Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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

By Manifesto Joe

The signs are all there, beneath the jingoist bluster and superficial prosperity. George W. Babbitt still swaggers on the golf course and talks a great game, but it's getting tougher to make the mortgage payments on his family's $300,000 house. For his commute, the gas-guzzling Hummer has been traded in for a "sensible" Ford Taurus with leather seats.

And then, below, mostly out of sight, are the people who never had it that good, and never will. The ones who have no hope of "retiring." The ones who don't know how they can afford to make their old car pass the emissions test. The ones who would declare bankruptcy but don't know if they can qualify under the tougher new (Republican) laws. The ones who know the best bargains on navy beans and Vienna sausages.

Life in America has always been deodorized excrement for a certain minority among us.

But that minority is growing, and the middle class is feeling the pressure.

George W. Bush isn't solely responsible for U.S. descent into Third-World stagnation. But his policies have festively crowned all the economic royalism that went before him.

Food inflation is running far ahead of "core" inflation, at 4.4% (much higher for staples) compared to about 2%; yes, largely because of factors somewhat out of this administration's control, like fuel/transportation prices and rising demand from developing nations like China. But amid this, our "leaders" have been codifying policies that ever enrich the most fortunate among us, rather than make it easier for struggling people to eat and live halfway decent lives. The burden of living in America -- for health care, for a living wage, for transportation, for education, for anything that elevates people above mere brutish existence, is ever shifted upon those least able to pay.

How has this administration responded to the marginalization of America's working class? With the all the greed and conceit one would expect of economic royalists. Bush is the anti-FDR, even going beyond Reagan on that score. FDR was excoriated as a traitor to his class; no one could ever accuse Bush of that. He has devoted his entire political life to destroying all that FDR did for people who never had a "lock" on the better things in life, like little George always had. But then, what would one expect from a spoiled rich kid who got his childhood kicks killing frogs with strategically inserted firecrackers?

There have been far too many "outrages of the day" to account for all of them, but Citizens for Tax Justice has summed up the irresponsible fiscal policies of the Bush administration thusly, on Sept. 13:

"President George W. Bush has added $3 trillion to the national debt so far, despite inheriting a balanced budget when he took office in 2001. Since then, Congress has been forced to raise the statutory limit on the total amount the federal government is allowed to borrow four times -- in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006. Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation to raise the debt limit a fifth time, to an unprecedented $9.815 trillion, to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its debts and being unable to borrow any more. In contrast, when Bush took office, the debt limit was $5.950 trillion -- $3.9 trillion less than the new amount."

This was done in part by foisting a new Reaganomics policy on the country, with big tax cuts for everyone with the ability to pay, and little or nothing for anyone else. And then, obviously, by starting a totally elective foreign war.

What this amounts to is a tax on our futures. And the people who put George W. Bush in office clearly don't intend to be the ones who pay it. Even if things turn a little rough for them, 1930s-style, they can "afford" the rent-a-cops, the political consultants, the local government functionaries, the National Guard units, and if necessary, the brown-shirted goons, to help them keep their "rightful, destined" positions in life.

Does any of this sound familiar? Mexico and many other Third World societies come to mind. I wonder: Will George W. Bush ultimately go down in history as OUR Third-World strongman? Our Batista? Our Franco? Our Mubutu Sese-Seko? Our Suharto? Our Ferdinand Marcos?

At the same time as the economic screws are being tightened, the political ones are as well. The effective suspension of some Constitutional rights in the country, among other things, is an eerie tandem to the economic trend.

It's going to get worse. The news from countries like China, that have been buying U.S. Treasuries and have waning confidence in the dollar, gets grimmer all the time. There will come a day when there's no one left to borrow from.

The economic model for a Third-World country goes sort of like: 10% have about 90% of the effective wealth; about 30%, a precarious middle-class life; and the remaining 60% live in poverty.

I can foresee Canada soon having an illegal immigrant problem, what with the current trends in America. Hell, I'm ready to pack up and go now. Vamos, al norte! Any journalism jobs in Winnipeg? They aren't even building any fences on that border, not yet.

Jokes aside, many right-wingers would urge me to go, today. But this is my country, too, and I'm old enough to remember when it was a better place. I can remember when people who made $8 an hour (or the inflation-adjusted equivalent) were interested in organizing unions, not being duped by Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. I can remember when many of them seemed to understand who it really was that was screwing them.

It's all looking way too Mexico, stolen elections and all. When they said it can happen here, they were thinking of far worse things. But the Third World looks bad enough.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Now's The Time To Say No To Big Media: Any Genuine Democracy May Be At Stake

By Manifesto Joe

Some 40 or 50 years ago, many major media outlets in the U.S. were private, family-owned companies. They weren't always dependable when the public interest was at stake. But they were somewhat accountable to the local public, and generally did a better job of covering local issues.

A funny thing happened on the way to corporate consolidation, and conglomeration. The family-owned outlets -- they seem almost as dated as mom and pop stores now -- sometimes operated with profit margins as low as 8%. The owners often understood the long-term value of a good product and were willing to invest in it. Since the '70s, as more outlets became outposts for public companies delivering stockholders profit margins of 20-30%, coverage of local news has suffered, and consolidation has progressed at an alarming pace.

Some in the Senate seem to be wising up, and see that much of the problem is with the policies of the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is holding hearings leading up to an anticipated Dec. 18 decision on whether to ease rules on cross-ownership in media markets. Chairman Kevin Martin seems to want to hand the Bush administration, in its waning days, a lasting victory for the right wing by ensuring that the media consolidation we've seen for decades will not just continue, but accelerate.

(Yes, I said the right wing. Anybody who still thinks U.S. corporate media have a liberal bias needs to retire among like-minded, German-fluent folks in a South American country.)

Senate Bill 2332, the proposed Media Ownership Act of 2007, would at least be a modest first step toward restoring diverse and independent media voices. As Corporatism has ascended, media ownership has become one of the crucial battlegrounds. And, advocates of genuine democracy have been losing every battle on that field for a very long time. This is a chance to win one.

Amazingly, a bit of bipartisan support seems to be emerging for this bill. Freepress.net reports that the chief co-sponsors of S. 2332 are Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. The bad news is that Lott hasn't been able to interest many other Senate Republicans in the bill. (I can't imagine why not.) But Dorgan reports that Democratic support is very strong. The question will be whether enough Republicans will sign on to make this veto-proof. That hasn't worked well so far this year.

WashingtonWatch.com summarizes the bill thusly:

"S. 2332 would promote transparency in the adoption of new media ownership rules by the Federal Communications Commission, and to establish an independent panel to make recommendations on how to increase the representation of women and minorities in broadcast media ownership."

Sadly, two-thirds of the people voting on that site have opposed the bill, which tells me that much of the public doesn't realize that genuine democracy could hang in the balance. Rupert Murdoch recently acquired The Wall Street Journal, a development that will probably expand the right-wing bluster beyond the op-ed page. McClatchy Newspapers recently swallowed Knight Ridder (Hey, buds around KC: Did you think maybe they would change the name of your venerable paper to the Kansas City Bee?) Clear Channel Communications has built an empire of 1,200 radio stations, done in little more than a decade. This from Wikipedia:

"Clear Channel Communications purchased its first FM station in San Antonio in 1972. The company purchased the second "clear channel" AM station WOAI in 1975. In 1986, the company purchased its first stations outside of San Antonio. In 1992, the U.S. Congress relaxed radio ownership rules slightly, allowing the company to acquire more than 2 stations per market. By 1995, Clear Channel owned 43 radio stations and 16 television stations. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law. This act deregulated media ownership, allowing a company to own more stations than previously. Clear Channel went on a buying spree, purchasing more than 70 other media companies, plus individual stations."

I'll spare you all any more stats. They're there in abundance. Check out Professor Edward S. Herman on any search engine.

I've worked in news media for nearly 30 years, and one thing I can tell you is that local ownership usually beats corporate, for many reasons. The public tends to be better served by a company that has a stake in the community, and isn't just trying to deliver maximum profits to the stockholders. From what I've seen, the employees are treated a little better, and that means that more quality people will stay in this, a tough and undervalued profession, rather than do something more lucrative.

The Senate bill is in committee now, where too many good ones languish and eventually die. I urge any and all to weigh in for this, as just a simple first step. Having our mass media in the hands of ever fewer owners, accountable to a faceless mass of shareholders, is one more nail in democracy's coffin. Fascism already seems to be about halfway here; this could be a pivotal battle.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bush Sullies Day Of Honor For Vets By Stooping To Deceitful Hack Politics

By Manifesto Joe

George W. Bush's invisible nose must have grown yet an inch or two more during his weekly Saturday morning radio address. And FDR, who began the tradition of the radio speeches -- well, I hope his soul is at rest so he doesn't have to hear this lying bilge from the Pretender in Chief.

On the eve of a national day of honor for our military veterans, Bush took the low road, jabbing at Democrats about a veterans programs bill that is still pending in Congress. The Associated Press quoted Bush:

"Congress let the fiscal year end without passing this bill that they know our veterans need. The time to act is running out ... The best way members of Congress can give thanks to our veterans is to give me a clean bill that I can sign into law."

For a refreshing change, AP didn't cover this with a reporter who wrote like a stenographer with amnesia. AP writer Deb Riechmann wrote:

Congress has never delivered to Bush a veterans affairs spending bill by Veterans Day, even when Capitol Hill was run by Republicans. And even veterans groups have been reluctant to criticize this year's Congress for the delay, because they are thankful for the large budget increases already engineered by Democrats since they assumed the majority in January. They added $3.4 billion to the veterans' budget in February and $1.8 billion in May. ...

The veterans' bill adds $3.7 billion over Bush's request for the Veterans Affairs Department's budget. The increase would ease waiting times to claim VA health benefits and add money to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

The article does explain that Bush and the Democrats in Congress are wrangling over other domestic spending attached to the bill. On Capitol Hill, that's politics as usual. But for Bush to choose this time to snipe at his political opponents over funding for veterans programs, with his administration's record, goes beyond lying hypocrisy and somewhere into the territory of nauseating pond scum.

And on this of all days, it contemptibly dishonors the brave people who have sacrificed lives, limbs and sound minds for a needless, crypto-fascist war that was very likely cooked up over foreign oil.

This is the same administration that has neglected veterans for years and years, allowing Walter Reed Army Hospital to become a fetid scandal, systematically denying returning veterans access to medical and psychiatric treatment, stretching our military to the breaking point, ad infinitum. And now they're beating their chests over Iran, even when it looks like the neo-con adventure in Iraq is basically lost, and even when the Taliban insurgency is coming back in Afghanistan. Been hearing the news from there lately? Doesn't sound like "we" tended to business early on.

This is just more evidence that Bush and his administration are utterly without shame. I get the impression that this may be the lasting lesson that Bush learned from his now-elusive brain, Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove. Something like -- boy, you have to get over this honesty shit. The idea is to win, and to say whatever it takes to get you there.

But perhaps, at long last, their supposed gamesmanship isn't working anymore. The Pretender's disapproval ratings now exceed Nixon's at their worst. They're over 50 percent.

This, of course, is no time for the undeceived to be complacent about next year's elections. But it should be clear by now, even to many conservative types, that this administration is the worst of modern America, branded not only by incompetence but also by serial mendacity and catastrophic hubris. And an antidote is essential.

President James Buchanan (1857-61), wherever you are: You may be only the second worst American commander in chief now.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Norman Mailer: 1923-2007

I must note the passing of Norman Mailer, perhaps the last of a breed of "holy fool" of American letters. I wasn't a big fan of the prose style. But he seemed to plunge into literature with the same remarkable abandon that he exhibited throughout most of his booze-fueled, pugnacious, defiant public/private life.

Like Hemingway, he could be an arrogant bully. But I'd rather knock back a few rounds with him, or even spar a couple with him, than with Brett Easton Ellis anytime.

Bon voyage, Norman. That you lived to be 84 is a testament to the human liver. That someone like you ever lived among us at all is a testament to the human spirit. -- MJ

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bush Shrugged: Administration Looks Craven As Musharraf Steps Up Crackdown

By Manifesto Joe

For all the bravado and posturing we've seen from the Bush administration since 9-11, the chickenhawks seem to have met their match in a rather unimpressive Pakistani general named Pervez Musharraf. As democracy activists and lawyers around Pakistan are rounded up in the name of homeland security, all we are hearing from Washington is that it's "regrettable" but that the aid to our crucial ally in the War on Terrorism will likely continue. Maybe someone should ask some of the Pakistani detainees how they would define terrorism.

In all, about 1,500 arrest warrants were issued. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the de facto opposition leader, is keeping pretty quiet and staying home. There is reportedly a chill being felt all about, with just a few small protests quickly broken up by police.

And of course, few have any more knowledge of where Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar are hiding.

We can't know much about what's happening on the streets of Pakistan. Musharraf's police state has blacked out all uncooperative domestic media, as well as the major Western outlets.

Something clearly emerging from this, in any case, is the ultimate impotence of the Bush administration. It is just one more of many diplomatic disasters for them, but they are piling up. Our current State Department is about as useless as tits on a boar hog, and all it takes is a Third-World tyrant like the Mush Man to show the full picture of what Tricky Dick Nixon described as a "pitiful, helpless giant."

If Musharraf has now clearly become a liability, an international rodent, it wasn't something that couldn't have been predicted long ago. U.S. policymakers decided to get in bed with him, as they have with so many other sulfur-scented dictators. The odor tends to travel. Now they discover that they have little influence over his reckless actions. One thinks of a variation of the line from Claude Rains' character in Casablanca: "I'm shocked, shocked to find jackbooted thugs running this country!"

Chalk it up as one more big American foreign policy blunder -- trusting this creep with anything, ever -- and it seems like the U.S. has been on a special roll on this sort of thing since January 2001. One would have to go back nearly 150 years, to the James Buchanan administration, to find a time when the screw-ups piled up higher.

But I somehow suspect that, secretly, when Bush heard that Musharraf had suspended the constitution, he pondered, "Now, why didn't Turd Blossom ever think of that?"

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Musharraf Is Just Doing What Bush Wishes He Could Do, And U.S. Has Long Supported The Likes Of Him

By Manifesto Joe

Pakistan has often seemed to me like an ally for the foolhardy, if one is actually interested in promulgating world democracy. Now, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the nation's "president," has done exactly what I would have expected, suspending the nation's constitution, blacking out unsupportive media, replacing the chief justice, and putting the jackboots on the streets -- purportedly to preempt "rising Islamic extremism." Any of this sound familiar?

The Associated Press reported that the U.S said it was "disappointed." Give me a break. We're talking here about Il Doofus, who in 1998 described the governorship of Texas, a far easier job, in this way: "You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier." (Governing Magazine 7/98)

The Mush Man never seemed like anyone the U.S. -- the real U.S. -- should ever have trusted. According to some accounts, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar may be taking refuge in a remote part of that very country, right now. Mushie and his supporters don't really want to jack around with the part of the country where the likes of them might be hiding.

If there had been any remaining doubt, I think we should know exactly what Musharraf is about by now. The opposition politicians and media in that country figured it out long ago.

But when it comes to U.S. foreign policy mistakes, this man is nothing new. Let's review the very long history of "pro-American strongmen." "We Americans," in the editorial sense, have a history of betting on lots of enemies of the people who, even with all our liberty-loving, moral sensibilities put aside, turned out to be mostly losing horses.

Let's see: There were the Somozas in Nicaragua; Vietnam's Diem and Thieu; China's Chiang Kai-shek; Cuba's Batista; the South African Apartheid regimes; Haiti's Papa Doc and Baby Doc; Congo's Mobutu Sese-Seko; assorted authoritarian regimes in Mexico; the Saudi royal family's kingdom; the Shah of Iran; Chile's Pinochet; murderous governments in places like El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina; Indonesia's Suharto; Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines ...

The list is getting pretty long. I know I'm forgetting some. I recall that Spain's Franco and Portugal's Salazar weren't badly treated, for decades. (The rationale was that at least they weren't commies.)

And then, there were two who really turned into sour apples: Panama's Manuel Noriega, and that fellow in Iraq named Saddam ...

The support of allegedly pro-American dictators doesn't seem to yield good results in the long term. I recall an '80s TV debate in which the now-deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell, a bona fide fool, said that "it's OK to make friends with a skunk as long as he's spraying in the direction of your enemies."

But there's a problem there, Jer, wherever you are: In the CIA, even the pseudo-pragmatists call it "blowback." The wind can change any day.

"Murka," get ready for some serious stench from Pakistan. This petty little dictator has been trouble for a very long time. "We," in the editorial sense, just haven't seemed to recognize it, for the most part.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.