Wednesday, November 28, 2007

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


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


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


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.