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Bush Web Intrigue 

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Edited by Gale Holland

The 2nd of January was already a pretty rotten day for Wheaton, Maryland, resident Mike Hershdorfer, laboring at his computer under the pall of one of the harshest Eastern winters on record. But it got a lot rottener at 2:20 p.m., when the Webmaster for the anti-Bush political site www.bushoccupation.com answered a knock at the door to find two Secret Service agents and a Montgomery County police officer.

The agents gave a vague explanation of investigating a tip about Web-site activity, Hershdorfer said. As he stood in the doorway with the dogs barking, the agents repeatedly pressed to enter his home. “I got the distinct impression that they were not going to leave unless I let them inside, so I did,” Hershdorfer recalled in an interview this week.

The agents declined to say who made the tip, or what was said. They asked Hershdorfer for a list of Web sites he had visited, and for permission to search his house and review his medical records. They also asked him how he felt about the Clintons and Bush — and whether he had ever threatened to blow up the White House. Meanwhile, the police officer stood in the corner, saying he was there “to protect me,” an incredulous Hershdorfer remembered.

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In the course of the hourlong interrogation, Hershdorfer’s roommate Patty happened to telephone. After he had explained the situation, she rang up her lawyer stepfather, who instructed her to tell Hershdorfer to keep quiet and to refuse a search.

Hershdorfer told the agents he suspected the tip had come from someone with the right-wing Free Republic Web site, which he had begun monitoring following media accounts of Freeper harassment of Democratic veep candidate Joe Lieberman and others. “I told the agents I felt intimidated and that my rights were under threat,” Hershdorfer said. They packed up their notes and left.

Hershdorfer told OffBeat he closely monitors bushoccupation.com and a related e-group; neither has posted a threat, he claims. “I’m trying to organize in the middle left, not with people who want to blow things up,” he said. The strongest language on bushoccupation.com is: “We are dedicated to opposing the extraconstitutional and illegitimate occupation of [the] U.S. government by George W. Bush and the people using him as a front man for the extreme right-wing anti-democratic operatives.” Hershdorfer also has put up “Wanted” posters with photographs of the five U.S. Supreme Court justices who halted the Florida ballot recount, handing Bush the presidential election.

Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin refused to comment on Hershdorfer’s case, but said it’s standard procedure to investigate any report of a threat against the president or president-elect. “It only takes a minute to pull a post off a Web site, as you know,” said Mackin. “We don’t care about anyone’s politics.”

Hershdorfer remains shaken by the experience, and thinks that he will probably never know who his accusers were — just that they made a miserable day more miserable. Mission accomplished, one imagines.

—Johnny Angel

VICTIMONOPOLY

What would you do if you suspected that your child had been molested? Would you pull out a board game and interrogate her about it — then reward her for right answers and punish her for getting them wrong?

That’s the basis of a board game from Danielle Lewis called Tell Mommy, which purports to help parents root out ugly secrets of sexual abuse. The game was developed by Lewis’ mother, Camille Cooper, in 1983, but never distributed. Now, two years after Cooper’s death, the Long Beach–based Lewis has resurrected Tell Mommy on the Internet (sales price: $49.99).

The game includes 65 question cards exploring topics of abduction, divorce and molestation through vivid scenarios featuring characters including relatives, clergymen, grocers, teachers or police officers. There are also blank cards for parents to make up their own questions and a note pad for jotting down answers. Reward coupons promise the child a movie or a cookie. Penalty cards threaten extra household chores.

Sample question: What would you do if an uncle kissed you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable? “Right” answer: Give him hugs only, and tell Mommy.

“My mother was molested by her stepfather,” says Lewis, explaining the impetus for the game. “My favorite uncle, on one occasion in play, made an attempt to kiss and touch me inappropriately. I covered it up . . . It is this type of situation many children find themselves in.”

The problem is, the game would probably hurt more kids than it would help, experts say.

“We want to stop sexual abuse of children. We don’t need to create more problems with leading questions and false memories,” says Thomas Hicklin, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in the behavioral-sciences unit at USC.

Although the game begins with the child reciting a Pledge of Truth (“On my honor I promise to try never to ever tell a lie . . . If someone tells me to tell Mom a lie or keep secrets from her so they can get by . . . I won’t let them trick me, I’ll always say no”), Tell Mommy would also damage a child’s credibility in court, USC law professor Tom Lyon says.

“It is easy to imagine that a family-court judge would look very skeptically on allegations if it was found out that the child was playing the game. It creates this appearance of suggestion,” says Lyon.

But Lewis insists that parents need all the help they can get. “We want to give mothers a way to be able to get information on the sly or in a nonthreatening way,” she says.

—Christine Pelisek

POSTMARKED EXPIRED

How reticent was the United States Postal Service to bump first-class postage from 33 cents to 34? Last December 5, the USPS Board of Governors voted “under protest” to institute a penny increase effective January 7, generating an extra $1 billion a year in revenues. The service had projected a $199 million operating loss for 2000, and fears future inroads from e-mail.

Seems one local commissar disliked the rate hike even more than the reluctant Washington secretariat. After Christmas, a one-page brochure was mass-mailed to Los Angeles homes, offering “Stamps by Mail” — 33-cent stamps, that is. “Save Time. Save a Trip. Order Now!” the flier urged, notwithstanding that the new, 34-cent stamps had been on sale for nearly two weeks. The offer included April 2000–issue commemoratives that were not only superseded by the forthcoming rate change but were completely unavailable. The post office had already run out of them.

Was there a coded message here? Regrettably, no, says USPS spokesman Larry Dozier. “I can tell you what happened. Someone responsible for sending them out at a specific time was just trying to get them out,” Dozier says. Translation: The post office didn’t want to have a stack of old-rate first-class postage piled up, so, to beat its own deadline, the dated tout sheet was mailed.

—Greg Goldin

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