Monday, April 28, 2008

A Compliment To Jeremiah Wright: Reverend, You're No John Hagee

In perusing YouTube, I found contrasting videos that vividly illustrate something: Barack Obama shouldn't have to be ducking any association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Agree with him or not, Wright is a gifted preacher and a genuine intellectual. "Pastor" John Hagee, who has endorsed John McCain for president, is at best a demented, foolish zealot, and at worst an opportunistic bigot.

McCain has been largely given a news media pass on his association with Hagee, a man who actually said that Hurricane Katrina was God's judgment on that modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, New Orleans. (It's on one of the videos to follow.)

Well, enough from this Jeremiah. Let's go on to the one called Wright. And then, to John the Rubber-Room Baptist. -- MJ

Intermission. Have a barf bag ready.

Any questions, class?

World Food Riots: When The 'Free' Market Starves Many Millions

By Manifesto Joe

"Free" market dogma and stereotypes have long portrayed "socialism" and protectionism as ideologies that bring only poverty and hunger to nations. There is some modest historical evidence for that case. Yet now, after decades of globalization, neoliberalism, deregulation, tearing down trade barriers and such, world food prices are alarmingly inflated. Food riots are erupting all over the developing world.

The Bush administration's response to a suddenly burgeoning crisis has been predictably pathetic. Congress has been ineffectual as well. The modern agricultural marketplace, with aggressive and skewed export policies and overemphasis on "free" trade, has brought the U.S. and the world the latest in a cluster of existential crises.

Well-fed Americans can truly no longer just look the other way while many millions around the globe go hungry. World hunger is a threat to our own national security.

Oakland Institute Executive Director Anuradha Mittal, writing for AlterNet, reports:

World food prices rose by 39 percent in the last year. Rice alone rose to a 19-year high in March - an increase of 50 per cent in two weeks alone - while the real price of wheat has hit a 28-year high.

As a result, food riots erupted in Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. For the 3 billion people in the world who subsist on $2 a day or less, the leap in food prices is a killer. They spend a majority of their income on food, and when the price goes up, they can't afford to feed themselves or their families.

Analysts have pointed to some obvious causes, such as increased demand from China and India, whose economies are booming. Rising fuel and fertilizer costs, increased use of bio-fuels and climate change have all played a part.

But less obvious causes have also had a profound effect on food prices.

Over the last few decades, the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose devastating policies on developing countries. By requiring countries to open up their agriculture market to giant multinational companies, by insisting that countries dismantle their marketing boards and by persuading them to specialize in exportable cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and even flowers, they have driven the poorest countries into a downward spiral.

In the last thirty years, developing countries that used to be self-sufficient in food have turned into large food importers. Dismantling of marketing boards that kept commodities in a rolling stock to be released in event of a bad harvest, thus protecting both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices, has further worsened the situation.

Those policies of marketing boards, of keeping commodities in a rolling stock in the event of a poor harvest, sound a lot like Keynesian economics in principle, do they not? It's analogous to, in government fiscal policy, running a surplus in good times and a deficit in bad. That's classic Keynes.

Regulation and planning, when done judiciously, moderately and in the genuine public interest, are suddenly looking very wise. Too bad so few people have been heeding that viewpoint for the past 30 years.

From The Washington Post, we have a report on what the Beltway People are doing. The report:

The Bush administration and Congress have been caught flat-footed by rapidly escalating global food prices and are scrambling to respond to a crisis that they increasingly view as a threat to U.S. national security, according to government officials, congressional staffers and human rights experts.

(Never mind all those hungry bellies. National security is Job One.)

The White House released $200 million in emergency wheat stores for developing countries last week ...

Top Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are pressing the White House to devote more money to emergency food aid ...

But administration officials and legislative aides acknowledge that they have only recently begun to focus on the severity of the problem, and humanitarian groups fear that assistance from the United States, which supplies about half of the world's total food aid, may come too late to provide much benefit in the near term.

It is an especially horrible problem in Haiti, one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest countries. Local rice production has been gradually undermined by "market" preference for exports from Florida, rendering the nation much less able to feed its struggling population than ever before. The crisis recently cost Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis his job.

Poor people down there are literally eating cookies made partially from mud. I'm not joking; there are stories and photos about this. Impoverished Haitians are really doing anything, and everything, that can be done to fill empty bellies.

Welcome to the New World Order -- it's a lot different from the one advertised 15 or 20 years ago. Most of the world literally got f**ked on the altar of "free" enterprise and globalism.

Mittal goes on to make what seem like very sane suggestions to prevent mass starvation:

First, it is essential to have safety nets and public distribution systems put in place. Donor countries should provide more aid immediately to support government efforts in poor countries and respond to appeals from U.N. agencies, which are desperately seeking $500 million by May 1.

Second, we should help affected countries develop their agricultural sectors to feed more of their own people and decrease their dependence on food imports. We should promote production and consumption of local crops raised by small, sustainable farms instead of growing cash crops for western markets. And we should support a country's effort to manage stocks and pricing so as to limit the volatility of food prices.

To embrace these crucial policies, however, we need to stop worshipping the golden calf of the so-called free market and embrace, instead, the principle of food sovereignty. Every country and every people have a right to food that is affordable. When the market deprives them of this, it is the market that has to give.

Amen, bro. Now try telling that to American Republicans, and in particular to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. You know, one of the three people from among whom we will choose the next U.S. president. That's a chilling thought.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Belated Appreciation For The Insanity Of Captain Beefheart

Here's a video incorporating Don Van Vliet's surrealist song titled Tropical Hot Dog Night (1978), posted by flowerpunkchip on YouTube:

For those who prefer, here's a more straight-up rendition:

Madness, on occasion, can be exquisite. -- MJ

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blast From The Recent Past: Olbermann Calls Il Doofus A Fascist

I missed this when it came out in February, after that "spontaneous" Republican walkout from the House. It's a good enough comment to do a redux now, many weeks later. This was posted on YouTube on Valentine's Day by CSPANJUNKIEdotORG.

Just how long the media moguls are going to let Keith Olbermann do this sort of thing on MSNBC is a question to ponder. In many places, he would not merely be suspended or fired. He would go to a concentration camp, or perhaps just disappear. The Pinochet regime in Chile had a trick, I've read, where they would just fly a plane off the coast, with a suspected dissident on board, then just eject the person over open water. Like, we'll let the sharks do the rest.

Well, on with the show, this is it. -- MJ:

Cornyn Watch: The Apparatchik Has Mucho Dinero, So Noriega Vs. Cornyn Will Be David Vs. Goliath

By Manifesto Joe

In Texas, we've gotten used to perennially uneven contests. They reflect a dysfunctional plutocracy, and then the beneficiaries try to pass it off as "democratic."

The latest on Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas and shill supreme for Il Doofus, is that he's floating (not swimming -- that actually takes work) atop a veritable ocean of donations. According to the April 20 "PoliTex" blog of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

The first-term Republican announced this week (now last) that he has raised $1.6 million since winning the March primary in a walk. That gives him $8.7 million in the bank for his race against Democratic state Rep. Rick Noriega. ...

Noriega's camp said the Houston Democrat raised $478,548 for the first quarter of 2008 and has about $329,000 on hand.

It's easy to understand why Texas isn't the best place to go up against the smug forces of evil plutocracy in America. It's practically Ground Zero for that: all those oil and natural gas thieves, reactionary agricultural interests, unregulated scam businesses, practitioners of the new sex slavery, human trafficking, sweatshops ... you name it, we've got it.

A fight for decency has got to start somewhere.

John Cornyn, with his laissez-faire Republican philosophy, represents, at best, an ineffectual, privileged status quo. At worst, he is a de facto mouthpiece for the very people who brought the underground Third World here. As one of the typical "conservatives" of his generation who demonizes government, he always played into the hands of the wealthy who routinely hired undocumented gardeners and maids because they worked cheap. But now, the monied ones are unseemly indignant when the restaurant help can't speak a lot of English. Such an inconvenience.

Enter state Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston. This is a man who embodies the greatness of Texas' Hispanic heritage, one who could show us the path to a far better state. If Rick can get the crucial backing he needs, I think he has a real chance to topple our reigning Ken Doll in November.

More about Rick, from his Web site:

Rick was raised in Houston, Texas. He graduated from Mt. Carmel High School in 1976 and attended Alvin Junior College on a Rusk athletic scholarship. It was during these formative years that he learned to work hard to get far in life.

In 1984, Rick completed his undergraduate education with the help of an ROTC scholarship at the University of Houston, receiving his commission in the United States Army. He went on to earn a Master's Degree in Public Administration in 1990 at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he was an editor of the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy.

Rick felt compelled to answer the call and serve in the U.S. Army in the wake of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. He was an airborne school and service commander of the 143rd Infantry Detachment (Long-Range Surveillance), an aide to Brigadier General David Heuer, and aide-de-camp to General Samuel Turk, Adjutant General of the Texas Army National Guard.

But Rick's service in the Army did not end there. He became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Texas Army National Guard, and served as deputy garrison commander of the KMTC training facility in Kabul, Afghanistan after 9/11. Rick was deployed in Afghanistan for a total of 14 months until August 2005, and he was also the Laredo Border Sector Commander in Operation Jump Start during the summer of 2006.

Upon his return from Afghanistan, Rick was tapped by Mayor Bill White as Incident Commander of Houston's Hurricane Katrina relief efforts at the George R. Brown Convention Center. His leadership with the military, as well as his record in community service, was crucial as the GRB was transformed into a virtual city that cared for nearly 30,000 evacuees, and was then dismantled in the course of less than a month. At the center, Rick coordinated medical, employment, travel, housing and food services for more than 2,000 evacuees living on-site.

There's a lot more here. I don't think anybody is going to give this man any shit if he forgets to wear a flag lapel pin some Monday morning on the campaign trail. (But, looking at his resume, he's probably the sort of guy who will always remember to do that.)

Noriega represents a unique chance for a Democrat to win statewide office in Texas, for the first time since 1990. I hope he can get some out-of-state money; Cornyn has most of the Lone Star State high-rollers lined up. It's high damn time Texas had someone besides the usual plutocrats representing us in Washington.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Debate, And The West Texas Sect: American Media Have Reached A Historic Nadir

By Manifesto Joe

For decades it has been noted that a highly effective device that characterizes modern ruling-class America -- (crypto-fascism, that smiley-face wearing a flag lapel pin) -- is news media that confuses and trivializes issues, ever digressing from substance and toward the most contemptible sideshows.

It's been a few days since the astonishing ABC News mishandling of the Democratic Pennsylvania Primary debate, so everyone's had a chance to watch YouTube and then just calm down a bit. But in hindsight, this remains one of the most obvious examples of a corporate media con job.

We got a great deal of time from moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopolous, you know -- going over the Rev. Wright, Hillary's Bosnia account, flag lapel pins, and so forth. This was a lot of time that could have been spent talking about the Iraq war (turning for the worse lately), health care, taxes, spying on citizens, and other issues of at least marginally greater importance. I really wish Hillary, and especially Barack Obama, would have, or could have, told these fools in so many words just how completely full of shit they are.

I suppose this shouldn't pose any surprise for people who have been watching the American media situation for a good while.

To digress a bit myself, the other day I was watching CNN Headline News -- my God, what tabloid trash that channel has become -- and heard one of their model-ish happy faces "ask," regarding the story of the West Texas polygamist ranch: Why is there so much fascination with this story? And this model-ish woman didn't even snicker.

This story is a prime example of how U.S. media usually serve the purpose of distracting the public, getting them to think about anything, yes, but anything, other than what really counts.

The focus of the polygamist ranch story, so far, has been largely lascivious. Dirty old men forcing "marriage" and rape upon 13-year-old girls, and so forth.

Largely ignored amid all this was a story in the April 13 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, one that I got around to about a week later. That's how good our national media are at getting to the marrow of things.

The headline on Page One was "Federal money helped finance polygamist sect." This illustrates how easy it really is to get a no-bid military contract. Here are excerpts from the story:

American taxpayers have unwittingly helped finance a polygamist sect that is now the focus of a massive child abuse investigation in West Texas, with a business tied to the group receiving a nearly $1 million loan from the federal government and $1.2 million in military contracts. ...

... New Era Manufacturing in Las Vegas, has been awarded more than $1.2 million in federal government contracts, with most of the money coming in recent years from the Defense Department for wheel and brake components for military aircraft.

A large portion of the awards were preferential no-bid or "sole source" contracts because of the company's classification as a small business, according to online databases that track federal government appropriations.

It's bad enough that this sect was functioning, sanctifying statutory rape, and eventually kicking a couple of thousand teenage boys out onto the road (you know, less competition for the smelly old men for the young girls) and so forth. Yes, it's all very contemptible.

But lost in all this was the use of taxpayer money to actually subsidize this outlaw sect's existence. And, nobody was even minding the store when it came to handing out these no-bid military contracts. (Hey, at least Halliburton doesn't allow its employees stationed in the hard-core Muslim Mideast to practice the four-wives custom. That's about all I would give them credit for.)

Back to the Democratic debate: No, it should come as no surprise that our news media have become the source of bread and circuses for a multitude of fools. Clearly, this seems to have become their job. But, in what could be the most crucial presidential campaign in U.S. history, we have people figuratively in polka-dot bloomers and red rubber noses who are more or less in control of the largest, most influential channels of public discourse.

I can only hope that the eventual Democratic presidential nominee will somehow persevere.

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you wish -- but I suspect that most of this has come about somewhat by corporate design. The goal has been to create toothless, diversionary TV news monoliths for the masses. I am sure that Edward R. Murrow, or even Walter Cronkite, couldn't get a decent gig in today's media. ("Dudes, you're too homely. And Ed, you smoke too much. Get a job at a newspaper. If you can find one.")

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More Evidence: IRS Bullies Pick On Little Folks, Let Fatcats Skate

By Manifesto Joe

OK, it's April 15, so a skewering of the IRS is de rigueur. And The New York Times has furnished just the skewer for the job.

NYT reports that, according to a new study, big corporations have less to fear from the IRS than at any time in the past 20 years. The study was released Sunday by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a research group affiliated with Syracuse University.

The study cited "a historic collapse in audits" of Corporate America. And it wouldn't surprise me if there are some unofficial Bush administration policies lurking in the woodpile.

According to The Times:

It found that major corporations -- defined as those with assets of at least $250 million -- have about a 1-in-4 chance of being audited, down from about 3 in 4 in 1990.

In contrast, audits of smaller businesses, defined as those with between $10 million and $50 million in assets, increased from 12.3% in 2005 to 15% in 2007. The comparable figures for increasingly larger corporations went like this:

-- $50 million to $100 million in assets, 16.4% in 2005, 11.4% in 2007.
-- $100 million to $250 million, 17.5% in 2005, 12.1% in 2007.

Detect a pattern here? Some in the tax profession do. Again from The Times:

The IRS focus on smaller companies upset some tax professionals. "I'm still trying to find my jaw on the ground from the finding that audit rates for the big boys are plummeting," said Dean Zerbe, managing director of Alliant Group, a tax planning company.

What does the IRS have to say about this, considering all their tough talk about enforcement in recent years? The Times, again:

... IRS officials ... said Friday that TRAC had misinterpreted a basic shift in corporate America in recent years, saying that companies of all sizes -- and some wealthy individuals -- have embraced the use of partnerships and other opaque entities in an effort to minimize taxes.

I just checked, and my wallet is still in my back pocket.

If you've had the experience of dealing with the IRS as a little fish, you know that the fillet knife is usually wielded to scale. The big fish are much harder to handle, and the trend seems to reflect this.

And, given the Gilded Age, robber-baron sensibilities that our executive branch of government has exhibited for seven-plus years, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the IRS has changed its focus in this way.

Congress investigates a lot of things, and the IRS has been called on the carpet in the past over other abuses. Maybe it's time for our intrepid reps to find out why, when audit time comes, the tax Gestapo now tends to bully smaller companies while turning a blind eye to Cayman Islands tax dodgers. Inquiring minds should want to know.

For more on the subject, here's a link to my post from last April.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Obama Vs. Strawmen: Barack Knows Some Of The Context, But ...

By Manifesto Joe

Nobody got very tough with Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker during Tuesday's questioning by senators on the Iraq disaster. That really wasn't to be expected, not even from presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. John McCain, of course, aped the banal Republican rah-rahs that were anticipated from him.

But Obama did show a shining moment of clarity during a round of questioning. He took a couple of minutes to make a flat statement: In essence, the decision to invade Iraq was a massive strategic blunder -- one that he opposed from the start. He laid out some historical context of this fiasco -- but unfortunately, not all.

Understanding that he's running for president, that's probably as candid a statement as could be expected from Obama. For pragmatic reasons, he had to stop short of certain arguments: That the Iraq war is, at its core, about oil, as the U.S. and other powers would not have worried about a local despot like Saddam Hussein had he not been sitting atop the world's third-largest reserve; that this was clearly an invasion, an act of aggression, arguably in violation of international law; and that the rest of the world has widely regarded the U.S. as a rogue superpower ever since.

Obama pointed out that the particular terrorist "threats" in Iraq exist because of the invasion, and did not exist prior to it. He said there is really no hope for stabilizing the region without the involvement of neighboring Iran, so we're going to have to talk with them sooner or later.

He acknowledged that the men he was questioning were not the ones who made the decision to invade. They are simply the ones left to "clean up the mess."

A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq seems to have been ruled out by all concerned, including Obama.

The Illinois senator seems to appreciate some of the context of this predicament, but perhaps not all.

I am just old enough to have started following public affairs as a tween/teen during the late '60s and early '70s. I, for one, do not love the smell of napalm in the morning -- it smells much like defeat, not victory. It smells like the Vietnam War, and all those familiar rationalizations for the U.S. to just stay, and stay, and stay some more, year after bloody year.

The historical context that Obama doesn't grasp, or at least feigns not to, is that there really isn't going to be a quick way to "clean up" a mess this big. Ultimately, the Iraqis will have to do that themselves, and it won't be easy. The wounds will still be there in 50 years, maybe even 100.

As Yogi Berra said, it's deja vu all over again. I vividly remember the "de-Americanization" and "Vietnamization" of the war of 40 years ago. The escalation, and how that buildup of troops was supposed to eventually pacify the country. I recall Richard Nixon on TV many nights, telling us about how we had to stick it out and "win the peace."

I remember being told how much more competent, how much less corrupt, how much more democratic the South Vietnamese puppet government was becoming. How the South Vietnamese were going to control their destiny, as soon as those communist villains were beaten back into the jungle holes where they belonged.

There are different words for all this nowadays. Instead of escalation, we have the "surge." We have "progress," "sustainable security," and the like. And of course, we have a time frame for these things that, listening to Petraeus and Crocker, seems without end.

Obama did go so far as to suggest that a timetable for withdrawal would be pressure that the current Iraqi government may need if it is ever to become truly viable. If he's thinking anything beyond that, he was careful not to let on, and I expected that.

Barack Obama was born in 1961 (and I honestly don't hold that against him). But consequently, he was a first-grader during the Tet offensive. He would have been an eighth-grader when America saw video of a helicopter being pushed off the side of an aircraft carrier headed out of a lost Vietnam. What he knows about the parallels between then and now would mostly have to come from history lessons.

I hope he was a great student of that subject, and knows more about this than he's letting on just now.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Job Market 2009: A Video Forecast

The meaning of this video, recently posted on YouTube by Hillbillycuzz, seems ambiguous. Looked at one way, one could consider it xenophobic. But I found the role-reversal humor irresistible. Regardless of your viewpoint on immigration policy, this is funny. --MJ

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Manifesto Joe's Great Moments In Conservative History, Chapter 7: Bush Turns Masher

There's been a news report that German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not plan to attend the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing because of China's human rights record.

George W. Bush, the report said, plans to be there. It's my theory that Merkel isn't going to show because she doesn't want another of those shoulder massages like Bush gave her a couple of years ago at the G-8 Summit.

I wonder, did he call her Merkie-Merk? -- MJ