Friday, August 31, 2007

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

By Manifesto Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Originally posted March 20, 2007

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned war to divert public attention away from scandal(s). According to some sources, the Bush administration has one planned, and it may be just a question of when: days, weeks or months.
The Times of India published this report last month:
US preparations for invading Iran are complete: Report
[By] Rashmee Roshan Lal
LONDON: American preparations for invading Iran are complete and a major conventional war with Teheran could begin any day, according to a chilling new report that coincides with leading US Democrat Congressmen's warning to President Bush that he does not have the authority to go to war with Iran.

The report, by authoritative defence expert Dan Plesch, says American military operations for Iran "extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran's military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons."

Plesch, who is known to be well-connected and well-networked at the very highest reaches of the trans-Atlantic political and defence establishment, quoted unnamed British military sources to say that "the US military switched its whole focus to Iran" as soon as Saddam Hussein was kicked out of Baghdad.

He said his sources added that the US has continued this target-Iran strategy ever since, even though the American infantry continues to be bogged down fighting the insurgency in Iraq.

In an assertion that has astonished European capitals, the defence guru claimed that despite the gross failure to re-build post-Saddam Iraq, American hubris extends to plans for a "peaceful" post-invasion "settlement" for Iran. This plan will seek to create a federal nation, an "Iran of the regions", he said.
With the administration embattled with yet another scandal, involving the firing of U.S. attorneys, it's such a convenient time for Big Brother to get us a new, improved enemy, one that even many liberals can hate. After all, that country's leader is a hard-liner who has even denied that the Holocaust took place. He seems more than a bit of a kook -- even more of one than we have in the White House. (You know, the fella who has lots of meaningful dialogues with God, now that he's sober.)
I won't discuss whether such a war, to be fought over Iran's apparent nuclear ambitions, would be justified. I won't go back in time, to 1953, about how the U.S. set itself up for this dilemma by engineering a coup that overthrew a legitimate nationalist government and installed the Shah in power for 25 brutal years, largely because Big Oil coveted Iran's reserves. I won't even go into the usual tedious humanitarian objections to all the civilian carnage that would surely follow such an invasion. Let us assume here as the Right does, just for the sake of argument, that U.S. moral authority is beyond question and that we would have a perfect right to lay waste to large portions of Iran and its people, unless its government backs down on the nukes.
A new military adventure of this kind by the Bush neo-con cabal would have the potential to become a far worse disaster than the Iraq war has been. The problem is, and has been for four years now, that our all-volunteer military is severely overextended. We've already got two wars going, and even the one in Afghanistan now looks far from over. This administration, with its remarkable hubris, did not pick our battles wisely.
Afghanistan, historically, is a very bad place to make war. But toppling the Taliban seemed very much the thing to do at the time, since they were harboring bin Laden and al-Qaida. But then the neo-cons soon got us into an elective war in Iraq, one that at least initially had nothing at all to do with the particular terrorists we were supposed to be hunting. Message to the Right Wing: There was no verifiable link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida; even the administration conceded that, albeit long after the invasion.
To be sure, Saddam was an evil dude. But he was being effectively contained; and toppling him got U.S. troops caught up in a bloody civil war, and actually opened Iraq's borders so that al-Qaida terrorists could enter the country after that.
It's hard to understand how even the most indoctrinated super-patriot fails to see that this was, at the very least, a devastating blunder. And, there's not going to be any good way out of it.
And now we're looking at the possibility of war with Iran. Certainly they don't have the military technology to win, at least not outright. Their infrastructure would likely be demolished quickly.
But consider: This is a country of 70 million, over three times the size of Iraq, with the median age of the male population being 25.4 years, according to the CIA Factbook. And, as the Israelis discovered long ago, women can shoot, too. They can be very lethal rifle soldiers.
That's an awful lot of cannon fodder. Would there be an insurgency? Imagine Iraq, times 3 or 4. And Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite. The Iranians wouldn't likely be fighting each other very much, as the Iraqis are.
It's a bigger country than Iraq in land mass, too, and there's lots of mountains. It would require a huge occupation force. (Hey, young fellas -- ready to get that draft notice from Chickenhawk George?)
And, what will the neighbors think? Iraq has Shiite militias that aren't openly fighting us now. If we invade a Shiite neighbor, do you figure they might? And what about Syria, to name only one Arab country that might be chapped?
Let's think on an even broader scale. Is there a possibility that Israel would get involved on our side, and then attacked? (Not necessarily in that order.) They have nukes, by the way. And hey, I just remembered that Russia and China have nukes, too. Lots of them. And big armies. And they've already warned the U.S. against such military action. We can only hope that they would be loath to get involved in such a bloody mess and would limit themselves to strong condemnations of U.S. actions.
We've got the potential for World War III here, with the entire Mideast as Ground Zero. Surely, one would think, our leaders would be circumspect enough not to get us involved in such a needless Armageddon.
But think again. Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, has written about a group of men who served during the Reagan administration in the 1980s, and also Bush the First in early '90s, as high-level, but not top-level, officials. They were often referred to (reportedly, for one, by then-General Colin Powell) as "the crazies." Name any reckless military action you can imagine from that time, and they were for it.
Guess what? These are the men who have been in charge of Bush policy in the Mideast, for over six years.
And one thing we've seen over and over is that a nasty war, with lots of burning Humvees, bodybags and gutwagons, will be Page One, at least for a good while. In that news budget meeting, the fired U.S. attorneys wouldn't stand a chance. And flag lapel pins will become mandatory. ("Hey, hippie, America's at war. Git a f***ing haircut and join the f***ing Marines!")
I'm not much of a gambler. But if I were, I would bet a modest sum that the U.S., Israel and other allies would eventually win such a protracted, epic war -- but the costs would be almost unimaginable. Envision the United Kingdom in 1946 -- victorious, but in ruins. I would wager further that the U.S. would emerge in a similar condition, and our world "hegenomy" would be ceded to up-and-comers like China, Japan and India. I don't think that's what the neo-cons, or any other "cons" for that matter, had in mind. Believe it or not, Righties, that ain't even what them godless liberals wants.
And by the way, this plan for postwar Iran -- sounds mighty familiar, doesn't it? Our officials seem to be stuck in a mode of: "We're going to make all the same mistakes again. But we're going to make them better this time."
Now back to that Times of India report:
Defence experts said the revelation that America's military planning is advanced and well-calibrated to wipe out chunks of Iran's installations and infrastructure and could lay bare swathes of the country was bound to scare policy makers and diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic. ...

Plesch's report claimed the US Army, Navy, Air Force and marines have all prepared battle plans and spent four years building bases and training for "Operation Iranian Freedom". He added that Admiral Fallon, the new head of US Central Command, has inherited computerised plans under the name TIRANNT (Theatre Iran Near Term).

He chillingly claimed, "US defence establishment's programme called "Global Strike" means that, without any obvious signal, what was done to Serbia and Lebanon can be done overnight to the whole of Iran." He added saying, "We, and probably the Iranians, would not know about it until after the bombs fell. Forces that hide will suffer the fate of Saddam's armies, once their positions are known." 

Semper fi, y'all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

To Gonzales: Corruptibility Was Your Weak Suit

By Manifesto Joe

It's the Horatio Alger story of a man who went from being the son of an alcoholic Texas migrant worker to a Harvard-educated lawyer, state Supreme Court justice and U.S. attorney general. Then, to resignation under a cloud, and scandal that's unlikely to end for years. Fredo, it's been some ride.

But I can't feel sorry for you, because you did this to yourself. It's not even the stuff that Greek tragedies were made of, because it was all too sordid, too early. It appears to be a case of ambition turning yet another potential hero into just one more human dunghill.

Ethically speaking, there were plenty of opportunities along the way for you to stop and check your notes. But you were always too eager to get ahead. In 1996, you helped get then-Gov. George W. Bush excused from jury duty, so he wouldn't have to disclose a 1976 drunken driving arrest in Maine. Were you thinking about your future then?

There was your crucial role in the torture scandals that have dogged this administration since 9-11. This description is from an Associated Press report:

In a legal memo in 2002, he (Gonzales) contended that Bush had the right to waive anti-torture laws and international treaties that protected prisoners of war. The memo said some of the prisoner-of-war protections contained in the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" and that in any event, the treaty did not apply to enemy combatants in the war on terror.

Human rights groups later contended his memo led directly to the abuses exposed in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

Then, of course, there were the obviously partisan firings of the U.S. attorneys, your bedside manner with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004 over the wiretapping question, and so forth. All of this has been well-covered. And so were your many "I don't know" and "I can't recall" answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee back in April.

All along, it has reeked of an old Warner Brothers movie script about a bright, ambitious, hardworking kid who rises from the ethnic slums, but makes too many Faustian bargains on his way up. Perfect casting for Paul Muni, circa 1937.

But you're nobody's hero now, Fredo. And Paul Muni would have come clean near the end and exposed the bad guys. Something tells me you would never dream of doing anything that decent. Corruptibility was always your problem, and that will never change.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

I Wouldn't Want To Be In Al-Maliki's Skin If Hillary's Elected

By Manifesto Joe

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doesn't seem to think very far ahead. This has been a problem with the government he's headed since Day One, with his obvious inability to unite any of the factions there. But now he's showing a talent for shitting where he lives -- and that is under very heavy U.S. protection that may not last that much longer.

Granted, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin both said last week that al-Maliki should be replaced as Iraqi head of state, simply because he's been ineffective. Al-Maliki had a few days to think this over, but responded by verbally counterattacking. According to The Associated Press, he said the aforementioned critics should "come to their senses" and stop treating Iraq "like one of their villages."

A head of state who's been treading on ice as thin as al-Maliki has should perhaps have considered that, come January 2009, there's a fair chance that it will no longer be George W. Bush, but Hillary Clinton, that he will be dealing with as leader of a "sponsoring" superpower. That is, if he's still around then.

I can certainly understand the resentment behind his statement: The U.S. has, unfortunately, been dealing with most of the Third World like that for 60 years, and even longer off and on. But what Iraq needs right now is a world-class diplomat at the helm. They most decidedly do not have that.

The bottom line is that the entire U.S. policy in Iraq is manifestly a failure, so one way or another, al-Maliki's government will be sacrificed on the altar of geopolitics. Even the shills in the Mainstream Media are compelled to moments of truthfulness. This from AP:

Al-Maliki launched his verbal counteroffensive about two weeks before the American commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due in Washington to report to Congress on progress in Iraq since the introduction of 30,000 more American troops.

The presence of those reinforcements has done little to bring about political reconciliation among Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds - the key to lasting stability.

In the latest in a series of political crisis meetings, Iraq's top leaders failed again Sunday to convince the main Sunni bloc to join a new alliance of Shiites and Kurds to break the political impasse.

He may not last 17 more months, even under the pathologically stubborn sponsorship of Bush & Co. But if he's still around in January 2009, and Hillary wins ...

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Fox News Versus Iran: This Time, It's Personal

Lock your doors and hide your draft-age children -- the "journalists" at Fox News are beating the drums for a new, improved war -- with Iran.

Unless they want to go to 60-month tours of duty -- which I read that Army Secretary Pete Geren says have been absolutely ruled out -- reinstatement of the draft is the only way they could wage this kind of expanded war. Ever heard what the 20-something male population of Iran is? -- MJ

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Staying The Course: The Human Capacity For Denial Seems Infinite

By Manifesto Joe

A very significant minority of Americans, including many veterans who ought to be at least a little jaundiced in their view of the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney, still seem to support the Iraq war unconditionally. They represent an element of humanity that will doggedly march over the cliff ahead if an authority figure tells them to.

I've lived just long enough to witness this a second time. As a cub reporter, I was assigned to interview a Vietnam veteran. When I saw this guy, I thought, wow, this could be a fascinating interview. This was around '78 or '79. He had a white guy's curly "Afro," and was dressed very much in the latter-day hippie fashion.

Then he opened his mouth. This was a guy who had a wooden prosthesis from one of his knees on down as a result of his service. He told me he'd like to go back there and fight them again.

A year or so later I encountered, socially, an obvious alcoholic who had spent some time in the Hanoi Hilton. He described how he'd had pieces of bamboo jammed under his fingernails, and other modes of torture.

He also wanted to go back and fight the Vietnamese again. And he suggested that some slightly younger guys like me ought to have this desire as well. I didn't exactly agree with him, but at least he didn't become violent. He was a lot drunker than I was, so it wouldn't have been a fair fight.

What I later understood is how hard it is, after one has been so brazenly betrayed, duped and victimized, to ever look yourself in the mirror and admit that to yourself. And, that it was leaders you trusted, a long hierarchy of them, who did it to you.

Granted, neither of these men could be mistaken even for lay historians. But an aggravating thing is that I've debated this with "educated" conservatives, and they still often suggest that the biggest mistake of the Vietnam War was that we didn't fight it more aggressively, to win.

I have tried to solicit these people's memories of recent history. In the 1960s, the Korean War wasn't exactly ancient history. During 1950-51, with the vainglorious Douglas MacArthur in command, the U.S. and a few U.N. allies were fighting the Korean War "to win." Whatever else one might say about Doug, he was apparently a damned good general in a conventional war. His force overran most of the northern part of the Inchon peninsula late in 1950. But they got too close to the Yalu River, on the Chinese border, despite warnings.

The Red Chinese sent about 200,000 battle-hardened troops across the river. They mopped up the floor with U.S. forces for a few months, all but reversing the course of the war, coming close to running them right off the peninsula.

I won't get into the rest of this story -- that's what Wikipedia is for. But the point is that the world came mighty close to World War III over this. The Truman administration's subsequent restraint was mainly what prevented it.

If the U.S. had sent a big invasion force into North Vietnam, and then perhaps Laos and Cambodia, with a "surge" to try to finish off the enemy with bold and broad strikes -- well, China is right across the borders from Vietnam and Laos. And I seriously doubt that the Soviet Union would have stood by passively. Anyway, there are a lot of reasons why the Johnson and Nixon administrations were more circumspect than today's right-wingers would have had them be. (Too bad neither ever got it that the best thing would have been to get the hell out.)

A few right-leaning people do finally get it, if just barely. An amusing story I read was a reported exchange between the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and his successor in the Senate, current U.S. Sen. John McCain. McCain, as all observers of the political scene know, endured a Ph.D. in torture from the Hanoi Hilton.

Goldwater is reported to have told McCain that if he (Goldwater) had been elected president (in 1964), that McCain would never have been a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

McCain reportedly thought for a moment and replied: "No. I would have been a prisoner of war in China."

To his limited credit, McCain seems to be at least halfway in touch with what happened in Vietnam. Too bad he still doesn't get it about Iraq. And far too many other Vietnam vets still don't.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Hospital Could Still Ruin Your Life, But Soon It Won't Be Able To Collect Afterward

By Manifesto Joe

You've probably heard the horror stories: sponges left inside surgical incisions, people falling and breaking limbs, bedsores, pressure ulcers, various infections from prolonged use of catheters, patients receiving incompatible blood, and so forth.

What you may not have known is that hospitals could then bill Medicare for the cost of repairing these preventable damages. I'm nothing short of astonished to discover that this has been going on for so long -- and then, even more astonished that this, in the era of Bush, is about to change.

It's a huge anomaly for the Bush administration: They are actually about to act upon a good directive that Congress gave them in a 2006 law. The bottom line is that if somebody enters a hospital with a different ailment and ends up falling and breaking their hip, the hospital can't bill Medicare for the hip repair surgery. Until now, they've been able to do that. No kidding.

No more. The New York Times reports:

"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals each year, and the CDC says those infections cause or contribute to the death of 99,000 people a year -- about 270 a day."

And then, the ones who do live -- the hospital gets Medicare payment for repairing the damage? How long did this go on?

Oh, well, somebody finally noticed. And it didn't escape my notice that among those who did were the private insurers. Again from The Times:

"Private insurers are considering similar changes, which they said could multiply the benefits and savings for patients."

Yeah, I'm sure that was their first consideration in the matter. Well, sometimes one must take the sporadic windfalls of life where one can get them.

And, if you were worried about where the bills for these screw-ups would finally go, this is actually one of the reasons it took a year or so for this to be implemented. Again, The Times:

"When the rules were proposed in May, consumer advocates said they feared that some hospitals might charge patients for costs that Medicare refused to pay. But the final rules say, 'The hospital cannot bill the beneficiary for any charges associated with the hospital-acquired complication.' "

Enjoy it while it lasts, seniors.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Latest Iraq Carnage Once More Demonstrates Obvious Hopelessness

By Manifesto Joe

Tuesday night's attack, blamed on al Qaeda in Iraq, on a Kurdish-speaking religious sect in the northwest part of the country was the vilest of acts. I can certainly identify with the righteous anger so many feel about this kind of homicidal insanity. But it is just one more event that underscores the futility of the U.S. position there.

It was one of the worst attacks on civilians in the war, with the death toll up to at least 250, and estimates ranging as high as 500. Whole neighborhoods were reportedly leveled. Make no mistake about my views here -- extremists who commit such atrocities are nothing short of diabolical. There can be no rationalization, religious or political, for the likes of this.

But the sad fact that most Americans now seem to realize, even if our current leaders do not, is that the world's "only superpower" nonetheless has its limitations. We're trying to police a country that our "leaders" so hideously misunderstood from the beginning that there is no realistic way to clean up the mess.

This is not merely a civil war -- this is multifaceted cultural chaos that, sadly, will have to expend itself over a lot of time. The U.S. military presence doesn't frighten people who are that crazy. And, rather than extinguishing any fire, it seems to fling gasoline upon it, over and over.

There's a difference between being an isolationist and being a realist. And there's a difference between being tenacious in a positive way, and being stubbornly stupid. It's the classic case of people not knowing how to pick their battles. Iraq was clearly the wrong one to begin with, and consequently the U.S. has plenty of blood on its own hands -- several hundred thousand people, from credible accounts. Even if one assents to the amoral, crackpot "pragmatism" of the neocon view, by now even these people ought to have sense enough to know that they did something irreparably foolish.

After such a disastrous detour, it's time to find the road back to a fight against the kind of people who were actually responsible for 9-11. It will mean a senseless loss of many more lives if we have to wait 17 months for a new administration to get that process going. Congressfolk, are you listening?

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Woodstock 2007: The Times, They Definitely Have A'Changed

By Manifesto Joe

Thirty-eight years after the second-largest city in New York state assembled for three days of rock 'n' roll, drugs, nonviolence and general nakedness, The New York Times has reported that Max Yasgur's Bethel, N.Y., farm -- what's left of it -- is for sale for $8 million.

Roy Howard, 73, and Jeryl Abramson, 53, do not own the actual site where the Woodstock music festival took place. What they have is Yasgur's old house and acreage around it. Pieces of the original land have been sold over the years. Howard and Abramson are reported to have been reverent conservators of the property they had, for a while. They held "reunions" that included Melanie and Country Joe McDonald, and so forth. Now they're selling out and retiring in Arizona.

What became of the actual land that the August 1969 lovefest took place on? The Times reports:

The place where the event happened was sold to a nonprofit foundation set up by Alan Gerry, a billionaire entrepreneur and former Marine. He built an open-air performing arts center there with seating for 5,000 and lawn space for 12,000, an air-conditioned museum pavilion, a staff of guides and a kiosk where the hard of hearing can rent amplification devices. Smoking is not allowed on the grounds.

... There is lots of security. Any food that's brought in must be carried in one-gallon plastic bags. Camping is not allowed.

And -- stay away from the brown cappuccino. Man, it's way too strong.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Put Your House On The Market

OK, all you homeowners, and taxpayers out there -- it's time once more to bend over.

This video is called "Central Bank Bailout Follows 10 Years of Regulatory Failure."

The poet/philosopher George Santayana was considered a conservative, but those who have "marketed" themselves as conservatives for the past 30 years would have done well to have heeded his warning: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

But now the rest of us will have to pay a much bigger price. -- MJ

Sunday, August 12, 2007

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

By Manifesto Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the other factors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, August 10, 2007

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

By Manifesto Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Barry In The Vast Scheme of Things

By Manifesto Joe

Bonds breaks Aaron's record.

I am reminded of a quote from George Bernard Shaw. "Who is this Baby Ruth, and what does he do, anyway?"

This from the Babe himself: "I’ll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, fifty thousand dollars, or two hundred and fifty thousand dollars will I give up women. They’re too much fun."

They made sports heroes more interesting back then. Even Hank Aaron was just too much of a damn role model.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

On The American Pastime Of Jock-Sniffing

By Manifesto Joe

As a journalist, I have known my share of sportswriters. Many are intelligent, literate types who enjoy writing about athletic achievements, bringing color and human interest to coverage of the achievers. The old masters like Red Smith and Dick Young were always compelling reading.

And then there are those who seem to live vicariously through jocks. Instead of signing up for city league softball, martial arts classes, tennis lessons, yoga, or something else that might actually be salubrious to their health, they live with eyes cemented toward the Idiot Box, watching exploits of physically gifted but otherwise mediocre people who probably dissed them as pussies, nerds and male cheerleaders back in college.

In my twenties, I was much more of a sports fan than now. When the Houston Astros finally became a winning baseball team, I listened to their untelevised games on a quaint device known as a radio. I became such a boxing fan that I could recount Muhammad Ali's record in detail, and the highlights of many of his individual bouts. And he wasn't the only boxer I was that knowledgeable about. I could compute batting averages in my head. I learned more math that way than I would have in a statistics class.

In my early fifties, I'm bored with the whole thing, and the jocks have largely turned out to have cleats of clay. It was never news that many of them weren't role models. It was common knowledge, in his time, that Babe Ruth's idea of being in training was when he drank only beer -- no Scotch. Ty Cobb was also a fast-living type, and one of the meanest SOBs who ever spiked a second baseman. Mickey Mantle, my boyhood idol, I later learned was an alcoholic and an inveterate womanizer.

They all seem preferable now to the calculating multimillionaire steroid abusers who have come to light in recent years. I prefer rakes and reprobates to cheaters any day.

Barry Bonds, now on the verge of becoming baseball's all-time home run king, is under investigation regarding allegations of steroid use. We will probably never know if drug abuse was a key factor in his achievements. But I read a recent comment by Nolan Ryan, who pitched to Bonds when Ryan was near the end of his career and Bonds' was blossoming. Ryan acknowledged that Bonds was always an intimidating hitter. But he also said that when you look at old video of Bonds back when he was a Pittsburgh Pirate, he doesn't look like the same guy as now. The same head, but with a strikingly different body in a much bigger uniform. Does this suggest something?

Then there's Michael Vick, charged in federal court with dogfighting. Yes, he's innocent until proved guilty. But here's a link I couldn't resist: the Michael Vick Dog Chew Toy. Go to this site to buy this for the canine in your life. (Postscript: Sorry, the site owners changed this, and now the link doesn't work.) (They changed it again, so now it works for me.) If Vick were merely accused of 'roid abuse, at least he wouldn't be suspected of that kind of subhuman sadism. Boozing, brawling and womanizing somehow don't compare with people seeming to regard themselves as that far above the law.

I started out discussing sportswriters, but the pastime of jock-sniffing affects tens of millions of Americans. I can't tell you how many times I've politely brushed off the start of a "How About Them Cowboys" conversation, and with somebody who obviously never played football. Whether the Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl or go 3-13, they have nothing to do with my life, or with the lives of the people who try to converse with me about them.

Please, Americans, spend some of that spare time power-walking instead of vegging in front of ESPN. It will cut down on the obesity problem. And perhaps there would be fewer multimillionaire sociopaths.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

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

By Manifesto Joe

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

This today from AP:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, at least Tony Snow is doing his job.

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

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

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Time To Face It: The War Is Lost

By Manifesto Joe
There comes a time when it makes sense for people to wake up and recognize when they have either led the way, or have been led, into a giant pile of shit. There have been a lot of wake-up calls about the Iraq war for years, but Wednesday should have been the day everybody knew at last how high the excrement was heaped. This from The New York Times:
"BAGHDAD, Aug. 1 — Iraq's largest Sunni political faction resigned from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's cabinet on Wednesday, severely weakening the government's credentials as a national unity coalition and setting back hopes of reconciliation.

"The move was accompanied by a wave of bombings in Baghdad that killed at least 76 people, including a suicide attack with a fuel tanker that killed about 50 people at a crowded gas station in the middle-class district of Mansour.

"The Sunni Arab bloc's withdrawal, announced at the beginning of a monthlong break by Parliament, is another serious blow to hopes that Iraq's feuding political parties could pass legislation sought by Congress as evidence of progress by Sept. 15.
"That is the date on which Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will present their official assessment in Washington. Although Mr. Maliki's Shiite-dominated coalition still retains a parliamentary majority, most analysts believe that any legislation on matters of reconciliation passed without the backing of the main Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Consensus Front, would be virtually meaningless."
I'm sure we're just going to hear a lot more "stay the course" rhetoric for months. But it's time to face it, this thing is over. The current policy is just ensuring more deaths, more maimed and disfigured people, and more regional instability for decades.
This is a different kind of war, one in which it is perhaps more dangerous to be a civilian than a combatant. Reuters reported Wednesday: "The Iraqi government said 1,653 civilians were killed in July, a third more than the previous month, despite a fall in the number of deaths among U.S. troops."
It's no easy thing to withdraw a large military force from a war zone, but we'd better start soon. Congress needs to confront the Bush "administration" again right away, upon return from August recess. The continued U.S. military presence is only exacerbating the situation; and the action was, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, "a grotesque mistake" from the beginning.
There isn't going to be any neat, clean way out of this. But the first step is in the direction where there aren't any hills of manure. Leave the cleanup for later.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.