Monday, March 31, 2008

Unofficial Economic Indicator: Food-Stamp Use At Record Levels

By Manifesto Joe

Food stamps have been distributed in the U.S. since the 1960s. I'm fortunate enough to have never needed them -- although my family had a very close scrape, when my dad became terminally ill and disabled when I was 11. One thing I've learned is that things have to go very badly, for a while, for one to even qualify for the program.

Those who follow business news have no doubt heard the bad news about economic indicators such as retail sales, durable goods orders and the like. I propose to add one to the list: food stamp use. It is projected to reach, this year, its highest level since the program started over 40 years ago. I'll repeat -- just qualifying for this program is tough. So this is a very significant economic development.

This is from today's New York Times:

Driven by a painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.

The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.

But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 - to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007.

Federal benefit costs are projected to rise to $36 billion in the 2009 fiscal year from $34 billion this year.

"People sign up for food stamps when they lose their jobs, or their wages go down because their hours are cut," said Stacy Dean, director of food stamp policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, who noted that 14 states saw their rolls reach record numbers by last December.

One example is Michigan, where one in eight residents now receives food stamps. "Our caseload has more than doubled since 2000, and we're at an all-time record level," said Maureen Sorbet, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services.

Officially, U.S. unemployment isn't very high now. To wit, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on March 7:

Nonfarm payroll employment edged down in February (-63,000), and the
unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 4.8 percent, the Bureau of
Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. Employment
fell in manufacturing, construction, and retail trade. Job growth continued
in health care and in food services.

With a 4.8% jobless rate, there is now more food stamp use, both in totals and in percentage of the population, than during the now-underestimated recessions of the mid-'70s and the early '80s. Back then, joblessness sometimes topped 10 percent. I recall those recessions well -- I was in college working summer jobs during the first, and a recent M.A. graduate looking for work during the second. I think there's something wrong with this picture. Why wasn't food-stamp use greater then than it is now?

Let's read between the lines. "Employment fell in manufacturing, construction, and retail trade. Job growth continued in health care and in food services."

A lot of this probably has to do with the types of jobs people can get now, and how the U.S. economy has been essentially restructured for wage- and salary-busting.

Fewer jobs in unionized manufacturing -- they're being rapidly offshored to nonunion and lower-wage settings. Fewer jobs in construction -- those jobs tend to pay well while they last, but when they're not there, times get tough. Retail -- people have to have money to buy things.

On the plus side: health care? I've spent enough time monitoring elderly people at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to know that many of the workers are barely getting minimum wage. Food services? Forget it. In college, I had a girlfriend who was a waitress, and she complained about the pay and tips even back then, in a college town. You won't make much unless you're a certified chef, or better still, if you own that relatively rare asset that is a successful eatery.

As for the unemployed -- the stats reflect only those we know about. Not reflected are those who have, in despair, quit looking for work. Nor do they include those who have found some niche in the underground economy.

I would dare say that another factor is the so-called "welfare reform" by the Congress in 1996. The welfare rolls are indeed down sharply -- but people still feel the urge to eat. Forced to work in low-wage jobs, the erstwhile recipients generally still need the food subsidy. And, by the way, with all those new people dumped into the low-wage labor pool over the past 12 years, is it surprising that wages have declined? And with that, food-stamp use has increased?

And of course, let's not forget what effect the subprime mortgage crisis has probably had on millions of family situations. I suspect it hasn't helped.

I've had enough dealings with the business press to know that my proposal here will never fly. But I'll have a go at the windmill anyway. Food-stamp use should be included on the list of leading economic indicators. Perhaps our business-page readers should know how things are going for the bottom 10 percent, not just the fat cats.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Manifesto Joe's Star Search

This kid's great. This is Pasquale Ale Strizzi, playing Hallucinations, by the great bop piano virtuoso Bud Powell.

Look out for the Europeans on the jazz scene. They're beating Americans at what should be our game. -- MJ

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One More Reason To Be Very Afraid Of A McCain Presidency: John Hagee

John McCain used to be admired by some people to the left of him politically for his seeming recognition of how dangerous the Religious Right is. But now that the presidency is within McCain's reach, he is shamelessly sucking up to Kook Right televangelist John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas, the man who is helping with the "awakening" of the "Christian Zionist movement."

Journalism legend and fellow Texan Bill Moyers, on this video, takes a look at the extremist element McCain is now pandering to.

If McCain is elected, the world can kiss any real Mideast peace process goodbye for yet another four years. -- MJ

Postscript: This isn't the first video I put here. I appear to have been sabotaged -- well, in some way. We'll see if it was more than just coincidence.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bush's Bully-Boy Antics Cost U.S. Dearly Among Allies In Iraq Run-Up

By Manifesto Joe

Here's yet another signpost of the worst U.S. presidency in 150 years. According to a forthcoming book by leading Chilean diplomat Heraldo Munoz, the Bush administration threatened trade sanctions -- among other things -- against allied governments that, during the run-up, declined to support a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The threats of reprisals, the spying, and all the other little nasties, Munoz wrote in a book due out next month, have cost the U.S. very dearly in credibility, good will, and leadership standing among our allies since war drums started beating back in 2002.

The Washington Post report was, in part, as follows:

UNITED NATIONS -- In the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration threatened trade reprisals against friendly countries who withheld their support, spied on its allies, and pressed for the recall of U.N. envoys that resisted U.S. pressure to endorse the war, according to an upcoming book by a top Chilean diplomat.

The rough-and-tumble diplomatic strategy has generated lasting "bitterness" and "deep mistrust" in Washington's relations with allies in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, Heraldo Munoz, Chile's ambassador to the United Nations, writes in his book "A Solitary War: A Diplomat's Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons," set for publication next month.

"In the aftermath of the invasion, allies loyal to the United States were rejected, mocked and even punished" for their refusal to back a U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein's government, Munoz writes.

But this schoolyard-bully act couldn't go on indefinitely. After the invasion, when the war situation just kept getting worse, Bush had to wag his tail like a sniveling cur
and suck back up to all the "allied" governments he had pissed off in such a cavalier manner. More from WaPo:

But the tough talk dissipated as the war situation worsened, and President Bush came to reach out to many of the same allies that he had spurned. Munoz's account suggests that the U.S. strategy backfired in Latin America, damaging the administration's standing in a region that has long been dubious of U.S. military intervention.

The U.S. was already running short of friends in Latin America, for reasons that go back over a century in our respective histories. I suppose a hardened cynic might think that those south of the border should be used to American intervention by now. Our Marines have been in Nicaragua so many times, they should perhaps rename the country "Camp LeJeune South."

Anyway, in a time when leftist, anti-American (well, at least anti-Bush) governments are ascendant in the region, the high jinks over Iraq couldn't have helped matters.

You can read the entire WaPo story here.

This administration's problem -- well, one among an infinite number -- is that they keep goosestepping through the pasture in their jackboots, expecting others to follow, and even for the others to do the wiping up after the mess is made.

Most of the world could see the utter foolishness of the Iraq invasion before the fact. Bush, buoyed by pathological liar VP Dick Cheney and groveling high-class prostitute Colin Powell, led the U.S. and some of the rest of the world into this, sound advice be damned.

This is just one more chapter in the travesty. But I hope Munoz's account will circulate and somehow hasten an end to the grotesque chapter in world history that the Iraq war has been.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years And Counting In The 100 Years Iraq War: Thoughts On Bush And Saddam

By Manifesto Joe

Il Doofus, a man with a unique ability to invent his own reality every day, gave a speech at the Pentagon on the fifth anniversary of "Operation Iraqi Freedom." If you take Bush at face value, he's still very convinced of the rightness of his decision. Here's the report from McClatchy Newspapers.

Presuming that we can take this man at face value, let's just, for purposes of argument, do the same regarding the late Saddam Hussein. Saddam seemed quite convinced, to his last hour, that he was the man who "built Iraq." He cussed judges, cussed his guards; he was defiant to the very end. If there was any fear of perdition lurking in the man's heart, he never let it show.

Mind you, there's no doubt in my mind that if there is a hereafter and a God who judges, Saddam is probably in a pretty awful place now. By any objective standard, he was a murderous dictator of the Stalinist type.

But there is the perverse possibility that he really didn't see himself as an evil man. Could it be that he simply embraced that nasty little idea that making an omelet means breaking eggs? (Yes, it's a bad analogy. But it isn't mine.) In other words, that the ends justify the means?

Saddam was guilty of direct and arbitrary enormities that Bush will never match. I know there are lefties out there who may object to that statement. But the very fact that they are blogging, organizing, and able to do any of the above should illustrate the distinction. Even if the contemporary U.S. can be characterized as crypto-fascist -- I think there's a good argument for that -- at least they aren't summarily executing the likes of me, waterboarding me, or opening camps. (Well, not yet.)

It is apparent, though, that Bush & Co. have been personally responsible for a whole lot of death and suffering. Pointing out the nearly 4,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq is typical U.S. ethnocentrism. It's as though the Iraqi deaths, estimated by some sources as close to 700,000, are secondary.

Yes, Saddam was a homicidal thug. The U.S. foreign policy establishment knew that while they were supporting and arming him in the '80s, during his foolish eight-year war with Iran and his genocidal suppression of the Kurds. It wasn't until he started getting uppity against U.S. interests that anybody appears to have had a problem with him being a career sociopath.

A comparison of Saddam with Bush is a long stretch. It's like comparing a seasoned hit man to a dude in an Armani suit who had an underling hire a few killings, then pretended he just didn't know.

But there is the possibility that both men were firmly convinced of their rightness. After five years of preventable tragedy, that may be the saddest part of the story.

The killing will go on for at least another year. And if McCain is elected ... (see post title).

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

There Will Be No Florida Revote

This came in Monday, and it seems official enough. It creates more chaos in a space where more order is desperately needed. Here's the Florida Democratic Party speaking:

The situation was already bad. This is something recent from YouTube, posted by TPMtv:

Do you want John McCain to be our next president?

If not, then we Democrats need to do everything we can to mend all this ugliness, and quickly. I plead for reconciliation, and soon. -- MJ

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cayman Islands Tax Dodgers: Max Baucus Is Coming After You

By Manifesto Joe

For many years, we've read that the Cayman Islands are the place to be for a company seeking a tax haven. Now some members of Congress are finally trying to peel some layers off the onion to find out what's inside.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and others are trying to get to the bottom of this. S. 681, the proposed Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, was referred to Baucus' committee in February 2007. More recently, congressional investigators went to the islands the first week of this month to check into allegations that over $100 billion in uncollected federal income taxes are related to corporate tax havens. reported March 4:

By establishing bogus headquarters in the British territory and in other nations, some American businesses are avoiding paying their share of federal taxes, according to the Senate Finance Committee, which requested that Government Accountability Office investigators visit the Caribbean islands. ...

As much as $300 billion a year in taxes goes uncollected by the government, and by some estimates more than a third of this may be related to corporations' reliance on offshore tax havens, according to some lawmakers.

"We know that some of the gap is the responsibility of entities breaking the law by funneling money to offshore locations at the expense of honest, hard-working Americans who pay their taxes," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, said in a statement. "We need the GAO to determine fairly what's really happening with U.S. companies going offshore."

However, the GAO has noted problems with investigating offshore tax compliance in the past. In May, the investigative arm of Congress reported that such investigations were so time-consuming that they often outlasted the three-year statute of limitations for taxpayers involved in offshore financial activity.

The GAO suggested in the report that Congress make an exception to the statute of limitations for these types of probes. ...

One focus for the GAO this week will be Ugland House, a five-story building in George Town that is listed as the headquarters for thousands of U.S. and international companies.

Baucus said last year that while Ugland House is home to 12,748 companies, "this building does not house the operations of 12,748 companies." He asked the GAO, among other things, to find out "what business, if any, these corporations carry on in the Cayman Islands."

In requesting the GAO probe in June, Baucus called Ugland House "one of the most likely places shady tax transactions could be sheltered."

Let's see -- that would be an average of 2,549.6 companies per story crammed into Ugland House. I wonder how many private offices are there? gives this summary of the Senate bill, which has a House companion:

... Amends Internal Revenue Code provisions relating to tax shelter activities to: (1) establish legal presumptions against the validity of transactions involving offshore secrecy jurisdictions (i.e., foreign tax havens identified in this Act and by the Secretary of the Treasury); (2) impose restrictions on foreign jurisdictions, financial institutions, or international transactions that are of primary money laundering concern or that impede U.S. tax enforcement; (3) increase the period for Internal Revenue Service review of tax returns involving offshore secrecy jurisdictions; (4) require tax withholding agents and financial institutions to report certain information about beneficial owners of foreign-owned financial accounts and accounts established in offshore secrecy jurisdictions; and (5) disallow tax advisor opinions validating transactions in offshore secrecy jurisdictions.

Amends the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and other federal enactments to impose a penalty for failure to disclose holdings or transactions involving a foreign entity.

Requires the Secretary of the Treasury to publish a final rule requiring unregistered investment companies, including hedge funds or private equity funds, to establish anti-money laundering programs and to submit suspicious activity reports. ...

Increases penalties for promoting abusive tax shelters and for aiding and abetting the understatement of tax liability. ...

It's been 13 months since this bill was referred to committee, but sometimes good things are worth the wait. Sen. Charles "Chuck" Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking GOP member of the Finance Committee, has said he shares some of Baucus' concerns, so there are good bipartisan prospects for the bill.

Reactions to the bill on, though, were discouraging. It's no scientific polling sample, but the site seemed beset by Ron Paul cultists who tried to argue that if the U.S. had a federal income tax rate that was both low and "flat," corporations would not be setting up "shop" in offshore havens.

Questions for the libertarian Reynolds Wrap hat club: Would your "flat" tax on personal income include the income of corporate "legal persons"? Would it include income from dividends and interest? These are the people who bought into Ronald Reagan's wigged-out notion that corporate taxes are "hard to justify" because of double taxation.

So, a corporation should enjoy all the benefits of being a "legal person," but then not have to pay income tax like one? It's good ta be da king -- all the privilege, none of the responsibility.

Steve Forbes saddled up that Trojan horse during his pathetic attempts to run for president. Fortunately, the man has zero charisma. But an astonishing number of people, from what I recall, bought into his idea at face value. The sleight of hand was that it was really a tax proposed only on salaries and wages -- no dividends or interest. Even Pat Buchanan dismissed it as something that the boys at the country club would come up with.

The corporate income tax used to be a huge chunk of federal revenue, and that was during better times than these, mind you. In 1959, 39% of federal revenue came from corporate taxes (source: Internal Revenue Service statistics, via Barlett and Steele's now-classic America: What Went Wrong? (1992)) By 1989, that was down to 17%, and it's less now.

Raising taxes on the corporate titans is going to be a monumental quest for some future president and Congress. For now, an extra $100 billion would do a lot to cut the deficit. Go, Max, go.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Time To Stop Small-Time Legal Bribery Of Doctors

By Manifesto Joe

For years, it hasn't been such an uncommon sight to keep a doctor appointment in the early afternoon and see leftover pizza, or Chinese takeout, or such, around the joint. Then, a pharmaceutical salesperson emerges from the back, a walking drugstore with a big valise, after making a "sale." This person has apparently treated everybody in the clinic to lunch. (And then, written it off on the taxes as a business expense.) There are free drug samples galore, and lots of Cialis pens and coffee mugs; but it's understood that prescriptions will be written along with distribution of those samples.

I've witnessed this firsthand, and so has my wife. It's under $100 worth of perks, so it's currently accepted practice (pardon my choice of words). Not every doctor accepts these small perks, but they are legal. And, this kind of unethical coziness between the medical profession and drug companies is one facet, among many, of the U.S. health-care debacle.

The Senate has a bill, the Physician Payment Sunshine Act (S. 2029), currently in the Finance Committee. It would, according to The Associated Press: "...create a database disclosing the names and addresses of doctors who receive gifts or payments. It would also include pharmaceutical company names and the value of the gift or payment."

More specific information is on The bill would:

... amend title XI of the Social Security Act to provide for transparency in the relationship between physicians and manufacturers of drugs, devices, or medical supplies for which payment is made under Medicare, Medicaid, or SCHIP.

Sadly, this bill has been mired in committee since September, despite support from medical ethics groups. AP reported, tersely: "Drug companies oppose the act."

What are the "pro" arguments? I'll quote more from the AP story, which was not merely about doctors accepting perks. It was about doctors acting as actual shills, giving testimonials to peers for new drugs, under corporate sponsorship for damned good pay:

Pharmaceutical companies argue that doctors are an essential part of educating colleagues as new drugs are developed. ...

To summarize, their argument is: How can doctors know about new medicines, their potential side effects, their proper use, and so forth, unless they hear it from experienced peers? But, to have the symposiums sponsored by the drug companies, who are paying the doctors who are giving testimonials, seems like a pretty big ethical conflict of interest.

More from AP: PhRMA (the drug industry's lobbying arm) adopted voluntary rules in 2002 that limit the value of gifts to $100 or less and says that all forms of free entertainment, including sporting events, are inappropriate.

All very nice, but I'm offended by even seeing these reps feeding my doctor and his staff fully loaded pizza, beef broccoli and moo goo gai pan, and a lot of sales bullshit. The bill that's bogged down in the Senate committee isn't nearly strong enough. This is legal bribery, even if it's on a small scale. And I realize that any action won't have more than a tiny effect on the American health-care morass.

But on principle alone, it should be banned. And, any effect it has might work toward curbing what is clearly the chronic overmedication of the American people.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Latest Bush Flouting Of The Law Is Over EPA Ozone Rules

By Manifesto Joe

The Bush administration's contempt for the law involves a litany that goes back pretty much to Jan. 20, 2001, and even before then, if one includes the presidential campaign and an administration-"elect".

Let's add one more outrage to the long, long list. The Washington Post reports that Il Doofus himself intervened in an EPA ozone rules matter this week in an astonishing way:

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened one part of its new limits on smog-forming ozone after an unusual last-minute intervention by President Bush, according to documents released by the EPA.

EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents.

"It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference for the president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air Act leaves exclusively to EPA's expert scientific judgment," said John Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The president's order prompted a scramble by administration officials to rewrite the regulations to avoid a conflict with past EPA statements on the harm caused by ozone.

Solicitor General Paul D. Clement warned administration officials late Tuesday night that the rules contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court, according to sources familiar with the conversation. As a consequence, administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for the weakened standard.

So, where was the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency while this was happening?

WaPo again: The effort to rewrite the language -- on the day the agency faced a statutory deadline -- forced EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson to postpone at the last moment a scheduled news conference to announce the new rules. It finally took place at 6 p.m., five hours later than planned.

This is just one more among hundreds of "outrages of the day" that many have observed about the Bush administration from the beginning. But it brings to mind the disappointment of many who see this conduct for what it is. By now I would have hoped that Dick Cheney would be facing impeachment proceedings, and that the hot seat would be dusted off next for Il Doofus hisownself. But we seem to live in an age in which moral courage is lacking in high places, even among those from whom it was most expected.

To read the entirety of this particular outrage from Il Doofus and the Gang, go here.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Michael Parenti, In Rare Form

I don't always agree with radical political analyst Michael Parenti, but he's nothing short of great in this lecture carried by a blogger friend of mine. Here goes:

Click here. And check out Vierotchka (see my blog roll). She's got a great site.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Economic Trilogy, Part 3: BMW Offshoring Jobs To South Carolina

By Manifesto Joe

Back when I posted a piece called In Bush Era, U.S. Has Become A Third-World Country, I was at least half joking. It doesn't look so much like a joke now.

BMW, the German automaker, announced Monday that it will expand its plant in South Carolina, spending $750 million and adding 500 jobs at their facility in Greer (Population: something over 20,000). The company produced 155,000 vehicles last year in South Carolina and expects to increase production to 240,000 by 2012.

Simply on its face, this seems like good news. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, was in Greer for the shindig announcement. The first take would be that, hell, jobs are jobs.

It comes right after Munich-based BMW announced that it is cutting 7.5 percent of its German work force and then increasing production in the U.S. Among companies in European Union nations, locales like South Carolina seem to have become the new Bangalore, India, types of destinations when it comes to offshoring jobs.

Economists are great at academic side-stepping -- I know from having worked with several of them. The first thing mentioned was the sharp decline in the value of the dollar relative to the value of the Euro. That is affecting trade between the U.S. and the EU, and not really in a bad way for the U.S. Suddenly, we're on our way to running a trade surplus with somebody on the planet. EU exports to the U.S. are increasing, but our exports to Europe are now increasing even more because of the cheap dollar. This will help the U.S. balance of payments. And that needs all the help it can get.

But the bottom line that isn't prominently mentioned is -- cheap nonunion labor. BMW isn't talking this up much, but they acknowledge that a reason they're doing this is because the South Carolina work force works cheaper than workers in Germany.

From The Associated Press, here's the typical comment on this from a U.S. economic source:

"This is completely driven by the plunge in the dollar," said Greg Gardner with Oliver Wyman, publisher of the Harbour Report on automotive manufacturing activity. "It is untenable to produce at a much higher cost in Germany."

The euro climbed to record heights Friday, reaching $1.5463 before falling back to $1.5335 in late trading after the Federal Reserve announced it would provide more cash to banks that need it. That means European goods cost more for Americans to buy.

By building the cars in the U.S., BMW can save money on the lower dollar and on wages since its South Carolina workers make less than German workers, Gardner said.

Jeff Foxworthy may need to add something to his joke book, although it's not very funny: If you build Eurotrash carburetors for half the wages they pay over there -- then you might be a redneck.

What's next? How about computer call centers in Mississippi? In terms of communication, I can't imagine that the accent problem could be any worse than it is when you get "Kenny" in Bangalore at 3 in the morning.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Druggy Water: Drinking From The City Supply Lowered My Cholesterol 30 Points In 30 Days

By Manifesto Joe

No, not really. But the results of an Associated Press investigation released Sunday could make you wonder what's in your municipal water supply, if that's the water you drink.

The AP reported that traces of medical drugs were found in the municipal water supplies of 24 major metro areas from coast to coast. The tap water going to 41 million Americans showed these tiny quantities.

City officials were quick to point out that the amounts of pharmaceutical chemicals and over-the-counter substances here are minuscule, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion. But scientists are a bit worried about the long-term consequences for Americans' health.

And, it raises another question: Could this be yet another indicator of how egregiously overmedicated Americans have become at the hands of greedy drug companies and myopically compliant doctors?

Here are some of AP's findings:

-- Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

-- Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

--Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

_A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

-- The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

-- Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.

The AP found that officials in many cities weren't terribly cooperative. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.

For whatever reassurance this provides, the Environmental Protection Agency is aware of the phenomenon. AP again: "We recognize it is a growing concern and we're taking it very seriously," said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite the official assertions of drinking-water safety, this sounds like a job for a congressional committee. Perhaps experience has made me a little paranoid, but when there's secrecy, that usually means somebody has something to hide.

AP again:

The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city's water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.

City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that "New York City's drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system" — regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.

Some scientists theorize that the ever-increasing amounts of pharmaceuticals and OTC meds that people take are a big part of this problem. Much of the stuff leaves your body in your urine. And, here's a hint -- think before you ever flush unused pills down the commode.

Another disturbing thought is that this problem is not confined to the waters of the U.S. Such contamination has been found in chemical analysis of waters all over the world.

There are other facets of the problem. Many modern drugs, such as cholesterol meds, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic drugs, resist the most up-to-date wastewater treatment processes. And, how about animals?

AP again: Human waste isn't the only source of contamination. Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals.

Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

Are the fathead minnows our coal-mine canaries?

The recently deceased novelist Kurt Vonnegut once wrote about how drinking alcohol is made, as sort of a micro-allegory. The culture begins as yeast -- and as the yeast fungi feed on sugar, they shit alcohol (that's their version of feces). In fermentation, the increasingly polluted environment gradually destroys yeast, leaving the alcohol
behind for us reprobates to enjoy. I hope this doesn't really bother anyone next time they pour a couple of fingers of Jack Daniels -- that they're drinking yeast shit. It's never deterred me.

The relevance of this allegory is that we -- the yeast fungi who somehow climbed up out of the muck, began walking on two legs and invented plumbing -- seem to be doing something like that to ourselves on a grandiose scale, and on several fronts. This, if it's as bad as some researchers fear, is just one more way we may be doing ourselves in as a species.

There are serious inconveniences that this phenomenon would have potential to cause. Most men would never aspire to breast enlargement; I have yet to receive a spam e-mail from Stephanie or Inga making me such an offer. I certainly wouldn't want it courtesy of estrogen in my tap water.

Congress persons, step up to the plate. We need panel hearings on this issue.

To read the entire AP report, go here.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

An Update On The AWOL Economy

By Manifesto Joe

In case there was any doubt after Thursday's bad news (see the previous post on this blog) that the U.S. economy is sort of absent without leave, Friday's news, and more tidbits from Thursday, probably erased it all.

Here are more economic news nuggets for your dining and dancing pleasure:

-- The Labor Department estimated that the U.S. lost 63,000 jobs in February, far more than analysts had expected.

-- This from The New York Times: "On Thursday, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that about 7.9 percent of all loans - a record high - were past due or in foreclosure. Until the third quarter of last year, the rate had not climbed above 7 percent since 1979."

-- More from The Times: "Home prices are falling in almost every part of the country, a phenomenon that Fed officials and many other experts until recently thought was all but impossible, and some analysts now predict that average home prices will ultimately fall 20 percent from their peak in 2006."

-- And still more from The Times: "The effect is reducing household wealth. According to data this week from the Fed, net household wealth declined by $900 billion in the fourth quarter of last year."

-- And yet still more from The Times: "Stocks dipped yet again Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 146.70 points to close at 11,893.69. The S&P 500 was off 10.97 points to close at 1293.37, while the NASAQ was down 8.01 points to 2212.49."

And then, this platitude from "President" Shithead:

"I know this is a difficult time for our economy, but we recognized the problem early (HAWHAWHAWHAWHAW...) and provided the economy with a booster shot. We will begin to see the impact over the coming months." (There is apparently going to be such impact, I don't know how they're going to afford enough Ex-Lax to handle it.)

Pardon my doubts -- I think the recession is very much unofficially here, and a deficit-stoking tax rebate that will seep through the economy in the summer isn't likely to head it off, in the least.

I speculate here, but I hope with all body and soul that we are finally emerging from a very long era of bad economic policy. The laissez-faire, "free market" model seems to keep rising from the dead, but I don't think that's evidence of its strength. It seems to have been discredited over and over.

I think what gives it a perversely enduring strength is its seeming justification for swinish behavior by the economic elite. Consider that these are the folks who give the greatest sums to political campaigns, of both parties.

If you are among the privileged, it's a way to elude guilt. After all, you're hiring gardeners, maids, drivers and cooks. You leave big tips at the country club. Rationalization: How can all this largess not "trickle down?" And then, those nasty government people just want more and more tax money?

I'm actually supposed to help pay for the roads and bridges that I only have my hired help drive over? I'm supposed to help pay for the public library? (Barnes and Noble has all the coffee-table books I want). Those liberals ought to just go out and get themselves honest jobs. Wait, what's this in the paper about outsourcing jobs to India? Oh, OK -- none of my help is affected.

And remember to have that personal secretary keep that subscription to National Review current. God rest Bill Buckley's soul.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, March 7, 2008

What Economy, Stupid?

By Manifesto Joe

Yeah, the title is an exaggeration. But it comes just after a day of very bad economic news. The recession is not yet official, but I think the question is no longer if, but when. Here are a few news nuggets from Thursday:

-- For the first time since World War II, U.S. homeowner debt now exceeds home equity.

-- In the fourth quarter of 2007, the percentage of U.S. homes caught up in foreclosure proceedings reached a record 0.83 percent.

-- The benchmark crude oil price climbed to a record $105.47. The prices of staple
groceries -- bread, milk, eggs and such -- have been been climbing in tandem.

-- The Dow Jones industrial average fell 214 points Thursday and is flirting with a dip below the 12,000 mark.

I would dare say that Republican "free" market economic policies have been given every chance to work and have proved wanting. I got my "tinkle-down" in the '80s. I'm still waiting for the "trickle-down."

The Bush "stimulus" tax sweetie-pie has yet to make its way into the economy, but don't look for it to be an answer. It will add to the deficit; and it won't help people who are about to lose their homes, their jobs, and their cars, right now. It won't help those who have been waiting for years to qualify for SSI disability or Medicaid because of the enormous backlog of applicants facing pared-down skeleton crews. It won't help the millions of medically uninsured, a number of whom are simply sent home to die.

I could stretch this litany on and on, but I won't belabor it. It should be clear that the U.S. has gone through an almost 30-year robber baron revival, a Gilded Age redux. This year, the electorate has one more opportunity to put a stop to it.

Fasten your seat belts. As Bette Davis once told moviegoers, it's going to be a bumpy ride. There won't be anything meaningful done this year because Big Business has just the cretin they chose in the Oval Office. We're looking to January 2009 for any genuine solutions.

One thing that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton more or less agree on is that taxes on the rich will have to be raised. Clinton, in one of their numerous debates, suggested that the tax structure should be returned to where it was at the beginning of 2001, before George W. Bush pushed through his sweet tax meat for the wealthy and big corporations.

That was the tax rate passed in 1993, the first year of Bill Clinton's presidency, by one vote in the House. It got no Republican votes. The marginal rates were raised, but not even close to what they had been 12 years earlier.

I'll rehash something from a previous post: You remember what happened during those '90s, the Clinton era? Republican opponents of his program predicted economic collapse ...

Unemployment rose to 25 percent. Inflation went double-digit, and interest rates topped 20 percent. There were food riots in the streets of heartland cities. Teenagers, put out of their homes, rode the rails, stole and ate yard chickens and prostituted themselves to degenerates.

The Bonus Army marched on Washington ...

Sorry -- wrong presidents, wrong eras. Seriously, the Clinton plan brought a dramatic turnaround in the federal deficit, because the government was finally collecting enough tax revenue to fund what was needed. The relatively modest tax increase on wealthy individuals somehow accompanied years of strong growth. Future generations will have reason to be grateful -- the national debt would likely be around $12 trillion now, instead of $9 trillion-plus, if it hadn't been for those eight years.

One president we wouldn't likely get any meaningful change out of is John McCain. The leader of the Straitjacket Express appears to have sold out to the Bushies on economic issues. He's committed himself -- pardon the expression -- to the Bush tax smoocherama with the rich and Big Business, pledging to make Bush's bonanzas permanent.

An important thing to remember is that the division in the Democratic Party is going to have to end soon. We're at a critical juncture in the nation's history, and we simply can't afford any more Republican economic policies. We need voters to expand the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. And, we need a Democratic president -- yes, I know there are differences between the candidates, but one or the other will be essential -- to sign the bills.

The big word is November. I hope you can pay your mortgage until then.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Texas Update: No Two-Step For Gene Kelly

By Manifesto Joe

State Democratic Party regulars are no doubt sighing in relief. State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, is coming in with just under 51 percent of primary vote, winning the outright majority he needed to avoid a runoff and be the nominee against Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Noriega has key endorsements and might actually stand a chance in November against Cornyn, a Bush shill and one of the Senate's most expendable members.

Meanwhile, Gene Kelly, perennial candidate for this or that (see previous post), will have to take his dance macabre home to Universal City, Texas. (He usually only left there to pay the filing fee, anyway.) Perhaps we've seen the last of the 81-year-old retired military lawyer. But it's not like Texans ever saw much of him. In nearly 20 years of seeking and never winning public office, Kelly rarely campaigned. Name recognition can only do just so much. Maybe if he'd changed his name to John Wayne and run as a Republican ...

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What Happened In Texas ...

By Manifesto Joe

... was that Hispanics turned out. A whole lot of them. And they voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.

It appears that El Paso put her over. She won that urban area by a ratio of over 2-to-1. That, and her strength in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, offset a big Obama vote in Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and Austin.

I feel kind of bittersweet about the whole thing. There are things I like and dislike about both, but I am very ready to support whichever one is the nominee.

It seems there was a strong Obama vote among those who cast ballots early, and among those who made up their minds early. The more undecided people, and those who waited until yesterday to vote, went mostly for Hillary. The experience argument seemed to carry a lot of weight with those who decided late.

So, if you're wondering, how did I vote? I voted Democratic, as an early voter. My wife waited until yesterday, and she also voted Democratic. That's as much as you're going to get out of me right now.

You can get the exit-poll demographic breakdown here, at

Texas postscript: A second story is that perennial candidate Gene Kelly stands a chance to make a runoff for the Democratic U.S. senatorial nomination against state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston. This is one that probably won't be decided until much later today -- Noriega was hovering at around 50 percent of the vote, with Kelly a distant second.

Kelly has run for U.S. Senate three times, and actually got the Democratic nomination and the honor of getting clobbered in 2000 by GOP incumbent Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He seldom campaigns. He's a retired military lawyer and judge, somewhere around 81 years old.

Observers have been trying to figure out how he's achieved this modest but noticeable level of success, and they figure it must be the name. "The dancer is dead," many party regulars are trying to tell the voters.

I can't help but think that if such a significant slice of the electorate is that stupid, then Rick Noriega's surname may not be helping him much.

Problem is, Kelly has actually done well enough to force the Texas Democratic Party into a couple of expensive runoffs. Keep your fingers crossed that he doesn't do it again. Here are a couple of links that tell more of the story: This one has the real info. This one is just for fun.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bush Misadventures In Mideast Blinded Him To Troubles In Latin America

By Manifesto Joe

While the U.S. remains stuck in the Iraq quagmire, and Afghanistan looks increasingly like one, too, there's plenty of trouble simmering in our own back yard. The problems of Latin America have already changed the face of America forever -- and that may be just a warm-up, because now there's the faint odor of war.

Reuters reported Sunday from Caracas:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sent troops and tanks to the Colombian border and mobilized warplanes on Sunday, warning Bogota could spark a war after it bombed inside another of its neighbors, Ecuador.

Reacting to Colombia's killing on Saturday of a Colombian rebel over the border in Ecuador, a Venezuelan ally, Chavez also withdrew all of his diplomats from Bogota in the worst dispute between the neighbors since he came to office in 1999. ...

"May God spare us a war. But we are not going to allow them violate our sovereign territory," the ex-paratrooper said.

Colombia's troops killed Raul Reyes, a leader of Marxist FARC rebels, during an attack on a jungle camp in Ecuador in a severe blow to Latin America's oldest guerrilla insurgency. The operation included air strikes and fighting across the border.

The anti-U.S. Chavez, who had warned a similar operation in Venezuela would be "cause for war," threatened to send Russian-made fighter jets into U.S. ally Colombia if its troops also struck inside his OPEC country.

Eduador's president, Rafael Correa, also sent troops to the Colombian border and expelled Colombia's ambassador.

Some analysts viewed the moves as grandstanding by Chavez, who must realize that war with Colombia would bring serious repercussions to Venezuela's economy. But if war were to break out, the U.S., being allied with Colombia and having demonized Chavez for many years, would be in a real spot.

The official U.S. response sounded pretty lame. Reuters went on:

Washington, which backs Uribe's fight against the rebels with its largest military aid outside the Middle East, said it was monitoring developments after Chavez's "odd reaction."

At this point, the only real way George W. Bush can exert influence in Latin America is militarily, and his Iraq misadventure has made that option precarious to say the least. And, given the history of hostility toward Chavez, intervention down there could well turn into yet another quagmire that the American people can't afford.

The incident suggests U.S. vulnerability, and diminished influence, as part of the pathetic Bush legacy. Obsessed with Mideast adventures, Bush has left the U.S. looking a lot like the Richard Nixon metaphor of a "pitiful, helpless giant" when it comes to dealing with events on our own hemisphere.

Pablo Bachelet of McClatchy Newspapers posted a piece, "Bush Legacy: Farewell to the Monroe Doctrine?", that is definitely worth a read. Bachelet, actually posting Saturday, the day before the troop movements were reported, wrote of Bush:

... his legacy may be the biggest loss of U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere in recent memory.

He remains unpopular and unable to pass initiatives that Latin Americans want, such as immigration reform and free-trade pacts. Trade between South America and China is booming. Governments from Canada to Iran are cutting deals in the region, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made challenging U.S. interests his foreign-policy mission, through everything from sweet oil deals to a TV news channel that rivals CNN.

I wouldn't exactly endorse some of the free-trade pacts referred to there. But at the core of the issues are the lack of serious U.S. political engagement in Latin America, and the inability to see how some economic rivals are making inroads in the region.

And the demonization of Chavez has proved costly. I have little doubt, judging from his actions, that Chavez is a power-monger (sorry, many fellow lefties). But the current administration has done plenty to antagonize him. There are conflicting accounts, but the U.S. government appears to have been, at the very least, willing to condone any success of the April 2002 coup attempt against him, had it been successful.

A bottom line here is that, whatever warts the man has, Chavez has won election after election in Venezuela, by wide margins. There haven't been credible challenges to the legitimacy of those elections. He didn't have to be appointed to the presidency by his country's high court. His popularity among common Venezuelans is beyond question, and so is his legitimacy as the nation's leader.

Normalization of relations with Venezuela would be a big step in the right direction. Chavez, I admit, makes me pretty nervous; but the U.S. fraternizes with anti-democratic strongmen who make me a lot more nervous. To wit, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf is an ally. Chavez never will be, but I would say that with him, normalization of relations is a practical and desirable option.

It won't happen under a President McCain. It might under a President Obama, or a President Clinton. There's a lot of damage to be repaired, and we can pretty much assume that no Republican administration will do it.

Another starting point would be Cuba. Bachelet also wrote:

Some critics say changing the Cuba policy also will help. A new Cuba approach, says Lawrence Wilkerson, a former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, would be a ''superb opening toward refurbishing'' the Latin America policy that he describes as "bordering on failure.''

In microcosmic terms, the U.S. has been hassling with folks across town, while the neighbors are about to start a shooting feud that we (in the editorial sense) helped start. It's time to come back to the neighborhood and rejoin the association.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

As Another Bill Rots In Subcommittee, U.S. Remains The World's Foremost Jailer

By Manifesto Joe

Although the trend is far from new, the U.S. did pass a milestone recently in its overall incarceration rate, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States. More than 1 in 100 American adults is either in prison or in jail. This is the largest prison/jail population in the world. Even far more populous China is a distant second, the report says. We're talking both numbers and per capita, going away.

The report puts the most current figure for U.S. incarcerated at 2,319,258. Of those, 171,790 are enjoying austere lodging in my home state of Texas.

The growth of the orange jump-suit set has attracted the attention of certain lawmakers. But predictably, change is coming very slowly, and one of the pertinent bills in the Congress is -- you guessed it, mired in a subcommittee.

At the federal level, one lawmaker who is trying to turn back an irrational trend is U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas. She's the sponsor of H.R. 261, the proposed Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2007.

According to, here's a description of the bill, and its status:

Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2007 - Amends the federal criminal code to direct the Bureau of Prisons, pursuant to a good time policy, to release a prisoner who has served one half or more of his or her term of imprisonment if that prisoner: (1) has attained age 45; (2) has never been convicted of a crime of violence; and (3) has not engaged in any violation, involving violent conduct, of institutional disciplinary regulations.

Latest Major Action: 2/2/2007: Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

Translation: It will be stuck there for quite a while. According to the Web site, it has no co-sponsors.

There are some other revealing statistics in the Pew report. About 1 in 9 black men aged 20 to 34 are in prison or jail, for just one example.

What happened? The report says that this is largely the result of tougher state and federal sentencing that began in the 1980s. Translation: The War on Drugs, and "Three Strikes, You're Out."

Jackson-Lee is fighting windmills for now, and only at the federal prison level at that. But this is a trend that cannot and will not continue much longer. The costs will see to that: The report says that in 20 years, state spending on corrections, adjusted for inflation, went up 127%; spending on higher education, 21%. State governments are paying nearly $50 billion a year to prop up this quasi-gulag. The federal government is paying more than $5 billion annually.

"Lock 'em up" has always played well with much of the electorate -- I will risk saying the more ignorant part of it -- but alternatives to prison must be explored, especially where the disastrous War on Drugs is concerned. The hoosegows are so full that I think it's time to refocus on offenders who have actually injured someone else, arbitrarily and directly, rather than some schmuck who gets caught with a user's amount of a controlled substance. We've done the hard-ass approach for a generation, and it has obviously run its course.

If you ever write to your representatives in Congress, it might be a good time to mention H.R. 261, since this problem is in the news.

And, I will leave you all with a link to a fine post on this subject that, among other things, also explores the disturbing trend of outsourcing incarceration to contractors. These companies operate "private" prisons that maximize profits through varied abuse, deprivation and frighteningly unsanitary conditions.

You'll find a lot more at The Existentialist Cowboy.

Be joyful that you are free -- if you more or less are.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.