Saturday, January 30, 2010

Obama, Not Quitting, Kicks House GOP Ass On Their Own Turf

By Manifesto Joe

Barack Obama may go down as a one-term president, given the corporate money that is almost certainly coming to bear against him after the recent Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance. But he's telling Republicans, with no uncertainty, that he's not quitting, and will be in their faces until the day he has to leave office.

Obama was very presidential, and nothing short of brilliant, during his videotaped encounter with House Republicans during their Baltimore retreat Friday. This may have been one last bid to get across to an intractable opposition that, with the current caliber of partisanship, absolutely nothing will get done. And, there will be somebody to blame for that.

The president hit many of these doctrinaire righties in an uncomfortable spot when he talked about their response to his general health-care overhaul proposal. This had the endorsement of former GOP Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker and Bob Dole, and of former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. It's a "centrist" proposal, Obama emphasized.

But, the Republican reception was such that, "you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot." There was uncomfortable tittering in the hall. Obama didn't back down or even blink once. That's what the response was like, he reiterated.

The Republicans in the House have been playing to their right-wing constituents, exaggerating a milquetoast overhaul into some "radical" government takeover of health care. Obama stood in front of them and basically told them so.

One thing I was very proud of seeing was a U.S. president who can not only speak English, but do so extemporaneously and very eloquently. I think it bothers some of the Republicans that they are up against someone this articulate and formidable.

But the most important thing that happened Friday was that Obama signaled to the so-called "loyal" opposition -- let's see something realistic. He pointed out that the notion of 30 million more Americans being covered for health care at no additional cost is -- well, fantasy. And, the idea of offering private insurance coverage across state lines? Fine, but with no standards for such, the insurance companies are certain to cherry-pick healthy people, among myriad other possible abuses.

I was encouraged by something that will probably be what progressives will have to settle for, for the next 20 or more years, after the Supreme Court's decision to give the country over to huge corporations. Obama shows a fighting spirit, at least within the framework of trying to get results. He's not quitting.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, January 29, 2010

R.I.P., J.D. Salinger: 1919-2010

By Manifesto Joe

What were your favorite books in high school? If one of your answers was The Catcher in the Rye, chances are you were a misfit, at least in spirit, for some of your life.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of that much-read 1951 American novel, was a 16-year-old outsider who felt the pain of living on the outside, but still wouldn't have it any other way. The confirmed loner behind the book, J.D. Salinger, must have been writing a lot of autobiography there. From the time he was in his middle 30s, he lived reclusively on a New Hampshire farm, and he retired from publishing his work in 1965. He'd had enough of the larger world, and apparently found his own, to his liking, in utter seclusion.

I didn't think he would ever die. I thought they'd have to drive a stake through his heart.

I always felt that Salinger wrote enough of a book, and that I understood so well where he was coming from, that I was never very curious about what he was doing all those decades, or whether he had any other literary treasures locked away in his safe. He spoke for multiple generations of young male outsiders, and so eloquently that I empathized completely with his need for solitude.

Posthumous victory has come for Salinger in the small flood of renewed media interest in him right after his death, and even 45 years after his literary retirement. A man who spent more than half his life as a hermit, he's getting more attention now than almost all writers who seriously try to win the world's brief, icy recognition. Somewhere, he must be chuckling a little over that.

Not many people ever knew Salinger very well. But somehow, out there in the larger world, millions of us knew Holden Caulfield, and all too well. We caught glimpses of him in the mirror every day. Every time we got dumped by our shallow first girlfriends, every time we were repelled by the crude vanity of all the Robert Stratladers out there, every time we ran afoul of some musty character posing as a teacher, every time the essential cruelty of human existence became nakedly obvious -- we saw, and knew, Holden. He was the guy in the mirror.

I'm going on 54, and I still often see the world through Holden's eyes. There really isn't life after high school -- hell, life IS high school. The creepy, semicompetent teachers are all there -- they became bosses. The Stratladers become crude, paunchy has-beens who are still vain enough to presume to make a pass at your wife. The essential cruelty of human existence is still nakedly obvious too many times.

Here's to you, J.D., for getting to tell it like it is, one very glorious time. That's about as much as any misfit can aspire to.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, January 22, 2010

With One Malevolent Decision On Campaign Finance, The Roberts Supreme Court Has Set Back Reform For Decades

By Manifesto Joe

Forget about the Massachusetts Senate election. Republican Scott Brown's win in a special election there is a minor setback compared to the Roberts court's 5-4 decision Thursday on campaign finance.

With the reaffirmation of the long-standing fiction of "a corporation is a legal person," the reactionary Roberts court has not only wrecked a century of movement away from that toxic idea. Now you can really forget about health-care reform, re-regulation of banking, and just about any other desperately needed overhaul you may have had in mind. We largely already had a plutocracy for much, if not most, of American history. Now it will be a wide-open auction, with the levers of government for sale to the highest bidders.

With virtually all restraints on the coffers of our corporate masters lifted by the judicial branch, it's all but certain that Republicans will make huge gains in the midterm elections in November, and also likely that Barack Obama will be a one-term president. In this decade we're probably going to see Supply Side 3, with Corporate America and wealthy individuals raking in still more immense gains at the expense of ordinary Americans. And the really sad aspect of it is that the people will largely have no one to blame but themselves, for failing time after time to see who their real friends, and enemies, are.

R.I.P., American republic

It was no mystery during all those years of Reagan, and Bushes I and II, what the intent was with all those right-wingers being appointed to the judiciary. These unelected people have the power to strangle the initiatives of the other two branches of government. And when the courts are stacked with reactionary ideologues, that's precisely what happens.

Labor unions are weaker than they've been for 80 years, so their money will be absolutely no match for what Corporate America will bring to the table. Unless some astonishingly good things happen within the next three years, look for Republicans to again become dominant with the inevitable financial largess, and for Democrats to atrophy once more into a timid centrist "opposition."

Plutocracy is now codified

If it wasn't plain enough after the theft of the 2000 presidential election, the U.S. has long been a plutocracy -- I would say that's been so since the years after World War II, almost uninterrupted, and off and on before then. Now, it's pretty much been made official.

With the corporate monoliths "free" to fund the candidates of their choice without limits, the American people will be saturated with laissez-faire propaganda, resulting in even more of them voting against their own interests, even more than they've already been doing for decades. They don't have to do this. In some locales on Earth, experience has taught common people to have a healthy skepticism about entrenched money and the power that naturally goes with it. Somehow, the American people never got in that habit, and experience has given them plenty of chances. Time after time, they seem to vote gladly to put the fox back in charge of the henhouse, then wonder what the hell happened to the chickens and the eggs.

Money becomes speech

"Rapid changes in technology -- and the creative dynamic inherent in the concept of free expression -- counsel against upholding a law that restricts political speech in certain media or by certain speakers,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. "The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make … categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech."

The tragedy of this decision lies precisely in "rapid changes in technology." The sheer might of corporate money, when it comes to the purchase of air time, print space, Internet content, etc., is exactly what makes this turn of events so dangerous.

The five right-wing justices who voted for this atrocity cited free-speech rights as the basis of the decision. There could be no greater irony, for this will result in unprecedented stifling of political ideas. "Free speech" will be the domain of those who have the money to buy advertising in assorted for-profit media. The cacophony of "free-market" and perpetual-war rhetoric will quite predictably drown out those who would, in a system of sane restrictions and a public hearing available to all, have a chance to be heard.

In countries where democratic political campaigns are publicly financed, they think we've been crazy to have been allowing big money to dominate our process as much as it already does. But then, people in those same countries also think we're crazy to have a health-care system driven by the profit motive, essentially run by Big Insurance and Big Pharm. For a country generally considered to have resurrected the democratic-republican form of government from antiquity, we now seem to be lagging very far behind the serious practitioners.

Political history tends to run in cycles of reform and reaction. The U.S. seemed to be just emerging from an overlong period of reaction, giving progressives hope that a long period of reform, similar to those of the past, was getting under way.

This decision, it appears, is going to give the forces of reaction the power to drown civic reform in the bathtub long before it gets started this time, if you will pardon my paraphrasing of Grover Norquist.

I honestly don't see much hope after this -- unless the American people, at long last, wise up. I stopped holding my breath on that one a very long time ago.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Things I Don't Miss About 'The Good Old Days'

By Manifesto Joe

Today, every left-leaning blogger and their dog is posting reverently about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement and how we, of course, still have a long way to go toward losing racism in America.

As has been my lifelong custom, I'm going to be the odd man out and post on something mostly nonpolitical.

Recently, I posted on the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, the often spoiled beginnings of the Baby Boomers, and how those generations' later years, perhaps justly, are being marked by equally sharp contrasts of prosperity and poverty.

To make amends to Boomers, here's a small salute to them: The '60s and '70s brought many changes that I appreciate. Here's a litany of all the things I definitely don't miss about "the good old days" of the Greatest Generation.

-- Hair oil/tonic. Brylcreem (A little dab'l do ya) and Vitalis seemed to be the leaders in this market. Brylcreem at least didn't smell a lot. But it was plenty greasy (I've speculated that this was Elvis' choice). ("Use more -- if you dare!... She'll love to run her fingers through your hair.") Hell, as a kid trying that stuff out, I hated to scratch my own head and get my fingers oily. Then there was Vitalis -- less greasy, but with a stench that they must have searched the world over for. Perhaps it's my own peculiar sense of smell, but it always reeked of rancid alcohol base to me. Around 1967-68, when longer hair and "the dry look" came in where I was living as a kid, it was a big relief.

-- After-shave. As late as 1978, as I was starting out as a newspaper reporter, I was assigned to attend functions in which I would meet with older men, pillars of the community, and interview them. Of course, I had to shake their hands, as is the custom. Damn. Many of them used sick-sweet stuff like Aqua Velva in the morning, and it was their habit not to wash their hands after splashing some on. So they shared it with everyone they touched. After shaking hands, I'm like -- ugh. I've been slimed. My hand smells like a French whorehouse.

-- Old-fashioned barbershops. For two big reasons that I don't miss them, see items 1 and 2. But also, there were the traditional barbers. My experiences with them weren't very positive. One in my hometown was an alcoholic who would habitually drink before cutting hair. One time he cut off a small piece of a kid's ear. Then there was a skinny little guy, nicknamed "Hippo," who turned out to be pimping on the side. He shot himself in the head just before local cops were about to arrest him.

-- Heavy makeup and weekly beauty parlor visits for women. I confess that, after 30 years of looking at sheepdog permanents, floppy ties, androgynous fashions, short hairstyles, etc., as a red-blooded American male I miss the old Vargas girl look of the 1940s. But -- no thanks to rouge, or foundation. And the last time I had to enter a traditional beauty shop, on assignment around '83, I almost asphyxiated on the fumes. You still see an older woman now and then with one of those once-a-week hairstyles. I feel like asking, "Who does your coif? Brillo, or SOS?"

-- Segregation. OK, I'm going to get a little MLK-Day preaching in after all. When I was a kid going to the local cinema for Saturday afternoon matinees, it was as wide-open there as the Wild West, except for one thing. The few black kids who lived in our town had to watch the movies from the balcony. The theater owner was some fossil who lived in a nearby town, and this was his edict. I found it strange that, as a racist, he didn't care whether Hispanic kids sat down in the prime seats. And in our town, Hispanics were the majority. (I strongly suspect that was why he tolerated them. He realized that he had to get the asses in the seats -- absolutely no pun intended.) He had singled out blacks. And this was around 1968, a few years after this practice had been outlawed. There were holdouts in states like Texas, for years. I certainly don't miss seeing that sort of injustice.

-- Black-and-white TV, with two or three channels. This was all I saw until I was 16, when PBS started a UHF station near us. Not that TV is so great now, even with 100-plus channels courtesy of cable or satellite. And color and screen size are cosmetic/aesthetic -- content is a little more important to me. But I remember the boredom of Saturday and Sunday afternoons home from school, and having to choose from among wrestling, bowling, mediocre old movies, Marlin Perkins' Wild Kingdom (sponsored by Mutual of Omaha) and local polka bands. And that was absolutely it. I suppose it was good for childhood fitness. It encouraged kids to go outside and play.

-- Box fans, with no air conditioning. Here in Texas, summers are brutal. I've never gotten used to them, even after decades. When I went away to college at age 18, I lived in a dormitory with AC. It was my first live-in experience with it. Going home summers was miserable after that, until my mother finally decided that the family could afford a couple of window units.

-- Cigarette commercials. 1970 was the last year they were on TV. I confess, I was once an addict, and I have unmodern compassion for the holdouts. They seem almost like an oppressed minority to me. But the commercials, I didn't miss, even when I was still chaining Camels or Marlboros in the '70s. I especially loathed the ones with those imbecilic jingles. ("You can take Salem out of the country, but ..." And then, the Virginia Slims feminist pitch: "You've got your own cigarette now, baby! You've come a long, long way.")

Is it too obvious to point out that George Harrison died of lung cancer?

-- Red Skelton. A rather unfunny, clownish TV comic who was always laughing hysterically at his own stale gags.

But Heartland America adored him.

To wrap up, with all due respect to what's left of the Greatest Generation, "the good old days" weren't all that friggin' good in my memory. I've come to love much of the music of yore, much more than I ever thought I would. But I wouldn't trade my living conditions now for most of it back then. Here's a little salute to my fellow Boomers, who take some of the changes for granted, thankfully.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sergeant Stubby, USMC: A Forgotten American Hero

By Manifesto Joe

A blogosphere friend of mine, SJ of Random Thoughts, has made a post showing how dogs often know that a crisis is imminent before humans do. Their senses are keener than ours in many ways. In this case, it was knowing that a strong earthquake was coming shortly before it did.

It seemed like a good time to point out that one of the greatest American heroes of World War I was U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Stubby, an American pit bull terrier mix.

Here's the full Wikipedia article on ol' Sarge, who was found wandering around the Yale University campus sometime around 1917, the year that the U.S. entered the war. He became maybe the top U.S. hero of WWI; well, next to Sergeant York, who had the advantage of walking around on two legs.

This is from the Wiki article:

After being gassed himself, Stubby learned to warn his unit of poison gas attacks, located wounded soldiers in no man's land, and — since he could hear the whine of incoming artillery shells before humans could — became very adept at letting his unit know when to duck for cover. He was even solely responsible for capturing a German spy in the Argonne.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Friday, January 15, 2010

With Haiti Remarks, Herr Scumbaugh Is Clearly Without Shame

By Manifesto Joe

Lots of other people are having a go at this septic bag of pig diarrhea, so I'll take my turn, too.

Just when you figure that Herr Rush Scumbaugh, court jester for the Fourth Reich, has reached the limits of his audacity, he comes up with something worse. This time it was an "observation" right after one of the worst natural disasters of modern times, the earthquake in Haiti.

Here's what Herr Scumbaugh said, according to

This will play right into Obama's hands. He's humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to burnish their, shall we say, "credibility" with the black community--in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It's made-to-order for them. That's why he couldn't wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there.

Lard-ass also went on to discourage people from giving to the Red Cross for disaster relief. His reason was that with foreign aid, Americans have already donated to Haiti -- "it's called the U.S. income tax."

This comes as thousands of Haitians are still trapped in rubble, and thousands more are desperate and probably dying.

If this boorish flippancy doesn't at last demolish any last vestige of credibility that this bellowing tub of guts has even among lard-line -- oh, I meant hard-line right-wingers -- then there's nothing that can. Those who continue to listen to and absorb this excrement can only be described as part of a not-very-crypto neo-Nazi movement in America.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Tribute To The Great Clifford Brown (1930-1956)

This was one of the most tragic losses for the jazz world. Brownie was actually a clean-living dude, not like some of the wounded geniuses who passed before him. He died in a car wreck, and he wasn't even driving.

Listen up, hepcats: from Blue Note, Planet 1953. The number's called Hymn of the Orient ...

Go to YouTube for details. But I'll throw in that on drums is the most legendary Art Blakey (1919-1990).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pig Nation 2: Do 'Freegans' Have An Answer To Food Waste?

By Manifesto Joe

The day after Thanksgiving, I put up a post that generally got good responses, but special vitriol from one person who questioned the science involved. The crux was that, according to one recent study, 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted, enough to feed tens of millions of people across a hungry planet.

There has been more than one exhaustive study that came to such conclusions. And, a sad aspect is that most of the waste, perhaps 60 percent, is by individual Americans. The other 40 percent is said to be about equally divided between bad production practices and distribution waste.

In the November post, I emphasized the guilt of individuals. But there's evidently also a great deal of absurd waste built into the capitalist system itself. How does one fight this?

After that post, my wife told me about a group of Americans I'd never heard of before: "Freegans."

Who are the Freegans?

These are folks who, for reasons of thrift, but often more of conscience, do their best not to exchange money for food, and live largely off the waste of a profligate system. Here's one of their links.

As you will see from this site, Freeganism involves more than salvaging food. The bottom line is, why send a perfectly usable consumer item of any kind to a landfill?

Something I realized after reading up on this is that I've been sort of an amateur Freegan for most of my life, and so was my mother. If there was something she couldn't use, for one reason or another, be it food, toothpaste, etc., she was always giving it to me or my wife. At work, I'm always the one who, after some Thanksgiving or Christmas office orgy, is putting the perishables in the nearest refrigerator and planning my lunch, and hopefully that of a few other employees, for the next couple of days.

Freegans aren't always vegans, although some are. I probably would never be able to go full time as one, because I like dead animal flesh too much. But, Freeganism does encourage vegetarian eating in an important way: Meat spoils quickly. Not so with veggies, or even cheese. I never understood why so many people don't know that, when cheese acquires mold, they can just scrape the moldy surface off and eat the rest quite safely.

Bohemian tradition

One practice associated with Freegans, going back to 1960s hippies and older bohemian movements, is "Dumpster-diving." The Wikipedia article on this has some discussion of the practice.

This made me realize that my wife has been sort of an amateur Freegan for most of her life as well. Earlier in our marriage, when we would be out and about, she would Dumpster-dive -- not for food, but for all kinds of other perfectly useful items. She says she once found a small fortune in sunglasses and reading glasses in a Dumpster behind an optical shop, and gave many of them away, since obviously she couldn't use but a few pairs. These things weren't discarded en masse because they weren't good anymore. They were just no longer fashionable.

In New York, Freegans are very well-organized, and they've discovered that supermarkets and food production centers are sources of enough wasted food to feed countless people. It's not a mystery, once you think about it: several eggplants or bell peppers that have bad spots on them, but would be made edible with a simple pocketknife; canned goods that are a month past their expiration date; tortillas that were tossed by the factory because they weren't perfectly round; for that matter, baked goods of all kinds that have similar imperfections.

The possibilities are almost endless, once you consider all the food and other consumer stuff that goes into U.S. Dumpsters, then into landfills -- that is, if enterprising Freegans don't step in first.

An alternative to consumerism

So, what of the consumer economy? We're taught, practically brainwashed, from early in life that spending is the engine that drives the American way. But we're 5 percent of the world's population, using perhaps 25 percent of its resources. Oink, oink?

And we're learning slowly, too slowly, that our planet is vulnerable, and that the way we live individually and locally makes a big collective difference.

And this lifestyle change really doesn't mean having to give up most of what we enjoy. I don't know if I can produce this link right now, so I'm not going to try. But I read that at a recent Freegan Christmas party somewhere in the Village, guests feasted on gourmet cheeses and crackers for appetizers, then all sat down to a big helping of eggplant Parmigiana and an ample tossed salad, all salvaged from U.S. food waste.

The Aussies seem to be getting into this excellent habit, too, and this article offers good tips from Down Under.

I am the first to admit that, being a Texan, and a native South Texan, who savors dead animal flesh for dinner and juevos rancheros y jamon for breakfast, I know I will never be a faithful, practicing, full-time Freegan. Hell, I even love menudo. But this movement involves principles that we can all learn from, and live by. Judging from what I've seen in America, even a confirmed carnivore like me has a good head start.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

For Greatest Generation, Rags To Riches; For Boomers, Riches To Rags?

By Manifesto Joe

I suppose one could call it poetic justice. And, keep in mind that I'm dealing in the broadest generalizations. But it looks as though America has seen and is seeing two very different generations, parents and children, facing inverted experiences.

The Greatest Generation (roughly 1901-1924) had hardscrabble beginnings. The oldest of these Americans were in the prime of life when the stock market crashed and the worst economic depression of modern times began. The youngest of them were children. The ones in the middle were about the age when you graduate from high school. Many saw dreams of college, businesses, and the better life those might bring, utterly destroyed.

We, the Baby Boomers, are mostly children of the Greatest Generation, at least one parent or the other. We're defined demographically as 1946-1964; culturally (Strauss & Howe, Generations, 1990) as more like 1943-1960, with the defining feature that we all came of age between 1960 and 1979, a unique, distinctive time.

There couldn't have been two generations in American history with more strikingly different experiences. The Greatest got their collective butt kicked early in life, first with the Great Depression and then World War II. From the latter, some didn't come back. Those who did came out of those experiences a cautious, culturally conservative group. Levittown homes. Eisenhower lawns. 2.3 kids and a dog. Get a job for life. Marry your hometown sweetheart and stay married for life. Church every Sunday. The favored investment: savings bonds (The war's over, dude!)

The Boomers? The contrast was incredible. I'm not going to say "we," because I wasn't entirely typical of my generation. But I went to college with enough people who were that I recognize the type.

They grew up during the cushiest times ever. The period of 1945-1973 is generally seen by economists as the time of ultimate American hegenomy. They were shielded from the harsher realities by their parents, who had definitely not been spared such experiences.

Their generation's war was Vietnam, a morally ambiguous, nasty quagmire that young men generally went out of their way to avoid. Contrast that with "The Good War," the one almost everyone agreed had to be fought and won, unconditionally.

Culture went very far left during the Boomer time. Have casual sex with different partners. Forget what your mama said, smoke that funny-smelling cigarette. Question authority. In fact, defy it. Listen to harsh music, to hell with that sweet, syrupy old stuff of your parents'. College is such a given, hell, why not just drop out and go back later, any old time you decide you're ready? We're all going to get old and die someday. So, let's get high, and let's get laid!

It's not that all of the above is entirely wrong -- but with 20/20 hindsight, it's just a little naive. People have to work, grow food and such. To do that, they have to be sober at least some of the time. Women occasionally get knocked up from sex, and it's a good idea for the kid to know, who's your daddy? Authority figures are indeed usually full of shit, but try it on yourself. You may sense fecal matter coming out of your own mouth at some point.

Now, after The Great Recession, and the semi-collapse of American prosperity, the Boomers face interesting poetic justice.

The Greatest came of age with poverty. As a generation, they seemed to turn it into a character-building passage. The Boomers, most of whom never tasted much if any poverty in youth, are now confronted with it.

One source estimates that since The Great Recession began, unemployment for 55-and-older workers has jumped 143 percent. This seems strange, considering that "futurist" projections back in that innocent time we now call the Nineties said that older workers were going to be needed more than ever by now.

The "futurists" were full of it about a lot of things. I recall their projections from even earlier. We were supposed to be working 25-hour weeks by now, and robots were supposed to be taking up more than enough of the slack. So it shouldn't surprise us that they were oh-so-wrong yet again.

A stereotypical lefty blogger post about this would be to decry the obvious discrimination against older workers; and, I ain't a fella to let you down. (Henry Fonda as Tom Joad will come back from the dead to get me for that.) Here's a petition you can sign to start fighting back against the misery we Boomers suddenly face.

But, back to the rest of the post: I try to avoid the stereotypical in this blog, so humor me. Perhaps there's something karmic in all this. We Boomers caused our parents a huge amount of grief, so maybe we're facing just desserts.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Server Problems

Joe's having server problems. Stay tuned.