Sunday, February 26, 2006

UAE Port Deal Is All About Dollars, Not Sense


If you want to know what the proposed United Arab Emirates port deal is really all about, you'd do well to pay heed to the advice once doled out to reporters investigating Watergate: Follow the money.

Because at its heart, dirty old grubby money is what this controversial deal is really all about.

The fact is, the U.S. economy has become so hollowed out and dependent on foreign capital, that overseas nations can get whatever favors they want from our money-corrupted political leaders these days.

This isn't the first time the Bush White House has shown just how deeply in debt it is to the interests of oil-rich Arab states.

Take Saudi Arabia for example. Despite the fact that all but two of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia (and that the Saudis admitted that they funded Al Qaeda), Bush has always been reluctant to press the Saudis on any issue in the "war on terror." After 9/11, the Saudis refused to cooperate with U.S. investigators. They refused to let investigators take a look at the Al Qaeda money trail (which, of course, led straight back to Saudi Arabia). They also refused to let U.S. investigators talk to relatives of the 9/11 hijackers. No wonder Bin Laden still runs free.

Why do you suppose Bush gave the Saudis such kid-glove treatment? The same reason he's now going to bat for a UAE state-owned company to take over the operation of U.S. ports: money.

Astute foreign observers and power players have long realized that our nation's corrupt political leadership won't hesitate to sell out the interests of the American people if the price is right.

Even before Bush came to power, a popular saying was known to have circulated around East Asia: "Influence in Washington is just like Indonesia these days---it's for sale."

Countries like Japan and China have long been aware that if you dangle enough money in front of an American politician, you can get him to jump through hoops on cue. Tokyo saw this as far back as the Reagan administration. It's important to remember that Reagan routinely cooperated with Tokyo on trade matters (much to the detriment of U.S. industry). And in the end, Reagan was rewarded by Tokyo: when he left office, he was able to pocket several million dollars for merely giving a couple of speeches in Tokyo.

In light of all this, it really shouldn't be surprising to learn that, back in the early 1990s, a sheik from the UAE gave $1 million to the Bush Library Foundation, which established the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas.

One might debate whether America's security is compromised by having our nation's ports run by a state-owned United Arab Emirates company. But the bottom line is, in this deal, money (as always) is trumping America's security interests. U.S. politicians like Bush are always happy to sell out the American people for cash from foreign interests.

To the likes of Bush and our other corrupt politicians, it's just business as usual.

The fact is, America is not only addicted to overseas oil these days. We're also heavily addicted to overseas capital. If it weren't for the hundreds of billions of dollars flowing into our borders from the likes of Japan and China, our Ponzi scheme economy would have collapsed like a house of cards long ago.

Between our enormous debt to Asian central banks and the corruption of our politicians with foreign money, there's little chance America will ever be able to take the urgent steps it needs to extinguish the out-of-control crises that are our soaring fiscal and trade deficits. Nor is it likely that America will be able to take the urgent action needed to prevent the impending collapse of the U.S. dollar and the U.S. economy.

Decades from now, I would suspect that the main thing historians will recall about the Bush White House is not 9/11, or even the "war on terror," but rather how a corrupt Bush fiddled like Nero while America's financial house burned down.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Global Corporatism: The Human Being As A Statistic


In 1962, American journalist Eugene Lyons, author of the 1937 nonfiction classic Assignment in Utopia, gave a lecture about what turned him from a pro-Leninist radical in 1928, when he took a news job in the Soviet Union, into the conservative, fiercely anti-communist Reader's Digest editor he became years later.

"It was ... the appalling contempt for human life which I found to be the hallmark of communism in practice. For I found myself in a world where such age-old concepts as justice, conscience, human dignity, the values that set man apart from the beasts, were despised as a species of treason. ...

"Do men and women have an intrinsic worth, or are they merely the raw stuff for building some dehumanized state structure? Is the human being the final measure of all things, or merely a statistic?"

Two generations have passed since Lyons gave that talk, and the Soviet empire has been, as conservatives say, "on the ashheap of history," for going on two decades.

A great irony is how true this sounds for 2006 if one substitutes "global capitalism" for "communism" and "corporate structure" for "state structure." Communism is all but dead; yet, in our new world economy, dehumanization seems very much alive and on the march. The biggest difference is that the perpetrators' flag isn't red.

Lyons died in 1985, so he didn't even see glasnost, let alone the self-destruction of Marxism-Leninism. It would be interesting if he could ask the former employees of Enron how they have enjoyed becoming destitute statistics, or former call-center staffers how much human dignity they were afforded when their jobs were offshored.

True, we don't have gulags. There are no party purges, at least none in which anybody dies very soon. People don't vanish in the middle of the night (although their jobs often disappear in the middle of the day). But there are slow, subtle ways of killing people. Michael Moore has vividly illustrated, in his examinations of the effects of General Motors' style of capitalism on his hometown of Flint, Michigan, that when a corporation discards much of its workforce for the sake of profits: "Crime goes up, suicide goes up, drug abuse, alcoholism, spousal abuse, divorce, everything bad spirals up."

Stalinism and Maoism kill the body. Global corporatism is destroying our spirits -- and our bodies often follow.

This isn't just happening in the West. China is still nominally pseudo-communist, having retained their police state while instituting "free-market reforms" and turning a blind eye to sweatshops.

And there, an interesting thing is happening to migrant laborers who work at construction sites. Quite often, they're not paid. At all. Zilch. Nada. After weeks, even months, on a job, being furnished a bare subsistence of rice and bunks, the contractor says he didn't get paid, so he can't pay them. If the workers threaten to go to the authorities, the contractor laughs and says he's not afraid. The practice is reported to have become rampant.

You see, where global capitalism goes, plutocracy and official corruption tend to follow. When maximizing profits becomes the paramount motive, it's not hard to buy off the powers that be, even if they happen to be Party members.

According to statistics, a certain number of these cheated, broke, discarded workers are being systematically killed, as surely as if they had been shipped to a Siberian gulag to toil their way to the miserable death of slave laborers.

We ought to know from the experience of the 20th century that, with sufficient regulation, trust-busting, rights of collective bargaining, and (gasp!) social welfare programs, an economic system can be primarily capitalist and yet relatively humane and, even with a few semi-socialist restraints, prosperous. To wit: the Scandinavian nations.

But this seems to depend on a vigilant progressive movement. Pure, unbridled capitalism has a sad tendency to revert to its 19th-century Dickensian outrages. Now, with 21st-century technology at its disposal, that is far a more dangerous tendency. A strong progressive movement is needed to remind capitalists that they should be morally accountable to all human beings, not just to the board and a faceless mass of stockholders.

Of course, capitalists will never be sincere about that -- but when they are faced with enough populist political will, that isn't necessary. They can move, and they have moved, many jobs to Mexico, etc. But when they find out what schools and roads are like in such a low-tax economy, their tune can change quickly, at least for some of their employees. The going is tough right now, but there are ways to fight back. And, in the long run, we must.

In 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the battle lines seemed clearly drawn to people like Eugene Lyons, who never understood that "capitalism versus socialism" doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. As it has turned out, right-wing renegades like Lyons, who moved from one extreme to the other, helped usher in the unchallenged corporate monolith that now confronts us.

A new battle is under way -- and humanity can't afford to lose it.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Taxpayers Forced To Pay Most Of The Costs Of Gunshot Injuries In U.S.


Since the story of Dick Cheney shooting and wounding a man is dominating the current news cycle, I thought it'd be helpful to take a look at how all American taxpayers are forced to cough up the staggering costs of gunshot injuries in the U.S.

The fact is, U.S. taxpayers are forced to pay at least 80 percent of the annual $14 billion costs of gunshot injuries, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Needless to say, in the vast majority of gunshot injury cases, the victims aren't covered by insurance.

Gun injuries are the second leading cause of injury death in the U.S. and have killed more than 30,000 Americans every year since 1972, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

An insurance analysis published in the publication Accident Analysis and Prevention estimates that the mean medical cost per non-fatal gunshot injury is about $17,000.

Gun rights supporters invariably portray themselves as good, law-abiding citizens who want nothing more than the right to keep their precious guns. "We're not hurting anybody, so leave us and our guns alone," is their message.

But of course, it's not that simple. The fact is, we all pay heavily in countless ways for gun violence in this country.

The Brady Campaign estimates that that the total direct and indirect costs of gun violence in America amounts to a staggering $100 billion per year.

If you'd like to learn how to stop the insanity of gun violence in America, check out these Web sites:

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Is "Conservatism" A New Kind Of Mental Illness?


When I heard the title of Michael Savage's screed -- Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder: Savage Solutions -- the irony wasn't lost on me. This is from a man who:
  • Was fired from MSNBC for telling a caller to "get AIDS and die" among other things.
  • Has referred to Iraqi prisoners as "subhumans" and called for them to be summarily executed by the thousands.
  • Said the tsunami that struck East Asian countries was not a tragedy but rather a message from God.
  • Says women should be denied the vote because they are too emotional -- their hormones rage.
But Savage isn't the only "conservative" who's been waxing psychopathic lately. The vilification of anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan showed a zany viciousness once heard only from the most demented elements of the right. The typically milder-mannered Fred Barnes called her a "crackpot." Rush Limbaugh said Sheehan's story is "nothing more than forged documents." (Two days later Limbaugh denied saying anything like this, whatever it was that he meant.) Right-wing straitjacket candidate David Horowitz described Sheehan's protest as "hateful" and said she is dishonoring the memory of her fallen son. A political consultant named Erick Erickson said Sheehan is "a whore in the form of a grieving mother." Right-wing talk radio hate-spewer Glenn Beck called Sheehan a "tragedy slut." Savage is right about one thing: There is a strain of mental illness spreading in America. Problem is, he's pointing in the wrong direction, as usual. Many of those who call themselves "conservatives" are not merely dangerous radicals. They could use a dose of anti-psychotic drugs. I've been wondering about the sanity of "conservatives" since the days of Lee Atwater, when it became apparent that these self-styled paragons of virtue would say and do just about anything to win an election. Atwater later died, reportedly of a brain tumor; but I'm convinced that the tumor was benign. It's the brain that was malignant. It's gotten worse since then. Consider a political landscape in which:
  • A Republican congressman, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, suggests that if terrorists attack the United States with a nuke, we could "take out their holy sites." (Presumably he would hold all Muslims responsible.)
  • The Rev. Pat Robertson, one of our best-known "Christian" broadcasters, suggests that we assassinate a legally elected foreign head of state because we don't like his policies or the company he keeps. (But hey, keep that oil coming.)
  • Bestselling commentator Ann Coulter says, quite seriously, about Islamic nations that we should "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." (Millions buy this shrill woman's books. I suppose these are the readers who cut class the day the professor lectured on The Crusades.)
Barry Goldwater, after leaving politics, lamented that the Republican Party had been taken over by "a bunch of kooks." This was ironic when one recalls LBJ supporters in 1964 saying about rival candidate Goldwater, "In your guts you know he's nuts." If Goldwater scared people back then, what does that say about some of the loonies who hold high office now? I suggest something further: That pretty much describes the whole contemporary "conservative" movement. It's not just some of the top politicos, pundits and preachers who are spouting rubber-room rhetoric. It's become like a bizarre cult of millions. The only positive aspect about how many of these fanatical weirdos there are is that they could never have all fit into the compound at Mount Carmel. The Texas Republican Party, in its delusional 2004 platform, for example, urged that the IRS be eliminated, along with "income tax, inheritance tax, gift tax, capital gains, corporate income tax, payroll tax and property tax." The state GOP would also kill "the Bureau of Tobacco and Firearms, the position of Surgeon General, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Commerce and Labor." (I guess when you believe that The Rapture is coming soon, who needs a government?) The comparably deranged 2000 platform calls for America to return to the gold standard and supports "individual teachers' right to teach creation science in Texas public schools." It also calls for the United States to quit the United Nations and re-establish control of the Panama Canal. (It stops short of unleashing Chiang Kai-shek's skeletal remains on mainland China.) Consider that this is the political party that is governing Texas, virtually unchallenged. Then there are the assorted lunatics who blog, argue in chat rooms, etc. A "Christian conservative" who identified himself (herself?) as "frogribs" posted a reply to an earlier article of mine on this blog in which he wrote: "Yes, it is better `to have the London subway system be a battleground than to have al Qaeda blowing up folks over here.' The duty of the president is to place the lives and well being of Americans above all others." (I'm glad Bush was thinking that when he misled the country into a needless war in Iraq. And I'm certain the British will be thrilled to know we're willing to use them, and other allied civilians, as human shields.) "Iraqi civilian casualties have occurred, but at a rate lower than anyone expected." (Was this person here, on this planet, in March 2003? We were hearing that this would be a cakewalk, and that Iraqis would be tossing rose petals at our soldiers' feet. Since then, dozens of suicide bombings later, the cake's been decorated with entrails, and the petals look curiously like toenails.) "The U.S. still faces an insurgency, but they must remain to complete the mission in order to avoid the disastrous result learned in Vietnam. Napoleon said it best, 'If you decide to take Paris, take Paris.' Finish the job. ..." (This person evidently never heard about Waterloo. Or Nixon's hapless "Vietnamization" policy. What should we call this now -- "Iraqification"?) "Does anyone remember how we got this country? We got it by force. We decimated the Indians ... We invaded the Spanish and the Mexicans and we took the spoils. We exploited slaves until the error was purged with the blood of 500,000 of our countrymen ... Manifest Destiny still runs in my veins and the veins of the free and the brave ..." (Gosh, so America really was largely built on genocide, slavery and military aggression? Since it worked so well in the past, why don't we do all that stuff again? And when they bring back the slave auctions, I wonder -- how much would Jesus bid?) If this person is a sincere, believing, born-again Christian, then someone must have slipped a couple of books by Nietzsche and Machiavelli into his Bible. I can envision The Prince, and Beyond Good and Evil, bound in there somewhere between Galatians and Revelation, no doubt by Godless nihilistic conspirators. But seriously, crazy people don't perceive even such basic ideological contradictions. I've seen this firsthand in paranoid schizophrenics. They feel quite free to just make it up as they go along. I think we've identified a unique personality disorder. It isn't hard to diagnose, because most of the patients call themselves "conservatives." Charge nurse, call the orderlies, and break out the Thorazine. This is no problem that a little heavy sedation won't fix. MANIFESTO JOE IS AN UNDERGROUND WRITER LIVING IN TEXAS.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bush's Foiled Terrorist Plot Claim Strains Credibility


The current news cycle has the right-wing noise machine all abuzz about how America was supposedly saved from a terrorist attack in 2002 by our Glorious Leader.

However, we progressives are leery of Bush's claim that a major Al-Qaeda attack was foiled in Los Angeles in 2002.

Actually, we're leery of anything that Bush says, period. But frankly, this claim smacks of desperation, coming when Bush's approval ratings are in the toilet and the public is increasingly fed up with the disastrous Iraq war.

Bush's claim simply doesn't make much sense.

The fact is, if the U.S. did indeed thwart another 9/11 attack in 2002, don't you think we might have heard about it during the bitterly-fought 2004 election campaign? After all, the Bush team desperately fought tooth and claw to assure the voters that, despite 9/11, Bush could protect America from terrorists better than decorated military hero John Kerry.

It seems to me that if another 9/11 attack had indeed been thwarted in 2002, the Bush team, and the right-wing noise machine, would have gone into overdrive boasting about this from the highest rooftops during the 2004 election campaign.

I'm sure there are those Bush partisans who believe that a 2002 attack really was foiled and, for whatever reason, it all had to be kept secret from the American people until now.

To which I respond: exactly what has changed that Bush feels free to trumpet this "foiled attack" now? And note that Bush previously has never let national security get in the way of revealing secret information. Witness how the White House outed CIA agent Valerie Plame--an act of treason during wartime, no less.

The fact is, Bush is in deep trouble and he knows it. The American people simply don't trust him any more. And no matter how many Tom Clancy-like foiled terror plot tales he spins, Bush's legacy will be one of tragedy and failure. In the end, all the American people are likely to remember about his presidency is the fraud that was the Iraq war and the tens of thousands who died unnecessarily there.

I doubt that any sane, clear-thinking person believes Bush's assessment that Al-Qaida has been "weakened and fractured."

Don't believe me?

Just ask the U.S. State Department, which in April released a report that showed that terrorist attacks worldwide in 2004 tripled over the previous year (which in turn was the worst year for terrorist attacks in two decades). Or ask the former Sept. 11 Commission, which in a report in December, charged the Bush White House with failing to protect the country against another terrorist attack.

In any case, for Bush to trot out this tale of a foiled terror plot now, when his political fortunes are at their lowest ebb, is only the latest despicable attempt by the White House to cynically use the 9/11 tragedy to boost its political fortunes.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Standing Ovation Speaks Volumes About How Black Community Views Bush


Much has been written already about the Rev. Joseph Lowery's controversial comments blasting the policies of the Bush White House at Coretta Scott King's funeral.

But the coverage I've seen thus far tends to miss a central point. The fact is, that by responding with a rousing standing ovation to Lowery's remarks, the crowd emphatically demonstrated its revulsion for the Bush regime.

Indeed, one has to wonder: why did Bush attend this event in the first place?

Who is Bush trying to fool? Are we really to believe that he gives a rat's ass about civil rights or black people in general? Or that he really cares about anyone who isn't white, male, rich and powerful? At the event, Bush mumbled some plastic, forgettable comments praising Mrs. King's legacy, with all the sincerity of a used-car salesman.

I found it highly appropriate that Bush then had to sit and fume helplessly as Lowery brought the crowd to a standing ovation with his remarks that blasted the evils of the Bush administration and the fraud that is the Iraq War.

"We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war billions more, but no more for the poor."

Lowery's remarks carried added weight, coming as they did a day after Bush unveiled his obscene 2007 budget, which calls for eye-popping $439.3 billion for military spending, while slashing domestic social programs.

One wonders how Bush and the NeoCons will react to this humiliation in the coming days. I'd suspect that Fox News and the right-wing noise machine is already gearing up to do whatever they can to slime Lowery.

Monday, February 06, 2006

What If Pentagon Budget's $439.3 Billion Was Used For Peace Instead Of War?


The Bush White House has requested $439.3 billion for military spending in 2007. That eye-popping amount doesn't include war costs that will amount to $125 billion this year and at least $50 billion next year.

$439.3 billion is a lot of money. Here's what that amount could buy if our nation spent it for peaceful purposes, instead of for death and destruction (and to pad the pockets of Halliburton in closed, no-bid contracts):

1. $5 billion. Could build a new $60 million hospital in each of the 16 biggest cities in the U.S., a $40 million hospital for each of 50 smaller cities and a $4 million clinic for 500 small towns.

2. $20 billion. Could be used for cancer research.

3. $40 billion. Could be used to plant a billion trees along highways, in cities, towns and in the countryside.

4. $40 billion. Could build 1,000 new colleges at $40 million apiece.

5. $10 billion. Could build 10,000 youth centers at $1 million each.

6. $50 billion. Could supply 25 million farm families in Third World countries with gasoline-driven tractors.


$274 billion for defense and other expenses.

Source (adjusted for inflation): The People's Almanac by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace.