Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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


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


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


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


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.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bush 'Subtly' Threatens To Take Al-Maliki To The Woodshed


George W. Bush had one of his infrequent news conferences Thursday before taking off the rest of August, as he always does. And the topics were wide-ranging. One thing that was almost buried in The Washington Post account didn't escape my notice. He seemed to inform Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that there's a woodshed, and that he might be taken to it.

Al-Maliki met with Iran's leadership, and the talks were reported to have been cordial. That couldn't have been good news for Bush. Here's an excerpt from The Post's account:

Foreign policy absorbed much of the conference, with Bush denouncing Iran as a "destabilizing influence" in the Middle East even as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was in Tehran meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bush brushed off reports of warm words and smiling pictures between the two, saying such cordiality was simply protocol. "You don't want the picture to be kind of, you know, duking it out," he said, putting up his fists.

But Bush said he would warn Maliki against trusting Ahmadinejad, much as the president did with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at Camp David earlier this week. "If the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart-to-heart with my friend, the prime minister," Bush said of Maliki, "because I don't believe they are constructive. I don't think he, in his heart of heart, thinks they're constructive, either."

One doesn't need to read too deeply between the lines to see a veiled threat. I would love to be a fly on the wall at that little "heart-to-heart."

But the problem is, what does Bush really have, at this point, to threaten al-Maliki with? He warns that Iran is a "destabilizing influence." How much more destabilized can Iraq become? Iran may be exploiting obvious semi-anarchy there in extending its already-formidable influence among Iraqi Shiites. And it may well be contributing to the slow carnage being inflicted in the country, and on U.S. troops. Given our two countries' history, would we have expected them to do otherwise?

How much worse, at this juncture, can things become for al-Maliki and his allies? They're grabbing desperately for anything they can hang onto.

In another account of this news conference, I read that Bush assured reporters that, although much work remains to be done, there is evidence that the Iraqi government is learning how to function.

The evidence of this I've seen lately is that close to half the government, the Sunni element, recently quit and is boycotting the process.

Bush seems determined to remain clueless until the end of his rule -- or the end of something, anyway. In any case, I think al-Maliki has more serious things to worry about right now than any "heart-to-heart" talk that George W. Bush could confront him with.

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

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bush's Gutting of Safety Rules Preceded Utah Mine Collapse


The trapping of six miners in a Utah coal mine collapse is the latest coal industry disaster to occur since George W. Bush took office. Since 2000, Bush has cut funding for mine safety enforcement by $15 million and stacked the Mine Safety and Health Administration with representatives of corporate interests.

Coal mining deaths have increased sharply in the past few years. 2006 was the deadliest year in a decade for coal miners.

As the AFL-CIO notes, 47 coal miners were killed on the job last year, a 210 percent increase over 2005, when 22 coal miners died on the job. 2006 was marked by several major disasters, including a Jan. 2 explosion that killed 12 coal miners in Sago Mine in West Virginia.

Although times are perilous for coal miners, it's a different story for America's coal companies. For example, 2005 was a record year for revenue and profits for St. Louis–based Peabody Energy Corp., the world's largest private-sector coal producer. In 2005, Peabody recorded revenues of $4.64 billion, up about 28 percent from 2004.

As points out, the "Bush administration has stacked (the Mine Safety and Health Administration) with former coal managers who have unashamedly tailored the agency’s policies to meet the profit needs of the operators."

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Real Reason The Wingnuts Hate YearlyKos


Once upon a time, it was easy to be a GOP propagandist.

Up until the mid-1990s, Republicans could spew out lies all day long and rarely had to worry about any watchdogs holding them accountable. Oh sure, there were a few obscure leftist print publications here and there, but they had tiny circulations and were often difficult to come by.

Back then, the GOP propagandists certainly didn't have to worry about the corporate mainstream media keeping them honest. Indeed, the likes of CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and even The New York Times were quite happy to carry the GOP's water.

With the dawn of the Web, it began to dawn on the GOP propagandists that they were no longer able to spew out lies without being challenged.

Suddenly, anyone could set up a Web site for relatively little cost and effort and instantly have a potential worldwide audience.

GOP propagandists like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly soon discovered, to their horror, that they could no longer peddle their daily lies and bullshit and have no one to challenge them.

This, I believe, is the real reason that the likes of O'Reilly and Limbaugh have been attacking sites like Daily Kos and events like the latter's YearlyKos convention. And despite O'Reilly's boasts of success in countering Daily Kos, it's obvious that he is scared shitless these days (as evidenced by his hysterical, over-the-top denunciations of the site).

O'Reilly and Limbaugh and their ilk have found that everything they say these days is going to be picked apart, analyzed and fact-checked by the progressive Web. As a result, the GOP serial liars have been exposed for the frauds that they really are.

Watchdog sites like Media Matters terrify the GOP propagandists. The latter have discovered that once they tell a lie, it is promptly dissected and debunked and then lives forever on the Web---only a mouse click away for any truth seeker.

The old GOP propagandists' old tricks no longer work in cyberspace. No longer can GOP liars like Dick Cheney fall back on their usual tactics (like claiming they were misquoted). On today's Web, your words live forever in easy-to-access audio and video files that let people hear your actual quotes first-hand.

The dawn of the Web gave the ordinary people a voice that, for the first time in history, could potentially rival the traditional corporate media. Indeed, Daily Kos, with its millions of visitors, does rival the likes of Fox News in audience size. And YearlyKos sums up everything that the GOP/Fox News/Wingnut crowd hates about today's new era of media democracy.

However, the Web hasn't yet succeeded in ending ignorance in America. For every Daily Kos or BuzzFlash, there are wingnut sites that still spew out White House propaganda and talking points on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the Web can transmit lies and ignorance just as quickly as it sends out the truth.

But on the whole, the Web has been a boon for those of us who've long been disappointed in the failure of the corporate MSM to bring the truth to the people. As long as the progressive Web is around, the GOP propagandists will no longer have a stranglehold on the nation's political discourse, as they did as recently as the mid-1990s.

Which bring me to a final point: how long can this golden age last? I've never been one for conspiracy theories. But I just can't believe that the nation's ruling elite are going to allow this state of affairs to continue forever.

People like George W. Bush and his billionaire allies have utter contempt for democracy and a truly free exchange of ideas. No doubt, at some point, they will attempt to crack down on the progressive Web. I suspect they'll even give this crackdown a friendly-sounding, market-tested Orwellian name like "The Internet Freedom Act."

But until that day comes, let's enjoy the likes of Daily Kos, Progressive Daily Beacon, BuzzFlash, Crooks and Liars, and the rest of the progressive Web, which have ushered in a Golden Era of truth in America.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Minnesota Bridge Collapse Now Seems To Reek Of Official Sloth And Corruption


At first it seemed like one of those nasty and inevitable things one encounters in the news regularly: Monsoon and mudslide drowns and buries 3,000 in Bangladesh, 100 drown as Indonesian ferry sinks, Kansas tornado destroys entire town, California earthquake kills 7, and so forth, on a diminishing scale. But now, this piece of nastiness looks like something that could have been avoided if some people had just been doing their jobs.

This today from AP:

"MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota officials were warned as early as 1990 that the bridge that plummeted into the Mississippi River was 'structurally deficient,' yet they relied on a strategy of patchwork fixes and stepped-up inspections.

" 'We thought we had done all we could,' state bridge engineer Dan Dorgan told reporters not far from the mangled remains of the span. 'Obviously something went terribly wrong.'

"Questions about the cause of the collapse and whether it could have been prevented arose Thursday as authorities shifted from rescue efforts to a grim recovery operation, searching for bodies that may be hidden beneath the river's swirling currents.

"The official death count from Wednesday's rush-hour collapse stood at four, with another 79 injuries. But police said the death count would surely grow because bodies had been spotted in the water and as many as 30 people were still reported missing.

"In 1990, the federal government gave the I-35W bridge a rating of 'structurally deficient,' citing significant corrosion in its bearings. The bridge is one of 77,000 bridges in that category nationwide, 1,160 in Minnesota alone.

"The designation means some portions of the bridge needed to be scheduled for repair or replacement, and it was on a schedule for inspection every two years.

"Dorgan said the bearings could not have been repaired without jacking up the entire deck of the bridge. Because the bearings were not sliding, inspectors concluded the corrosion was not a major issue.

"During the 1990s, later inspections found fatigue cracks and corrosion in the steel around the bridge's joints. Those problems were repaired. Starting in 1993, the state said, the bridge was inspected annually instead of every other year.

"A 2005 federal inspection also rated the bridge structurally deficient, giving it a 50 on scale of 100 for structural stability.

"White House press secretary Tony Snow said while the inspection didn't indicate the bridge was at risk of failing, 'If an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions.' "

Well, at least Tony Snow is doing his job.

I can't help but think that if the U.S. government had been paying attention to our crumbling infrastructure -- trying to maintain a decent system here, instead of giving tax bonanzas galore to the wealthy and sending our armed forces off to ill-fated foreign adventures -- a tragedy like this could have been avoided.

Instead, we get Tony Snow passing the buck back to the states. I suppose this is what comes of entrusting the levers of government to people who are ideologically hostile to it in the first place. Sort of brings back memories of New Orleans.

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