for fall colors.  Earlier, the trees were too green.  Later, too many trees might be bare.

The Friday before I left, I read a news story saying that President Clinton was feeling well enough after heart surgery to help Senator Kerry campaign again.  And that gave me an idea to make the autumn foliage photo gallery more interesting.  Why not include Clinton's house in the photo gallery?  I'd seen it on the news -- a big white thing, and it had leafy trees near it so I was sure it'd have a yellow or orange tree out front.  It was just north of New York City, on the way to Highway 7 -- the road I intended to use for my drive through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and finally Vermont.  I found the address on the internet, with photos of the house too.  One article made me wonder if the Clintons still owned that particular house, because it mentioned that Clinton was putting his house back on the auction block.  The article was a couple of years old on newsmax.com, a news "service" affiliated with Al Haig that I refuse to link to because its articles often have a weird little right-wingnut spin to them.  (Not that Haig doesn't have his good points, maybe from something he did during the Nixon administration.)  For example, the article saying that Clinton was going to sell his Chappaqua house seemed to imply that Clinton couldn't hold onto it for financial reasons.

Well, my attempt of giving my viewers a shot of Clinton's home ended with something that only the US government would finance.  Several Secret Service agents decided to spend a few hours with me.  Basically, they wanted to know whether I was some kind of nut job there to kill the President.  OK, so they didn't use those exact words.  The questioning wasn't that insulting, but it was  the gist of what they were asking.  They also wanted to delete my photos and take a few photos of me. 

Now, here's where the Secret Service's technique for getting what they want comes into play -- classic good-cop, bad-cop methodology.  First a couple of young, good-looking guys start talking to me.  One had a knack for remembering every little detail I told him and bringing it up later when he wanted a co-worker of his to hear the same item.  They probably hired him for his IQ or something.  They're good listeners, and also good at letting me know what they want, for example wanting to search my car.  I originally said no, not because I had anything in there to hide, but because I hadn't cleaned the thing out for months & was embarrassed for myself.  (Hey, I'm a busy woman.  Just look at how little I write for this web site each year.)  But then, when the friendly, rational agents couldn't get what they wanted from me, an "emotional" agent showed up and asked for permission again, this time with more angst.  His angst escalated until I said yes, as though he were about to crap his pants if I wouldn't let him search the car.  Whenever the "angst man" appeared, he'd always use the same line on me -- that "It'd make our jobs a lot easier if you'd...(fill in the blank)."  First he tried the "terrorists" line on me, but then when I told him that I didn't buy the whole terrorist paranoia thing & thought that 9-11 was an inside job, he switched to the "make our jobs easier" line.  ("Hmmm...  Must not be a gullible right-wing Arab-hater.  Therefore... must be bleeding heart left-winger... cares about workers & working conditions.")  So it'd make their jobs a lot easier if they could search my car, it'd make their lives a lot easier if they could delete my photos of the President's house...  And if I didn't make their jobs a lot easier, then "angst man" would increase his emotional angst weaponry until I felt as though I'd just run over his kitten with my car. 

Yes, they deleted the photos of the President's house.  I let them do that when they asked, without even questioning whether it was legal.  In fact, they never admitted to anything I did as being illegal, always saying it was a "protected area" when I asked.  So they never said it was illegal to take photos of the President's house from the road.  I wasn't even getting out of my car or looking over the fence -- the pictures were taken from a public road, and yes, there were no signs posted saying that people were prohibited from taking photographs.  No signs at all in fact.  But it was Clinton's home, and if Clinton's "security" didn't want the photos on my web site, then that was fine with me.  I liked Clinton.  He had his bad points, like NAFTA & cutting welfare (which is even more damaging to children after someone like Bush takes over & ruins the economy), but overall he was good at keeping the economy going when he was President.  That made my life a lot easier at the time.  (Incidentally, it wasn't legal to search my car without my consent, either.  The agents asked me to sign something near the end of our interview that said I'd been informed they couldn't legally search my car without my permission -- in reality, they never mentioned it.  "That's a lie" I told them, pointing it out, but told them it was OK because I already knew about it before they searched the car.  Besides, they were nice.  If they were good at anything, it was being nice.) 

I asked the agents why I'd see the house on the evening news, but wasn't allowed to drive by & take pictures of it from the road.  And why I could get its address & photos of it from the internet, yet not be able to take my own photos and put them on my own internet web site.  And why people could walk by my house & take a picture (which happened exactly a week before talking to them), but a passer-by couldn't take photos of the ex-President's house.  Their answer was actually pretty paranoid and lame at the same time.  I think it was the "angst man" who gave me the answer -- whenever the agents with the cool persona didn't want to blow their image, the "anst man" would step in for them.  He told me that with the "terrorists" and everything these days, they didn't need people knowing layouts, or the position of their cameras outside of their typical-looking guard shack out front.  Oh yes, and when I didn't buy the terrorist bit again, that it'd just "make their jobs easier" if people didn't know where their cameras were.  Incidentally, the one or two cameras I saw on their tiny, very generic-looking guard shack looked just like cameras a friend bought for her salon a few years ago -- from Sam's Club.  I suggested that they post signs on the road informing people that they couldn't venture beyond a certain point, or that they can't take photos, like the signs posted at the Mena airport to keep people from venturing beyond a certain point.  They seemed a little amused, despite their attempts at keeping a straight face, and a little sarcasm came through as they thanked me for my "suggestion."

They finally admitted that when "the press" (which I came to understand was only the mainstream press and not people like me) wants photos of the President's house, they apply for a press pass, then the Secret Service actually controls the type of photos they're allowed to take.  (Note that ABC's Diane Sawyer, the queen of sappy, limp-wristed, softball journalism recently interviewed the president at his Chappaqua home -- an interview that was supposed to air the Monday after I was there.  That's the kind of press they want -- the controllable kind.  In some ways, Clinton resembles George W. Bush.)  I asked how they're going to control people who just drive by and take a photo, then drive away, and they said that they'd pull that person over just like they did to me, and ask them the same questions.

That's when I started to wonder if the whole "light security" at Clinton's house was there to actually help them build files on people, instead of just a half-assed Sam's Club security job.  After all, they could put gates at the end of the road with a guard shack there, or the President could have chosen a more secure location... but then they couldn't gather information on everyone who wanted a snapshot of our ex-Prez's house.  And they took down information on where I worked, my boss' telephone number, who all of my siblings & parents were and their phone numbers, etc.  Kind of reminds you of Communist Russia, huh?  Do as we say, because we know who your relatives are...  Or as they'd probably tell you, so they could call these people if they wanted.  I haven't been informed by anyone, by the way, of a phone call.  And my relatives do tell me when people call about me -- that's happened before because of the little police reports I've filed over the years about a stalker.

Now, I had qualms about posting this just before election day, because I can just imagine some right-winger with a popular website linking to it to try to discredit Clinton.  The Secret Service actually reports to the current Treasury Secretary, who of course was appointed by, and reports to, George W. Bush.  So their paranoia is probably part of their regular policies, but I can't help wondering if all of this data-gathering and mention of "terrorists" is some sort of new Bush/Ashcroft addition to their responsibilities.  It goes hand in hand with the fear Bush is trying to whip up over "terrorists" in an effort to make us forget about everything he did (or didn't do) as President when we go to the polls election day.

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich at Fighting Bob Fest 2003 Not that the Secret Service agents were mean or abusive while being paranoid -- they were the nicest paranoids I've ever met.  In fact, they seemed like a bunch of nice guys who'd just been trained as paranoids.  I was totally honest with them, too, because I could tell they were intelligent enough to handle whatever I threw at them.  For example, my web page both saved me and made them even more suspicious.  The photo galleries helped because I could mention that I post photo galleries all the time, even ones with blatant political significance like the Mena airport.  (So of course one agent disappears from the room, checks out the web site, then comes back to tell me that the photo galleries were really nice, and he found my Roach v. Bush link.)  Of course they wanted to know how I felt about Bush, since I had anti-Bush bumper stickers on my car  as well (along with pro-Kerry ones) aside from my internet articles poking fun at Bush's intelligence, grammar, war mongering... Bush provides so much material to work with.  They wanted to know if I'd driven past President Bush's Crawford ranch & took pictures of that, too.  (Don't make me sick!)  Or if I'd stopped in Little Rock on my way to Mena.  Or if I'd attended any political events recently.  (The only one I could recall was Fighting Bob Fest last year, where I saw Kucinich speak -- and he DIDN'T mind me taking his picture.)  Now that's really, really paranoid.  And I'm paranoid enough, from years of being stalked.  We had a regular paranoid-fest going on.  But on the other hand, when they asked if I wanted to harm President Bush, I told them that I had no intentions of harming the man, I just hated the man for good reason -- mostly the economy & the war on Iraq.  They were comfortable with my dislike for the man, as long as I didn't express a desire to blow him away.  So of course they asked me a few more times, in different ways, if I was sure that I didn't want to harm President Bush, until they were satisfied that I limited myself to exposing the man on the internet.

AUGUST 5 -- In an unfortunate, though not uncommon, verbal miscue, President George W. Bush today told a White House audience that his administration never stops thinking about ways to harm the United States. The embarrassing malapropism came as Bush appeared before military brass to sign a new $417 billion defense appropriation bill. Referring to the country's enemies, Bush said, "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
- Now there's a Freudian slip!  http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0805042bush1.html

Photogenic author Jim Hightower at Fighting Bob Fest 2003 I don't even know how many hours I spent with the Secret Service that morning while they pursued various lines of questioning.  Near the end of the interview, they brought in another man to fill out some forms, and by that time I was slower in my answers, and repeatedly informed him that I'd already given things like info on relatives to other agents.  He was quick though, seeming to sense I was worn out, and I was on my way soon after that.  Frankly, I was tired... and I wanted to eat lunch.

The Secret Service treads in a strange place, "the neutral zone."  They have to protect both Democrats and Republicans, so they can't take sides.  They also can't be bad publicity for the politicians they protect, or else that politician would have to take the heat for them, would lose credibility.  So while they talked to me, it was very apparent that they were well-trained to keep a neutral facial expression going at all times.  I couldn't tell whether they were Republican or Democrat, or what they thought at all.  And their entire demeanor was non-offensive.  No one could complain about their grooming, their clothes, their manners -- there was nothing that would reflect poorly on their bosses at all.  One of them acted surprised when I mentioned the Mena airport photo gallery, and I had to explain its significance to him.  He was pretty young, but I had to wonder if he really didn't know about it, or if he just didn't want to admit to any knowledge of issues that might be a bad reflection on the man he was assigned to.  Or perhaps they just didn't want any of their possible bosses, in the present or future, knowing that the Secret Service had a good laugh at their expense, or knew some of their past less-than-honorable dealings.

Some taxpayers would object to the expense of several agents wasting the entire morning on me, and they'd have a point.  But I'm old enough to realize that this country is run in a half-assed fashion -- why gate off a very short road, when you could pay 6 guys to interrogate someone instead?  Admittedly, it was a lot more fun for me personally to meet the Secret Service than to be blocked by gates.  They did occupy my entire morning, which turned my foliage trip into a 2-day affair, but it was pretty amusing, especially for an old woman like me who was both seeing through their techniques and plotting to write about it later.  One agent even admitted how I'd have something new to write about, with the clear implication that he dreaded seeing it later.  (Ah-ha-ha!  Silly Secret Service boy.  Who'd he think I was?  Diane Sawyer?)  Leave it to Bill Clinton to give me one of those "life experiences" you can't even pay for.  Better than an amusement park ride.

It really seems a shame that intelligent, attractive, suave young men have jobs that make them bullet catchers for less-than-exceptional people like George W. Bush.  You'd think that society would value the lives of intelligent men over the clueless, outrageously dishonest, & evil types.  Maybe if Kerry's elected and the economy picks up, they'll be able to find REAL jobs.  In the meantime, I'm sure they know some really good secrets.

To the Fall Foliage Photo Gallery

Secret Service Stories
Author Greg Palast shows Wisconsin politician Ed Garvey some of Katherine Harris' software at Fighting Bob Fest Back in the 1980s when I was a college kiddie, I remember one of the student newspapers at UW-Milwaukee running a "shopping guide" issue.  For some reason they'd printed images of money all over the cover.  I wondered how they could get away with that -- thought it was illegal to reproduce the exact image of money, even for a low-quality newspaper.  Well, that impression was confirmed when an acquaintance of mine confided that he'd called the Secret Service about the matter, and agents had come to campus to seize front pages of remaining newspapers. Of course, along with catching bullets for our lackluster leadership, one of the Secret Service's duties is to pursue conterfeiting laws.  They actually work for the Treasury Department, odd as it may seem for the Treasury Department to serve as body guards.  The Secret Service had told my acquaintance that it was totally illegal to show serial numbers of money on a publication.  (That acquaintance will remain anonymous, because he told me about his call in confidence.  But the less-than-ethical staff at the Post had done plenty to irritate the man.)  I knew some of the reporters & editors at the Post, and one of the more honest editors admitted that the Secret Service had indeed come in and taken the covers of their papers.  Apparently editors of the Post didn't know it was illegal -- strange that they could miss that little law, having lived in America for their entire lives.

Back in June, when John Kerry was beginning to feel like a winner, I had a quick little rendezvous with him on a rain-soaked runway in Aspen, Colorado, where he was scheduled to meet with a harem of wealthy campaign contributors. As we rode to the event, I told him that Bush's vicious goons in the White House are perfectly capable of assassinating Nader and blaming it on him. His staff laughed, but the Secret Service men didn't. Kerry quickly suggested that I might make a good running mate, and we reminisced about trying to end the Vietnam War in 1972.  That was the year I first met him, at a riot on that elegant little street in front of the White House. He was yelling into a bullhorn and I was trying to throw a dead, bleeding rat over a black-spike fence and onto the president's lawn.  We were angry and righteous in those days, and there were millions of us. We kicked two chief executives out of the White House because they were stupid warmongers. We conquered Lyndon Johnson and we stomped on Richard Nixon -- which wise people said was impossible, but so what? It was fun. We were warriors then, and our tribe was strong like a river.  That river is still running. All we have to do is get out and vote, while it's still legal, and we will wash those crooked warmongers out of the White House.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Readers who found my page on 9-11 may have followed the links to Skolnick's article alleging that certain Secret Service agents were disgusted with George W. Bush's relationship to Victor Ashe, Mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, and resigned as a result.  Since reading Skolnick's article on the matter, I have noticed that Bush seems to visit Knoxville quite a bit for such a small city, and that Ashe is mentioned as attending several of Bush's speeches outside of Knoxville.  So it appears that Skolnick's source in the Secret Service was correct.  Also, Kitty Kelley recently included the Bush-Ashe relationship in her book, pointing out that her information may be controversial but it has always held up as accurate in the past.  Well, Skolnick mentioned that Bush and Ashe were known to "cavort" at a certain lounge in Washington, DC, but as usual didn't mention the exact name of the establishment.  A year or two ago, a well-connected friend asked me what the big deal was about Bush going to a certain bar in the DC area.  I instantly realized that the possible meaning was Skolnick's news item, and explained Skolnick's well-known claim that Bush and his gay boyfriend were said to hang out at a bar in DC.  He gave me the name of the bar, but I couldn't make out what he was saying on my cell phone, so I figured I'd ask him about it later.  Probably a year or more later, I finally asked him for the name of the bar.  He couldn't remember the story he'd heard so long ago, but said it must have been the lounge "Heaven and Hell," a well-known place that attracted a lot of political notables.  He couldn't be sure if that was the correct bar though, because he'd forgotten the story.  That might initially seem odd until you realize that the man has friends in Washington who feed him all kinds of gossip regularly.

According to links I've found, Heaven and Hell is indeed a well-known night spot.  It has a nightclub upstairs ("heaven") and a pool hall downstairs, ("hell") according to some articles.  The "hell" portion must remind Bush & Ashe of their time at Skull & Bones during their Yale years or something.  And it might just have a VIP section or just be so full of politicians that the Prez and his "friend" can hang out while blending in... somewhat.  Anyway, the Skolnick story is so old that it's unlikely Bush would still frequent the place.  But if you happen to see Bush & his boyfriend there, say hi to the Secret Service for me!

A story from Fighting Bob Fest
Wellstone was originally scheduled to host Fighting Bob Fest 2003 Mentioning Fighting Bob Fest 2003 reminds me of a speaker there who quoted Minnesota's late Senator Wellstone from one of Wellstone's previous speaking engagements.  Wellstone told the audience that VP Dick Cheney warned him that if he voted against the Iraq war, "there will be serious implications for you and the state of Minnesota."  Needless to say, Wellstone's plane later went down, and he and his wife both died.  "That's some serious implication!" the speaker said.  (...Serious implications for you and the state of Minnesota...  Oh yes, that's exactly what I'm implying.  Now you know why Kerry voted for the war, despite his peace activities during Vietnam.  He must've known what Dick Cheney's "serious implications" meant.)

The political photos will go on
Despite Saturday's run-in with the Secret Service, I promise my readership that I'll continue to pursue good photos for them, including more that may have political overtones.  I just won't be running back to Clinton's house.  The Secret Service probably has my photo pinned up in their tiny little guard shack out front, with a caption under it that reads, "NOT Diane Sawyer."

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© 2004 by Pam Rotella.

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