Friday, December 19, 2008

Rick Warren's Hero, W.A. Criswell, Was Fierce Foe of Desegregation in the 1950s

By MARC McDONALD

Rick Warren is a big fan of the late Southern Baptist pastor, W.A. Criswell (1909–2002). Warren once wrote, "In fact, I believe W.A. Criswell was the greatest American pastor of the 20th Century."

And just who is this pastor, who Warren believes is worth of such praise?

Criswell, like Warren, was a pastor and author. He was a president of the Southern Baptist Convention. And he was regarded by many as a major figure behind the right-wing fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, beginning in the 1960s.

Oh, and early in his career, Criswell was a racist bigot. In fact, like Warren, Criswell used his twisted interpretation of the Bible to try to defend his bigotry.

In 1956, Criswell railed against the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Integration, Criswell argued, was "foolishness" and "idiocy."

Criswell saved some of his harshest words for the NAAACP. In one crude remark, he made a clumsy attempt at humor that wouldn't have been out of place at a KKK rally:

"Why the NAACP has got those East Texans on the run so much," he said, "that they dare not pronounce the word 'chigger' any longer. It has to be 'cheegro.'(sic)"

All white Southerners wanted, Criswell argued, was to be simply left alone:

"Don't force me by law, by statute, by Supreme Court decision ... to cross over in those intimate things where I don't want to go. Let me build my life. Let me have my church. Let me have my school. Let me have my friends. Let me have my home. Let me have my family"

Indeed, reading quotes like this makes it clear that Criswell believed that Southern whites were the victims and that they were the ones whose rights were somehow being infringed.

It's language like this that eerily echoes Warren's own twisted logic that the suppression of bigotry somehow leads to persecution of Christians.

An example of this is when Warren recently claimed he supported Proposition 8 because of free-speech, of all things. He claimed that "any pastor could be considered doing hate speech ... if he shared his views that homosexuality wasn't the most natural way for relationships."

Criswell later distanced himself from his 1950s statements on race and desegregation. But the fact is, in the 1950s, he was most definitely fiercely opposed to integration and used twisted interpretations of Bible to defend his racist bigotry.

It's clear that Warren is following in Criswell's footsteps when he uses Scripture to try to justify his own bigoted views.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Iraqi Shoe-Throwing Journalist Speaks For A Lot Of Us

By MARC McDONALD

I'm not sure what the specific grievance was that motivated an Iraqi journalist to throw two shoes at George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad. Throwing shoes at someone is a considered a supreme insult in the Middle East.

But I do know this: if I could speak to that Iraqi journalist, I'd tell him that I share his contempt for Bush.

Indeed, I wish those shoes had hit Bush squarely in the middle of his smirking face.

After all, Bush now has only a few weeks left in office. Bush will leave the White House without ever having faced any consequences whatsoever for his reckless, illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq.

Throughout history, other world leaders have faced serious consequences for comparable crimes. They've faced international court tribunals. They've been tried in The Hague. They've gone to jail. In some cases, they've even faced the firing squad.

But thanks to the spineless, wimpy Democrats, Bush will apparently never face any consequences for the Iraq War, a $3 trillion fiasco that has resulted in the deaths of over 1 million men, women and children.

No, Bush will any face any consequences for the Iraq horror that he unleashed. He'll never be arrested. He'll never be tried. He'll never face justice.

Indeed (like all ex-presidents) Bush can look forward to a nice, cushy, lucrative career after the White House. Presidents generally land multi-million-dollar book deals (and thanks to ghost writers, they don't even have to bother to write their books).

And ex-presidents can generally command enormous multi-million-dollar fees on the lecture circuit. (Note that although most of America despises Bush, there are still plenty of Kool-Aid-drinking Bush cultists who will glad shell out money to hear him speak).

So like Jack the Ripper, Bush is a monster with blood on his hands who is going to get off scot-free and never face any repercussions for his crimes.

Like I said, the shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist speaks for a lot of us in his contempt for Bush.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Chicago Factory Sit-In: The Dawn of a New Era For Unions in America?

By MANIFESTO JOE

This is an example of why a bailout, any bailout, is fundamentally a no-win situation for the taxpayer.

You may have heard news that workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago occupied the building and began a sit-in after the factory shut down Friday on three days' notice. Last time I checked, they're still there.

The workers say the factory was closed in violation of a law that requires a 60-day notice for a shutdown. They say they won't leave without assurances that they'll get severance and vacation pay.

What you may not have heard is the reason for the abrupt shutdown. The company's creditor, Bank of America, canceled Republic's line of credit. Republic's sales have tumbled in the sour economy, and with no line of credit, CEO Rich Gillman said the company had "no choice but to shut our doors," The Associated Press reported.

This is the same Bank of America that got $25 billion of the federal government's $700 billion financial bailout. That's over 3.5% of the total package. And they can't afford to extend a line of credit so that 250 mostly Hispanic wage earners in Chicago can keep their jobs?

SOCIALISM FOR THE RICH, "FREE" MARKET BUGGERY OF THE POOR

The Associated Press also reported that Bank of America, in a statement Saturday, said that it isn't responsible for Republic's financial obligations to its employees.

Exactly for whom, and to whom, is Bank of America, sucking at the federal tit to the tune of $25 billion, responsible and accountable?

It's in the public interest that people can get and hold jobs. These people can't pay taxes when they're in the unemployment line. Since this largess is coming from the taxpayers, we've got a perverse situation of collectivist capitalism for the bankers, and the icy sidewalk for the faceless mass of suckers who put up money for the bailout.

WHITHER THE BAILOUTS?

Along with many other people, I held my nose and voiced support for the bailout as a necessary evil. But this case illustrates why taxpayer-funded bailouts end up being no-win situations. It's a sort of blackmail -- the national economy would fall into a downward spiral of Depression proportions if financial institutions the size of Bank of America were allowed to go under. They seem to know this, and their behavior is commensurately unaccountable.

Chicago will easily survive a loss of 250 jobs at Republic. But multiply that scenario across the country, with many hundreds of struggling companies and overextended creditors, and you get a mental picture of what the U.S. economy is facing.

This is an example of why bailouts need to have many strings attached to them, and very sturdy ones. In exchange for that $25 billion, the federal government ought to have pretty much leverage over what Bank of America uses it for. Republic operates at the level of a few million dollars per month, not in the billions like BOA. This is a microcosm of the kind of abuse that the many have endured, at the hands of the few, for decades.

A UNION SUNRISE?

A bright spot is that this incident may become a rallying point for the revival of a union movement in America. Here's more from the AP report:

"Across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame," said Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743. "If this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country."

Outside the plant, protesters wore stickers and carried signs that said, "You got bailed out, we got sold out."


Leah Fried, an organizer with United Electrical Workers, obliquely compared the sit-in to the landmark 1936-37 General Motors sit-down strike in Flint, Mich., which helped unionize the auto industry. (Yeah, I know, there's the automakers bailout. That's another post.)

"We're doing something we haven't done since the 1930s, so we're trying to make it work," AP quoted Fried as saying. She pointed out that the occupying workers have been shoveling snow and cleaning the building during the sit-in.

Realistically, the financial bailout is a bitter concoction we're going to have to gulp down. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. And, for a dramatic change from '80s and '90s stupor, a lot of Americans seem to be waking up from virtual date-rape drugs and realizing who's been carrying out the assault on working people for many years.

I hope the 53-46% mandate for Barack Obama was only the beginning. Republic should trigger a reborn union movement in this country. Against the kinds of monolithic entities we now face, like Bank of America, lots of people getting together again is the only chance we have.

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Poll: Bush Less Popular Than Nixon In Final Days

From Politico:

With 71 days left in office, President Bush is less popular than President Nixon was at the time of his resignation, according to data released Monday by CNN and Opinion Research Corporation.

The new poll, taken Thursday through Sunday, showed an approval rating of 24 percent and a disapproval rating of 76 percent.

CNN released a chart showing presidential "disapproval" ratings in CNN or Gallup polls for each president dating back to Harry Truman. This list shows the percentage of Americans who disapproved of the way each president was handling his job.

More here.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Despite GM's Staggering Losses, CEO Still Rakes In Millions

By MARC McDONALD

It's difficult to imagine a more poorly run corporation than General Motors these days. The company reported a $2.5 billion loss in the third quarter and warned that it could run out of cash in 2009. GM's share price is down 78 percent this year.

A lot of people at GM are feeling a lot of pain these days. GM has been shedding jobs left and right and announced it will lay off 3,600 workers beginning early next year.

One person who is not feeling the pain, though, is GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner.

This year, Wagoner will pull down a salary of $2.2 million, in addition to other CEO perks. And last year, Wagoner's total compensation was $14.4 million. That works out to $39,452.05 per day, including weekends. (Note that in 2007, GM lost a staggering $38.7 billion).

And now, Wagoner has the gall to push for a government bailout for his company. In other words, Wagoner is a firm believer in the "capitalist" system when it comes to defending his obscene pay. But he apparently has no qualms about asking for billions of our tax dollars to help fix his sinking company.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all this is that GM's woes are entirely self-inflicted and the result of poor management over the years. While Toyota was perfecting hybrid technology for its now wildly popular Prius, GM was betting the farm on clunky gas-guzzling SUVs. Now that the latter are out of favor, thanks to sky-high gas prices, GM is on the ropes, because it was too short-sighted and stupid to have a "Plan B."

Actually, I guess GM does have a Plan B---stick out its hand and beg for the government to give it billions of our tax dollars.

So in the end, all of us will wind up paying for this fiasco. GM's workers, who're being laid off by the thousands will suffer the brunt of the pain. We taxpayers will also likely suffer. In fact, just about everyone is going to suffer, in the end. That is, except for the people directly responsible for GM's mess: the over-paid GM executives like Wagoner whose short-sightedness and poor decisions led to the fiasco at GM in the first place.

What's even more astonishing about this story is that Wagoner's fat paychecks dwarf the pay of Toyota's executives (who have traditionally earned only a small fraction of what their Detroit CEO counterparts earn).

Although Japanese CEO pay is not publicly disclosed, it is estimated to be only a fraction of what U.S. automaker CEOs make. For example, the estimated pay of Toyota's CEO in 2005 was under $1 million.

In fact, in recent years, U.S. CEOs have made vastly more than what their counterparts make in other nations. For example, in 2005, a typical Japanese executive made 11 times what a typical Japanese worker earned. In the U.S., the average CEO pulled down a staggering 475 times what the typical American worker earned.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Al Franken's Bid For Senate Still Alive

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From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON — The Associated Press is uncalling the Minnesota Senate race.

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman finished ahead of Democrat Al Franken early Wednesday in the final vote count, but his 571-vote margin falls within the state's mandatory recount law. That law requires a recount any time the margin between the top two candidates is less than one-half of one percent.

The AP called the race prematurely.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the recount won’t begin until mid-November at the earliest and will probably stretch into December. It will involve local election officials from around the state.


In this video, Franken makes a strong case for his campaign, as well as what the Democratic Party stands for. Franken's arguments are so compelling that I really have to wonder: who the f*ck ARE these morons who vote GOP these days?
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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election 2008 Voting Information From MoveOn.org

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Today's the big day. This is from MoveOn.org; it includes a lot of useful info for voters:

Election 2008 Voting Information

Today, November 4th, is Election Day! Remember to vote---not just for Barack Obama, but for Congressional, state, and local candidates as well.

Where and when do I vote?

Find your polling place, voting times, and other important information by checking out these sites and the hotline below. These resources are good, but not perfect. To be doubly sure, you can also contact your local elections office.



What should I do before I go?


  • After you've entered your address on either Vote For Change or Vote411, read the voting instructions and special rules for your state.
  • Voting ID laws vary from state to state, but if you have ID, bring it.
  • Check out all the voting myths and misinformation to look out for: Vote411


What if something goes wrong?


  • Not on the voter list? Make sure you're at the right polling place, then demand a provisional ballot.
  • If you're voting on an electronic machine with a paper record, verify that the record is accurate.
  • Need legal help? Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
  • If you encounter a problem, try to videotape the situation and submit it to VideoTheVote.org


Want to do more?



Now, everybody go vote!!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Republicans Who Call Obama A Socialist Are Showing Either Ignorance Or Desperation

By MANIFESTO JOE

In the demented spirit of a godfather of American fascism, Joe McCarthy, plenty of Republicans, led by McCain attack dog Sarah Palin, are hurling the dreaded "S" word at Barack Obama. It's right-wing regurgitation.

The dreaded word in McCarthy's time was "communist." Now it is "socialist," and the far right bases this on Obama's clearly stated intention to enact very limited income redistribution for the benefit of working-class and middle-income Americans.

This misnomer reveals the stupidity of those who use it with any sincerity, and the desperation of those who actually took political science and economics in college and surely know better.

Socialism defined

Here's a basic dictionary definition of "socialism," from Webster's New World College Dictionary:

1. any of various theories or systems of the ownership and operation of the means of production and distribution by society or the community rather than by private individuals, with all members of the society or the community sharing in the work and the products.

Please note that the crucial part of the definition has to the with "the means of production and distribution." I am unaware that Obama has ever advocated nationalization of industries, Israeli-style kibbutzes or anything else that characterizes bona fide socialism. He is clearly, like almost all other American progressives, a welfare capitalist. He favors a system of private ownership, but with restraints, checks and balances, and limited intervention in the public interest.

Many conservatives, being ignorant, disingenuous, or both, have greatly expanded the definition of "socialism" to include any and all kinds of income redistribution that works for the benefit of those roughly at or below median income. To broadly paraphrase one of their heroes, Adam Smith, the richer people among them say nothing of their own gains; they complain only of those of other people.

Any time any public entity, whether a local hospital district or the federal government, makes any decision about taxation and/or appropriates money for anything, income is redistributed. It's a question of to whom.

What Americans have seen for about 35 years, more rapidly at times but always steadily, has been socialism for the rich, certainly by the "broader" definition of the right. A federal tax structure that was once progressive, and remains so on paper in some senses with the retention of brackets, has been gradually rendered impotent by the fine scalpel of legislators and tax lawyers. Most corporations now pay little if any income tax, and the very wealthy have myriad shelters with which they happily dodge responsibility for upkeep of the infrastructure, or even for bankrolling the latest war meant to increase their profits.

Socialism for the rich

As for socialism for the rich, I won't even go into corporate welfare, intrinsic advantages of the rich in the legal system, the system of legal bribery we call campaign finance, etc. I'm just sticking with their definition -- redistribution of income. The distribution of wealth is more unequal than it has been since 1929. (Remember what happened that year?) And this hasn't happened by accident. The '80s supply-side economists led by Arthur Laffer and David Stockman were quite above board in their intention to favor corporations and the rich in taxation, in the apparent belief that such policy would spur investment, create jobs, actually increase tax revenue, and result in "trickle-down."

For the most part, with some interruptions during the Clinton administration, the program of socialism for the rich was put over, and with accompanying indoctrination against anything faintly liberal or progressive. The New Deal was ancient history; and in the minds of many, the opportunistic right succeeded in perversely melding it with the failure of Soviet socialism, or with anything that strayed in the very least from a laissez-faire, supply-side party line.

I stopped being a fan of Ralph Nader after he ensured the presidency for an apocalyptic buffoon like George W. Bush. But Nader said something on a debate show that has stuck with me since: "They (the big corporations) want to socialize their losses and privatize their profits." Never was anything truer said.

Obama, though merely bringing a rather mild bourgeois liberalism back to the table, faces the wrath of fools conned by this right-wing economic nonsense, and the venom of those who would use ignorant "fellow travelers" of the far right to stay in control of the wheel.

But, with two days left until the deciding moment, history appears to be tilting toward Obama. Americans have had 28 years to endure "upscale" socialism. Many who don't listen to frothing-at-the-mouth rhetoric know firsthand what such policies have done to them. Indications are that a large turnout of such folks will hugely favor Obama.

Here's a link that shines more light on the subject. There aren't many real socialists left in America, but here's what their presidential candidate thinks about Obama. And, here's one more from the MSM, its own nasty self.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Obama Hatred At McCain-Palin Rally: "Kill Him!"

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By MARC McDONALD

Right-wing nutcases are displaying their foaming-at-the-mouth hatred of Barack Obama at McCain-Palin rallies lately. In this video, you can hear one nutjob scream, "Kill Him!"

But should we really be surprised at such unhinged hatred by Republicans?

After all, we've seen violent rhetoric like this before from wingnuts, aimed at Bill and Hillary Clinton. Examples:

In 2003, right-wing nutcase Michael Graham said of Hillary Clinton: "I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron."

Such inflammatory language is nothing new for the right-wing. Recall how Ann Coulter once wrote that the debate over Bill Clinton should be about "whether to impeach or assassinate."

Recall also the comment by Jesse Helms in 1994: "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard."

Or McCain pal G. Gordon Liddy's comment in 1995, when discussing how he'd used stick figures of the Clintons for target practice. "Thought it might improve my aim," he said.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fearmongering Finally Blows Up in GOP's Face

By MARC McDONALD

At one time, fearmongering was the best thing that ever happened to George W. Bush and the NeoCons, as they cynically exploited 9/11 to advance their agenda. But now it's backfiring, as panic and fear fuel the economic meltdown.

For the past seven years, the GOP repeatedly did its best to scare the living bejesus out of the American people.

It's a strategy that worked, time and time again, and even played a key role in returning Bush to the White House in 2004.

The American people have been kept in a state of fear ever since 9/11, thanks to Bush's fearmongering. But it's a strategy that's now backfiring for Bush and the GOP.

Fear, after all, is what fuels stock market crashes and panic selling. And fear is clearly playing a big role in the current economic debacle. Although the underlying economic reasons for the crisis are real enough, it's clear that panic and fear among investors and consumers is making the crisis even worse.

The American people are increasingly afraid of doing anything with their money, outside of stuffing it into a mattress. They don't trust mutual funds. They don't trust banks. They don't trust Wall Street. And they don't trust the Fed. Increasingly, they're embracing the mindset that Americans shared during the 1930s Great Depression.

For seven long years, Bush cynically used the fear of terrorism to manipulate the American people. As a result, Bush even got the American people to initially support his disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Between color-coded terror alerts and the constant scare words and language of fear and confusion, Bush got the American people so scared that they were ready to accept anything he wanted. As a result, Bush got whatever he sought, from shredding the Constitutions to embracing torture as official state policy.

But now it's backfiring. A terrified and fearful American people are simply going to stop spending money. They're going to sell their stocks. They're going to bail out of their mutual funds. And the U.S. is going to enter a lengthy and brutal second Great Depression. By the time this nightmare is over, the U.S. could easily become a Third World-like nation. It will almost certainly lose its status as the world's only economic superpower, as the world's balance of power shifts to East Asia.

And now, along with the Project for the New American Century, the Republican brand is now severely tarnished, perhaps forever.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How the American Economy Became a Sleazy Carnival Freak Show

By MARC McDONALD

Whatever happened to the once-mighty American economy?

The United States once had the mightiest economic juggernaut of any nation in history. Our "Arsenal of Democracy" played a big role in winning World War II. During that conflict, we overwhelmed our enemies with a tidal wave of efficient industrial production of everything from bombers to jeeps to battleships.

During the 1950s, America's industrial might was at its peak. We were the richest, most prosperous nation in history. U.S. workers earned the highest wages in the world. We enjoyed the most generous benefits and vacation time of any First World nation. American products, from planes to cars to televisions, were second to none in quality and were in demand worldwide. The Great American Middle Class was a prosperous and growing club that saw its fortunes improve, year after year.

Today, all of this seems like a distant memory. America's economy today is a joke. "Made in the U.S.A." is no longer a symbol of quality. In fact, our nation doesn't make much of anything these days. Our trade deficits are at nightmarish levels. And in three short decades, we've gone from being the world's biggest creditor nation to its biggest debtor nation.

Since we don't manufacture anything these days, all we Americans do these days is buy stuff made in other nations. And we really don't even have the money to do that, so we borrow trillions of dollars from prosperous nations in East Asia.

In fact, the U.S. economy today resembles a sleazy carnival midway. Rather than producing useful goods and services, our Carnival Freak Show Economy these days spends more and more time running scams and swindling people (think Wall Street). We've exported most of the good-paying jobs that sustained our once-mighty middle class. And the gulf between the haves and have-nots has grown to its widest since the infamous Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

A half-century ago, General Motors was the nation's biggest employer. Today it's Wal-Mart, a company that offers such paltry wages and benefits that many of its workers have to file for public assistance just to make ends meet.

And that's just one of the ways that Wal-Mart, and other Fortune 500 companies, pocket corporate welfare. In fact, corporate welfare plays a big role in today's Carnival Freak Show Economy.

Not only have the good middle-class jobs disappeared from the U.S. economy, but ordinary workers who do still have jobs have seen their wages stagnate for the past 30 years. Meanwhile, the richest 1 percent now garner the largest share of the national income since 1929.

One might ask: if the once-great American economy no longer produces anything useful, what exactly does it do these days?

Good question.

Decades ago, America's great corporations were widely admired. Most Americans back then felt they were a positive force in American society. Back then, corporations created good jobs and produced things of value. They also paid taxes (back in the 1950s, for example, corporations paid half of all taxes---today, it's less than 10 percent).

Contrast that to today. Today's biggest corporations, from ExxonMobil to Wal-Mart, are increasingly feared and hated. Many Americans regard them as greedy money-grubbing entities that can't be trusted.

The same could be said of today's CEOs in general. As recently as 1982, the average CEO made around 42 times what the average worker earned. By 2005, CEOs made around 431 times what the average worker earned.

And what, exactly, have CEOs done to earn this phenomenal increase in pay? It's hard to say. In fact, in recent years, there has been an increasingly disconnect between soaring CEO pay and the performance of U.S. corporations.

Take Peter Cartwright of Calpine, a maker of gas-fired power plants, for example. In 2005, Forbes reported that Calpine's average annual return to shareholders over the past six years had been minus 7 percent. During the same period, Cartwright pocketed an average annual $13 million. So much for the wisdom of the "free market."

In fact, the "free market" has nothing to do with it. It's a rigged game---just like the crooked games one encounters at a sleazy carnival midway.

When you go to a carnival midway, it's wise to keep an eye on your wallet. And America's Carnival Freak Show economy is no different these days.

The Military-Industrial Complex: A Profiteering Monster

As an example, take a look at America's military-industrial complex, a major pillar of the modern U.S. economy.

Today's military-industrial complex has turned into the very threat to democracy that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in 1961.

It's a bloated, inefficient, tax dollar-devouring, profiteering monster that is out of control. And for all the trillions of dollars it consumes, it's difficult to really see how the nation benefits from it. After all, for all the ocean of dollars our nation has sunk into the Pentagon, it wasn't able to prevent 19 young men armed with nothing more than box cutters from inflicting on our nation the worst terrorist attack in history.

Curiously, for such a major, and costly, part of our economy, the military-industrial complex gets little scrutiny from our politicians these days. They're happy to continue feeding the monster, with little oversight, as long as the big defense contractors are generous with their campaign contributions.

And although Halliburton has garnered the most headlines as the biggest piglet at the trough, it's hardly the only defense contractor reaping fat, no-bid, "cost-plus" contracts, year after year.

In fact, the Center for Public Integrity revealed in 2005 that some $900 billion in defense contracts since 1998 had been awarded without competitive bidding or effective oversight. It's crony "capitalism" at its finest. And the suckers on the carnival midway are We The People: the taxpayers who fund the whole racket.

Wall Street: Crony Capitalism

Continuing our tour of America's Freak Show economy, lets take a look at a second major pillar of the modern U.S. economy: Wall Street.

While never universally loved, Wall Street has captured the American imagination over the decades as a symbol of U.S. economic might. But these days, most Americans fear and detest Wall Street---and for good reason.

Wall Street once played an indispensable role in the U.S. economy. But it's increasingly difficult to determine what, exactly, Wall Street does that is useful these days. Wall Street's idea of "innovation" these days is to create ever-increasingly complex financial instruments that no one can figure out. It's all a scam that is becoming unglued as investors become increasingly wary of what they're putting their money into.

And like the military-industrial complex, it seems Wall Street can only function these days with a hefty dose of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. (Take, for example, the Fed's recent bailout of investment bank, Bear Stearns). Although U.S. Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson defended the bailout as necessary, ordinary American saw it as yet another example of rigged crony, "capitalism."

The Great American Prison Industry

Continuing our tour of America's Carnival Freak Show Economy, let's not leave out what has emerged in recent decades as the fastest-growing sector of our economy: the Great American Prison Industry.

America, the "land of the free," now has the world's biggest prison population, with a staggering 2.3 million people behind bars. Not surprisingly, the prison industry has become one of America's leading employers. And towns with bleak economic prospects now court new prisons the way they once courted new factories. Increasingly, Americans are either in prison, or working for a prison (a strange trend for a nation likes to think of itself as a beacon of freedom).

In past decades, Americans used industry and manufacturing to build our nation into the greatest superpower the world had ever seen. Today, we've "outsourced" our manufacturing and made shopping (with borrowed dollars) the main pillar of our nation's Carnival Freak Show economy.

Of course, it's all a big Ponzi scheme that is unsustainable. The nations that hold our increasingly worthless currency are likely to eventually get spooked and start off-loading their dollars. When that day comes, Americans will finally realize that whatever "prosperity" our economy has seen over the past three decades has been nothing more than a credit-fueled mirage.

When that day comes, we Americans will finally realize that we've been swindled like suckers at a sleazy carnival midway. P.T. Barnum would be proud.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Right-Wing Lunatic Fringe Loves Palin

By MARC McDONALD

What was your reaction to John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his VP pick? Curiosity? Indifference? Bafflement?

The more one learns about Palin, the more afraid we progressives ought to be.

After all, a quick scan of the lunatic fringe blogosphere reveals that the wingnuts adore Palin. And anything that these nutcases cherish should be something that the rest of us fear and dread. (Remember, these are the same people who also love torture, illegal wars, and Constitution-shredding).

Palin's selection on Friday was predictably greeted with raves by the lunatic right-wing fringe.

On Friday, Michelle Malkin was among the wingnut bloggers cheering Palin's selection. And Malkin is about as crazy as they come on the right-wing fringe these days. As Glenn Greenwald noted, Malkin once wrote a book "defending the ethnicity-based imprisonment of innocent American citizens in internment camps."

Of Palin, Malkin wrote, "Yes, I’m impressed. Very impressed." Malkin also linked to a YouTube video showing Palin firing a military rifle. (Apparently that alone gets these wingnuts excited these days---which is curious, as most of them are chickenhawks who have never served).

Meanwhile, the wingnuts who run RightWingNews.com took time out from their busy schedule of bashing Obama and claiming global warming is a "hoax," to cheer Palin's selection. As one writer there noted, "I watched Sarah Palin's roll-out today and it was real home run. She has a great family, a great resume, and for the first time in more than a year, the crowd at a John McCain event seemed genuinely excited."

Hugh Hewitt over at Townhall.com was similarly enthused, as he raved about Palin in a piece titled, "An Extraordinary Choice." Reading his piece, one might think Palin was nothing less than the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan.

It's all rather interesting: the vast majority of America had never heard of Palin before Friday (and I'd suspect most wingnuts had never heard of her either). But now, they're suddenly falling all over themselves to assure us that she's a solid pick and has the credentials to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

MSM Gives McCain Free Pass On His Terrorist Friend: G. Gordon Liddy

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Blogger Joseph Miller has a good article on yet another free pass the MSM is giving John McCain:

In light of the completely unsurprising news that McCain is going to try to tie Barack Obama to Bill Ayers, I thought it might be fun to look at John McCain's much more dangerous, much more violent, much more radical friend: G. Gordon Liddy, notorious even in the lawless Nixon White House for his fanaticism and his unbelievable lack of any moral restraint whatsoever. Chicago Tribune columnist Stephen Chapman brought the issue up this spring (the article is not online, unfortunately) but HuffPo picked up on it. Read along with me, dear friends, as we dive into the muck of Liddy, the Ultimate Right Wing Republican and die-hard McCain supporter.

Let's start by establishing their connection:

In 1998, Liddy's home was the site of a McCain fundraiser. Over the years, he has made at least four contributions totaling $5,000 to the senator's campaigns--including $1,000 this year.
Last November, McCain went on his radio show. Liddy greeted him as "an old friend," and McCain sounded like one. "I'm proud of you, I'm proud of your family," he gushed. "It's always a pleasure for me to come on your program, Gordon, and congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great."


And what kind of man is Liddy, exactly?

[Adolf Hitler] was G. Gordon Liddy's first political hero. Liddy was a sickly, asthmatic child when he grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the 1930s. The town was full of ethnic Germans who idolized Hitler. Liddy was made to salute the Stars and Stripes Nazi-style by the nuns at his school; even now, he admits, "at assemblies where the national anthem is played, I must suppress the urge to snap out my right arm." His beloved German nanny taught him that Hitler had -- through sheer will-power -- "dragged Germany from weakness to strength."

This gave Liddy hope "for the first time in my life" that he too could overcome weakness. When he listened to Hitler on the radio, it "made me feel a strength inside I had never known before," he explains. "Hitler's sheer animal confidence and power of will [entranced me]. He sent an electric current through my body." He describes seeing the Nazis' doomed technological marvel the Hindenberg flying over New Jersey as an almost religious experience. "Ecstatic, I drank in its colossal power and felt myself grow. Fear evaporated and in its place came a sense of personal might and power.

Read the whole terrifying interview with Liddy here.
Read the rest of Miller's article here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Will Democratic Delegates Mock McCain With "Purple Heart" Bandages?

By MARC McDONALD

The 2008 Democratic National Convention kicks off Monday. And I'll go ahead and make one fearless prediction about the convention: no one there will mock John McCain's military service.

Speakers at the convention will likely criticize McCain's political agenda and his proposals for America. But no one will say one negative or derogatory word about his military service in Vietnam. Indeed, those who attend the convention will have nothing but respect for McCain's military record.

It's a far cry from what we saw in 2004 at the Republican convention in New York. At that convention, delegates mocked and made fun of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam service record. Kerry, as you might recall, had a distinguished military record and was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.

At the 2004 Republican convention, GOP delegates wore adhesive bandages with small purple hearts on them to mock Kerry's military record. In doing so, they were echoing a popular GOP talking point at the time (that Kerry's combat wounds were mere "scratches"). That, of course, was a lie: in fact, Kerry received a shrapnel wound in his left arm that caused him pain for years.

Would Democrats do such a thing to mock McCain's military service record? Of course not. It'd be inconceivable. Not even McCain's fiercest critics at the convention would ever dream of disparaging his military service record in any way.

One can also be assured that there will never be a Democratic equivalent of the so-called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," which in 2004 accused Kerry of lying to win his Vietnam military decorations.

And there you have it: a key and crucial difference between today's Democratic and Republican parties. The Republicans have shown that they'll do anything to win an election, even viciously smearing the military record of a distinguished combat veteran.

Great Moments in Debate History: Lloyd Bentsen Smacks Down Dan Quayle

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Joe Biden is Barack Obama's Vice Presidential Pick, Sources Say

The Associated Press and other sources are claiming that Barack Obama has selected Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his vice presidential running mate.

Officially, though, the Obama campaign has yet to make its official announcement (which is set to be made Saturday morning via a mass mobile phone text message).

I noticed the AP story managed to get in a dig at Biden, claiming he has a "reputation as a long-winded orator." It appears AP is already sharpening its claws to go after Biden, (after pretty much ignoring all the lies, crimes and treason committed by Dick Cheney over the past 8 years).

Speaking of Doctor Evil, here's one early observation I have to make about the difference between Biden and the current VP. Dick Cheney once shot a fellow hunter in the face and has long been a big fan of guns and hunting (as long as the small furry creatures he's shooting at in the forest don't get a chance to shoot back). By contrast, Biden once earned an "F" from the National Rifle Association. That fact alone makes me want to support his campaign.

Here's the AP story:

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama selected Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware late Friday night to be his vice presidential running mate, according to a Democratic official, balancing his ticket with a seasoned congressional veteran well-versed in foreign policy and defense issues.

Biden, 65, has twice sought the White House, and is a Catholic with blue-collar roots, a generally liberal voting record and a reputation as a long-winded orator.

Across more than 30 years in the Senate, he has served at various times not only as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee but also as head of the Judiciary Committee, with its jurisdiction over anti-crime legislation, Supreme Court nominees and Constitutional issues.

In selecting Biden, Obama passed over several other potential running mates, none more prominent than former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, his tenacious rival in dozens of primaries and caucuses.

The official who spoke did so on condition of anonymity, preferring not to pre-empt a text-message announcement the Obama campaign promised for Saturday morning.


More here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Whatever Happened to the Anger On the Left?

By MARC McDONALD

The past three decades have been a Right-Wing wet dream for America. The Republicans have gotten their way on virtually every single issue while the Democrats have meekly rolled over.

Which raises a question. Why are the Republicans so angry these days? And why are the Democrats so goddamn happy?

What do the Republicans have to be angry about, anyway? During most of the past three decades, they've controlled all the levers of power. And even when they didn't control the White House, they might as well as have, with Bill Clinton's "Republican Lite" policies.

The Republicans have gotten pretty much everything they've wanted: their tax cuts for the rich, their sweeping deregulation, their dismantling of the social safety net, their gutting of labor unions, their blood-for-oil wars, their shredding of the Constitution: you name it.

What's more, they blatantly stole the past two presidential elections (and got away with it). And they're the one who are seething with anger these days?

And yet if you tune into Fox News or talk radio or the Right-Wing blogs these days, you encounter the most incredible seething anger and passion. Tune into just the first five minutes of unhinged Right-Wing nutcase Mark Levin's radio program sometime and you'll encounter more anger than a year's worth of reading Mother Jones or The Nation.

All I've got to say is: where can we on the Left get some of that anger to fire up our base?

After being screwed for 30 years by the New Right, you'd think the Left in this country would finally have built up some anger and passion. But instead, there seems to be way too much humor, fun and frivolity on our side these days. Even Mike Malloy's once-incendiary radio program has mellowed out in recent months.

The Left could really use a few lessons from the the Republicans these days. The GOP is a master of rallying the troops by adopting a "take-no-prisoners" hard-line approach to politics. They're also good at rallying the base with a constant "siege mentality" that would have their supporters believe that the Left is on the verge of destroying America (ironic, when you consider who's really done all the damage to our nation in recent decades).

Democrats ought to enter a street fight with the GOP with the appropriate tools: a switchblade, a .38-caliber pistol, and a pair of brass knuckles. Instead, they bring nothing to the fight but good manners and a promise to fight fairly and by the rules. In a street fight, that approach loses every f*cking time---but the Dems appear to be incapable of grasping this basic fact.

Take Obama's current campaign strategy. He's vowed to take the high road and run a polite, dignified, no-slime campaign. McCain, on the other hand, is throwing everything he has at Obama. Day after day, McCain essentially calls Obama a traitor.

And McCain's slime is working. Obama's lead in the polls is now dangerously thin. And if recent U.S. election history repeats itself, Obama looks to be in real trouble by November.

Aren't Democrats angry about all this? Nope. While the GOP is using angry fire-and-brimstone "All Liberals Are Traitors" rhetoric to fire up the troops, we're once again acting polite, sipping our tea, and minding our manners, smug in the belief that the nation couldn't possibly be so stupid as to vote for a third term of George W. Bush.

One thing I will give the Republicans credit for: they are angry, passionate and willing to fight tooth-and-claw for what they believe in. They fight dirty and even steal elections if they have to. And do you think they lose one second's worth of sleep over it? Don't bet on it.

And meanwhile, the Dems are smug, arrogant, and way, way too goddamn polite these days. We need to get angry for a change and start fighting fire with fire.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Get a Free Obama Button



Step right up: come one, come all, and get your own free Obama button. The progressive site, MoveOn.org is currently giving away a nifty-looking free Obama button to anyone in the U.S. who requests one. Allow four to six weeks for delivery. Click here to request your button.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How Bush and the NeoCons Lied America Into the Iraq War

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This video does a good job of summing up the blatant, outrageous lies that George W. Bush and the NeoCons told in leading America into the $3 trillion Iraq War fiasco, which has led to the deaths of over 1 million Iraqi men, women and children.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

No President Has Ever Handed Off A Greater Mess To His Successor

By MARC McDONALD

When Bill Clinton handed off the keys to the White House to George W. Bush in 2001, the nation was in good shape, having enjoyed eight years of peace and prosperity. America was enjoying its first budget surplus in three decades. The economy was healthy. The U.S. Constitution was still intact. The dollar was strong and was still the world's reserve currency of choice. Gas was $1.20 a gallon.

However, Bush's successor won't be so lucky. In fact, no president has ever handed off a great mess to his successor in U.S. history.

In fact, I pity the next president. Bush has dug America into a hole so deep, that a lot of the titanic problems he's gotten us into will be pretty much impossible to solve.

Take America's out-of-control, gigantic budget deficits, for example. The next president will inherit a record $482 billion deficit in 2009. And actually, that's a conservative estimate by the White House (which misleadingly isn't including the massive additional costs of the Iraq War in its budget forecasts).

Speaking of the Iraq War, no president has ever left his successor a single bigger ongoing crisis. There is no real solution to this ongoing $3 trillion fiasco of a war. In fact, Bush's only "solution" has been to simply drag out this war long enough to hand it off to his successor. And the Afghanistan War is another ongoing fiasco with no end in sight.

Then, there's America's deteriorating economy. When Bush tried his hand in the private sector years ago, he managed to drive all three companies he had a hand in into the ground. Now, he's done pretty much the same thing to America itself.

The economy today is a horrendous mess, with 3.2 million manufacturing jobs lost since 2001. The ongoing subprime mortgage crisis is a black hole of doom and gloom with no end in sight. Serious financial commentators are starting to speak of a new 1930s style Great Depression. Some 2 million Americans stand to lose their homes in the coming years.

America's ability to get things around the world accomplished has been seriously diminished under Bush. In fact, Bush's successor will inherit a nation that is now widely feared and hated around the world. Once, when U.S. presidents used to talk to other nations about the need to respect human rights, America's words carried great weight. Now, such lectures are simply laughed at and ignored.

Along with our lost moral authority, America's clout on the international stage has been vastly weakened under Bush. For a start, our military (which has been severely battered in the Iraq fiasco) is in terrible shape.

And the dollar (which was a principal lever of U.S. power for decades) is a joke these days. The dollar continues to plummet in value---a trend which is certain to continue as America's creditor nations get increasingly spooked by out-of-control U.S. deficits.

Clearly, America is a totally different nation than the one that Bush inherited when he assumed power in 2001.

Seven short years ago, the American Dream was still alive. America was still a "Can Do" nation. We still had the ability to get things done.

Now, in addition to being broke, most Americans are deeply cynical and pessimistic. Even if the next president can do something about our financial crisis, he's going to find it real tough to restore the faith that many of us have lost in America during the Bush nightmare years.

In short, it will take decades for America to recover from the Bush years. The enormous problems we face today will simply be too great for the next president to solve, no matter what course of action he takes. All we can hope for is that the next president can stop the rot.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Did A Culture of Right-Wing Hate Lead to Church Shootings?

By MARC McDONALD

A man who is accused of shooting and killing two at a Tennessee church apparently targeted the congregation "out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies," police said Monday.

One might ask: where would such extreme hatred of Liberals come from?

To get the answer, turn on Right-Wing talk radio any day.

There, on a daily basis, you'll hear the most amazingly vicious bashing of Liberals imaginable.

From Savage to Limbaugh to Hannity to the rest of HateWing radio, every day, one hears the most extraordinary demonization of Liberals and Democrats. If you get all your news and views from HateWing radio (as many Dittoheads do), you'll be convinced that Liberals are traitors who are working hand-in-hand with Al Qaeda to undermine the American nation.

Along with the hate, there's a hefty of dose of violent threats against Liberals on the AM radio dial these days.

Take right-wing nutcase Michael Graham, for example. In June 2007, he said he wanted to see someone "whack" the Clintons in a Sopranos spoof. And in 2003, Graham said of Hillary Clinton: "I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron."

Such inflammatory language is nothing new for the right-wing. Recall how Ann Coulter once wrote that the debate over Bill Clinton should be about "whether to impeach or assassinate."

Such seething hatred and threats of violence have ricocheted around the GOP echo chamber for at least the past couple of decades. And it hasn't been limited to right-wing talk radio.

Recall the comment by Jesse Helms in 1994: "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard."

Or G. Gordon Liddy's comment in 1995, when discussing how he'd used stick figures of the Clintons for target practice. "Thought it might improve my aim," he said.

Given this toxic stew of hatred and violent threats that poisons our nation's political discourse, we really shouldn't be surprised that there are many people out there who harbor extreme hatred toward Liberals.

Update:

Books seized from suspect Jim David Adkisson's home, included The O'Reilly Factor, by television commentator Bill O'Reilly; Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, by radio personality Michael Savage; and Let Freedom Ring, by political pundit Sean Hannity.

Knoxville Police Department Investigator Steve Still wrote in the search warrant that Adkisson went on a rampage at the church, "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Slicing Through 'Surge' Propaganda: Haven't We Heard It All Before?

By MANIFESTO JOE

Full disclosure: I have no military background. I do have 30 years of experience as a professional journalist, and have known enough U.S. history, for long enough, that at 17, I earned 6 hours of college credit in that subject just by taking a test. Take those for whatever they're worth.

My perhaps-risky thesis: The "surge" in Iraq, now being touted as some kind of unequivocal success, is yet another deception in a military campaign that will be remembered as the war that keeps on costing.

Granted, al Qaeda in Iraq has apparently been dealt some crushing blows (for now), and U.S. military casualties are sharply down. These things are being widely reported as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is on his overseas trip, which included a stop in Iraq.

But, the latter point, about the decline in U.S. casualties, reflects the ethnocentrism with which Americans tend to look at foreign conflicts. Juan Cole, writing on Informed Comment, points out:

Despite all the talk about Iraq being "calm," I'd like to point out that the month just before the last visit Barack Obama made to Iraq (he went in January, 2006), there were 537 civilian and ISF Iraqi casualties. In June of this year, 2008, there were 554 according to AP. These are official statistics gathered passively that probably only capture about 10 percent of the true toll.

That is, the Iraqi death toll is actually still worse now than the last time Obama was in Iraq! (See the bombings and shootings listed below for Sunday). The hype around last year's troop escalation obscures a simple fact: that Obama formed his views about the need for the US to leave Iraq at a time when its security situation was very similar to what it is now! Why a return to the bad situation in late 05 and early 06 should be greeted by the GOP as the veritable coming of the Messiah is beyond me. You have people like Joe Lieberman saying silly things like if it weren't for the troop escalation, Obama wouldn't be able to visit Iraq. Uh, he visited it before the troop escalation, just fine.


To read the entire Cole article, click here.

What we seem to be hearing is that when fewer Americans are being killed and maimed as a result of the "surge," that makes it an unequivocal success. When the furrenurs is gettin' whacked a little faster than they wuz two and a half years ago, well, that's their tough luck. It's an A-Murkan world.

And, we've heard all this before, at other times and in other places. And it hasn't been so long since we've heard it. I seem to recall that "we" (in the editorial sense) were supposed to have pretty much routed the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan. Been reading or hearing any news from there lately? It ain't over till it's over. And that one, the war "we" actually have reasonable justification for, is far from over.

I also seem to recall a day in 2003 when, just weeks after the invasion of Iraq, Il Doofus staged a landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared major military operations in Iraq to be over.

The MSM mouthpieces remain very much on the Pentagon bandwagon (not to mention the Straitjacket Express), with a mantra of "Obama was dead wrong" on the outcome of the "surge."

True, Obama didn't call it right in predicting that the "surge" would bring an increase in violence.

But, given the continued toll on Iraqi civilians, reports of success seem greatly exaggerated. I think the "surge" could be pronounced a success on the day that there are no unusual civilian deaths in Iraq, that the millions of refugees can return home safely, and that a stable Iraqi government can be elected without being propped up by a U.S. military presence. Perhaps in 100 years?

I'll venture a possibly risky prediction, but one firmly based on recent U.S. history.

In January 1973, the Nixon administration finally reached that elusive "peace with honor" deal with North Vietnam. The "peace" lasted a while. Then, a couple of years later, communist troops were overrunning South Vietnam. The American people were so sick of that bottomless pit of lives and money that they said a loud and resounding "NO" when the Ford administration had the nerve to propose that "we" go back in there.

The bottom line is that the U.S. is an occupier in a land generally hostile to the occupation. And, it should come as no surprise that the resistance will hide and play possum with every "surge" that our taxpayers can be conned into bankrolling. That's the name of the game in guerrilla warfare.

I'll gamble, and predict an outcome similar to the previously cited ones. For Americans, this will be the war that keeps on costing.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why Al-Maliki Had Better Watch His Back

By MARC McDONALD

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is starting to become a real pain in the ass for the Bush White House. Instead of being a good little client state puppet, he keeps shooting his mouth off, asking for a timetable for the U.S. military to leave his shattered nation.

If Al-Maliki is smart, he really needs to start watching his back. His days are clearly numbered.

In order to realize this, you don't have to put on a tin foil hat. All you have to do is look at America's own sordid history in dealing with foreign heads of state who don't stick to the script. Time and time again, they wind up deposed or dead.

Take Saddam Hussein, for example. For decades, he was a U.S. ally in the Middle East. We armed him and funded him and even helped him ruthlessly purge his opponents in Iraq. It was only when he stopped following the script from Washington that he became an enemy of the U.S.

But Saddam is hardly alone among heads of state who ran afoul of U.S. policy over the years (and wound up dead or deposed as a result).

In fact, the CIA has been running around the world deposing foreign heads of state for decades, (including such democratically elected leaders as Iran's Mohammed Mosaddeq and Guatemala's Jacobo Arbenz Guzman).

Now, Al-Maliki is latest leader to run afoul of U.S. policy. In the latest controversy, he has expressed approval of Barack Obama's plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq within 16 months of next January. He made the remarks in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel.

This latest stunning development has the NeoCons reeling. In a desperate attempt to spin the story to their advantage, the NeoCons have been claiming that Al-Maliki's words were mistranslated or misinterpreted.

Much to the NeoCons' dismay, however, Der Spiegel has stood by its story. As Juan Cole points out, Der Spiegel still has the audio recording of the interview and what's more, it turns out that the translator involved works for al-Maliki, not for Der Spiegel.

Thus, the last fig leaf that the NeoCons could hide behind has been removed. The whole incident has become an enormous embarrassment for Bush and his allies.

There can no longer be any doubt: Al-Maliki now clearly wants a firm timetable for getting U.S. troops out of his nation and he even explicitly supports Obama's plan.

It's clear that Al-Maliki has turned into a big, big problem for Bush and the NeoCons.

Unfortunately for Al-Maliki, he lives in the most dangerous nation on earth: a country where bloody shootouts and bombings occur on a daily basis. What's worse is that he has increasingly turned into a thorn in the side of the NeoCons who fiercely reject any timetables for withdrawal.

Like I said, Al-Maliki had better start watching his back. His days are clearly numbered.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Problem With "The Dark Knight"

By MARC McDONALD

One of the most heavily-hyped and highly rated films in years, The Dark Knight is more than just a mere movie: it's an industry unto itself. This juggernaut, which cost an eye-popping $180 million to produce, opened to rapturous response, and massive crowds on Friday. As of Saturday afternoon, it had already raked in a one-day box office record $66 million and is (at least at the moment) the all-time No. 1 highest rated film on IMDB.com, just ahead of The Godfather.

The back-story of The Dark Knight is causing a media frenzy, led by the tragic death earlier this year of Heath Ledger, who plays The Joker.

The film itself is being hailed for its dark, menacing atmosphere, as well as the sheer amount of graphic bloodiness (unusual for a comic book movie). But overall, everyone seems to be happy: from comic book fanboys to Time Warner shareholders.

However, I can't help but think that there's something horribly wrong about the whole Dark Knight phenomenon that is symbolic of what's wrong with our nation as a whole these days. And it goes well beyond the dumbing-down of our culture, which is so easily entertained by a movie based on a comic book (a mediocre comic book at that----I can think of dozens of manga and underground comics that are vastly superior to "Batman").

For a start, there is the matter of misplaced priorities. Between The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's death, our national media has once again devoted acres of column space to a movie, during a time in which the ongoing Iraq War has all but disappeared from our nation's media radar.

The long-suffering people of Iraq have no need to go a movie to see bloody shootouts and spectacular explosions: they see them all the time in real life, every day.

In fact, while the people of America are idly distracting themselves with comic book movies, the people of Iraq are still suffering a horrible ongoing nightmare.

Despite the proclamations by the GOP and the corporate media that Iraq is "getting better," the Iraqi people still have to contend with daily shootings and bombings on a mind-numbing scale.

Take Tuesday, for example. Just on that one day, guerrillas killed around 40 people and wounded dozens in several attacks in northern Iraq.

Did you hear about this story? Of course not. The U.S. media had more important priorities, such as gearing up the Great Hype Machine for The Dark Knight.

Tuesday's attacks were the sort of horrific violence that would dominate the news for years if it happened here. But since it happened in Iraq, it barely even gets reported in the U.S. these days. Our politicians are too busy proclaiming the "success" of our operations in Iraq.

I'm sure some readers will complain that I'm being a spoilsport. "Americans are weary of the war," they'll say. "We need an occasional break from reality with escapist fare like The Dark Knight."

Therein lies the problem. America is responsible for the horrific mess in Iraq. The disaster there may no longer interest Americans, with our short, MTV attention spans. But Iraq is OUR disaster and it ought to be relentlessly rubbed in our faces every single day until we demand and scream that this disastrous, illegal, immoral war be brought to an end now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Phil Gramm: Porn Mogul

By MARC McDONALD

Molly Ivins once exposed Phil Gramm as the typical sort of GOP hypocrite who (like George W. Bush) loudly denounces all government programs, even as he rakes in tax dollars from various government programs.

In 2002, Ivins wrote:

"Gramm, the great crusader against government spending, has spent his entire life on the government tit. He was born at a military hospital, raised on his father’s Army pay, went to private school at Georgia Military Academy on military insurance after his father died, paid for his college tuition with same, got a National Defense Fellowship to graduate school, taught at a state-supported school, and made generous use of his Senate expense account."

However, let it not be said that Gramm didn't at least attempt to make a living in the private sector (in fact, the most private sector of all). As The Nation pointed out, before Gramm joined the Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed to call for defunding the NEA, he was an active investor in soft-core porn movies.

In 1973, Gramm cut a check for $15,000 to invest in a budget soft-core production called Truck Stop Women. Because the film was oversold, his money was returned to him. Later, Gramm contributed at least $7,500 toward a film called White House Madness, a satire of the Nixon White House that featured a crazed president wandering around the White House in the nude.

Gramm lost his investment after the film flopped at the box office.

Clearly, like George W. Bush, Gramm was a failure in the private sector. Like Bush, Gramm then turned to the government as a career. As The Nation pointed out, Gramm went on to become "one of the most reactionary, venal, and destructive political figures in recent times."

Today, Gramm serves as economic adviser to John McCain and spends his time smugly belittling Americans, calling us a "nation of whiners." And this hypocrite, who benefited immensely from various government programs all his life, doesn't think that the government should do anything at all to help ordinary Americans who are struggling to make ends meet in the Bush recession.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Great Prevaricator Remembered II: With Reagan Policies, Seldom Has So Much Harm Been Done To So Many By So Few (Plus Swipes At Phil Gramm)

By MANIFESTO JOE

With news of a Bush/Treasury/Federal Reserve bailout of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, I'd say it's unofficially official: Reaganomics, and the 30-year era of helter-skelter deregulation that came with it, is at long last dying for good.

No, it's not dead yet. I think terminal brain cancer is a certain diagnosis. Yet Reaganomics lingers, having been reanimated repeatedly from the dead. But I don't think another long-term resurrection is possible.

And as the details of a massive bailout emerge, the person who comes to my mind is that turkey-necked geezer who presided over the first "great" round of deregulation during the '80s -- The Great Prevaricator himself, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan survives largely just in right-wing mythology. But some of his soldiers, who helped him construct this sturdy economic Trojan horse, are still with us. Despite a rebuke over a recent gaffe, former GOP Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, deregulator extraordinaire, is still John McCain's economic adviser.

Gramm, a Texas Aggie economist (Know how to spoil an Aggie party? Flush the punchbowl), earned his bars in the "conservative" movement as one of The Fibber's hardiest point men. He started in the House as a major architect of the 1981 tax cuts that, first, handed a bonanza to the wealthiest Americans. Then, those cuts plunged the federal budget so deeply into the red that piecemeal tax increases had to be sneaked past the public for many years thereafter to slow the hemorrhaging.

He was also a player in the '80s deregulation of savings and loans, which ultimately opened them up to full-scale looting. It took years, and many, many billions from the taxpayers, to clean up that mess. (Sound familiar now? To paraphrase the poet Santayana, our leaders did not remember the past, and we are ALL condemned to repeat it.)

Near the end of his venal "service" in the Senate, Gramm was a towering figure in the second "great" wave of deregulation. This from Wikipedia:

Later in his Senate career, Gramm spearheaded efforts to pass banking reform laws, including the landmark Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, which modernized Depression-era laws separating banking, insurance and brokerage activities. Between 1995 and 2000 Gramm, who was the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, received $1,000,914 in campaign contributions from the Securities & Investment industry.

Here, "modernize" means that the bill Gramm co-sponsored repealed certain New Deal-era regulations of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which had helped keep those pillars of high finance separate, and hence relatively honest and solvent, since the '30s.

Not content with leaving only this much damage imminent, Gramm helped pull off a major deregulatory coup the following year. More from Wikipedia:

Gramm was one of five co-sponsors of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which critics blame for permitting the Enron scandal to occur. At the time, Gramm's wife was on Enron's board of directors.

A big part of the CFMA was what became known as the "Enron Loophole." Again, Wikipedia:

The CFMA has received criticism for the so-called "Enron Loophole," 7 U.S.C. §2(h)(3) and (g), which exempts most over-the-counter energy trades and trading on electronic energy commodity markets. The "loophole" was drafted by Enron Lobbyists working with senator Phil Gramm seeking a deregulated atmosphere for their new experiment, "Enron On-line." ...

The legislation was passed by the Republican controlled Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton [ouch --MJ] in December 2000 to allow for the creation, for U.S. exchanges, of a new kind of derivative security, the single-stock future. An attempt to reverse this policy was vetoed by President Bush in 2008. Several Democratic Legislators introduced legislation to close the loophole from 2000-2006, but were unsuccessful due to Republican control of the House and Senate.


So, in the ensuing years, Phil acquired a succession of nicknames, including "Enron Phil" for the CFMA, and recently "Foreclosure Phil" for his banking "modernization."

For more on the extent of the profound injuries that then-Sen. Phil Gramm personally inflicted on America, click here for a Joe Conason article in Salon.

But enough with beating up on a now-obvious sleazebag operative like Gramm. Let's go back a generation, and longer, to that moth-eaten spirit ultimately behind the Enron accounting scandal, and behind what is becoming known as the Panic of 2008. It's that mythical right-wing figure, the man Gore Vidal once perceptively described as "grandmotherly": Reagan.

The Sixties spawned a unique cast of characters who lingered and did their dance macabre across our collective unconscious, on their way to oblivion. The same seems to be happening with the malefactors of the Eighties, the Armani-clad hooligans of the Reagan era.

They seem determined not to go away completely, at least not right away. But I foresee a day when they will be like withered cranks at small-town school board meetings, voted out of office but showing up in enfeebled bids to harass those who replaced them. An effectively permanent death seems at hand.

Going back to the Fannie Mae/Freddy Mac bailout -- and perhaps forward toward many more -- here are a couple of especially significant quotes from The New York Times on this story:

The companies, known as government-sponsored enterprises, or G.S.E.'s, touch nearly half of the nation's mortgages by either owning or guaranteeing them, and the debt securities they issue to finance their operations are widely owned by foreign governments, pension funds, mutual funds, big companies and other large institutional investors.

G.S.E. debt is held by financial institutions around the world, Mr. (Treasury Secretary Henry) Paulson said in his statement. Its continued strength is important to maintaining confidence and stability in our financial system and our financial markets. Therefore we must take steps to address the current situation as we move to a stronger regulatory structure.

"... a stronger regulatory structure"? This from a Bush Cabinet member?

R.I.P., Ronnie Reagan. (And Phil Gramm?)

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

The Great Depression of 2008

By MARC McDONALD

Until last week, most economists were divided on whether the U.S. was in a recession or not. Now, with the ailing mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the ropes, it's clear that what's unfolding is far worse than any recession.

As Britain's normally staid The Telegraph newspaper notes, the U.S. could be on the verge of a new Great Depression. That might seem far-fetched until you consider that last month, the Dow suffered its worst June since 1930.

But The Telegraph is hardly alone in using such apocalyptic language these days. The "D" word is starting to be mentioned more and more in the business media, as well as by economic commentators. As David Bullock, managing director of investment fund Advent Capital Management, put it in a comment to The New York Times on Tuesday, "We are closer to the Depression scenario than not."

Yes, a real Depression, complete with tent cities now springing up in what once were prosperous suburbs.

This doom-and-gloom language in describing the U.S. economy first began to pick up steam after investment bank Bear Stearns had to be bailed out by the government in May. In describing the bailout, the Associated Press said that Bear Stearns was "On the verge of a collapse that could have shaken the very foundations of the U.S. financial system."

The current crisis with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is infinitely larger than Bear Stearns. The two companies either hold or guarantee a staggering $5.3 trillion worth of mortgages. Indeed, the investment magazine MoneyWeek has noted that the crisis is big enough to doom the dollar.

As MoneyWeek notes:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac might have been deemed too big to fail---but who's big enough to bail out the U.S.? When investors start seriously asking themselves that question, expect the dollar to plunge.

Make no mistake, a catastrophic U.S. economic collapse is on the way. Such is the inevitable fate of any Ponzi scheme economy that has been running on nothing more than smoke and mirrors (and oceans of foreign capital) now for many years.

Of course, those who are poor or working class know first-hand that the U.S. economy has been in increasingly serious trouble since around 1980. Wages have been steadily declining for everyone but the very rich. And working class people now toil more hours for less pay than their counterparts in any other First World nation. (They have to, as a 40-hour workweek no longer is enough to put groceries on the table).

But as long as America had a tiny elite of prosperous super wealthy, we could always point to them and try to convince ourselves that our economy couldn't be all bad. After all, we would note, there are some people out there making a fortune. All it takes is hard work and ambition, right?

Today, with the stock market in the toilet, and the Fed having to step in to bail out the financial sector, it should be clear to anyone that the U.S. economy is in crisis.

If the U.S. economy actually produced anything of value, this would be nothing more than just another typical downturn in the economic cycle.

The problem is, the U.S. economy no longer produces anything of value. Our economic activity basically consists of importing trillions of dollars from central banks in East Asia---which we then use to prop up our Ponzi scheme economy. The ocean of foreign capital that flows into our nation daily is used to pay for the shopping habits of U.S. consumers.

In fact, in recent years, the Great American Consumer has been hailed by U.S. economists as the "locomotive" of the world economy. There was only one problem: U.S. consumers had zero savings and were depending on foreign capital to finance their shopping binges.

Now, with the stock market crisis and the ongoing housing mortgage crisis, nobody is in much of a mood to do any spending these days. And with the dollar rapidly declining, it's only a matter of time before the East Asian central banks start to unload their depreciating greenbacks (which will accelerate the dollar's fall even further in a vicious cycle).

The frightening thing is that East Asian central banks haven't even begun seriously dumping their dollars and yet the dollar is already plunging.

And the dollar has already lost an astonishing 40 percent against an index of U.S. trading partners' currencies over the past seven years.

The key numbers which measure the current U.S. economic crisis are so far off the chart that it is difficult to even fathom them. As economics writer Eamonn Fingleton has noted, the U.S. current account deficit (the widest and most meaningful measure of our trade position) now represents an astounding 6.5 percent of our gross domestic product.

As Fingleton notes, only one other major nation has ever exceeded this figure: Italy in 1924. That was just before Benito Mussolini seized dictatorial power.

This BBC report takes a look at tent cities that are starting to spring up outside Los Angeles:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Reminder From Woody Guthrie That Jesus Was No Capitalist

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For all the manufactured "shocking" behavior of today's music stars, there is nothing around today that is as remotely subversive as this 1940 Woody Guthrie song. After all, it celebrates the Bible's most subversive passage, Mark 10:21: a verse in which Jesus tells the rich that they need to sell all their property and give the money to the poor in order to avoid the flames of hell.

Indeed, this is a Bible verse that is so troubling to the Christian Right that the latter basically just quietly tiptoe away from it and try to pretend it doesn't exist. What must be particularly worrisome to them is the simple clarity of the passage. This isn't one of those vague Bible verses that can be interpreted dozens of different ways.

If there is a God, then all these hypocritical, GOP-supporting "Christians," with their "screw-the-poor" attitudes will be roasting in Hell someday.

Meanwhile, let's celebrate Woody Guthrie's "Jesus Christ," a brilliant song that reclaims the heritage of Jesus from the Right Wing. It reminds us all that the Republicans have hijacked Christianity and have proceeded to warp and distort Christ's message of generosity, peace, love, compassion and forgiveness.

Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land
A hard-working man and brave
He said to the rich, "Give your goods to the poor,"
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave

Jesus was a man, a carpenter by hand
His followers true and brave
One dirty little coward called Judas Iscariot
Has laid Jesus Christ in His Grave

He went to the preacher, He went to the sheriff
He told them all the same
"Sell all of your jewelry and give it to the poor,"
And they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.

When Jesus come to town, all the working folks around
Believed what he did say
But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross,
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.

And the people held their breath when they heard about his death
Everybody wondered why
It was the big landlord and the soldiers that they hired
To nail Jesus Christ in the sky

This song was written in New York City
Of rich man, preacher, and slave
If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.


Lyrics from: WoodyGuthrie.org

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Why Is The MSM Afraid Of Scrutinizing Rush Limbaugh?

By MARC McDONALD

The New York Times Magazine's recent ridiculous puff piece on Rush Limbaugh continues a trend in which the mainstream media has shied away from any serious scrutiny of the nation's top-rated talk radio host.

It's a courtesy that Limbaugh has never reciprocated. After all, Limbaugh spends day after day on his radio program, demonizing The New York Times in the harshest language imaginable. After listening to Limbaugh's ramblings, you might well be under the impression that the Times is working closely with Al-Qaeda.

But the Times is hardly alone in treating Limbaugh with kid gloves. For such a major celebrity, Limbaugh has never faced any sort of real scrutiny from the mainstream media in his two decades as a national radio star.

It wasn't the MSM, for example, that broke the 2003 story of how Limbaugh was being investigated in connection with illegally obtaining OxyContin. It was the tabloid media (specifically, the National Enquirer).

Amazingly, in 20 years, there has really only been one in-depth look at Limbaugh (and it didn't come from the MSM). It came from author Al Franken's 1996 book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.

Franken's best-selling book exposed Limbaugh for the fraud he is. For the first time ever, the book brought to light Limbaugh's astonishing hypocrisy (such as the fact that he once collected government jobless benefits and the fact he never voted for GOP hero Ronald Reagan) as well as his crude, vicious hate speech (such as calling then 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton a "dog").

Big Fat Idiot also revealed how Limbaugh's program peddles outright lies and misinformation on a daily basis. Until Franken's book appeared, little of this information had ever been revealed to a broad audience, thanks to the MSM's silence.

Frankly, if the MSM had been doing its job, there would never have been a need for Franken's book in the first place. Readers appreciated Franken's job in exposing Limbaugh (sending Big Fat Idiot soaring to the top of the best-seller lists).

The MSM has always given Limbaugh a pass. To this day, he serves up a daily helping of outright lies, GOP propaganda and misinformation to his Ditto-Head audience of 14 million.

And Limbaugh isn't the only Right-Wing Hate Spewer treated with kid gloves by the MSM.

Recall how in 2005, Time magazine did a puff piece on Ann Coulter. The article's author, John Cloud, stunned many readers with his cover-story valentine to Coulter, as well as his contention that he "didn't find many outright Coulter errors" in her unhinged, rambling books. (In reality, watchdog sites like Media Matters have documented loads of outrageous lies in Coulter's shoddily researched writings).

And radio host Glenn Beck is yet another nutcase fringe right-wing extremist who gets a free pass from the MSM. In fact, in Beck's case, the MSM rewarded this hate-spewer with his own daily hour-long program on CNN's "Headline News." This, for a right-wing talk show host who once called Cindy Sheehan a "slut."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

$10 Billion Pentagon Program Fails To Defeat IED Threat In Iraq

By MARC McDONALD

Taking a look at the latest troop casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq, it quickly becomes apparent that IEDs remain a lethal threat to the U.S. military. In April, May and June, IEDs killed at least 54 U.S. troops, causing over half the 104 combat deaths suffered by the military in those three months.

It's clear that the U.S. military's $10 billion program to defeat the IED threat isn't working. The program (officially called the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization) was launched by the Pentagon in 2005 to foil IED attacks.

The program has increasingly come under fire as ineffective and poorly run. As WorldTribune.com reported in September, the program is a "boondoggle" that a Joint Forces Staff College review concluded is "mired in red tape and has relied excessively on technology."

Astonishingly, the U.S. has now spent more on this anti-IED program, in equivalent dollars, than it spent on the Manhattan Project installation that produced plutonium for World War II's atomic bombs.

Insurgents have enjoyed great success with IEDs, despite the fact the devices are remarkably low-tech and are often detonated with ordinary remote controls or cell phones.

What is particularly stunning about the whole IED saga is the fact that ordnance used in these devices was looted by insurgents in the first few weeks of the Iraq War. The Pentagon admits that over 250,000 tons of ordnance was looted--enough to build 1 million 500-pound bombs.

One might wonder why arms depots across Iraq were left unguarded in the early stages of the war. Well, it appears the U.S. military had higher priorities.

One of the few buildings left untouched by looters in April 2003 was the massive Oil Ministry building in Baghdad, which was heavily guarded by U.S. troops. When U.S. forces entered Baghdad, they immediately surrounded the building with 50 tanks, while sharpshooters positioned themselves on the roof and in the windows.

Oil fields in Iraq were also heavily guarded in the early days of the war. Amnesty International criticized the attention placed on controlling oilfields, which it noted must have taken "much planning and resources."

But while the U.S. military lavished great care on securing the Baghdad Oil Ministry and Iraq's oil fields, hundreds of arms depots remained unguarded in April 2003.

Five years later, the ordnance looted from those arms depots continues to be used to build IEDs. And despite spending $10 billion to defeat IEDs, the Pentagon has yet to come up with an answer to this lethal threat to our troops.
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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Protesters Heckle Bush At July 4 Monticello Event

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With the carefully pre-screened, hand-picked audiences that he has always faced in his eight years in the White House, it's not often that George W. Bush gets a earful from ordinary citizens.

But he did on July 4, as protesters spoke out for many of us when they screamed "Impeach Bush!" and "War Criminal!" to Bush during a July 4 appearance he made at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

I find Bush's "We believe in free speech in the United States" remark particularly ironic. Even as Bush was making this comment, protesters trying to exercise freedom of speech were being forcibly removed from the event.

Speaking of freedom of speech, how about Joseph Wilson's freedom of speech? He tried to inform the American people that Bush's case for war in Iraq was a pack of lies. In return, his wife, Valerie Plame was treasonously outed as a covert CIA agent, which destroyed her career (and no doubt put the lives of other agents in the field in jeopardy).

From silencing government scientists speaking out on global warming to using our tax dollars to pay a newspaper columnist to peddle propaganda, it's clear that Bush holds the concept of "freedom of speech" as much in contempt as he does the rest of the Constitution.

By the way, if you want to prevent the very real possibility that the next four years will be no different with McSame in the White House, considering donating a few bucks to Obama's campaign. If you can spare even one dollar, it'd be most appreciated. Click here to donate.