Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sen. Ted Stevens Indicted: GOP's Longest-Serving Senator In The Crosshairs

By Manifesto Joe

The New York Times reported today that the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, Ted Stevens of Alaska, has been indicted on seven counts of falsely reporting income. This comes during a presidential election year, and one in which the 84-year-old Stevens has been seeking re-election. His challenger is Mark Begich, the Democratic mayor of Anchorage.

Click here for the complete NYT report.

It's a rule in journalism never to convict a person in print. Sen. Stevens is innocent until proved guilty.

But one can't help but wonder how a politician of the senator's vast experience could get himself into this predicament.

Ernest Hemingway, no stranger to a variety of predicaments himself, once wrote or said something in response to the common notion that old men grow wiser with age.

It was something to the effect of, "They (old men) do not become wiser. They become more careful."

Perhaps sometimes it just doesn't work either way. We'll have to wait for the courts to decide.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Geographically Challenged John McCain: That's A Broad Definition Of A Border, Iraq And Pakistan

Asked by Diane Sawyer whether the "the situation in Afghanistan in precarious and urgent," McCain responded: "I think it's serious. . . . It's a serious situation, but there's a lot of things we need to do. We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."

He's also having a hard time remembering that Czechoslovakia is a long-defunct country. Here's the piece from The Huffington Post.

What's all this about how somebody can actually get too old to be president? -- MJ

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Slicing Through 'Surge' Propaganda: Haven't We Heard It All Before?

By Manifesto Joe

Full disclosure: I have no military background. I do have 30 years of experience as a professional journalist, and have known enough U.S. history, for long enough, that at 17, I earned 6 hours of college credit in that subject just by taking a test. Take those for whatever they're worth.

My perhaps-risky thesis: The "surge" in Iraq, now being touted as some kind of unequivocal success, is yet another deception in a military campaign that will be remembered as the war that keeps on costing.

Granted, al Qaeda in Iraq has apparently been dealt some crushing blows (for now), and U.S. military casualties are sharply down. These things are being widely reported as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is in Baghdad to take stock of things.

But, the latter point, about the decline in U.S. casualties, reflects the ethnocentrism with which Americans tend to look at foreign conflicts. Juan Cole, writing on Informed Comment, points out:

Despite all the talk about Iraq being "calm," I'd like to point out that the month just before the last visit Barack Obama made to Iraq (he went in January, 2006), there were 537 civilian and ISF Iraqi casualties. In June of this year, 2008, there were 554 according to AP. These are official statistics gathered passively that probably only capture about 10 percent of the true toll.

That is, the Iraqi death toll is actually still worse now than the last time Obama was in Iraq! (See the bombings and shootings listed below for Sunday). The hype around last year's troop escalation obscures a simple fact: that Obama formed his views about the need for the US to leave Iraq at a time when its security situation was very similar to what it is now! Why a return to the bad situation in late 05 and early 06 should be greeted by the GOP as the veritable coming of the Messiah is beyond me. You have people like Joe Lieberman saying silly things like if it weren't for the troop escalation, Obama wouldn't be able to visit Iraq. Uh, he visited it before the troop escalation, just fine.

To read the entire Cole article, click here.

What we seem to be hearing is that when fewer Americans are being killed and maimed as a result of the "surge," that makes it an unequivocal success. When the furrenurs is gettin' whacked a little faster than they wuz two and a half years ago, well, that's their tough luck. It's an A-Murkan world.

And, we've heard all this before, at other times and in other places. And it hasn't been so long since we've heard it. I seem to recall that "we" (in the editorial sense) were supposed to have pretty much routed the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies in Afghanistan. Been reading or hearing any news from there lately? It ain't over till it's over. And that one, the war "we" actually have reasonable justification for, is far from over.

I also seem to recall a day in 2003 when, just weeks after the invasion of Iraq, Il Doofus staged a landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared major military operations in Iraq to be over.

The MSM mouthpieces remain very much on the Pentagon bandwagon (not to mention the Straitjacket Express), with a mantra of "Obama was dead wrong" on the outcome of the "surge."

True, Obama didn't call it right in predicting that the "surge" would bring an increase in violence.

But, given the continued toll on Iraqi civilians, reports of success seem greatly exaggerated. I think the "surge" could be pronounced a success on the day that there are no unusual civilian deaths in Iraq, that the millions of refugees can return home safely, and that a stable Iraqi government can be elected without being propped up by a U.S. military presence. Perhaps in 100 years?

I'll venture a possibly risky prediction, but one firmly based on recent U.S. history.

In January 1973, the Nixon administration finally reached that elusive "peace with honor" deal with North Vietnam. The "peace" lasted a while. Then, a couple of years later, communist troops were overrunning South Vietnam. The American people were so sick of that bottomless pit of lives and money that they said a loud and resounding "NO" when the Ford administration had the nerve to propose that "we" go back in there.

The bottom line is that the U.S. is an occupier in a land generally hostile to the occupation. And, it should come as no surprise that the resistance will hide and play possum with every "surge" that our taxpayers can be conned into bankrolling. That's the name of the game in guerrilla warfare.

I'll gamble, and predict an outcome similar to the previously cited ones. For Americans, this will be the war that keeps on costing.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

From The Cool Side Of The Seventies: Herbie Hancock's Vein Melter

Put down the '70s all you want, but culturally it was a very good period for some things.

It wasn't the finest period for jazz. But, the fusion movement was interesting, and it turned enough members of a new generation, people like me, on to jazz generally that we went back and "rediscovered" the great past eras. Like, Forties bop, Fifties "cool" jazz and hard bop, and early Sixties "free" jazz. Now I even like some of the stuff recorded before the early '40s. The music of "The Jazz Age" of the Twenties and the swing of the Thirties was often more commercial than the later stuff, but it had many high points.

Anyway, the '70s had great jazz moments: Here's one from Herbie Hancock, vintage 1973.

Have a wonderful weekend. -- MJ

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dude, Where's My Plane? FAA Recruiting High Schoolers To Be Air-Traffic Controllers

By Manifesto Joe

Full disclosure of motive: I couldn't pass up yet another opportunity to bash America's all-time most overrated president, Ronald Reagan, when I ran across this item. In 1981, The Great Prevaricator mass-fired over 11,000 members of PATCO, the air-traffic controllers union, for staging an illegal strike. He also ordered a lifelong ban on rehiring, eased 12 years later by President Clinton.

Reagan seemed mainly concerned with how tough he looked, rather than with the safety of U.S. air travelers. Now, 27 years later, the system hasn't fully recovered -- there are still fewer controllers despite the increase in air traffic -- and the scabs hired to replace the strikers are reaching retirement age. As they leave, the Federal Aviation Administration is desperate for warm bodies, even trolling high schools to recruit fresh grads into training programs.

Hold the phone. Readers, do you remember yourselves fresh out of high school? Hell, I graduated fifth in my high school class, but I was a mess during my freshman year in college. I had little self-discipline and was only beginning to develop a sense of responsibility. I would sleep in and cut some of those "101" classes, read the textbook and show up for the tests, and wonder why I got a B instead of an A. I dressed like a bum and then wondered why many people seemed to think I was one. I chain-smoked in public places. I missed deadlines for the student newspaper. It's amazing my G.P.A. never fell below 2.95. (I started making the dean's list when I was a junior and had grown up a bit.)

Again, I'm an example of someone who graduated from high school with honors. What about that student who made a C-plus in metal shop? You want this person controlling air traffic?

Here's the full article from that bastion of American newspaper journalism, the New York Post. I get the impression the Post has been trolling the high schools for cheap recruits as well. The difference is, you don't end up in a body bag after reading tabloid journalism. It's a much slower death, and only from the neck up.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from the Post exclusive:

The FAA has offered an unprecedented $100,000 bonus to air-traffic controllers throughout the country to lure them to the New York area's five understaffed radar centers - and has even begun trolling local high schools to recruit for the jobs.

The FAA began its recruitment efforts in high schools and through online ads on MySpace and Craigslist because of a severe staffing shortage and lack of experience among workers at its air-control towers.

One recent hire is a 20-year-old who is now reading the scopes for the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) center in Westbury, LI, officials said.

By 2011, 59 percent of all controllers will have less than five years on the job.

The recently hired 20-year-old man has a bachelor's degree in air-traffic control, but other new hires can come straight out of 12th grade. They go through three months of training before becoming "controllers in training" and eventually full-fledged staffers.

Let us once more ponder the Reagan legacy: Richer rich and poorer poor, deregulation of everything including lending banks, environmental horrors, and now frighteningly close calls at airports across the nation.

Here's a suggestion for President (I hope) Obama: Find every surviving member of the PATCO strike Class of '81 and offer them their jobs back, with big bonuses and raises. Then have the FAA let the high schoolers grow up some before putting countless lives in their hands.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Great Prevaricator Remembered II: With Reagan Policies, Seldom Has So Much Harm Been Done To So Many By So Few (Plus Swipes At Phil Gramm)

By Manifesto Joe

With news of a Bush/Treasury/Federal Reserve bailout of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, I'd say it's unofficially official: Reaganomics, and the 30-year era of helter-skelter deregulation that came with it, is at long last dying for good.

No, it's not dead yet. I think terminal brain cancer is a certain diagnosis. Yet Reaganomics lingers, having been reanimated repeatedly from the dead. But I don't think another long-term resurrection is possible.

And as the details of a massive bailout emerge, the person who comes to my mind is that turkey-necked geezer who presided over the first "great" round of deregulation during the '80s -- The Great Prevaricator himself, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan survives largely just in right-wing mythology. But some of his soldiers, who helped him construct this sturdy economic Trojan horse, are still with us. Despite a rebuke over a recent gaffe, former GOP Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, deregulator extraordinaire, is still John McCain's economic adviser.

Gramm, a Texas Aggie economist (Know how to spoil an Aggie party? Flush the punchbowl), earned his bars in the "conservative" movement as one of The Fibber's hardiest point men. He started in the House as a major architect of the 1981 tax cuts that, first, handed a bonanza to the wealthiest Americans. Then, those cuts plunged the federal budget so deeply into the red that piecemeal tax increases had to be sneaked past the public for many years thereafter to slow the hemorrhaging.

He was also a player in the '80s deregulation of savings and loans, which ultimately opened them up to full-scale looting. It took years, and many, many billions from the taxpayers, to clean up that mess. (Sound familiar now? To paraphrase the poet Santayana, our leaders did not remember the past, and we are ALL condemned to repeat it.)

Near the end of his venal "service" in the Senate, Gramm was a towering figure in the second "great" wave of deregulation. This from Wikipedia:

Later in his Senate career, Gramm spearheaded efforts to pass banking reform laws, including the landmark Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, which modernized Depression-era laws separating banking, insurance and brokerage activities. Between 1995 and 2000 Gramm, who was the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, received $1,000,914 in campaign contributions from the Securities & Investment industry.

Here, "modernize" means that the bill Gramm co-sponsored repealed certain New Deal-era regulations of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which had helped keep those pillars of high finance separate, and hence relatively honest and solvent, since the '30s.

Not content with leaving only this much damage imminent, Gramm helped pull off a major deregulatory coup the following year. More from Wikipedia:

Gramm was one of five co-sponsors of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which critics blame for permitting the Enron scandal to occur. At the time, Gramm's wife was on Enron's board of directors.

A big part of the CFMA was what became known as the "Enron Loophole." Again, Wikipedia:

The CFMA has received criticism for the so-called "Enron Loophole," 7 U.S.C. §2(h)(3) and (g), which exempts most over-the-counter energy trades and trading on electronic energy commodity markets. The "loophole" was drafted by Enron Lobbyists working with senator Phil Gramm seeking a deregulated atmosphere for their new experiment, "Enron On-line." ...

The legislation was passed by the Republican controlled Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton [ouch --MJ] in December 2000 to allow for the creation, for U.S. exchanges, of a new kind of derivative security, the single-stock future. An attempt to reverse this policy was vetoed by President Bush in 2008. Several Democratic Legislators introduced legislation to close the loophole from 2000-2006, but were unsuccessful due to Republican control of the House and Senate.

So, in the ensuing years, Phil acquired a succession of nicknames, including "Enron Phil" for the CFMA, and recently "Foreclosure Phil" for his banking "modernization."

For more on the extent of the profound injuries that then-Sen. Phil Gramm personally inflicted on America, click here for a Joe Conason article in Salon.

But enough with beating up on a now-obvious sleazebag operative like Gramm. Let's go back a generation, and longer, to that moth-eaten spirit ultimately behind the Enron accounting scandal, and behind what is becoming known as the Panic of 2008. It's that mythical right-wing figure, the man Gore Vidal once perceptively described as "grandmotherly": Reagan.

The Sixties spawned a unique cast of characters who lingered and did their dance macabre across our collective unconscious, on their way to oblivion. The same seems to be happening with the malefactors of the Eighties, the Armani-clad hooligans of the Reagan era.

They seem determined not to go away completely, at least not right away. But I foresee a day when they will be like withered cranks at small-town school board meetings, voted out of office but showing up in enfeebled bids to harass those who replaced them. An effectively permanent death seems at hand.

Going back to the Fannie Mae/Freddy Mac bailout -- and perhaps forward toward many more -- here are a couple of especially significant quotes from The New York Times on this story:

The companies, known as government-sponsored enterprises, or G.S.E.’s, touch nearly half of the nation’s mortgages by either owning or guaranteeing them, and the debt securities they issue to finance their operations are widely owned by foreign governments, pension funds, mutual funds, big companies and other large institutional investors.

“G.S.E. debt is held by financial institutions around the world,” Mr. (Treasury Secretary Henry) Paulson said in his statement. “Its continued strength is important to maintaining confidence and stability in our financial system and our financial markets. Therefore we must take steps to address the current situation as we move to a stronger regulatory structure.”

"... a stronger regulatory structure"? This from a Bush Cabinet member?

R.I.P., Ronnie Reagan. (And Phil Gramm?)

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

'Enron Phil' And Whiner Nation: McStain Has An Adviser Problem

By Manifesto Joe

No sooner than the last problems regarding former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, as McStain's economic adviser had calmed, did "Enron Phil," as he is known in some circles, stick a big fat Gucci in his oral cavity Friday.

Gramm, a senator from 1985 through 2002 and a House member before then, wrote much of the deregulatory legislation that made accounting travesties like those at Enron and Arthur Andersen possible. Something one can't say is that the man hasn't got plenty of chutzpah.

Bloomberg News reports:

Gramm, a vice chairman of UBS Securities LLC, said in an interview with the Washington Times that despite the sluggish economy, high oil prices, job losses and the mortgage crisis, growth in the U.S. has stayed around 1 percent.

``You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession,'' Gramm told the paper. ``We may have a recession; we haven't had one yet.''

``We have sort of become a nation of whiners,'' Gramm said in the interview. ``You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness."

McStain had to do rapid damage control. More from Bloomberg:

Republican John McCain rejected comments by economic adviser and former Texas Senator Phil Gramm that the U.S. is in a ``mental recession'' and is a ``nation of whiners.''

``Phil Gramm does not speak for me. I speak for me, so I strongly disagree,'' McCain told reporters after a town hall meeting in Belleville, Michigan, today. ``I believe that the person here in Michigan that just lost his job isn't suffering from a mental recession.'' Nor are people whining, he said. ``America is in great difficulty.''

And more still:

Asked about reports McCain was considering Gramm as his Treasury secretary if elected, McCain said: ``I think Senator Gramm would be in serious consideration for ambassador to Belarus.''

``I'm not sure how the people of Minsk'' would feel about that, McCain said.

Let's take a walk down memory lane where "Cracker" Gramm is concerned. (Yeah, I know that's politically incorrect, but he's also known thusly in some circles, actually being from Georgia, not Texas.)

This is a man who went to college and grad school largely on programs for disadvantaged people, and got a doctorate in economics. He got a professorship at state-funded Texas A&M University. Once ensconced in Aggieland, he decided to kick the ladder down on those trying to follow in his footsteps. After he got into Congress as a right-wing Democrat (quite a feat for an Aggie professor), he consistently voted to cut the very programs that made his success possible. By 1984 he was running for senator as a Republican. All the while, he had never made a dime in the private sector. His primary income had always originated from taxpayers.

As mentioned before, he was the author of much deregulatory law that made debacles like Enron and Arthur Andersen possible. While he was a senator, Enron heaped largess upon his campaigns, and his wife, Wendy, served on Enron's board of directors while hubby was in the Senate.

There is plenty more Gramm family pond scum. But suffice it to say that I'd like to get Phil Gramm into a room with some of the Enron workers who saw their life savings incinerated by white-collar crime, and see what happens after he tells them that they are a bunch of "whiners."

To hook back: No matter how much McStain backpeddles on this one, a pattern of bad judgment about advisers and confidants is emerging. Gramm was picked to be economic adviser. Did McCain not know about the slimy ghosts of Enron Phil's past?

And recall Charlie Black, PR man for assorted Third World despots, who recently said something to the effect that a terrorist attack on the U.S. this year would be very advantageous to McStain. So far, Black is still with the GOP campaign. Between Charlie and Phil, this says a lot.

To read more on the Gramm family/Enron connection, click here for a 2002 article in The Nation.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cornyn Watch, Update: Senator Cornhole Changes To The Other Side On Medicare

By Manifesto Joe

But the question is, will he change back?

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was one of several Republican senators who finally decided to vote against the Bush administration's Medicare cuts Wednesday, when the Senate cast another vote on the bill. Could it be that Senator Cornhole has carefully considered the ramifications for his re-election campaign?

Both Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, were among the 40 who earlier kept the Senate from reaching the 60 votes to invoke cloture the last time this bill came to a Senate vote. It was 58 for, 40 against. This time, enough of the GOPhers switched to make it 69-30, seemingly a veto-proof majority for H.R 6331, the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008.

But what if Il Doofus comes through with the anticipated veto? Will Senator Cornhole, or for that matter, 1962 edition UT cheerleader Kay Bailey (H), stick with the majority, or cave? (Cue in cheesy organ music.)

This may be interesting to watch. As mentioned on this blog before, Cornyn has a very credible challenger in his bid for a second Senate term. State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, trails by only single digits in most Texas polls -- pretty good for a Texas Democrat in recent years.

"Go Team" Kay has a rep for being almost a "moderate" Republican by contemporary standards, so her switch in time wasn't shocking. Senator Cornhole has been a more of a reliable water boy for Il Doofus' team, so that switch actually surprised me a bit. But of course, he wants a second term. And when the Texas Medical Association withdrew an endorsement of him after the first vote, that probably made an impression.

Let's see what he does when this comes to brass tacks. But no matter what Cornhole does, if I were Rick Noriega, I wouldn't let the old people or the medical establishment of this state forget about that first vote. Stay tuned.

Postscript: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was absent for this vote.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Dead On The Fourth Of July: Jesse Helms (1921-2008)

If God is in heaven, and we will all stand before him as traditional faith holds, I'll have plenty of sins of my own to answer for.

But I definitely wouldn't want to swap shoes with the former North Carolina Republican senator, who passed away on Independence Day. Perhaps it's a sin in itself to reflect poorly upon the dead. But I wouldn't want to have to answer for the legacy of racism and chauvinism that Mr. Helms would have to.

Here's the Associated Press obit. Some of you may be amused over a former GOP congressman's comparison of Helms to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both of whom died on July 4, 1826. -- MJ

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Baseball Campaign Ad That Democrats Should Run, But Won't

By Manifesto Joe

Here's the scenario:

FADE IN to a Major League baseball stadium. A game is under way, and it's in the later innings. A runner is on third base. A batter hits a fly ball to the right fielder. The right fielder zeros in on it and catches it like a first-rate pro. The runner tags up and goes for home plate. This outfielder has a rifle for an arm. But he throws the ball into the bleachers, and then does a victory dance, arms raised in triumph. The runner scores. Everyone in the stadium shakes their head. FADE OUT.

FADE IN: The right fielder comes to bat in the bottom half of the inning. There's a runner on first.

The right fielder nails a line drive into the left-center alley, and the ball goes all the way to the wall. It looks like a certain triple, and an RBI.

But the right fielder takes off in a sprint for third base, running the bases backasswards. The runner who was on first advances to second, but then pulls up, not sure what the hell to do.

The opposing team members look on in amazement when the right fielder rounds the bases, backasswards, with Ty Cobb aggression, and slides into first base, spikes up. Nobody will go near this fucking maniac, not even the umps.

FADE OUT TO BLACK. "A Voice" comes on, soft and fast, as in a disclaimer:

"Being able to get things done doesn't necessarily mean you will get them done right. The Republican Party has brought us George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, the Iraq war, Medicare cuts, and $4-a-gallon gasoline. They've done plenty, only backwards."

FADE IN, back to the right fielder aggressively sliding into first base from the wrong direction. "A Voice" again: "Don't you think we should change direction, and soon?

FADE OUT TO BLACK: "I'm Howard Dean, and I approved this message. ARRRRAAAAGGGHHHHAAAA!!!!

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.