Friday, September 29, 2006

A Guide To Deciphering Today's GOP Vocabulary

By MARC McDONALD

Many commentators have lamented the widening gulf between Democrats and Republicans in recent years. Personally, I think part of the problem may be misunderstandings in communication between the two parties. Even though Right Wingers technically speak English, a lot of us on the Left often have trouble understanding what they're talking about these days. So in the interests of harmony, I'd like to present a handy guide to understanding the modern-day GOP vocabulary:

1. "The War On Terror." A widely-used term among Republicans that in reality refers to the disastrous U.S. invasion and occupation of the sovereign nation of Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. To Democrats, the term has a totally different meaning: namely to work to prevent terror attacks on America and pursuing members of Al-Qaeda.

2. "Capitalism." As modern-day Republicans understand it, an economic system that steals from working-class and middle-class Americans and gives billions of our tax dollars in closed, no-bid contracts to wealthy, politically connected corporations like Halliburton. The way the Democrats understand the term, capitalism refers to private corporations earning an honest profit in the private sector and competing in the marketplace like the rest of us.

3. "Christianity." You know the values that Christ talked about? Helping the poor? Compassion and love? Turning the other cheek? Blessing the peacemakers? Well, none of that has anything to do with "Christianity" as the present-day Republicans understand the term. To them, somehow Christianity has something to do with repression, hatred of gays, bigotry, ignorance, and a general distrust of anyone who isn't a white Republican Protestant.

4. "Patriotism." A great deal of confusion exists over this term these days. Democrats take the term to mean support of one's nation. Republicans interpret "patriotism" to mean blind, fanatical, unswerving loyalty to George W. Bush. Indeed, they call anyone who criticizes Bush for any reason "unpatriotic." (They also throw a temper tantrum---much the same as Bush himself does when he doesn't get his way).

5. "John Kerry." To non-Republicans, this term refers to a U.S. senator and a decorated war hero, who was wounded in action while serving in combat in the Vietnam War. To NeoCons, this term seems to refer to something entirely different: they interpret it to mean a (fictional) person who was weak, traitorous, and who faked his war wounds and then somehow conspired with none other than the United States Navy to be awarded military decorations he didn't deserve, such as the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts.

6. "Fiscal responsibility." To Democrats, this term refers to setting taxes at a level in which the nation can afford to pay its bills. (During wartime, this also involves raising taxes in order to pay for the war effort). To Republicans, this term refers to giving away billions in tax cuts to the richest 1 percent of Americans and simply ignoring the resulting titanic wartime deficits.

7. "Family values." To Democrats, this means things like policies that actually help America's families, like decent wages, maternity leave, affordable health care, and good schools. To Republicans, the term refers to ramming their narrow, twisted interpretation of "Christianity" (See #3, above) down the throats of the rest of us.

8. "Exploitation." This term, as Democrats understand it, generally is in agreement with the Webster's dictionary interpretation: "To make unethical use of for one's profit." (Note this term is completely absent from the Republican vocabulary and they have no idea what it means).

9. "Bipartisanship." To Democrats, this means reaching across the aisle and working with the opposite party, in an effort to serve the American people (who, after all, pay the bills). To Republicans, this means that you need to agree with and rubberstamp EVERYTHING Bush wants, from legalizing torture to illegal wiretaps, or you will be branded as an anti-American traitor.

10. "Health care system." To Democrats, this refers to a system that helps keep the nation's population healthy and provides medical care to the sick. To Republicans, this refers to yet another way to make lots of money (and the fact that sick people are often desperate and have no other options just sweetens the deal).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Clinton Didn't Need Torture To Fight Terror, So Why Does Bush?

By MARC McDONALD

The recent clash between George W. Bush and three rebel Republican senators over the interrogation of accused terrorism suspects brings to mind a question that I haven't seen the mainstream media talk about. That is: how is it that President Clinton was able to successfully counter terrorism without resorting to torture and other illegal and immoral activities that have tarnished the name of the United States?

Bush likes to say that Sept. 11, 2001 marked the dawn of a new era and that "everything changed" on that date. I say bullsh*t. Nothing changed. We already knew that Al-Qaeda was targeting America. We already knew Al-Qaeda was plotting to hijack airliners and crash them into buildings. We already knew that Al-Qaeda was interested in bringing down the World Trade Center towers (something they'd already attempted once).

Bush would have known all this, too, had he bothered to read his PDBs in August 2001, which specifically warned that Osama bin Laden was planning to strike inside the U.S.

Bush likes to ramble on about "the lessons of 9/11," like he's some sort of seasoned expert on preventing terrorism--even though 9/11 happened on his watch.

NeoCons have worked hard to try to portray the Clinton years as a "failure" in the War on Terror. But it's important to remember that the Clinton years were a hugely successful era for countering terror. What's more, Clinton was able to fight terrorism without resorting to torture. Nor did he need to use all the other shady, immoral methods that Bush has employed since 2001.

How successful was Clinton in fighting terror? Let us count the ways.

For a start, take a look at how Clinton responded to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The terrorists who were responsible were promptly captured, tried and imprisoned. Quite a contrast to the 2001 WTC attacks. Here we are, five years later, and Bin Laden still roams free.

Clinton thwarted at least 15 major terrorist plots on his watch, including a plan to simultaneously blow up 12 U.S. airliners over the Pacific. He also prevented attacks aimed at the Israeli embassy in Washington, the UN headquarters, U.S. airports in Boston and Los Angeles, as well as a plot to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel.

Clinton successfully fought terror without resorting to torture. He did it without alienating the rest of the world, including America's closest allies. He did it without bankrupting the U.S. He did it without running Nazi-style secret CIA prisons. He did it without illegal wiretaps. He did it without shredding the U.S. Constitution. He did it without sullying the good name of the United States and making us the most hated nation on the planet.

By contrast, Bush has embraced torture, as well as a sickening collection of other immoral and illegal activities.

But has Bush's approach to tackling terrorism worked? The numbers tell the story.

Terrorist attacks worldwide are at an all-time high. Despite Bush's claims that "we're winning" the war on terror, the U.S. State Department reported in April that the number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased nearly fourfold in 2005 to 11,111, with strikes in Iraq accounting for 30 percent of the total. The attacks killed more than 14,600 noncombatants, including 56 Americans.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sooner Or Later, The Dissent-Hating NeoCons Will Crack Down On Progressive Web Media

By MARC McDONALD

Do you ever have one of those days when you suddenly get hit by an ominous premonition and a feeling of deep dread about the future? I'd imagine that a lot of us on the Left regularly experience these sorts of days in the era of Bush's America.

But recently, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that something sinister is around the corner. And it involves the end of the relatively new but fast-growing progressive Web media.

The Web's progressive media is still nothing more than a mosquito compared to the established giants of the corporate media. But the Liberal Web is growing and it's starting to become a force that even the MSM cannot ignore, whether it is CNN offering a daily roundup of day's hottest blogs to Bill O'Reilly ranting and raving on Faux News about the evils of the "far left" Web sites.

For progressives, the past six years have been a nightmare. Well, really, things have been going downhill for the Left since Reagan was first elected--but that's another article. But the past six years of Bush's America have been particularly gruesome.

One of the few bright spots in the past decade has been the rise of a whole new progressive media online. A new media that tells the truth and is answerable to no shareholders or multinational corporations. A new media that corporate America has discovered (much to its horror) that it has zero control over.

This, of course, is a major and growing irritant for the Right Wing. After all, over the past quarter century, Republicans have methodically consolidated their power in America via a variety of methods, from blatant gerrymandering to stealing votes. Today, the GOP controls all three branches of government.

Perhaps even more crucially, the Right Wing controls Big Media in this country. The latter is a vital lever of the GOP's power. The MSM can be relied on to spread the Right Wing's agenda and pacify the American people and keep them ignorant and apathetic with pabulum disguised as "news."

Control the information and you control the people.

There's only one obstacle to the Right Wing's master plan for controlling the flow of information: progressive and independent Web media.

This is something that has to drive the Wingnuts crazy (or at least crazier than they already are). Remember, these are people who despise dissent and who go absolutely bonkers when anyone says anything negative about their hero Bush.

Bush and Cheney themselves are notorious for not tolerating the slightest hint of dissent. Both men are surrounded by sycophants and "yes" men. Both men will refuse to set foot in a public venue to give a speech, unless the building has been thoroughly emptied of all dissenters and protesters.

It's clear that the Wingnuts' depth of hatred for the Web's progressive media is at least as deep as their slavish, fanatical devotion to Bush. I have zero doubts that if Bush tomorrow pushed for a law to curb dissenting Web sites in the name of "national security," the Wingnuts would line up to voice their support.

Is it really that implausible that the Bush regime would do such a thing? To ask the question is to answer it. Anyone who believes otherwise is simply naive.

We've all seen what happens to those who voice any opposition or dissent these days. From treasonously outing CIA agents to libelously sliming war heroes like John Kerry, John Murtha and Max Cleland, there is nothing the NeoCon Wingnuts will not do to crush their opposition.

Can we expect a NeoCon crackdown on the progressive Web in the future? I think it's entirely possible. Really, the only thing the NeoCons need to make it happen is to come up with a snappy, focus-group-tested, benign-sounding name for the crackdown. Which shouldn't be a problem: I mean, these are the people who shredded our nation's Constitution and called it "The Patriot Act."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

2003 Cancellation of "The Reagans" TV Series Showed GOP's Power Over Media

By MARC McDONALD

The ruckus over Disney/ABC's upcoming 9/11 "docudrama," brings to mind an earlier controversy over a TV series that raised a firestorm of controversy. In 2003, right-wing protests led Viacom to cancel its showing of "The Reagans" on CBS. Instead, the series ran on Showtime on pay-cable (which greatly reduced its audience potential).

The controversies over the two TV series demonstrates how that GOP wields vastly more influence than Democrats over how history is presented in TV dramas these days. After a threatened boycott, the Republicans were able to successfully prevent "The Reagans" from being broadcast on CBS, because they took issue with the program's portrayal of the Reagan family.

However, the Democrats have no such power. Disney/ABC has no intention of canceling "The Path to 9/11," (which is set to air on Sunday and Monday). This, despite the fact that the series is riddled with errors and is clearly a blatantly partisan hatchet job on Bill Clinton and the Democrats that is being aired only eight weeks before the midterm elections.

As Media Matters has pointed out that the miniseries "twists and invents facts and storylines to create a false picture of the Clinton administration's role in failing to prevent the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, while largely ignoring Bush administration failures."

Interestingly enough, Disney/ABC has refused to provide Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger advance copies of the "docudrama," while GOP bloggers have been sent copies.

Clinton's office has strongly denounced the program, calling ABC/Disney "despicable" for airing a program that is "fiction" and "in direct contradiction of the 9-11 commission report and the facts."

If you'd like to add your voice to those requesting that ABC cancel this slanted, inaccurate, partisan hatchet job on Clinton, go here.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day: A Time To Reflect On How Unions Help The Economy

By MARC McDONALD

If you listen to George W. Bush, you might be under the impression that labor unions are bad for business and that they hurt America's competitiveness. As usual, though, Bush doesn't have a clue.

Indeed, when it comes to business and economic issues, I'm amazed that anyone takes Bush seriously these days. After all, this is someone who was a miserable failure in the private sector (despite his powerful Bush family name and connections). Bush ran every private sector company he was in charge of into the ground. And now he's well on the way to doing this to America itself.

Republicans, of course, have always been hostile to unions. But it's time to dispel a few myths about unions.

The most outrageous lie I consistently hear about unions is that they're "bad for business" and that they hurt America's competitiveness. America's pampered, grossly overpaid CEOs have long gotten their corporations' propaganda divisions (read: the corporate media) to peddle this lie to the American people.

But it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Germany, for example, has powerful labor unions and strong labor laws---and yet that nation ranks as one of the most competitive economies in the world. For one thing, Germany (with less than one-third America's population) is the biggest exporter in the world.

Take a look at the benefits German workers enjoy: a minimum of six weeks paid vacation (two months is the average). Numerous paid holidays. Free health care. Free university tuition. Powerful unions that make it virtually impossible for workers to get fired. Etc.

Despite such strong pro-worker benefits, Germany is the world's biggest exporter. The nation leads in a wide range of ultra-high-tech industries that have enormous entry barriers for low-wage nations. (Translation: Germany doesn't need to worry about low-wage labor from China any time soon). In fact, China has represented an opportunity, not a threat to the Germany economy as China hungers for the sort of high-tech capital and factory equipment that Germany specializes in these days.

Traditional, free-market Anglo-American economists tend to downplay Germany's competitiveness, though. Indeed, the American business press regularly runs stories that purport to show that America's economy is the "most competitive" in the world. No matter how they try to spin it, though, the fact remains that America's so-called "competitive" economy doesn't produce much that the rest of the world wants to buy these days (hence America's soaring, out-of-control trade deficits).

I find it interesting that the countries that have the biggest exports these days (Germany, Japan, etc.) also have strong labor laws and unions---not to mention average wages that exceed those of American workers.

How is this possible?

Is it possible that America's economic "experts" are clueless about what makes a nation competitive and prosperous? Is it possible that, despite what economists say, unions are not bad for business, after all?

A look at the real world indicates that, far from being bad for business, unions are actually a crucial force in building a nation's prosperity and making it competitive.

How can this be? Well, it's widely accepted that unions were responsible for the rise of the Great American Middle Class. What's not as well understood or known, though, is that unions (along with strong labor laws) essentially force companies to become more competitive.

A big flaw of present-day American capitalism is that U.S. corporations don't take a long-term view. Indeed, they don't look any further than the next fiscal quarter.

Meanwhile, in nations like Germany and Japan, corporations do take the long-term view. And as a result, they increasingly demolish their short-sighted American competition.

Take, for example, the increasingly popular hybrid vehicles that Japan is producing these days. Japan began researching these high-tech vehicles as far back as the 1980s. Meanwhile, Detroit automakers (which have never looked further into the future than the next fiscal quarter) are still highly dependent on gas-guzzling SUVs, which are increasingly losing favor with the American consumer.

In taking a look at this scenario, it's important to not overlook the role of unions and strong labor laws. The latter in effect force companies to take a long-term view. When it's virtually impossible to fire your workers (as is the case in Japan and much of Europe), companies have little choice than to plan well ahead into the future.

As a general rule, companies that have a long-term game plan for survival tend to outperform companies that take a short-term view.

All of this, of course, demolishes the economists' "conventional" wisdom that unions and strong labor laws are "bad" for business. It's clear that the opposite is true. Really, the only beneficiaries of the current U.S. economy are the ultra-rich. The Great American Middle Class is on the verge of extinction. And the U.S. economy (which is heavily dependent on gigantic amounts of foreign capital just to stay afloat) is increasingly resembling a Ponzi scheme that is in danger of collapsing like a house of cards.

Friday, September 01, 2006

'Dead Peasant Insurance' And Other Weird Tales Of Wally World: Don't Buy Cheesy Wal-Mart PR

By MANIFESTO JOE

As Wal-Mart continues a campaign to burnish its skinflint image, recent events belie this effort. Here are some developments that show that this petty, miserly corporation hasn't changed:

  • Chain Store Age reported on July 20 that a U.S. federal judge struck down a Maryland law that required Wal-Mart to provide health insurance for employees in the state. (Wal-Mart shares rose 2 percent after the news.)

  • Wal-Mart bitterly fought a proposed ordinance in Chicago that requires "big box" stores to pay a minimum wage of $10 an hour plus at least $3 an hour worth of benefits. The New York Times reported on July 27 that the measure passed, 35-14, and that a gallery crowded with supporters "broke into cheers." The city's first Wal-Mart is set to open soon -- and it may be the last, some sources say. The City Council majority was veto-proof; but of course, court challenges are likely.

  • Deutsche Welle reported on July 28 that Wal-Mart is closing up shop in Germany, where it had been struggling since 1998. Analysts said the company's attempt to apply the U.S. model (cheap goods made possible by low wages) was a "fiasco" in Germany. There were conflicts with unions, and also with the culture. For example, employees "were forbidden ... from dating colleagues in positions of influence. Workers were also told not to flirt with one another."

  • Remember "dead peasant insurance"? That was a pundit's description of a practice by hundreds of employers, Wal-Mart among them, of having insurers write policies on the lives of low-wage workers. These "corporate-owned life insurance policies" turned mighty sour on the retail giant.

Andrews Publications writer Frank Reynolds reported on July 24:

"Discount retailing giant Wal-Mart cannot sue its insurers just because it gambled and lost $1.3 billion on getting a tax break from thousands of insurance policies it took out on employees, according to a brief filed by the insurers in the Delaware Supreme Court.

"Press reports have dubbed the 'corporate-owned life insurance' policies at issue in this litigation 'dead peasant insurance' because most of the policies were purchased by companies that employ large numbers of workers at the lower end of the wage scale and most of the policy benefits went to the companies rather than to families of deceased employees.

"Wal-Mart is contending in an appeal that it was entitled to rely on its expert insurance brokers to warn the company of the inherent dangers of buying COLI policies. Wal-Mart has asked the high court to revive its bad-faith and breach-of-duty claims against its insurers, which the Delaware Chancery Court had dismissed."

As of July 2005, six states had outlawed that practice in cases in which the employee is not told, Wikipedia reports. The online encyclopedia also states:

"Wal-Mart is one of those companies under fire from the US Internal Revenue Service and labor organizations for the practice. The IRS considers COLI a tax dodge, and has pursued Dow Chemical, Camelot Music, Winn-Dixie and American Electric Power, among others, to recover tax underpayments.

"The practice of using COLI is still widespread ... According to one source, Hartford Life Insurance estimated that one-quarter of all Fortune 500 companies have COLI policies, which cover the lives of about 5 million employees. Wal-Mart alone has policies on 350,000 employees."

MSN Money writer Liz Pulliam Weston has reported:

"-- Companies pay a whopping $8 billion in premiums each year for such coverage, according to the American Council of Life Insurers, a trade group.

"-- The policies make up more than 20% of all the life insurance policies sold each year.

"-- Companies expect to reap more than $9 billion in tax breaks from these policies over the next five years. The policies are treated as whole life policies. So, companies can borrow against the policies (though the IRS won't let them write off the interest). And the death benefits are tax-free."

That this practice by corporate ghouls became so widespread is the stuff outrageous scandals are made of. Yet this story, developing over years, was largely ignored by the mainstream media when it should have been on every front page and a lead story on every newscast.

But, back to Wal-Mart: Just name any enormity, any exploitative practice, any labor abuse -- and the folks at Wally World have done it. The company has resolutely fought any and every effort to genuinely improve the lot of its "associates."

And if recent developments are any indication, the cheesy PR campaign and measly "lower-cost" health care plan are like putting a pretty little Band-Aid on a hatchet wound. Folks at Wally World -- get real. Lots of shoppers aren't going to buy it.

MANIFESTO JOE IS AN UNDERGROUND WRITER LIVING IN TEXAS