Monday, December 31, 2007

Hiring Kristol Marks A New Low for The New York Times

By MARC MCDONALD

The blogosphere is currently abuzz about the hiring of right-wing pundit William Kristol by The New York Times.

The progressive blogs are outraged that the Times has "lurched to the right." Meanwhile, the right-wing blogs are gleeful.

My own reaction (a feeling I suspect is shared by many progressives) is: Who cares?

Many of us gave up on The New York Times as a credible, trustworthy news source years ago. Many of us gave up on the paper even before the Times gave its blessing to the invasion of Iraq, after "journalist" Judith Miller pretended to investigate Bush's case for war. The Times' role in joining the rest of the MSM in cheerleading for the war was one of the most embarrassing episodes in U.S. journalism history.

Most wingnuts imagine that we progressives sit around all day sipping our latte and reading The New York Times. But this stereotype is outdated by at least 30 years. It's a stereotype at least as outdated as that of the GOP as being the "fiscally responsible" party.

The fact is, not only is the Times not as "liberal" as the wingnuts believe, but the Gray Lady's reputation has been coasting on its past glories now for decades.

Like a lot of progressives, I've been an enthusiastic newspaper reader over the years. At one time, I would have found it inconceivable to start my day without reading the Times along with my local newspaper.

But those pre-Internet days are long gone. The Times is no longer the beacon of top-notch journalism that it once was. In fact, American journalism in general has seen a steep decline in quality since the days of the Watergate era produced the hard-hitting investigative journalism that drew many of us into the field in the first place.

The reasons for the decline of U.S. journalism are many. But one reason I rarely see discussed is the increasingly shoddy way that newspapers have treated their employees in recent decades. As a former journalist, I saw first-hand just how crappy this treatment was. Journalists today have to contend with low wages, long hours and a crushing work-load.

When you have journalists making so little money that they spend half their time fretting about how to basic bills, you tend to create an environment that doesn't produce great journalism. Many journalists today are overworked, demoralized, bitter and burned out (and if the younger ones aren't, they will be, soon enough). Overall, the working conditions in America's newsrooms don't lend themselves to sort of great investigation journalism that our era is crying out for.

The New York Times arrogantly still regards itself as the nation's "newspaper of record."

But for many of us progressives, it lost that title years ago.

Indeed, if I were going to a desert island today and had to choose one newspaper, it definitely wouldn't be the Times. I'd probably select Britain's Guardian newspaper, or even The Financial Times.

Indeed, no less a commentator than Noam Chomsky has proclaimed The Financial Times as the best newspaper in the English-speaking world today.

Although it's hardly a liberal newspaper, The Financial Times offers many of the things that once appealed to us about The New York Times decades ago: intelligent, in-depth articles, extensive world-wide coverage, and a newspaper that puts substance over style.

Between The Guardian, The Financial Times and the progressive blogs, I have plenty of great reading material these days. Frankly, outside of columnists Paul Krugman and Frank Rich, I couldn't care less about The New York Times these days (and I suspect I'm not alone among progressives).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

BeggarsCanBeChoosers.com: A Special 2007 Music Roundup

By MARC MCDONALD

Politics (and life in general) can be such a extreme downer in the era of George W. Bush. So I thought I'd take a temporary break from politics and offer a list of the "Best Music of 2007." (Yes, exactly what the world needs: yet another "Best Music of the Year List.")

Actually, most of this music isn't even from 2007--it's just music that I enjoyed this year. However, most of these tunes do have connections to 2007, as explained below.

So for any of you who are sick to death of today's sickly pop parade of Britney, Justin, MTV, the Grammys, and mainstream corporate music, here's a dose of fantastic, potentially life-changing music that has been sadly overlooked by many. A lot of this music is challenging and can take time to appreciate. However, the time you spend giving this music a chance will often be rewarded many times over.

1. Karlheinz Stockhausen: Kontakte (1958) -- Stockhausen (1928-2007), a masterful and controversial German composer, died on Dec. 5. His experimental Kontakte shook up the sometimes stuffy world of "classical" music and still sounds revolutionary today. The Beatles took inspiration from Stockhausen in the 1960s (indeed, his image is one of those that adorns the famous crowd picture on the Sgt. Pepper's album. Go here to listen to "Kontakte" on YouTube.

2. Autechre: Gantz Graf (2002) -- There are countless experimental "Electronica" artists out there these days, pushing the boundaries of what music is. (Indeed, I suspect a lot of people don't even consider a lot of Electronica to be "music" at all). "Gantz Graf" is one of the most innovative pieces by Autechre, a band from Britain. Autechre have been around since 1987 and have a new album coming out in March, 2008. Go here to listen to "Gantz Graf" on YouTube.

3. The Jesus and Mary Chain: Never Understand (1985) -- A pretty tune, served up with a massive blast of roaring feedback, from this Scottish band. A lot of people hated The Jesus and Mary Chain back in the day. But time has been kind to this band. First, Sofia Coppola used their song, "Just Like Honey," for the touching final scene in her much-praised film, Lost in Translation. And now, a lot of newer bands (like A Place to Bury Strangers) are clearly inspired by The Jesus and Mary Chain. You may well hate this band, but you know what they say: "if it's too loud, then you're getting too old." In 2007, the band reunited after an eight-year break and are now working on a new album. Go here to listen to "Never Understand" on YouTube.

4. Big Country: Harvest Home (1983) -- Another great 1980s band from Scotland. Die-hard socialists, Big Country were never the hippest name to drop for the 1980s trendy crowd. But for my money, their music was brilliant, honest and powerful. Tragically, their singer Stuart Adamson committed suicide in 2001, allegedly despondent over the band's declining fortunes, (although the band's final album with him, Driving to Damascus, was one of its best records). Big Country's surviving members reunited in 2007 and are reportedly playing live shows in Scotland. Go here to listen to "Harvest Home" on YouTube.

5. Neu!: Negativland (1975) -- Light years ahead of their time, this challenging German band changed the way many of us listened to music back in the 1970s. I've always thought that the Great Punk Explosion of 1977 owed more to Neu! than they were ever given credit for. As writer/musician Julian Cope has noted, it's obvious that the young Sex Pistols listened to Neu's Neu! '75 masterpiece album. Go here to listen to "Negativland" on YouTube.

6. Manic Street Preachers: Revol (1994) -- A Welsh band that has a bizarre, tragic history. Shortly after the release of this song in 1994, their guitarist, Richey James Edwards, mysteriously disappeared. He was never seen again. The band, however, carried on and amazingly has had enormous chart success in many countries (excluding the U.S.), despite songs with decidedly anti-commercial lyrical topics, ranging from socialist revolution to Richard Nixon. The band even played in Cuba, as a guest of Fidel Castro. The 2007 album, Send Away The Tigers, was one of the band's best and a big U.K. chart hit (and the first the band has had released in America in many years). Go here to listen to "Revol" on YouTube.

7. Magma: Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh (1973) -- France supposedly doesn't produce great rock bands, right? Well, someone forget to tell Magma, a fantastic cosmic band that produced complex, challenging, Wagner-like epics about nothing less than the future destruction of the Earth. Classically-trained Christian Vander may be the greatest drummer in rock history. Actually, to even call this music "rock" doesn't really do it justice at all---it actually trivializes the mighty power of Magma. Go here to listen to "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh" on YouTube.

8. Pete Seeger & The Weavers: Solidarity Forever -- Has George W. Bush's evil era got you down? Then I recommend that you put on a album or three by folk legend Pete Seeger, who turned 88 this year. Last year, Bruce Springsteen recorded a touching tribute to Seeger in We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Go here to listen to "Solidarity Forever" on YouTube.

9. Monks: Monks Time (1966) -- One of the ultimate cult bands. Incredibly strange and savage punk rock from 1966 from five American soldiers posted in Germany. None of their music was released in the U.S. at the time and they remained totally forgotten for many years. Sometimes, I think the best and most vital rock music ever made was made by obscure bands like this----bands that followed their own muse and had absolutely zero commercial considerations to take into account. God knows how many other completely forgotten (but worthy) bands out there await rediscovery. When you consider all the absolute dogshit that has clogged up our nation's radio airwaves and pop music charts over the years, it makes one want to cry (especially when you consider all the truly worthy bands that never got the credit they deserved). Go here to listen to "Monks Time" on YouTube.

10. Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers: Sidewalk Blues (1926) -- One of the true giants of jazz in his prime. In 2007, Rounder Records released a massive eight CD collection of Jelly Roll's recordings that surely represents one of the peaks of 20th Century popular music. It's hard to fathom that our nation's now-dismal pop charts once contained music as great as this (instead of the Britney/Justin dogshit that clogs it up today). Go here to listen to "Sidewalk Blues" on YouTube.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bush Once Again Refuses To Allow Crisis To Interrupt Vacation

By MARC MCDONALD

If anything has been predictable in the administration of George W. Bush, it's that Bush loves his European-style month-long vacations.

And when he's vacationing in Crawford, Bush doesn't like to be interrupted, come hell or high water.

And while, around the globe, politicians are scrambling to cope with the world's latest crisis, the stunning assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Bush has once again shown that his leisure time comes first, before any other priority.

It's not the first time that Bush has relaxed in Crawford while a major crisis was unfolding.

Who can forget how a vacationing Bush casually strummed a guitar in 2005 as Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury in the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States? Who can forget how Bush ignored officials' warnings about how Katrina could breach levees and put lives at risk?

It wasn't the first time that a vacationing Bush has ignored urgent warnings. After all, in the midst of his 5-week vacation immediately preceding the 9/11 attacks, Bush ignored a Presidential Daily Briefing, hand-delivered to him by CIA officials, who flew from Washington to Crawford in August 2001.

The Aug. 6, 2001 PDB, as we now all know, was titled, "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." Bush took no action (and indeed, went fishing later that day).

In the turmoil of the past seven years of Bush's presidency, few things in this world have been predictable. However, one thing that has remained predictable like clockwork is that, when crisis strikes, Bush will put his vacation plans ahead of the interests of the nation, and the world.

On Wednesday, Bush arrived in Crawford for the 69th time of his presidency. In all, Bush has spent an incredible 418 days of his presidency in Crawford. In fact, at the current rate, Bush looks to easily beat Ronald Reagan's record as the president who took the most vacation time while in office.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ghosts Of Christmas Present: Waiting To Get On Disability

By MANIFESTO JOE

So you've enjoyed that turkey and dressing, and lingered by the fireplace with family members over a glass of Chardonnay. But if you're a Web addict, you eventually log on and check out what's happening on the blogs. If you drop by this one, I'll be your Jeremiah this Christmas Day, and with a little Dickens added for flavor.

As I write this, there are hundreds of thousands of disabled Americans who are waiting, sometimes for years, to get on Social Security disability. In the era of Bush, the system is no longer funded in a way in which claims can be processed in a reasonable time.

The New York Times recently reported:

Steadily lengthening delays in the resolution of Social Security disability claims have left hundreds of thousands of people in a kind of purgatory, waiting as long as three years for a decision. ...

Some have lost homes, declared bankruptcy or even died, say lawyers representing claimants and officials of the Social Security Administration. ...

"It's been hell," said Belinda Virgil, 44. She waited three years for her hearing in November and is awaiting the outcome. Virgil is tethered to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day and has no home of her own. "I've got no money for Christmas, I move from house to house, and I'm getting really depressed," she said. ...

State agencies initially turn down about two-thirds of the roughly 2.5 million disability applicants each year. But of the more than 575,000 who appeal ... two-thirds eventually win a reversal.


The problem is that there simply aren't enough appeals judges to handle the caseload. The backlog is now 755,000, compared to 311,000 in 2000. (Hey, wasn't that the year Bush was appointed president?)

Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Many of these people couldn't survive in either of those settings.

So, what's being done? Not much. The Times continued:

The agency wants to hire at least 150 appeals judges, but the plan has been delayed by the standoff between Congress and the White House over domestic appropriations. Without new hirings, federal officials predict even longer waits ...

... in November, the Democratic-controlled Congress voted a $275 million increase for the agency. But Bush vetoed the bill, calling it profligate.
(So, like, he knows that word?)

I'm sure Bush is enjoying his turkey and dressing today. Too bad he's never had to go down to the local mission house to get it.

OK, I'm nearly done playing Jeremiah, and Dickens, too. Merry Christmas -- enjoy the rest of the day, in its true spirit. I, for one, go back to work tomorrow, thankful that I am able to do so. These are grim times for those who are not.

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Giuliani's Bizarre Solution To Spiraling U.S. Deficit: Cut Corporate Taxes

By MARC MCDONALD

The most bizarre statement made by any GOP candidate in Wednesday's Republican debate in Iowa was made when Rudy Giuliani responded to a question about how America can reduce its crushing government deficit.

What was Giuliani's solution?

Was it ending corporate welfare (which costs America $300 billion a year)?

Was it rolling back George W. Bush's fiscally reckless tax cuts for the rich?

Was it stopping the disastrous Iraq War, which costs America $11 billion a month?

Nope, it was none of the above.

To reduce our nation's crushing deficit, Giuliani proposed cutting taxes. Specifically cutting corporate taxes.

Giuliani didn't propose cutting taxes for hard-pressed working class or middle class people in this country. No, his priority is with corporations (most of which already avoid paying any taxes at all, thanks to loopholes).

Never mind that the whole idea of cutting taxes to reduce deficits is an idiotic idea that has been repeatedly debunked ever since it was first proposed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

I find it incredible that any candidate can still be calling for trickle-down economic policies, after the experience of three decades has shown that it simply doesn't work and it only leads to spiraling deficits.

And yet Giuliani and other GOP candidates can continue to propose such nonsense and get a free pass from the MSM.

I find it interesting how Giuliani seems to think that cutting corporate taxes should be a high priority for America. Between corporate welfare and tax loopholes, most corporations already get a free ride in this nation.

The tax burden in the U.S. over the years has been shifting from corporations to individual taxpayers (as has been documented by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele). 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. Under a Giuliani administration, corporations can look forward to paying even less tax.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bolton's "Putsch" Conspiracy Theory Outdoes Right-Wing Blogs For Nuttiness

By MARC MCDONALD

Did you know that there's a big conspiracy under way to undermine our nation and our Commander-In-Chief? The Liberals and other anti-American traitors are in on this conspiracy. So are America's own intelligence agencies.

Sounds pretty wacky, huh?

The sort of thing you'd read on one of the nutcase right-wing blogs.

However, this latest wacky theory didn't emerge from the fringe blogosphere. It came out of the mouth of none other than John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

When U.S. intelligence services recently released a report concluding that Iran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003, sane people across the globe breathed a sigh of relief. Many of us felt that maybe, just maybe, this would head off the Bush regime's crazy, reckless march toward yet another bloody fiasco of a war in the Middle East.

However, NeoCons like Bolton are up in arms. Bolton has had a hard-on for war with Iran for years now. He's the sort of Republican who loves a nice, bloody war, as long as he gets to avoid doing any of the actual fighting himself (just as he did during the Vietnam War when he avoided combat by joining the National Guard, just like his buddy George W. Bush).

While the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief over the recent intelligence report, people like Bolton see it all as part of a big Liberal conspiracy.

Bolton, in an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine alleged that the aim of the National Intelligence Estimate, was not to provide the latest intelligence on Iran, but instead to offer "politics disguised as intelligence."

Bolton labeled the report as a "quasi-putsch" by the intelligence agencies.

I used to think that such crazy conspiracy theories were limited to nutcases who write fringe right-wing blogs on the Web. (You know, the sort of blogs that claim that President Clinton once ordered a Mafia style hit on Vince Foster).

But these days, even top GOP figures are embracing the most bizarre and far-out crazy conspiracy theories. These people believe that anyone who dares speak out against their beloved Bush must be part of a giant Liberal conspiracy.

Here's a memo to Bolton and the rest of the nutcase fringe Right. Yes, there was indeed a "putsch" in America---and it occurred in 2000 when Bush and the NeoCons came to power via a massive fraud of an election.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ban On AK-47 Assault Rifle Used In Omaha Mall Rampage Was Lifted By GOP Congress In 2004

By MARC MCDONALD

For 10 years, the AK-47 semiautomatic assault weapon used in the deadly Omaha mall shootings was illegal in America, after President Clinton signed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. On Sept. 13, 2004, that ban came to an end, thanks to the GOP-led Congress.

Thanks to this idiotic decision, lethal weapons such as AK-47s, Uzis and TEC-9s returned to store shelves in America.

The AK-47 is not used for hunting (as it isn't accurate for long-range shooting). However, it is a excellent weapon to have if you are a psychopath who wishes to go to his local shopping mall and slaughter a bunch of innocent people.

It was the weapon used by Robert Hawkins on Wednesday at a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska, where he shot and killed five women and three men and then turned the gun on himself.

If the GOP retains the White House, or regains the Congress, in 2008, we can be assured that Republicans will continue to weaken what few remaining gun restrictions there still are on the books in this country. For example, we can kiss the Brady Bill, signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, goodbye.

Indeed, the current crop of GOP presidential candidates all seem to be outdoing themselves on the campaign trail, depicting themselves as foes of any and all gun restrictions. And as long as our politicians are in the pocket of the powerful NRA, we can expect more gun tragedies in the years to come.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Right-Wing Nutcases Laugh It Up Over Clinton Office Hostage Crisis

By MARC MCDONALD

"Anyone care to bet the protagonist is a card-carrying member of the Democrat Party (aka nutroot) who is frustrated that Hillary hasn't personally defunded the War in Iraq yet? Might even be a member over at Daily Kos?"
---Rotarymunkey, commenter at MichelleMalkin.com

I have to admit, I never really understood the right-wing sense of humor.

Like when Ronald Reagan joked in 1964 about the 17 million people who then went to bed hungry every night in America, saying that "they were all on a diet."

Or when Rush Limbaugh called 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton a "dog."

Or when George W. Bush yucked it up over the issue of the non-existent WMDs in Iraq during a "comedy" skit in the Oval Office.

I don't know---maybe I just don't have much of a sense of humor, because I saw nothing funny about yesterday's hostage crisis, in which a distraught man wearing what appeared to be a bomb walked into the campaign office of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.

However, plenty of right-wing folks thought the whole episode was real funny. Take (please) the wingnuts who hang out at the blog of right-wing nutcase Michelle Malkin.

As of Friday night, Malkin's comments section was full of posters who were joking about the crisis and speculating about how the "liberal" media and the Democrats would conspire to spin the episode to Hillary's advantage.

A poster by the name of "Fodder Jack" seemed to find humor in the crisis, writing, "Maybe it is a last ditch effort by the press to get an interview with Hillary."

Another writer called "Reppac122" was (like many across the right-wing blogosphere) already using the occasion to attack the Clintons. "My cynical political thinking here is that the Clintons (yes, both of them) will use this horrible situation for their political benefit."

Another writer, using the handle, "RetFireman," raised the issue of conspiracy: "Now be honest...with all that has come out lately, and I am not saying it is staged, but how many people would be that surprised to find out at some later date that it was? Be honest with yourself, and consider who we are talking about."

Commenter "Eric CharlotteNC" sarcastically mocked Liberals in his post. "If our troops weren't in Iraq this never would have happened! Or maybe global warming got this guy very hot!"

"Blacktygrrrr" added his own two cents: "The bottom line is if the hostage taker is a liberal, he will be dismissed as deranged, since many liberals are deranged anyway."

"Rotarymunkey" had this to say: "Anyone care to bet the protagonist is a card-carrying member of the Democrat Party (aka nutroot) who is frustrated that Hillary hasn't personally defunded the War in Iraq yet? Might even be a member over at Daily Kos?"

And so it goes, on and on.

Of course, none of this comes as much of a surprise to those of us who are at all familiar with the vicious hatemongering in the right-wing blogosphere.

The scary thing is Malkin's blog supposedly has a policy of screening out "offensive" remarks. If the above comments weren't screened out, one can only wonder what truly deranged nutcase comments were deleted. The mind boggles.

I'm sure there are those who would argue that Malkin isn't responsible for the deranged posters who comment on her blog. But anyone familiar with Malkin's own writings knows that she herself is a truly psychotic nutcase whose babblings over the years have been far scarier than any of the comments above.

As prominent Malkin critic Glenn Greenwald pointed out, Malkin once wrote a book "defending the ethnicity-based imprisonment of innocent American citizens in internment camps."

As media watchdog site Media Matters pointed out, the mainstream media has given, on numerous occasions in the past, significant coverage to episodes in which controversial comments appeared on progressive blogs.

How much do you want to bet that the MSM ignores the right-wing hatemongering that appeared in the aftermath of the Clinton office hostage crisis?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In Bush Era, U.S. Has Become A Third-World Country

By MANIFESTO JOE

The signs are all there, beneath the jingoist bluster and superficial prosperity. George W. Babbitt still swaggers on the golf course and talks a great game, but it's getting tougher to make the mortgage payments on his family's $300,000 house. For his commute, the gas-guzzling Hummer has been traded in for a "sensible" Ford Taurus with leather seats.

And then, below, mostly out of sight, are the people who never had it that good, and never will. The ones who have no hope of "retiring." The ones who don't know how they can afford to make their old car pass the emissions test. The ones who would declare bankruptcy but don't know if they can qualify under the tougher new (Republican) laws. The ones who know the best bargains on navy beans and Vienna sausages.

Life in America has always been deodorized excrement for a certain minority among us.

But that minority is growing, and the middle class is feeling the pressure.

George W. Bush isn't solely responsible for U.S. descent into Third-World stagnation. But his policies have festively crowned all the economic royalism that went before him.

Food inflation is running far ahead of "core" inflation, at 4.4% (much higher for staples) compared to about 2%; yes, largely because of factors somewhat out of this administration's control, like fuel/transportation prices and rising demand from developing nations like China. But amid this, our "leaders" have been codifying policies that ever enrich the most fortunate among us, rather than make it easier for struggling people to eat and live halfway decent lives. The burden of living in America -- for health care, for a living wage, for transportation, for education, for anything that elevates people above mere brutish existence, is ever shifted upon those least able to pay.

How has this administration responded to the marginalization of America's working class? With the all the greed and conceit one would expect of economic royalists. Bush is the anti-FDR, even going beyond Reagan on that score. FDR was excoriated as a traitor to his class; no one could ever accuse Bush of that. He has devoted his entire political life to destroying all that FDR did for people who never had a "lock" on the better things in life, like little George always had. But then, what would one expect from a spoiled rich kid who got his childhood kicks killing frogs with strategically inserted firecrackers?

There have been far too many "outrages of the day" to account for all of them, but Citizens for Tax Justice has summed up the irresponsible fiscal policies of the Bush administration thusly, on Sept. 13:

"President George W. Bush has added $3 trillion to the national debt so far, despite inheriting a balanced budget when he took office in 2001. Since then, Congress has been forced to raise the statutory limit on the total amount the federal government is allowed to borrow four times -- in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006. Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation to raise the debt limit a fifth time, to an unprecedented $9.815 trillion, to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its debts and being unable to borrow any more. In contrast, when Bush took office, the debt limit was $5.950 trillion -- $3.9 trillion less than the new amount."

This was done in part by foisting a new Reaganomics policy on the country, with big tax cuts for everyone with the ability to pay, and little or nothing for anyone else. And then, obviously, by starting a totally elective foreign war.

What this amounts to is a tax on our futures. And the people who put George W. Bush in office clearly don't intend to be the ones who pay it. Even if things turn a little rough for them, 1930s-style, they can "afford" the rent-a-cops, the political consultants, the local government functionaries, the National Guard units, and if necessary, the brown-shirted goons, to help them keep their "rightful, destined" positions in life.

Does any of this sound familiar? Mexico and many other Third World societies come to mind. I wonder: Will George W. Bush ultimately go down in history as OUR Third-World strongman? Our Batista? Our Franco? Our Mubutu Sese-Seko? Our Suharto? Our Ferdinand Marcos?

At the same time as the economic screws are being tightened, the political ones are as well. The effective suspension of some Constitutional rights in the country, among other things, is an eerie tandem to the economic trend.

It's going to get worse. The news from countries like China, that have been buying U.S. Treasuries and have waning confidence in the dollar, gets grimmer all the time. There will come a day when there's no one left to borrow from.

The economic model for a Third-World country goes sort of like: 10% have about 90% of the effective wealth; about 30%, a precarious middle-class life; and the remaining 60% live in poverty.

I can foresee Canada soon having an illegal immigrant problem, what with the current trends in America. Hell, I'm ready to pack up and go now. Vamos, al norte! Any journalism jobs in Winnipeg? They aren't even building any fences on that border, not yet.

Jokes aside, many right-wingers would urge me to go, today. But this is my country, too, and I'm old enough to remember when it was a better place. I can remember when people who made $8 an hour (or the inflation-adjusted equivalent) were interested in organizing unions, not being duped by Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. I can remember when many of them seemed to understand who it really was that was screwing them.

It's all looking way too Mexico, stolen elections and all. When they said it can happen here, they were thinking of far worse things. But the Third World looks bad enough.

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Memo to Keith Olbermann: We Don't Care About Britney Or Paris

By MARC MCDONALD

For many of us, Countdown with Keith Olbermann is, quite simply, the best thing on television these days. It's a thought-provoking newscast that towers above the sleazy, sensationalized crap that passes for "news" on the major media channels.

Olbermann's show is like a breath of fresh air and it has made the past few years of George W. Bush's nightmarish reign at least a bit more tolerable. But there's a slight problem with Countdown that I'd like to complain about.

For some reason, Olbermann always insists on closing his show with "entertainment" news--and more often than not, it's "news" about the latest activities of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

(I know, I know: Olbermann is being "ironic" in his coverage of these irritating celebrities. But there's only one problem: even if you cover them from an ironic angle, Paris and Britney are so vapid that they're still boring).

Actually, I'm unclear as to why Olbermann insists on including "celebrity" news on his program in the first place. Most of us are sick to death of today's sensationalized, tabloid culture anyway. If we never heard another word about over-exposed celebrities like Paris and Britney, it'd be too soon.

By inexplicably including this dreck at the end of his program, I'd suspect that a lot of people never watch Olbermann's show to its conclusion.

And I'd like to offer a suggestion. Please, Keith: dump all "news" about Britney and Paris. Instead, use that segment on your show for something more interesting and useful.

How about something like this: "Right-Wing Lie of the Day"? Surely that alone would offer enough material for the next two decades of programs.

Or how about a regular feature called, "Today's Buzz In The Blogosphere"? Of course I'm biased, but I'd like to see more coverage of news and views from the blogosphere. CNN already has a "what's hot on the blogs" segment; it seems like such a feature would be a natural for Olbermann's show (which, no doubt, has an audience that frequents the blogosphere).

Those are just a couple of suggestions. But really, the fact is, anything would be better than devoting yet more coverage to Britney and Paris. The first time Olbermann mentioned these two vapid celebrities on his program, it might have been a bit funny to some people. Now, it's just tiresome.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Creepy Similarities Between George W. Bush and Vlad the Impaler

By MARC MCDONALD

They were both petulant, arrogant, and convinced that they were doing God's work. They were both out-of-control, power-mad leaders. As youngsters, they both enjoyed torturing small animals. Both spent their ruling years engaged in horrific wars against Islamic nations. And despite their cruel, bloodthirsty and savage ways, both have fanatical supporters who defend their actions to this day.

Who am I talking about?

George W. Bush and Vlad The Impaler.

Vlad, who is believed to have served as the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula novel was, in real life, a 15th century prince of the East European state of Wallachia (now part of Romania).

Like Bush, Vlad was born into a background of wealth, power and privilege. Like Bush's dad, Vlad's father, Vlad II Dracul, was a head of state, as well. Both father and son spent their reigns engaged in bloody wars against Muslim nations (the Ottoman Empire, in the case of Vlad).

Even as youngsters, George W. Bush and Vlad The Impaler had creepy similarities in their lives. Both shared an enthusiasm for torturing small animals.

The 1990 book, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times points out that as a youngster, Vlad amused himself by torturing and mutilating small animals:

"...he could not cure himself of the evil habit of catching mice and having birds bought at the marketplace, so that he could punish them by impalement."

As The New York Times reported, in a May 21, 2000 article, George W. Bush also enjoyed torturing small animals as a youngster. "We were terrible to animals," Bush childhood friend Terry Throckmorton was quoted as saying. Throckmorton described how Bush and his friends treated frogs they found on the Bush family estate.

"Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them," Throckmorton said. "Or we'd put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up."

The life stories of George W. Bush and Vlad The Impaler share other similarities. Taking a look at their time in power, one can't help but notice the eerie similarities in both rulers' bloody, savage wars against Muslim nations.

The atrocities that occurred in Vlad The Impaler's military campaigns against the Muslim nations are well documented. Reading about these atrocities, one can't help but be reminded of the various horrors of Bush's war in Iraq, including the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse case, as well as the use of flesh-melting white phosphorous chemical weapons against the population of Fallujah.

Both Bush and Vlad, of course, were advocates of torture during their time in power. Bush enthusiastically embraced waterboarding. And Vlad, of course, was a big fan of the torture technique that gave him his nickname ("The Impaler").

Another similarity is that Bush and Vlad were both famous as tough, law-and-order rulers (as long as those accused of breaking the law weren't wealthy cronies). In Vlad's time, the peasants were so frightened of breaking the law, that it is said that one could leave a bag of gold on the street and return to find it untouched the next day.

Of course, "law and order" has long been one of Bush's favorite campaign themes, dating back to his time as Texas governor. In Bush's five years as governor, Texas executed 152 prisoners, by far the highest total for any state and more than any other governor in modern American history.

One final notable similarity between George W. Bush and Vlad The Impaler is how both men have fanatical followers who continue to passionately defend their legacies to this day.

While Vlad is recognized in the West as a bloodthirsty monster and tyrant, many people in Romania regard Vlad as a national hero to this day. As Dracula, Prince of Many Faces points out, oral Romanian folklore made Vlad "a national hero, a kind of George Washington of Romanian history."

Compare that to today's worship of Bush by the nutcase right-wing fringe. From Fox News to hatewing radio to the right-wing blogosphere, Bush has a fanatical following that throws a temper tantrum any time someone dares to criticize their beloved hero.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Why Are Free-Market Economists Still Taken Seriously?

By MARC MCDONALD

They've been shown to be wrong time and time again. And their policies have led to widespread disaster and misery for millions of people.

Who am I talking about?

The NeoCons and their wrong-headed views on Iraq?

Nope, I'm talking about free-market economists.

No group of "experts" has a worse track record on accurate information about how our world really works. And yet, mysteriously, free-market economists are still held in reverence and awe by many. And their proclamations are hailed as the gospel truth by everyone from politicians to academia to the mainstream media.

Free-market economics seemingly got an enormous boost in credibility in the 1980s and has reigned supreme as the only conceivable policy for running America's economy ever since.

There's only one problem with free-market economists and their followers: they're full of shit and they have a dismal track record on the truth. And worse, the world simply doesn't operate the way they believe it does.

Free-market economists are rabid advocates of a unfettered, dog-eat-dog, ruthless form of capitalism. Leaving everything to the "free market" is the best way to run a society, they maintain. And at the end of the day, no other economic system can possibly compete with capitalism, they say.

As "Exhibit A," the free-market economists proudly point to capitalism's vanquishing of the Soviet Union's style of communism in the Cold War.

What more proof could one want that capitalism is the best way to create wealth and prosperity?

Actually, in the years since the Cold War ended, a few dissenting voices have started to speak up about the supposed superiority of unfettered capitalism.

First, there is the issue of whether the United States really prevailed in the Cold War, after all. A number of commentators have pointed out that, without enormous sums we borrowed from Japan in the 1980s, the U.S. wouldn't have "won" the Cold War.

Indeed, as the brilliant author Chalmers Johnson has pointed, out, it was really Japan, not the U.S. that won the Cold War. Indeed, the decade of the 1980s was nicely summed up by MIT economist Lester Thurow when he wrote: "We borrowed a trillion dollars from the Japanese and threw a party."

I should point out here the irony of celebrating an economic system that is totally dependent on vast amount of foreign capital in order to function. And make no mistake, no matter how one views the Japanese economy, it is definitely NOT anything that a Western economist would recognize as "capitalism."

Indeed, the Japanese model couldn't be further removed from U.S.-style economics. In Japan, the nation's economic destiny is shaped by powerful technocrats at the Ministry of Finance. Industrial policy is set by the government, rather than determined the whims of the private sector. It is a heavily regulated system that is a million light years removed from American-style "capitalism."

What's more, the Japanese economic model has been widely imitated throughout East Asia (which is now by far the most dynamic and fast-growing area on Earth). From Taiwan to South Korea to mainland China itself, Japanese economic policies are widely implemented these days. For example, China has copied elements of Japan's employment system, its mercantile policies, its emphasis on manufacturing, and even its Keiretsu system of organizing companies into powerful groups.

This important development, of course, is completely ignored by U.S. economists. Many of them maintain that "unfettered, free-market, U.S.-style capitalism" is the model that East Asia aspires to. Indeed, the "conventional wisdom" in U.S. economics is that Japan itself is "yesterday's news" and is a fading power. It's a bizarre viewpoint indeed, when one considers that the supposedly "more efficient, superior" U.S. economy would collapse were it not for the hundreds of billions of dollars in Japanese capital that props up the American economy and the dollar these days.

A big part of the problem with U.S. economists is that they are a remarkably ignorant about the rest of the world. The only country that they've studied at all, or paid any attention to (outside of the U.S.) is Britain.

Which brings me to another misconception spread by U.S. free-market economists. The latter are constantly praising the era of Margaret Thatcher.

What more proof does one need that unfettered capitalism reigns supreme than the example set by Thatcher's Britain, they ask? After all, Thatcher busted the unions, cut regulations and decimated the welfare state---and as a result, the former "Sick Man" of Europe prospered in the 1980s.

At least that's the fairy tale we've been led to believe.

As they did with Reagan's revolution, though, the economists aren't telling the whole story of the Thatcher era as they breathlessly sing the praises of the Iron Lady. Over the years, a growing number of writers, like James Howard Kunstler,
have pointed out that what really made Britain shine in the 1980s wasn't Thatcherism at all. Rather, it was the incredible bounty that Britain reaped with the North Sea oil bonanza in the 1980s.

It's this latter point that really irritates me and makes me question the honesty of the economics profession. The field's dishonesty can be summed up thusly:

1. Starting in the 1970s, free-market "Chicago School" economists urged various "reforms," from gutting the welfare state to crushing unions to abolishing any and all regulations on business.

2. In the 1980s, the above prescriptions were implemented in the U.S. and Britain, under Reagan and Thatcher.

3. The economies of both the U.S. and Britain prospered, thanks to hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars (in the case of the U.S.) and the North Sea Oil boom (in the case of Britain).

4. As the U.S. and Britain boomed, economists proclaim their free-market prescriptions "vindicated"---completely ignoring the fact that the prosperity in both nations had nothing to do with their remedies.

Free-market economists are so arrogant and sure of the wisdom of their teachings that they've become oblivious to the fact that the real world simply doesn't work the way they believe it does. (For example, the real economic success story of the past quarter century has been China---a nation which completely rejects every single tenet of how a nation's economy should be run, according to the gospel of the free-market economists).

And their ideas remain in vogue to this day among American policy-makers. Never mind the fact that the U.S. is in increasing peril, thanks to their policies. The gigantic deficits that Reagan racked up in the 1980s now seem trivial, compared to the even-more titanic deficits that America faces today.

Free-market economics has been directly responsible for America's out-of-control and spiraling fiscal and trade deficits. The latter crisis threatens to force a collapse in the value of the dollar. And when the dollar melts down, America's reign as a superpower will come to an end.

Free-market economists, of course, are blissfully unconcerned about this looming crisis. For them, the solution to anything and everything is more of the same. More tax cuts for the rich, more union busting, more elimination of any and all red tape and the complete rejection of anything remotely resembling a national industrial policy. As far as deficits go, they maintain a "Don't Worry, Be Happy" approach.

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with anything that Pat Buchanan ever said---but actually, he of all people, once made a comment that neatly sums up the view of all those who wear free-market economics blinders: "To worship at the altar of free-market economics is no less a form of idolatry than worshipping at the altar of socialism."

Free-market economists have done at least as much damage to our nation as the NeoCons over the past quarter century. How much longer will we as a nation continue to follow their disastrous, wrong-headed advice?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

White House Censorship Of Global Warming Science Nothing New

By MARC MCDONALD

The White House has come under fire for censoring congressional testimony on the public health challenges of global warming.

But it's not the first time the Bush administration has tried to censor the inconvenient truths of global warming.

In October 2004, NASA's top climate scientist revealed that a senior administration official told him in 2003 not to discuss dangerous consequences of rising temperatures.

The New York Times reported in January 2006 that the NASA scientist, James E. Hansen, said the Bush administration tried to stop him from speaking out after he called for "prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming."

The Bush White House's war on global warming science continues to this day.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported the White House "severely edited congressional testimony given Tuesday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the impact of climate change on health, removing specific scientific references to potential health risks, according to two sources familiar with the documents."

No one should be surprised that the Bush White House is lying about global warming and is furiously working to censor the science. After all, George W. Bush is in the pocket of the oil corporations and other Fortune 500 companies who put him in power (and which fiercely oppose any government action on global warming).

What's amazing, though, is despite the lies, spin and misinformation pumped out by Bush (and the rest of the NeoCon propaganda machine), the American people are STILL alarmed by global warming and want the government to step in and deal with the crisis.

For example, a survey taken last year by ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford University revealed that almost seven in 10 Americans say the government should do more to address global warming. And what do you want to bet that those remaining 30 percent are the same Kool-Aid drinkers who get all their news from Rush and Fox?

Monday, October 22, 2007

AP Borrows A Page From Right-Wing Nutcase Blogs

By MARC MCDONALD

Browsing news stories of the latest carnage from Iraq today, my eye caught this extraordinary sentence buried in an Associated Press report about U.S. forces claiming to have killed 49 militants in a dawn raid in Baghdad's Sadr City Shiite enclave:

"Iraqi police and hospital officials, who often overstate casualties, reported only 15 deaths including three children."

Say what?

This sounds like the sort of wild-eyed, paranoia-fueled conspiracy claim that one normally would find only in the extreme fringe far-right blogosphere.

But that sentence didn't come from Little Green Footballs or Flopping Aces, or any of the other right-wing nutcase blogs that populate the outer fringes of the Web.

It came from the Associated Press.

And, frankly, it's an extraordinary claim--and one that doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Note that this AP report isn't claiming that Sunni insurgents, or Shiite militias lie about their casualties. That wouldn't be anything new. In fact, we've heard claims like those before, (as the insurgency and the U.S. military continue their ongoing propaganda wars).

No, this is "Iraqi police and hospital officials," whose casualty claims, AP would have us believe, are no longer to be trusted.

Maybe I've missed it in previous AP coverage, but I don't recall ever seeing this extraordinary claim made in previous AP coverage. It seems like this bold claim would warrant a major, investigative story in and of itself.

There's a couple of major problems with AP's assertion that Iraq police forces and hospitals are liars.

First of all, it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. If we're talking about claims made by insurgents, then surely a dose of skepticism is in order (although, from what I've seen, insurgent casualty claims have been no more inaccurate than claims by U.S. military officials over the years in Iraq).

But this latest AP report is disputing the Iraq police and hospitals: a solidly mainstream source if there ever was one. If we can't believe fundamental, basic information released by the major institutions of the Iraq state, then, who, exactly, can we believe? Is AP now making the kooky right-wing blog-like claim that Iraq's own police and hospitals are conspiring against the U.S. military? That's surely what this sounds like.

The second major problem I have with AP's claim is that I really wonder how on earth AP would know if the Iraq hospitals and police were "overstating" casualty figures.

Like I said, this AP report looks like it could've been lifted from the pages of the Web's extremist right-wing nutcase fringe. The latter, after all, are always disputing anything and everything that comes out of Iraq (unless it's spoken by the likes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Rush Limbaugh---a group which, ironically has the worst track record of accurate information on anything Iraq-related).

Ever since 2003, when the Iraq War began turning disastrous (around the time Bush declared "Mission Accomplished"), the right-wing blogosphere has been casting about, looking for a scapegoat to blame for the fiasco. AP has been one of the main targets of the right-wing lunatic fringe, with "controversies" like the Jamil Hussein case. In the latter case, the right-wing nutcases claimed that Hussein, an AP source, didn't exist. When it was later determined that he did, in fact, exist, the right-wingers quietly tiptoed away from the story and dropped the matter.

Despite the fact that the Jamil Hussein "controversy" blew up in their faces and revealed them to be the uninformed Kool-Aid-drinking idiots that they are, the right-wing blogosphere has continued to slam AP repeatedly over "biased" war coverage over the years.

And now, it appears that AP is caving in to the right-wing blogosphere and is giving credence to the sort of wild-eyed paranoid claims that one previously had to scour the nutcase fringe blogs to find.

Monday, October 08, 2007

American Airlines Fights To Halt Worker Pay Raises, Even As CEO Pockets Millions

By MARC MCDONALD

Workers at American Airlines agreed to wage and benefit cuts worth $1.6 billion when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy a few years ago. Thanks to the workers' sacrifice, American Airlines is profitable again.

Now, instead of rewarding its employees, American Airlines wants to halt worker pay raises.

However, there's one group of American Airlines employees who aren't being asked to share in the pain: the executives. Over the past couple of years, American Airlines gave stock bonuses worth $250 million to the company's executives and managers.

So much for "shared sacrifice."

American Airlines' CEO Gerard Arpey did particularly well last year. Arpey pocketed a $581,534 salary last year, along with $39,769 in other compensation. But that was chump change, compared with the $4.8 million in stock and option awards that Arpey received last year. And in April 2007, he pocketed a bonus of $6.6 million.

The American Airlines saga is just another chapter in the skyrocketing inequality that has taken place in America since Ronald Reagan declared war on labor unions in the 1980s. Indeed, the American labor movement never really recovered from Reagan's firing of 11,345 striking air traffic controllers in 1981.

Reagan, a former union man himself, stabbed the workers of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in the back. But worse than that, he gave a green light to corporate America to bust unions, ignore labor laws, and screw workers---a process that continues to this day.

As a result, America has been increasingly economically polarized since 1980s. The middle class is shrinking and inequality is at its highest level since the Robber Baron era of the late 1800s.

CEO salaries tell the story. In 1980s, the CEOs of Fortune companies earned about 42 times as much as the average worker. By 2000, CEOs were making over 500 times what the average worker earned. In 2004, the average CEO of a major corporation received over $9.8 million in total compensation.

This economic gulf is unique to America, by the way. In Japan, for example, CEOs only make around 17 times what the average worker earns. In Continental Europe, the multiple is around 22.

But if a U.S. CEO making more than 500 times what the average worker earns sounds like a wide gulf to you, it's nothing compared to what one sees in the airline business these days.

For example, United Airlines executive Glenn Tilton makes 1,000 times what a United flight attendant at the top of the scale earns. Tilton's total compensation in 2006 was estimated at $39 million. By contrast, United flight attendants earn an average salary of about $31,000.

No doubt, I will soon be hearing from this blog's NeoCon visitors, who will start lecturing me about how CEO pay is all part of the "free market." No doubt, they'll lecture me about how "liberals just don't understand capitalism."

Well, they're entitled to their viewpoints. But I wonder where these Republican-voting "capitalists" were in 2001, when the Republicans and the Bush White House bailed out the airline industry with $15 billion of taxpayer money (including a cash gift of $5 billion). If Bush supporters think this is "capitalism," they need to go back and re-read Adam Smith.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Torture Is As American As Apple Pie

By MARC MCDONALD

George W. Bush raised a lot of eyebrows when he emphatically stated that the U.S. does not engage in torture. It was an ironic comment, especially in view of the White House's fierce lobbying in 2005 against a congressional drive to outlaw torture.


In fact, torture has been well documented at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other U.S. facilities. Torture techniques range from the practice of "water boarding" (which simulates the effect of drowning) to vicious beatings. Other torture techniques include the pressing of lit cigarettes against detainees' flesh. Prisoners were also reportedly forced to walk on broken glass and barbed wire.

Although the Bush White House has embraced torture, it's important to note that torture is nothing new in American history.

For example, torture was widely employed by the Reagan-backed Central American death squads, which massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1980s. One secret CIA manual, from 1983, offered advice in various torture techniques.

If Bush really believes the U.S. doesn't engage in torture, he really ought to bone up on his history. Bush wouldn't have to venture far from his Crawford ranch to find ample evidence---after all, nearby Waco knows a thing or two about torture.

For example, in 1916, a mentally retarded African-American youth, Jesse Washington, was arrested on the flimsiest of evidence in the murder of a Waco-area woman. After a short sham trial, the 17-year-old youth was dragged out of a courtroom by the trial spectators. He was slashed repeatedly with knives, castrated, and had his fingers and toes cut off. Then, before a crowd of 15,000 in downtown Waco, he was burned alive at the stake. City officials did nothing to stop the lynching, which was observed by the mayor and chief of police.

But I suppose it's unfair to single out Waco for this atrocity. In fact, Washington's torture-murder was only one of tens of thousands of lynchings that occurred during what historians have referred to as the era of "spectacle lynchings" from the 1880s to the 1920s. In many cases, the victims were tortured for hours, before they were soaked with kerosene and set on fire by cheering mobs. Like the Washington murder, many of the lynchings occurred in broad daylight, in crowded downtown areas, while city officials looked on, or even participated.

This ugly chapter of widespread torture has been largely forgotten by Americans today. Taking a cue from Stalinist Russia, the U.S. has carefully airbrushed away its atrocities when presenting the official, sanitized version of American history.

Some people might argue that, although thousands of lynchings did occur, they all happened a long time ago. They might wish to tell this to the family of James Byrd, Jr. In 1998, Byrd was chained to a pickup by three white supremacists and dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas.

In the aftermath of the Jasper lynching, a grass-roots effort in Texas urged the state to pass a hate crimes act to help prevent future atrocities. However, the bill failed to pass in the Texas Legislature after then-Governor George W. Bush refused to support the bill.

When Bush claims that the U.S. doesn't engage in torture, he's simply carrying on a rich tradition of denial and suppression of the truth that is as American as apple pie.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rush Limbaugh Article Shows Wikipedia's Conservative Bias

By MARC McDONALD

I will give the conservatives credit for one thing: they are simply more aggressive than liberals in fighting for what they want.

We all saw this during the 2000 election. Mobs of GOP thugs ferociously fought for George W. Bush, while the Democrats passively sat around, waiting for the phone to ring.

We've also seen this with the Democratically controlled Congress since 2006. Despite facing a White House occupant with approval ratings in the toilet, the Democrats seem impotent and unable to truly challenge Bush and force an end to the disastrous Iraq War.

The GOP's tendency to fight tooth and claw for what they believe in extends to the popular online Wikipedia encyclopedia.

Although Wikipedia is open to edits from anyone and everyone, a casual glance at the site's political articles reveals a distinct right-wing bias.

How can this be?

It's because conservatives are simply more aggressive and are willing to spend the time and effort into putting a right-wing slant into Wikipedia's articles.

I first noticed this trend a year ago. I was casually browsing through Wikipedia and I came across the main article on Bill Clinton.

Out of curiosity, I did a search for how many times Osama bin Laden appeared in the article. Although Wikipedia is an organic entity and articles change, day by day, on that particular day, bin Laden's name was mentioned 26 times in Clinton's article.

I then did a similar search on the main article for George W. Bush. The number of times bin Laden's name was mentioned: a grand total of zero.

I brought this topic up in the "discussion" area of the two articles and the problem has since been rectified.

But I'm sure my experience is not unique for anyone who has spent any time, browsing through Wikipedia's articles.

There is a definitely right-wing slant to most politically oriented articles at Wikipedia. And personally, I think it's simply because the right-wingers are more aggressive in their efforts to edit the site.

Many of these right-wingers apparently spend countless hours on Wikipedia, carefully sanitizing the articles of their heroes. A current case in point: Wikipedia's main article on Rush Limbaugh.

Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the news lately is aware that Limbaugh is currently in hot water over idiotic remarks he made on his radio show on Wednesday in which he called service members who oppose the war in Iraq "phony soldiers."

It's probably one of the biggest controversies of Limbaugh's career (in a career that has been full of controversies from idiotic, bigoted, racist comments Limbaugh has made over the years).

But while Limbaugh's comment has created a firestorm of controversy, you can't read about it on his Wikipedia article. Although one contributor added the "phony soldier" episode to Limbaugh article on Friday, it was promptly deleted by another contributor, who explained his move by saying, "one out-of-context quote is definitely not encyclopedic," (an explanation, by the way, that reflects Limbaugh's own back pedaling attempts to distance himself from his idiotic remarks).

Although Wikipedia features fluid, dynamic content that can change at any time, the "phony soldier" comment has been absent from Limbaugh's article since Friday (even as it has become one of the most-discussed stories in America everywhere from workplace water coolers to the media to the halls of Congress).

But my point in writing this piece isn't necessarily to take Wikipedia to task for having a right-wing slant in its articles. Rather, I would hope that Liberals and Independents (as well as any fair-minded, intelligent, rational adults) get busy and not allow the Bush-loving NeoCons to turn Wikipedia into an online version of AM hate radio.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jena Case Shows How Racism Is On The Rise In Bush's America

By MARC McDONALD

The Jena case shows how racism is alive and well and on the rise in America. And it's clear that the policies of George W. Bush are to blame.

There have been many troubling signs that racism has been rising in the past few years. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where this latest wave of bigotry emerged from----but I think one ominous sign occurred when Bush was campaigning for president in 2000.

If you recall, during the campaign, Bush made it a point to stop by Bob Jones University, where he praised the officials at that school (which incredibly still had a ban on interracial dating). This, no doubt, played real well to the "I don't want my white daughter dating a Negro" racist crowd---but the rest of us were shocked and appalled.

And although we were dismayed, we really weren't surprised. After all, anyone who has followed Bush's career certainly wasn't surprised by the Bob Jones University episode.

Those of us here in Texas remembered all too well the shocking 1998 lynching of James Byrd, Jr. which occurred when Bush was governor here.

In 1998, Byrd was chained to a pickup by three white supremacists and dragged to his death in the town of Jasper, Texas.

In the aftermath of the Jasper lynching, a grass-roots effort in Texas urged the state to pass a hate crimes act to help prevent future atrocities. However, the bill failed to pass in the Texas Legislature after Bush refused to support the bill.

Since the Supreme Court appointed Bush to the White House in 2000, he has presided over a rising wave of bigotry and racism in America.

Indeed, Bush and the rest of the NeoCons have exploited the issue of racism and turned it into a valuable wedge issue to capture the votes of millions of angry, frustrated white males in our society who feel victimized by affirmative action and "political correctness."

The fact is, bigotry sells in America today. It's the reason talk radio's Neal Boortz can have a lucrative career after saying that Rep. Cynthia McKinney "looks like a ghetto slut." It's the reason that CNN's Glenn Beck can get away with calling the predominately African-American victims of Hurricane Katrina "scumbags."

In Bush's America, African-Americans are incarcerated at vastly higher rates than whites. Studies show that black people get much harsher prison sentences than white people for doing identical crimes. Blatant racism permeates our justice system, our legal system, our schools---in fact, every American institution. And let's not forget the 2000 election, in which hundreds of thousands of black people were denied the vote.

The appalling plight of poor black people in Bush's America was briefly brought to white, middle-class America's attention during the Hurricane Katrina crisis (but I doubt it came as much of a surprise to black people across America). And I doubt
the Jena case comes as much of a surprise to any African-Americans who have lived in Bush's America the past 7 years.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cornyn Watch: Senator Protecting Us From MoveOn Traitors

By MANIFESTO JOE

It's so damned comforting that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, took the initiative in guarding our republic from those slimy traitors at MoveOn.org. He could perhaps have been doing other things, like figuring out how to get U.S. troops out of this quagmire of a civil war in Iraq. But he has his priorities. Defending a man of impeccable truth such as Gen. David Petraeus just had to go on the senator's front burner.

For those who hadn't heard or read, the Senate this week passed a symbolic resolution, 72-25, condemning the "General Betray Us?" ad that MoveOn put in the Sept. 10 edition of The New York Times. Cornyn was the sponsor.

At a time when there are U.S.-sponsored mercenaries killing people in Iraq, a federal investigation into alleged gun-running by the same organization, and a general collapse of the situation there, it's reassuring that the senator is so determinedly standing up for America and supporting our troops -- well, at least those above the rank of full colonel who toe the party line.

I note again that the senator is preparing to stand for re-election next November. How could Texans imagine voting for anyone else, with things going so splendidly?

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hillary Has Returned Hsu Money; When Will Bush Return Enron Cash?

By MARC McDONALD

So Hillary Clinton has decided to return donations linked to disgraced fundraiser Norman Hsu.

OK, good: that was the right thing to do.

And while we're on the topic of campaign donations, I have a question for the Republicans.

When will George W. Bush return the $1.14 million that his campaign received from Enron?

You remember Enron, don't you? It was only the most evil corporation in the history of American capitalism (and that's really saying something).

And while it's unclear exactly what Hsu ever got for his efforts to raise money for Clinton, it's quite clear what Enron got in return for the cash it gave Bush.

For a start, Enron got a seat at the table to meet in secret with Dick Cheney to help plan the country's energy policies. Bush also went to bat for Enron and fought against federal price caps that allowed Enron to price-gouge millions of energy customers in California, a fiasco that nearly bankrupted that state. As a result, Enron reported increased revenues of almost $70 billion from the previous year.

As Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) put it, "senior Enron executives were enriching themselves at the same time that Enron was lavishing large campaign contributions on President Bush and the Republican Party and apparently influencing the administration's energy policies."

The whole sordid Bush/Enron saga is way too sweeping and complex to go into detail here. But suffice it to say, the entire rotten mess towers over the nickel-dime, chump-change Norman Hsu affair.

And, unlike the Hsu case (which was quite limited in its impact), the Enron affair ultimately was very costly to millions of ordinary Americans. These ranged from shell-shocked California energy customers to thousands of screwed Enron employees, who were forced to invest their retirement plans in company stock that plunged in value even as top executives were raking in millions by cashing in their shares when Enron stock was at its peak.

The MSM held Clinton's feet to the fire until she decided to return the Hsu donations. Now, will the pundits demand that Bush return the $1.14 million that his campaign got from Enron?

Friday, September 07, 2007

What Ron Paul Should Have Said At The GOP Debate

By MANIFESTO JOE

It's not surprising that a debate under the auspices of Fox News would be hostile turf for the Republicans' sole presidential candidate who opposes the Iraq war. But I think even U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, was taken aback by the shivs that were being drawn Wednesday night in New Hampshire.

Being an old night-shift, burned-out journalist, I was stuck at a desk and didn't get to watch the debate live. But I read the accounts, and Paul apparently did an OK job of defending himself. But there's so much more he could have said in rebuttal.

The sharpest exchange of the night may have come not between Paul and one of his rivals, but between Paul and Fox News propagandist Chris Wallace, one of the "questioners." The Associated Press reported that Paul:

... made the case for withdrawing troops. That drew a sharp challenge from Chris Wallace ... who asked whether the United States should take its marching orders from al-Qaida.

"No! We should take our marching orders from our Constitution," Paul shouted back, pointing his pen at Wallace for emphasis. "We should not go to war without a declaration" by Congress.

That was a fair counterpoint, but it could have been much better. Paul may have been taken aback by the impudence of the questioner, who seems to have learned right-wing distortion tactics at Sean Hannity's knee. And in the heat of debate, sometimes one doesn't think of the right thing to have said until later.

It seems to me he should have said something more like this:

"No, Chris. We should take our marching orders from the American people, who in polls oppose continuation of this war by 65 to 70 percent. But you miss another crucial point.

"Al-Qaida wants the U.S. to stay in Iraq. There's nothing we could do for the next few years that would be more to their advantage. Sure, let's squander tens of billions more dollars, and thousands more American lives, on a civil war that we're inflaming rather than resolving. Let's deplete our military capability to act against terrorists elsewhere in the world, where it might actually count. Let's just flat-out 'break' our armed forces, when you come down to it. Osama bin Laden must be laughing gleefully in whatever hole he's hiding in.

"We're doing damage to our national defense, and to our reputation in the world community, that will take at least a generation to repair. If you want us to take marching orders from al-Qaida, by all means, let's 'stay the course.' "

Just as my own aside to this, it looks increasingly like the U.S. is being led into what amounts to rope-a-dope. Old-time boxing fans, what few of you are left: Remember Ali vs. Foreman, October 1974, the "Rumble in the Jungle?" There's no way a frightening puncher like the 25-year-old George Foreman should have lost that match to a 32-year-old, somewhat over-the-hill Muhammad Ali. But he was overconfident, showed classic hubris -- and lost entirely on tactics.

Not that the geopolitical/military situation is that simple. But I think there's a telling analogy there. If you're wearing yourself out beating on an opponent, and yet he's still there, inviting you in for more, you're probably doing something wrong. It's time to step back and rethink this.

Anyway, Ron Paul hasn't been acquitting himself badly in these debates, but I would take a different tack if I were him. Not that it's very important to me. I obviously want a Democrat to win next year, or I wouldn't be writing on this blog.

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

If It Feels Good, Suppress It: On Neo-Prohibitionism, Why Republicans Can't Be Openly Gay, And Such

By MANIFESTO JOE

There's a severely conflicted quality about right-wingers on the issue of pleasure. No one else is supposed to have any. Actually, they themselves aren't supposed to have any, either. But, they cheat. Then they feel guilty and beg God to forgive them. Then they do it again. And so on.

I'm not going into anything detailed here about Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality, although I think there's a connection. I don't have enough hours in psychology to expound upon that much-debated 1950 study, and it's been almost 30 years since I read it and wrote a required term paper.

I am going into general, personal observations -- everybody has those and something else. Right-wingers seem obsessed with sex and intoxicating substances -- obsessed with anything that will make you feel good temporarily. They don't want people to have free and open access to those things. And yet, they seem to have just as much trouble with that stuff as we left-leaning libertines do, and maybe more.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has brought this to wide attention lately, as did former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., a while back. An amusing memory comes to mind. A Republican lawyer ex-friend told me back in the early '90s that Republicans don't go into politics for the sex, because there isn't much action for them. If I were still on speaking terms with him, I'd like to reprise that discussion. And -- back then we were talking about the "hetero" action, a la Bill Clinton.

I grew up in a time of false hedonistic promise -- in the late '60s, the mantra was, "If it feels good, do it." Forty years later, I realize that a society ultimately can't function that way most of the time. Work must be done. Faith should be shown to life partners. It's better to be sober in many situations.

But, there are times when it seems like a bit of transient pleasure is the only reason to be alive.

Since the '60s, the overall society seems to have moved sharply the other way, toward broad repression of anything that feels good. The sanctions typically run against anything any individual likes, even on their own time and with their own money.

It has been the political right wing that has mostly led this neo-prohibitionist, neo-Puritan crusade. And yet, ironically, it's largely their Washington icons who are being caught with the Blackberry messages and playing footsie in the stalls.

I'm a diametrical opposite of these Republican reprobates. I have no secrets. Back in the old days, I inhaled, among other things. I drink alcohol and enjoy good cigars. But, I've been married to the same woman for 22 years, and before her there were just a few steady girlfriends with whom I very sorrowfully parted. I guess I'm ultimately too square to understand the urges that compel some among us.

But, this seems all the more reason to chill out and not judge. I very strongly disagree with Larry Craig's political views, but I am unconcerned about how he spends his spare time. He says he's not, nor has he ever been. But even if he is, that's the least of my worries. Hell, let him start the first Washington chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, if he wants.

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bush Fares Worse In Polls Than Congressional Democrats, Despite MSM Spin

By MARC McDONALD

The MSM would have us believe that Democrats in Congress have even lower approval ratings than George W. Bush's dismal poll numbers. But while in fact the Democrats' poll numbers are indeed low, they are higher than Bush's poll numbers.

Typical of the MSM coverage has been USA Today, which recently quoted a Gallup Poll spokesman saying that the Democratic-led Congress has had a very brief honeymoon and stands lower in Americans' eyes than President Bush.

There's only one problem with this MSM spin: not all members of Congress are Democrats. Break down the approval rating of members of Congress by party and the Dems have an approval rating of 37 percent, which (while low) is higher than Bush's approval rating. By contrast, GOP members of Congress have a truly dismal approval rating of a mere 29 percent.

I haven't seen this important distinction made in the MSM's coverage of Congress's approval ratings. In fact, every story seems to emphasize that "the Democratic-led Congress" has approval ratings in the toilet.

The wingnuts, of course, have had a field day with this "story," spinning it as bad news only for the Democrats. But if you stop and think about it, the GOP really has little reason to celebrate.

First of all, as Gallup has pointed out, Congress' approval ratings have been consistently low for decades---with only two exceptions: the Watergate era and in 1986 (when Congress' approval rating was at 40 percent). Indeed, the mainstream media has been irresponsible in its lack of context for failing to mention this fact in reporting on Congress' recent low approval numbers.

The fact is, pollsters have long noted that the American public has a dim view of Congress as a whole (but they often have a much higher opinion of their own local lawmakers).

It's important to remember the reason that Congress has a low approval rating these days.

Is it because the public disapproves of the lawmakers' efforts in the Congress to raise minimum wage and other Democratic legislative initiatives?

Nope, that's not the reason. In fact, polls have consistently shown that the public supports raising the minimum wage.

In fact, as Michael Moore pointed out in his book, Dude, Where's My Country? the majority of the American public agrees with the Democrats on most of the top domestic issues of our time. These range from keeping abortion legal to promoting civil rights to protecting the environment to stronger controls on firearms. Indeed, polls consistently show that a majority of the American public is further to the left than most Democratic politicians on many issues, such as health care. For example, 80 percent of Americans believe that health insurance should be provided equally to everyone in the nation.

The bottom line is that, if the Republicans take a good, hard look at the reason why Americans are fed up with this Congress, it's actually bad news for the GOP, not the Democrats.

The reality is, Americans are sick and tired of the war in Iraq--and they're fed up with the stumbling efforts in Congress to bring an end to this fiasco.

And try as they may to distance themselves from George W. Bush, the Republicans are going to have a difficult time distancing themselves from the Iraq War. After all, the overwhelming majority of the remaining Iraq War supporters in this country are Republicans.

The bottom line is that Congress' current low approval ratings has nothing to do with the public turning away from the sort of progressive policies that Democrats favor. And it has everything to do with the extreme unpopularity of a war that will always be associated with GOP politicians, whether they like it or not.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Best Way To End The Iraq War: Boycott China

By MARC McDONALD

So, what's the most effective strategy we can use to end the disastrous Iraq War? Carry a sign at an anti-war rally? Contact our members of Congress to voice our opposition? Impeach George W. Bush?

All of these strategies are worthy. But if we really want to bring an end to the ongoing bloody fiasco, the most effective method is to boycott China.

Remember, China is America's bank these days. Without hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese capital, the U.S. dollar would crumble in value. Indeed, the functioning of the U.S. government (including the Pentagon) is dependent on China's purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds.

Last year, America's trade deficit with China soared 15.4 percent to $232.5 billion, the biggest imbalance ever recorded with a single trading partner.

When you consider that America is drowning in titanic trade and fiscal deficits, it's clear that China, not the U.S. Treasury Department, is the one that is really financing this war.

In recent weeks, China has already threatened to use its $1.33 trillion of foreign reserves as a political weapon to counter pressure from the U.S. Congress. And if American consumers began boycotting China, this would clearly force Beijing's hand and prompt China to liquidate its vast holding of U.S. Treasuries.

And there's a bonus to boycotting Chinese products these days. The fact is, Chinese products can be deadly for you (as has been evidenced lately by tainted and toxic goods imported from China).

If you'd instead prefer to carry a sign at an anti-war rally, knock yourself out. But keep in mind that George W. Bush has never paid the slightest attention to anti-war rallies. (Recall how the 2003 Iraq invasion was preceded by millions of demonstrators marching in cities across the world in the biggest global protests ever organized).

And if you want to wait around for the Democrats to step up and take action to end this war, I'm afraid you'll be waiting for a long time. The Democrats are simply too timid these days to either end the war or impeach Bush.

If Americans start boycotting China, then Beijing will have fewer assets to prop up the U.S. dollar (and to buy Treasury bonds). Currently, the U.S. economy is dependent on an eye-popping $2.5 billion in foreign capital flowing into our nation daily (much of it from China).

An American boycott of China might give headaches to the likes of Wal-Mart (the single biggest importer of Chinese goods into the U.S.) But as far as I'm concerned, that's yet another bonus. Anyone who shops at Wal-Mart these days needs to be aware of the true price they're paying for Wal-Mart's supposedly "everyday low prices."

The fact is: Bush will never, ever listen to the voices of reason on the Iraq War. At this point, the war is really about nothing more than salvaging his "legacy." If we really want this insane war to end, we've got to force Bush's hand. And there's no better way to do this than to boycott China.

Monday, August 20, 2007

How Fox News Blew Its Chance To Go Beyond Preaching To The Choir

By MARC McDONALD

At first glance, the Fox News Channel appears to be a big success these days. Since launching in 1996, Fox has come out of nowhere to lead the pack in cable news ratings.

To the delight of conservatives, Fox News pumps out a GOP-friendly message 24 hours a day across America. Between Fox News, Drudge and HateWing radio, Republicans have a variety of outlets these days to spread the word.

I hate to rain on Fox News' parade, but there is still one major nagging problem with this "news" channel's efforts to get out the GOP message.

That is: Fox News long ago blew its chance to be a credible news source.

Oh sure, Fox News is the gospel truth to the dwindling 29 percenters who still support Bush.

But to the rest of America, Fox News is increasingly seen as a joke these days.

The fact is, Fox News is simply preaching to the choir these days. And, as the GOP has increasingly lost its luster since 2000, it's clear that Fox is going to have a smaller and smaller choir to preach to in coming years.

Simply preaching to the choir is clearly not what Rupert Murdoch had in mind when he launched Fox News. But in order to go beyond that limited audience, Murdoch needed to build Fox as a news outlet that at least had the appearance of being credible.

Really, what Fox News should have done from the beginning is work hard to build its credibility image. Then, it could have effectively sneaked the partisan GOP content in occasionally through the back door. That, in turn, would have led to a winning of hearts and minds across America.

But Fox News blew it when it completely ignored the issue of credibility and instead just rammed through blatant GOP viewpoints to its audience 24 hours a day.

Liberals often fret that Fox News is nothing more than an outlet for GOP propaganda. But that dignifies what Fox is actually doing. Truly effective propaganda subtly changes people's minds without them even realizing that they're being propagandized.

That's clearly not the case with Fox News. Few people's minds are being changed by the heavy-handed GOP sludge pumped out by Fox News these days. And to Liberals and Independents (and indeed, the vast majority of clear-thinking rational adults) Fox News is nothing more than a joke these days.

What has to be most troubling to Fox News is the fact that credibility is by far the most valuable asset that a news outlet can have these days. And once you've blown your credibility, it's really pretty much impossible to ever get it back. The latter is especially true these days when watchdog sites like Media Matters are only a mouse click away.

The ironic thing is, if Fox News had strived for at least the appearance of credibility from the beginning, it would today be a much more effective tool for spreading the GOP's message. Instead, I would suspect most Americans will never take Fox News seriously again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

'Great' American Health Care System Isn't Cutting It On Life Span

By MANIFESTO JOE

This just in -- the U.S. is now ranked 42nd among the world's nations in life span. How can this be happening in a country that spends so much on medicine, the most worldwide per capita? It's a paradox: When it comes to insurance, less isn't more; but when it comes to medication, less can indeed be more. And, we need news media that will actually report on the problem rather than essentially shill for the medical/drug establishment.

To get the stats out of the way, this is from the Associated Press report:

Countries that surpass the U.S. include Japan and most of Europe, as well as Jordan, Guam and the Cayman Islands. ...

A baby born in the United States in 2004 will live an average of 77.9 years. That life expectancy ranks 42nd, down from 11th two decades earlier, according to international numbers provided by the Census Bureau and domestic numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Andorra, a tiny country ... between France and Spain, had the longest life expectancy, at 83.5 years ... It was followed by Japan, Macau, San Marino and Singapore. ...

Researchers said several factors have contributed to the United States falling behind other industrialized nations. A major one is that 45 million Americans lack health insurance, while Canada and many European countries have universal health care, they say.


OK, so far, so good. At least someone is observing that the number of uninsured Americans may have a lot to do with this. But wait, there's more. This Mainstream Media report lapses into whitewash and absurdity.

But "it's not as simple as saying we don't have national health insurance," said Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal. "It's not that easy."

Among the other factors:

• Adults in the United States have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Nearly a third of U.S. adults 20 years and older are obese, while about two-thirds are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

"The U.S. has the resources that allow people to get fat and lazy," said Paul Terry, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta. "We have the luxury of choosing a bad lifestyle as opposed to having one imposed on us by hard times."

• Racial disparities. Black Americans have an average life expectancy of 73.3 years, five years shorter than white Americans.

Black American males have a life expectancy of 69.8 years, slightly longer than the averages for Iran and Syria and slightly shorter than in Nicaragua and Morocco.

• A relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations.

Forty countries, including Cuba, Taiwan and most of Europe had lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. in 2004. The U.S. rate was 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births. It was 13.7 for Black Americans, the same as Saudi Arabia.

"It really reflects the social conditions in which African American women grow up and have children," said Dr. Marie C. McCormick, professor of maternal and child health at the Harvard School of Public Health. "We haven't done anything to eliminate those disparities."


Most of the above displays an astonishing lack of critical thinking by this MSM reporter, or perhaps by editors who got hold of the piece later. The story attempts to drive some wedge between the absence of universal coverage in the U.S. and (1) racial disparities, and (2) infant mortality. A national health insurance system would do a vast amount to address these two problems. Our current system is the precise reason why many minorities do not or cannot get adequate care, when they are either old or newborn. It's the lack of insurance, stupid.

The passage points out that Cuba and most European countries have lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. Guess what those countries have that we don't.

Obesity is certainly a problem in America, and one for which individuals can largely be blamed. Or can they? As decades of my life have passed, I have witnessed a socially irresponsible advertising culture that graduated from making people into two-pack-a-day cigarette addicts into junk-food junkies who wash it all down with sugary soft drinks. If one ate a steady diet of what one sees every day on TV ads, billboards, and in the urban sprawl of any given U.S. city, it's the superhighway to diabetes and heart disease.

A thing I find quite revealing and disturbing is that although the Japanese smoke twice as much as Americans -- they light up the way we did in the '60s, back when my childhood senses were ablaze with TV cigarette commercials -- they don't have nearly as much heart disease as we do, and they're living longer than us. A simple observation is that they don't have quite the same advertising culture as we do, and so they're more likely to eat fish, tofu and veggies than a bacon cheeseburger. A decent diet can actually compensate some for other kinds of vices.

Something else to consider is that, for the poor in America, a good diet is actually hard to afford. It's cheap for our poor and working class to consume a lot of starch and sugar. Even the simplest staple items like rice and pasta -- not good for diabetics -- are much cheaper than the more healthful choices. We've had a reversal of roles between rich and poor in modern America: In the bad old days, the poor were skinny because they went hungry, and the rich were plump because they had all they could eat. Now the poor eat, but it's the wrong foods, sold cheap. The rich can afford the sauteed vegetables and the catch of the day.

But, I'm recalling that Emory University professor's remarks about Americans being so soft, not having a tough lifestyle imposed on them by adversity. This seems like an absurd contradiction as well. During hard times, people have trouble eating -- at all. Good food, or bad. And life spans were much shorter then. Something tells me the professor hasn't missed many meals.

Now for an unintended consequence of living in an "affluent" society -- affluent for some, anyway. The U.S. is the most overmedicated nation ever. Our "health care system" is largely driven by the pharmaceutical companies' greed, and they are hooking people on meds every day with the same foresight and scruples as the corner dope dealer.

Statin drugs are being pushed as though half the adult population should be on them. They may do a lot for people with severe cholesterol problems, but they can have very serious side effects. I have known a number of people who have given them up, despite warnings, because they complained that they always felt like they had the flu. My mother passed out and had to be hospitalized after three days on Zocor. I took Lipitor for three days, and I think my supervisor at work suspected that I was drunk.

I have been hospitalized twice in recent years after having adverse reactions to medications. Doctors who aren't into this dope craze describe patients coming to them looking pale and wan. And wait, there's more, from a site called Health and DNA:

ADRs are the fourth to sixth greatest killer in US with more than 100,000 deaths per year; and 2.2 million serious adverse reactions per year according to a 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association report. (JAMA 279:1200 1998) This study is a meta analysis of 39 research reports published from 1966 to 1996.

21.3% of the 548 most recently FDA approved medications were subsequently withdrawn from the market or given a black box warning. (JAMA 287:2215 2002).
The GAO reports that 51% of new drugs have serious, undetected adverse effects at the time of approval.

Of the best selling prescription drugs, 148 can cause depression, 133 hallucinations or psychoses, 105 constipation, 76 dementia, 27 insomnia and 36 parkinsonism. "Worst Pills Best Pills: A Consumers Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness," third edition, 1999.


I know from the experience of being overmedicated that it's hard some days just to get out of bed under those conditions, let alone get one's regular exercise for general health and weight control.

I have yet to see Michael Moore's Sicko, but I anticipate seeing it this week. It shouldn't be hard for him to win me over. This "health care system," coupled with a predatory advertising culture, looks likely to make either my generation or the next one the first to have a lower life expectancy than our parents had. As my fellow baby boomers age and become more dependent on this broken system to get decent and well-considered care, this is clearly one of the crucial battles that Americans must win.

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.