Thursday, June 23, 2011

Today's Bible Verse: "Listen, You Rich People, Weep And Wail Because Of The Misery That Is Coming On You"

"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty."

---James 5:1-4, The Bible, New International Version.


One of the great political mysteries to me has always been how on earth the money-worshipping, screw-the-poor Right Wing in today's America have somehow managed to convince many people that the Bible supports their twisted beliefs.

In reality, the Bible is full of hard-core socialist messages as radical as anything I've ever written on this blog. To be sure, I've blasted America's greedy rich on a number of occasions on this site. But I've never said that, simply because one is rich, one will almost certainly burn in hell (like Jesus did).

After all, the rich who I target are those who (like the Koch brothers) who seek to destroy organized labor and America's already skimpy social safety net, simply so they can pad their already fat pockets. But I don't condemn all rich people. For a start, I admire George Soros.

Anyway, back to the Bible. It's one thing for deluded Right-Wingers to wrap themselves in the Scripture and to claim that the Bible somehow supports their beliefs. But what disappoints me far more is that the Progressives allow them to get away with this.

The fact is, the vast majority of the Bible is full of archaic, obscure verses that only a fool would claim to understand. However, the Bible does contain a number of verses that are quite clear and unambiguous.

James 5:1-4 is a good example of the latter. This passage doesn't beat around the bush: it very clearly issues a warning to rich oppressors. It condemns the greedy, exploitative rich ever bit as much as anything Marx ever wrote.

The problem is that Bible verses like this languish in obscurity. Right-Wingers carefully tip-toe away from such explosive verses that they no doubt find deeply disturbing. Instead, they dig through the Old Testament, looking for passages that seem to validate their homophobic, bigoted views. And Progressives, as always, sit around passively and allow the Right-Wing to get away with it.

We Progressives need to reclaim the Bible from the bigots, the hate-mongers, the money-grubbers and the supporters of brutal dog-eat-dog "capitalism."

Every time one of these bigoted money-grubbers claims that the Bible supports their views, we need to take crystal-clear Progressive Bible verses like James 5:1-4 and throw it into their faces.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

While Texas Kids Go Hungry, Rick Perry Lives Large On Taxpayers' Dime


Child poverty is rising sharply in Texas. But while Texas kids go hungry, Gov. Rick Perry is living a lavish lifestyle on the taxpayers' dime.

Since 2000 (the year Perry became governor) the number of Texas children living in poverty has climbed 17 percent, even as the state has gutted spending on programs for kids. Currently, an astonishing 1 in 4 Texas children lives in poverty. The infant mortality rate is also up 10 percent since 2000.

Like George W. Bush before him, Perry demands steep sacrifices from ordinary working people---while living a luxurious taxpayer-funded lifestyle.

Take Perry's mansion, for example. While Texas is facing an eye-popping $27 billion deficit, Perry is spending $9,000 per month in taxpayer's money to live in one of Austin's most upscale estates.

When the Texas governor's mansion was damaged in a 2008 fire, Perry looked around for another place to live. With the state in financial meltdown, one might think Perry would have shown a little restraint in picking his new digs.

But no such luck. In fact, as of May 2010, Perry, according to AP, had already spent nearly $600,000 in tax dollars living in a lavish 5-bedroom, 7-bathroom sprawling rental mansion the previous two years.

As AP noted, Perry's mansion is 6,386 square feet and sits on more than three acres in the hills overlooking the Texas capitol.

Here's what Perry has been spending with our tax dollars:

  • A 6,386-square-foot rental property that sits on more than three acres and was advertised in 2007 for sale at $1.85 million.
  • $18,000 for household supplies and cleaning products.
  • $1,001 in window coverings from upscale retailer Neiman Marcus.
  • $1,000 for "emergency repair" of the governor's filtered ice machine
  • A $700 clothes rack.
  • A $56,000 stipend for food and beverages.
  • Maintenance on the heated pool has cost taxpayers at least $8,400.
  • The tab for grounds and lawn maintenance has topped $44,000.

Of course, none of this comes out of Perry's own taxpayer-funded salary, which is $150,000 per year.

While Perry spends our tax dollars generously on himself, the state of Texas is sinking into an ocean of red ink. The state's deficit is one of the largest of any state and puts it in the same league as California and other states facing fiscal meltdowns.

Even though Perry is living like a king, he still demands extreme sacrifice and fiscal restraint from the rest of us. And, of course, poor people rank at the top of Perry's list among those who should "sacrifice."

For example, despite rising child poverty, Texas ranks dead last among the 50 states in its extremely miserly and Scrooge-like food stamp program.

As the Houston Chronicle noted:

Texas does not have enough workers to process food stamp applications and is one of only three states that fingerprints applicants for food assistance. The state also imposes a time-consuming and complicated assets test that impedes the effort to help desperate and hungry people, Concannon said.

As Democratic state Senator Eliot Shapleigh noted in his "Texas on the Brink" report, it's a wonder that Texas has a budget deficit at all, considering how meager the state's programs are. Texas has abysmal rankings on just about every quality of life issue that exists for working people.

Here's how Texas ranks, in comparison with the other 49 states:

  • Progressivity of Tax Revenues: 44th.
  • Average Teacher Salary As A Percentage of Average Annual Pay: 49th.
  • State Aid Per Pupil in Average Daily Attendance: 47th.
  • Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) Scores: 46th.
  • Percent of Population 25 and Older with a High School Diploma: 50th
  • Percent of the Population Without Health Insurance: 1st.
  • Percent of the Population with Employer Based Health Insurance: 46th.
  • Percent of Uninsured Children: 1st.
  • Air Pollution Emissions: 1st.
  • Rate of Incarceration: 2nd.

If Perry is elected president in 2012, we can expect a big, hefty dose of his "screw the working class" policies to be implemented at a national level. Perry is nothing less than Bush on steroids. If you think America is increasingly Third World-like now, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Remember the Iraq War? It's Baaack


The U.S. mainstream media, as well as the American public, grew tired of the Iraq War a long time ago.

Americans got weary of the depressing, mind-numbing stories of daily violence and bombings. So sometime around 2008, we just started tuning out the Iraq War. After all, we had other, more pressing issues. Like Paris Hilton's latest hairstyle. Or Britney's new boyfriend. Or Charlie Sheen's new porn star lovers.

Never mind that we Americans had been responsible in the first place for plunging Iraq into the violent hell that now consumes that nation. And all for a war based on lies and bullsh*t.

Gradually, the Iraq war just disappeared off of our radar screens. Oh, sure, we the American people, were still paying billions of our tax dollars a month, for ongoing war costs. And, of course, our troops were still dying there.

But by and large, we just lost interest. Never before in U.S. history has a war been so invisible to the American public (at least invisible to the people who aren't actually shedding their blood on the battlefields of Iraq).

But guess what?

The Iraq War is baaack.

A new savage cycle of violence is again wracking that country. And it's going to make it awful difficult for Americans, as well as the MSM, to tune out this ongoing fiasco much longer.

Consider the violence and bloodshed that has torn through Iraq in just the past month:

1. On Monday, five U.S. service members were killed in a rocket attack near Baghdad in the worst single toll for American troops in the country in at least two years.

2. Elsewhere in Iraq on Monday, violence killed 16 people, including 12 struck by a car bomb driven by a suicide attacker in Tikrit.

3. On Friday, attacks killed 24 at a Tikrit mosque and hospital where victims were being treated.

4. On Thursday, 10 people died in at least three explosions near provincial government offices in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi.

5. On May 27, an Iraqi official in charge of keeping former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party out of government was assassinated in Baghdad.

6. On May 23, a car bomb killed five policemen and two bystanders in the city of Kirkuk.

7. On May 22, at least 18 people were killed and 80 wounded in a series of roadside and car bomb bombing attacks in Baghdad.

8. On May 19, back-to-back bomb blasts in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk killed at least 27 people and wounded another 70 Thursday, officials said.

9. On May 5, a suicide bomber attacked a police training center in Hilla, killing at least 30 people and wounding 75 Thursday. 95 people were killed or injured in a series of other bombings that day.

And so it goes, on and on, day after day. And keep in mind, the above examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Dozens of smaller violent attacks occur daily.

The spiralling violence makes it difficult to believe that the U.S. will honor its agreement to pull out the remaining 46,000 combat troops by Dec. 31.

The problem is, if the troops do stay, it's difficult to imagine how the Iraq War doesn't descend into even greater chaos. Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is already rallying thousands of his supporters on the streets and vowing to lift his ongoing cease-fire and battle U.S. forces should they remain in Iraq after Dec. 31.

The latter pretty much seems inevitable, given the increase in violence in Iraq over the past few months. It's clear that the Iraq War will be grinding on and on, for a long time to come.

Film Review: "Tokyo Gore Police"


Recently, I popped this 2008 cult film into my DVD player, not really expecting much. From the box, it appeared to be yet another Japanese film based on a manga graphic novel (which I generally don't find that entertaining--save the odd exception, such as the classic Battle Royale). In any case, I watch loads of Japanese films, as I'm learning the language.

As the opening credits rolled, I was a bit bored and distracted. But five minutes into the movie, Tokyo Gore Police had my complete and full attention. I was stunned at what I was seeing. I've seen a lot of Japanese horror films and a lot of blood-soaked gorefests. But this eye-popping film takes it to another level.

Tokyo Gore Police has the ability to shock even those who are jaded and think they've "seen it all." It's incredibly bloody and violent---maybe the most gory movie ever made. By contrast, the films of Takashi Miike seem tame.

And it reminded me, once again, why I am a huge fan of Japanese cinema. Whereas today's Hollywood movies are dull, predictable and follow tiresome rules, you never know what to expect with a Japanese movie. Just when you think you've got the plot all figured out, some totally unexpected development will come out of left field to surprise you.

Do you think critics' darling Quentin Tarantino is radical, cutting-edge and dangerous? If so, watch Tokyo Gore Police. It makes Tarantino look like the over-rated, predictable bore that he really is.

Tokyo Gore Police stars the dazzlingly beautiful Eihi Shiina, who also appeared in Miike's classic, Audition. She plays a ruthless cop on the beat in a violent Tokyo of the future who relentlessly goes after bizarre, murdering monsters called "Engineers." There's a bit of Blade Runner in this film, as well as some Paul Verhoeven-style social commentary. In fact, I'm sure Verhoeven would approve of the over-the-top violence.

Throughout Tokyo Gore Police, the film takes potshots at the relentless IMF-style pressuring of nations worldwide to privatize anything and everything. In this case, the Tokyo police are privatized.

Although Japanese culture and social commentary can be alien and difficult to fathom, I'd like to at least think the film is satirizing the IMF "free market" policies that brought devastation to many East Asian economies in 1997. Personally, I'd like to see Shiina take her lethal sword to the Chicago School/Milton Friedman disciples who've been responsible for so much heartache and suffering across the planet, with their misguided deregulation schemes.

And there is blood. Lots and lots of blood.

If you like horror, blood & guts and bizarre cinematic surrealism, along with a dose of subversive social commentary, be sure to check Tokyo Gore Police out.

Tokyo Gore Police (Japanese title: 東京残酷警察).

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Unions and Competitiveness: My Interview on Labor Radio Program, 'Voices at Work'



On Friday night, I was interviewed by Ron Gonyea, co-host of the labor radio program called Voices at Work, broadcast in the Houston area on progressive station, KPFT 90.1 FM.

The focus of the interview was organized labor and how unions make a nation competitive, a topic I wrote about in my March 10, 2011 article.

Thanks to Ron and his crew for having me on their show. We need more vital, informative programs like this in the right-wing propaganda echo chamber/wasteland that is known as talk radio today.