Thursday, April 27, 2006

News Flash For Tony Snow: Racism Will Always Be A 'Big Deal' In America


For incoming White House press secretary Tony Snow, racism may well be no "big deal" in America today.

If, like Snow, you're an affluent, middle-aged white male from a cushy, comfortable upper middle class background and you live in a luxury gated community, it's indeed likely that the ugly specter of racism rarely intrudes into your life.

But here's a news flash for Snow: racism will ALWAYS be a big deal in the U.S., a nation where millions of African people died in hideous conditions during the four centuries of the slave trade.

Indeed, the closer one looks at Snow's idiotic comments about race, the more offensive and troubling they are.

"Racism is not that big of a deal anymore. No sensible person supports it."

Is Snow suggesting that "sensible" people supported racism in the past?

The fact is, pampered, affluent, white people like Snow have never understood the impact and history of racism in this country. Countless times, during debates, I've heard conservatives claim that "slavery ended a long time ago" and that blacks have been more than compensated since then.

Here's a news flash for all conservatives out there: African-Americans were in fact never compensated in any way for the four centuries of slavery. And what's more, bigotry and racism in America hardly ended with slavery. Repressive, racist Jim Crow laws were, in fact, the law of the land for a century after slavery ended. Thousands of African-Americans were tortured and murdered by cheering lynch mobs for many decades after slavery for no other reason than they had black skin.

It's highly ironic than Snow and other conservative commentators routinely downplay the impact of racism in America.

In Snow's comments, he said his view that "racism isn't that big a deal anymore" is an "unmentionable secret."

Here's the real unmentionable secret in America today. It's the fact that the Republican Party has cynically used race to divide and manipulate the American people. Most Republicans I know privately harbor simmering hostility toward blacks (even if they shy away from using the "N" word in polite company). Many would never vote Democrat, simply because it's a party that backs affirmative action.

Here's a news flash for all you African-American-hating, anti-affirmative action Republicans. Your hero, George W. Bush is never going to end affirmative action. Do you seriously think that the GOP is going to give up its best wedge issue; an issue that it has cynically used countless times to rally the troops? If you believe this, you're naive enough to believe that Bush gives a damn about anyone who isn't among his wealthy, powerful supporters.

Here's another news flash for all you "angry white males" who feel frustrated and oppressed these days. You don't know know the meaning of the word oppression.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Alcoholic Beverage Cops: They're Shocked, Shocked To Find Drunks In Bars


Just as I was recovering from the shame of having my home state produce U.S. history's worst president, Texas has subjected its progressive minority to yet another embarrassment. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Reuters reports, has "temporarily suspended" a program that had undercover officers arresting alleged drunks in bars.

The Houston Chronicle, Reuters said, found that 1,740 people across the state had been arrested on public intoxication charges as part of "Operation Last Call." The TABC spokeswoman said that though the program "has room for improvement," officials still believe that it was worthwhile.

News flash, bluenoses: If you really want to rid Texas streets of drunken drivers, all you would have to do is stake out police near every dive, after midnight, every morning.

But then, there's this bothersome thing called "probable cause" -- plus all the cop man-hours this would require.

As a form of DWI prevention, the TABC operation was comparable to citing someone for littering while they still have the garbage in their hands.

Also, it's absurdly naive.

Texans have a thing for motor vehicles -- pickup trucks, SUVs, Cadillacs, vans -- usually, the bigger the better. Mass-transit propositions in this state tend to lose at the polls, no matter how badly the programs are needed. There are obvious reasons: The oil industry has long dominated Texas politics, and it doesn't make much off mass transit; and, there are countless fools who would rather spend on Playboy mudflaps than pay a bit more in taxes so they won't have to drive themselves to and from beer joints to get swacked on Saturday nights.

Reality check, Texas neo-Puritans: In a culture that is (1) automotive, (2) known for some heavy drinking (booze has mostly been legal here since Prohibition), and (3) has lots of long distances and little mass transit, guess what? Some drunks are going to drive. It's against the law, as it should be. But this state seems to have been all but designed to encourage the practice.

Back around 1933, when the 18th Amendment was about to become history, Will Rogers joked about New Yorkers complaining about how the new bars would only be open until 3 a.m. Any man, he said, who can't get drunk by 3 in the morning just ain't trying.

New York City has its share of drawbacks. Their picante sauce is notoriously lame, like ketchup with a few chopped onions. But they have plenty of mass transit, and cabs, for their drunks.

Rogers also once said that our Constitution "protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators."

Two out of three ain't bad, Will. Or is it now only one?

By the way, mass transit is usually a good thing for one other group: the poor. But our Constitution hasn't done much for them lately, either.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Century After "The Jungle," Meatpacking Workers' Wages Again In Decline

Today marks the 100th anniversary of muckraker Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle, which took a harrowing look at the hideous conditions faced by meatpackers a century ago.

While conditions for workers in the industry improved over the decades, peaking in the 1950s and 1960s, it's clear that in Bush's America, the work remains dangerous and pay is declining.

To read The Jungle online for free, go here.

Go here for more on the state of today's meatpacking industry:

In the new meatpacking capitals, historian Roger Horowitz says, paychecks have been shrinking. In 2004, the average annual wage for a worker in a slaughtering plant was about $25,000 — compared with $34,000 for manufacturing, according to federal figures.

It wasn't always that way.

The workers had their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when the union flexed its muscle and helped push up wages, turning meatpacking into a stable, middle-class job.

"For blue-collar people without much education, packinghouse workers were able to have second homes, send their kids to college so they don't have to do (the same job)," Horowitz says. "It became the American success story."

It didn't last.

In the late 1970s into the 1980s, big changes came. A new tough breed of competitors, mostly nonunion, led by Iowa Beef Processors — now part of Tyson Foods — emerged. Old-line companies went bankrupt. The master contract, one that covered several plants with a standard wage, vanished.

Meatpacking wages that were 15 percent above the average manufacturing salary in 1960 dropped to 20 percent below by 1990, says Don Stull, a University of Kansas anthropology professor and industry expert.

Go here for more.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

George W. Bush: The Worst President In History?


Something to ponder as George W. Bush pushes to make his tax cuts permanent:

According to the Treasury Department, the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions. But between 2001 and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion, more than all of the previous presidencies combined.
More here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

As Bush Gears Up For War With Iran, Does Anyone Remember Osama bin Laden?


"The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him."
--- George W. Bush, Sept. 13, 2001

"I want justice ... There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive,'"
--- George W. Bush, Sept. 17, 2001

"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
--- George W. Bush, March 13, 2002

"I am truly not that concerned about him."
--- George W. Bush, responding to a question about bin Laden's whereabouts, March 13, 2002

Friday, April 14, 2006

Pssst. Wanna Know How To Reduce Your Tax Bill? Simple: Become Rich


Tax season is here again. Would you like to know a sure-fire way of reducing your tax bill?

Simple. Become rich. The richer, the better.

Example: let's say your wealth puts you in the top 1/100th of 1 percent of all Americans. That's about 28,000 people in the U.S. These people, on average, make around $2 million every five days, which is what the average American earns over the course of a lifetime.

The tax burden for these super-rich people has been steadily falling for years. For example, in 1993, they paid 30 cents of every dollar into federal income tax. In 2000, that had fallen to 22 cents. Now, with the Bush tax cuts, it has fallen to 18 cents.

In his book Perfectly Legal, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston details an outrageously unfair tax system that screws the poor and working class. It's a tax system that has been increasing shifting the burden away from the rich and onto lower-income taxpayers for years, a phenomenon that's gotten little coverage in the mainstream media.

Not only do the rich avoid paying taxes, but they also usually avoid tax audits. Johnston points out that working class people are eight times more likely to face an audit than the wealthy.

Johnston is only one of a number of high-profile investigative journalists who've detailed America's unfair tax system over the years.

In 1994, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele published an eye-opening account of America's unfair tax system in their book, America: Who Really Pays the Taxes?

Barlett and Steele painted a gloomy picture of a beleaguered middle- and working class that is soaking up more and more of the nation's tax burden. They also detail how the tax burden is quietly shifting in other ways.

For example, the tax burden in the U.S. over the years has been shifting from corporations to individual taxpayers. In the 1950s, corporations paid around half of all taxes. Today, their burden has shrunk to less than 10 percent. In fact, today, 60 percent of all U.S. corporations pay zero income tax.

Johnston, Bartlett and Steele point out numerous cases in which wealthy individuals don't even bother to file a tax return.

Johnston cites the example of two billionaires, Alec and Jocelyn Wildenstein, who admitted under oath that for 30 years, they never even filed a tax return---and faced no consequences as a result.

In their book, Barlett and Steele point out that in 1989, there were 1,081 people earning over $200,000 who paid zero income tax. I would suspect that since Barlett and Steele's 1994 book was released that the number of wealthy tax avoiders has increased further still.

In the interviews they conducted to research their books, Barlett, Steele and Johnston describe ordinary taxpayers' seething anger and frustration with the unfairness of the tax code.

Johnston, in particular, seems pessimistic that the U.S. tax system will ever be fixed. He considers open revolt and social disruption a possibility in the future.

For their part, Barlett and Steele, offer modest proposals for making the tax system more equitable, such as closing all loopholes. However, the odds of real change to make the tax system more fair in Bush's America seem remote indeed.

Friday, April 07, 2006

LeakGate: A Story "The New York Times" Wishes Would Just Go Away


Let me see if I understand this correctly:

Court papers say that George W. Bush authorized Dick Cheney's former top aide to divulge classified intelligence data to a New York Times reporter in an effort to defend Bush's decision to go war against Iraq.

A newspaper in New York City broke this story on Thursday.

No, The New York Times didn't break this story. It was another newspaper in New York City.

Something called The New York Sun.

What's even more bizarre is that The Sun is a hard-core conservative paper, along the lines of The Washington Times.

How is it that The New York Times would let itself be scooped by its much smaller New York City rival---especially on a story of Watergate-like magnitude? After all, The New York Times fancies itself as America's "newspaper of record." And, in any case, it has vastly more resources, reporters, and clout than the Sun.

I'd suspect that in the end, the whole LeakGate story is one that The New York Times just wishes would go away.

After all, no matter how The New York Times' head honchos try to spin it, the whole Judith Miller mess is an enormous black mark on the paper's once lofty reputation.

It's a shame that The New York Times hasn't devoted much attention to LeakGate, particularly when you consider the enormous amount of attention the paper gave to Whitewater (a story that the Times broke in a massive investigative series in 1992).

After all, LeakGate is a real story---one of the biggest White House scandals in decades---whereas Whitewater turned out to be a complete non-story. Even Ken Starr eventually admitted that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the Clintons in the Whitewater affair.

Unfortunately for The New York Times---and the Bush administration----I'd suspect that LeakGate isn't a story that's going to go away any time soon.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bush Drug Plan Is Great Way To Rid U.S. Of Overmedicated Fossils


Readers of this blog have no doubt heard the bad news about the Bush Medicare drug plan. But, sometimes policies that seem stupid and damaging on the surface can have unintended positive consequences.

It's time, fellow progressives, to consider the upside of Bush's hapless reform attempt. Here are some points to ponder:
  • It's been reported that because of blunders and red tape, some ailing senior citizens haven't been getting the prescription drugs they need to stay alive. Also, the prices of some drugs have gone up.

    Remember Dick Lamm, Colorado's "Governor Gloom," who in 1984 stirred controversy by saying that sick old people have a "duty to die ..."? Lamm, a Democrat, saw in our overburdened health care system a serious threat to America's fiscal future.

    George W. Bush has unintentionally given us the answer. If sick, elderly people can't get or afford life-extending drugs, this will force them to, as Lamm suggested, "... die and get out of the way." When enough of these high-maintenance geezers finally have their fatal heart attacks, strokes and cancers, think of the burden that will be lifted from the shoulders of the young!

    Health care will be more affordable; Medicare and Medicaid claims will shrink; the decrease of the surface population will curb environmental damage and mean more food and water for the rest of us. Social Security will be less stressed as life expectancy decreases. Hospital beds will be plentiful, and competition for folks who have pulses will drive prices down further. Those cheesy oldies stations will vanish from the airwaves forever. The national debt will disappear, too.

    I've got to hand it to George Bush. He's going to save Social Security in a way that would have done Thomas Malthus proud.

  • There are reports that people in assisted living facilities are being arbitrarily enrolled with big insurers like Humana, and then they almost have to get an act of Congress to actually enroll in the plans they chose.

    Hey, I'm all for choice. But it's for people who are competent to choose. A lot of people in assisted living are too senile to remember whether it's time to take the red pill or the white one. That's why they're there. Maybe they won't get the plans they chose, but at least they'll be enrolled in something. There's a risk that a feeble-minded person will forget and miss the May 15 deadline.

    Under Bush, Medicare is making all assisted-living codgers get signed up, and therefore they won't get hit with that nasty "drug tax." If a person can't look out for his or her own interests, it's great to know that Humana, and our president, will.

  • Americans are overmedicated anyway. Especially the Medicare-qualifying fossils. The pharmaceutical companies are making huge profits pushing pricey pills for everything from a runny nose to toenail fungus. IMS Health, a pharmaceutical-consulting company, reported in 2005 that the number of prescriptions had grown by two-thirds in just a decade.

    And, people are forgetting that all medications have side effects -- even these new, high-tech ones. Sometimes, especially them. Each year, tens of thousands of Americans are killed by adverse reactions to medications. And there are even more health care debacles in the making. Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs like Lipitor are being passed out like Halloween candy to millions. I tried the stuff at my doctor's urging, and after one 10 mg. dose, I had so much mental fog that my supervisor at work accused me of being drunk.

    So, people with high cholesterol -- please do us all a favor. Lay off the Egg McMuffins, the Ben and Jerry's, and the Starbucks double mocha lattes. Get some exercise. You'll lose weight, save money, and the cost of my group insurance will go down.

  • The Bush administration may have stumbled upon an ingenious way to curb lawsuit abuse. With fewer people taking potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals, there will be fewer class actions. No more dirty old men claiming Viagra made them blind. (There's a theory that some of these old guys may be taking that stuff alone. Hey, old fella -- remember that hysterical warning from your mom after she walked in on you admiring that hot bondage shot of Bettie Page? What if, at long last, she was right?)
Maybe Adam Smith was right, too. Good things really can result from less-than-noble motives. George W. Bush, in what seemed a bogus scheme to further enrich health insurance companies, may have unintentionally saved America. MANIFESTO JOE IS AN UNDERGROUND WRITER LIVING IN TEXAS.