the Rational Radical  

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   The Daily Diatribe  August, 2001  

August 24, 2001   10:10 p.m. --  One of the best measures of the obscene and ever-growing income inequality in this country is this: in 1980 the typical CEO of a large corporation earned 40 times what a factory worker did.  By 1998, that ratio had ballooned to 419 (yes, four hundred nineteen) times.  (In Great Britain, by contrast, the ratio is still 35 times, and in Japan 20 times).

Interestingly, professional sports -- or at least major league baseball -- has also experienced such a greatly widened income gap.

In this past Sunday's New York Times, an anthropology professor was comparing minor league baseball during his brief career some 30 years ago to now.  One of the differences is that the current average major league baseball salary of $2 million is more than 100 times greater than the 1967 average of $19,000.  But most minor league players, after adjustments for inflation, make less than what the professor and his minor league teammates made 30 years ago.

And analogous to the way entry level service industry jobs don't today pay a living wage (as Barbra Ehrenreich has recently documented), in minor league baseball:

Except for the few who receive large signing bonuses, rookies earn so little ($900 per month) that some depend on their parents' credit cards to get by.

So even in this professional sport, it seems, those at the top aggrandize unto themselves such a huge share of the available resources that there's not enough left for a living wage for those at the bottom.

August 23, 2001  10:05 p.m. --  After suffering a defeat last year in their valiant attempt to stop a little boy from being reunited with his loving father, the hard-line element of the Cuban-American community has finally scored a major victory.

According to The New York Times,

Months after announcing to considerable fanfare that the Latin Grammy Awards would move to Miami from Los Angeles, event organizers have pulled the show from South Florida over fears that Cuban-American protesters would disrupt the event.

Why would some Cuban-Americans object to the Latin Grammy Awards being held in Miami?

Critics of having the show here argued that the ceremony could provide a platform for pro-Castro Cuban artists.

But according to the Miami Herald:

Several Cuban musicians are nominated this year, but none were scheduled to perform and it was unclear whether any would be attending the ceremony.

Even if a "pro-Castro" singer or band leader did attend, and did get an award and did say something favorable about Castro, this fanatical element of the Cuban-American community is so insecure that they need to prevent that?

And so much for free speech.

But we already know how much this hard-line element of the Cuban-American community cared about such things when they were the big shots in dictator Batista's Cuba, and, after they came to the U.S., how much they have concerned themselves about such Constitutional niceties here.

[see Cuban-American "Democracy" article]

August 22, 2001  9:35 p.m. --  Yesterday, graced its home page with the wisdom of the eminent African-American leader the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, who demanded that Jesse Jackson drop his Reverend title.

Today, the American public should again be grateful to, this time for making room not only for the insights of another well-known "civil rights leader" in the African-American community, Kevin Martin, but also for the further words of Rev. Peterson, who called for all Americans to boycott the NAACP.

Who?!  Huh?!  Precisely.

I understand that tomorrow, Rev. Peterson and Mr. Martin will be holding a joint press conference to announce the formation of a committee to build a memorial honoring that great champion of African-American civil rights, Sen. Jesse Helms, who will be retiring from the Senate after his current term.

August 21, 2001  8:15 p.m. -- The headline on wacky-right reads "Black Leader to Jesse Jackson: You're No Reverend." The article goes on to quote someone called the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson:

Now is the time to stand on moral principle and demand that Jackson drop the title 'Reverend,' and [to] speak out against this immoral man.

To the question, "Have they no shame?" the answer as to and Rev. Peterson is, clearly, "They have no shame.", which has a large and fast-growing conservative audience, is here shown in a pathetic attempt to elevate one bigmouth with a phantom following (called Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny) into a legitimate African-American leader. Rev. Peterson doesn't have the authority to call for a pizza delivery on behalf of anyone, let alone to call for Jesse Jackson to drop the title "Reverend."

As discussed earlier, and Fox News are both attempting to discredit the established African-American leadership and substitute individuals of their own choosing.  Who's buying this con game is anyone's guess.

[more on others who need to shut up about Jesse Jackson]

August 20, 2001   9:10 p.m.  --  As many of us are aware, the people who pick our fruits and vegetables are among the most exploited, poorly paid workers in this country.  Anyone who still receives literature from the United Farm Workers union understands that the plight of many of these workers -- who do some of the most unpleasant, back-breaking work imaginable -- has not improved significantly since the Cesar Chavez-led grape boycott way back when.

What most people don't realize is how easy it would be to remedy the situation, at least as far as wages.

Did you know that according to a study by a researcher at the University of California at Davis

...if a 35 percent farm worker wage increase were fully passed through to consumers, and if there were no productivity improvements in response to the farm worker wage increase, the farm worker wages and benefits embodied in a $1 head of lettuce would rise from about 7 to 9 cents, and the retail price from $1 to $1.02.

Two cents for each head of lettuce seems an awfully small price for American consumers to pay to insure that those who pick this vegetable are paid enough to themselves be able to feed and otherwise take care of their families.

What about other crops?

For all fresh fruits and vegetables, the average American would spend about $34 a year more if farm worker wages rose 35 percent, and $67 more if they rose 70 percent.

Gee, who among us can't afford ten or even twenty cents a day!

All the more reason why paying such pitiful wages to these hard-working people is an outrage!

August 19, 2001   8:00 p.m.  --  One of the central goals of the Republocrat party is to increase the share of the nation's income and wealth held by the rich, at the expense of the middle class and poor.  And that goal is being achieved.

The government's own data show that the increasing inequality of income that everyone noticed in the 80's under Reagan/Bush Sr. continued during the Clinton years.  Indeed, it may even have accelerated then.  Democrat or Republican, it doesn't matter.  They both govern in the interests of those at the very top rung of wealth and income.

Look at this chart...

...and this text excerpt:

[T]he share of the national income after taxes that the top one percent of the population received nearly doubled between 1979 and 1997. The CBO data indicate that by 1997, the 2.6 million Americans with the highest incomes — the top one percent — had as much after-tax income as close to 100 million Americans with the lowest incomes. Similarly, the 20 percent of Americans with the highest incomes received as much as the other 80 percent of the population. [chart and excerpt from]

Such findings are always criticized by right-wing pundits, who seek to deny what is apparent to anyone with eyes, ears and an increasingly empty wallet compared to the rich.  A detailed analysis, however, shows that these findings of a continuing increase in income inequality are valid.

The stealing of our nation by the wealthiest few should be the number one economic story every night on the news.  Yet how often have you heard about this ever?!

Such lack of coverage is not surprising, of course, given who owns the mass media.

August 18, 2001   11:25 p.m.  --  What could be more infuriating than hearing bigmouths who never risked anything for anybody continually criticizing the peccadillos of people who risked everything for others?

The bigmouths I refer to are those like Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and others of their ilk who continually criticize Jesse Jackson for alleged financial irregularities and/or for having an affair.  Sure Jackson can be criticized if he acted improperly.  But perspective and a sense of proportionality are key.

Hannity, O'Reilly et al elevate the wrongdoing to the sum total of the man, and then ask questions about whether Jackson is through as a leader, blah blah blah.

People with half a brain and an ounce of decency take into account that Jackson has for decades devoted himself to speaking out for the voiceless.  Do the conservative pundits not realize that Jackson risked his life over and over again doing civil rights work in the Deep South with Martin Luther King, Jr.?  It could have been Jackson who was shot on that balcony, not Dr. King.  It could have been Jackson, not Medgar Evers, who was shot to death.

Such courage and long-term dedication mean a whole lot to unbiased, not-blinded-by-ideology people.

And what have Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly ever done for anybody?  I don't know every detail of their lives, but I'd wager they've never risked their lives fighting for social justice.  I'd wager they've never risked even getting beaten by a hostile police force, or bitten by dogs, or water hosed, fighting on behalf of others.

Oh sure, they may claim they're speaking for "the average American," for "the little guy," for "working Americans."  Well, even if they were, talk is cheap, and speaking from the comfort of an air-conditioned TV set for a huge salary doesn't go very far in granting criticism rights against others who do far more. 

But of course, they don't really speak on behalf of those they claim to.  Quite the contrary, the policies they espouse and the guests they have (and exclude) show that in reality Hannity, O'Reilly et al are just shills for big bucks corporate America, befitting the status these hosts enjoy as part of the top 1% of income earners in the country.

I wish they'd shut up and realize their criticisms merely emphasize how small they really are.  Jackson has more courage and integrity in his pinky than Hannity, O'Reilly et al have in their entire being.

Hannity, go risk your life on behalf of others.

O'Reilly, go put it all on the line.

Until then, you and the other bloviating fraud conservatives should SHUT UP about Jesse Jackson!

[Phony African-American "Leader" Should Also Shut Up About Jesse Jackson]

August 17, 2001
   9:55 p.m.  -- 
One of the most repeated mantras of conservative Christians on the talk show circuit -- and of talk show hosts like Sean Hannity -- is "No sex before marriage."  A related admonition frequently voiced by these moralists is "No cohabitation before marriage."

This theology defies all common sense.  It would require that people bind themselves to a lifetime commitment to have sex with only one person, and to live their entire life as man and woman with only that person, without ever having had sex with that person or having lived with that person.  In what other area of human endeavor would anyone make such a lifetime, irrevocable commitment with so little basis to believe it will work?

Perhaps the moralists don't even know that sexual preferences and compatibilities differ from person to person.  If your lifetime sole sex partner and you have vastly different sexual needs, desires and capabilities, such a match will create only a lifetime of sexual unhappiness.

Likewise with sharing living quarters with someone.  Common sense would dictate that there at least be a trial period of living together before the lifetime commitment is made.

The moralists often respond that a pre-marriage living together situation is not the same thing as living together as man and wife once the commitment is made.  That's true, but it's certainly a better approximation of it than nothing at all.

Would you sign an irrevocable lifetime contract to work for a company, or with a specific co-worker, without ever having worked for such a company, or with that co-worker?   Absurd.

Equally absurd is marrying someone without even knowing if you are sexually compatible, and if there is some basis for believing you can happily live together.

I'm not talking here so much about promiscuity (which for some may be a good thing in any case) but rather about two people in love who feel they may want to get married, and who may already even be engaged.

And all this is not to say that there aren't people who do want to wait until they are married to have sex or live together.  Fine for them.

But don't make that an iron-clad "moral" rule that everyone is supposed to follow.

For those who do want to test the waters before plunging in forever, such a course of action certainly makes sense and should be supported.

August 16, 2001   9:25 p.m.  --  Our economic system used to be set up so that if people worked full-time jobs, they would earn enough to support themselves.  No more.

Author Barbara Ehrenreich proved that in her new book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.  As she described her findings in a recent article:

I spent a total of three months, in three different cities, attempting to support myself on the wages I could earn as an entry-level worker - as a waitress, a hotel housekeeper, a maid with a housecleaning service, a nursing-home aide and a Wal-Mart floor clerk. I could not make ends meet, not with one job anyway. I averaged $7 an hour, an amount that fell tragically short of my bare-bones expenses - gas, food and, above all, rent. 

If someone is trying to support a family, forget about it.  Even with both parents working.  Even with both parents working more than one job -- which by itself wrecks havoc with the family and one's own personal health.

While Ehrenreich is a saint for doing this research, it's amazing to me that it was even necessary.  No college-level calculus is necessary to figure out that $7/hour doesn't cut it.  It's the deliberately thick-skulled, closed-eye nature of too many Americans that necessitates research like Ehrenreich's.

How have we allowed an economic structure to be created that violates a most basic tenet of the social compact? Again Ehrenreich:

Almost everyone - 94 percent of Americans, according to a 2000 poll conducted by Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based employment research firm - agrees that "people who work full-time should be able to earn enough to keep their families out of poverty." When that proposition no longer holds true, then the social contract, at least as I always understood it, is no longer in force. And it is hard to imagine a more serious abrogation of "America's core moral values" than that.

Revolution, anyone?

August 15, 2001
   8:55 p.m.  -- 
Someone I know -- who shall remain anonymous to protect the guilty, as well as to avoid open warfare between us -- left me speechless the other day.  That's not, as visitors to this website may have already surmised, an easy thing to do.

This person (whom I'll call by the false name Don) had flown out to California from New York with one of his children.  He used frequent flyer miles to upgrade both their tickets from coach to first class.

Don was quite impressed with first class -- the space, the food, the choice of movies, the attentiveness of the flight attendants.  Fine.  Don usually, like most of us, travels in the cramped, noisy and altogether unpleasant quarters of coach.

Then Don started to tell me how he had felt a bit ill at ease to be sitting in first class with his child.  As Don relates it, whenever he boards a plane bound for coach in the rear, and walks through the first class section and sees the people sitting there, he always mutters to himself something about all the "rich" people enjoying such comfort.  Now that he and his child were sitting there, he was worried other coach passengers passing through would think the same thing about him and his child.

After a moment or two of speechlessness, I quipped that perhaps Don and his kid could have worn buttons that read "Frequent Flyer Update" or some such slogan that would clearly distinguish them from the truly rich people in that first class cabin.

Now why was I speechless?  Because I know Don's household income has to be at least 500K a year, and other than a mortgage, the family does not have any substantial liabilities.

Let's see, the median family income in this country (that income which half the people earn more than and half the people earn less than) is $49,497.  So Don earns at least 10 times more than half the country.  Seems pretty rich to me.

Well, maybe you're not rich until you're in the top 5-10%.  According to the Census Bureau, to be in the top 5% of families by income you have to make at least $155,040.  Don more than triples that.

Well, maybe you have to be in the top 1% to be rich?  The cut-off point for that is an adjusted gross income of $269,496.  I'm pretty sure Don makes this cut-off point, unless he has deductions to adjusted gross income totaling nearly 50% of his gross income, which is highly unlikely.

All this is to say, Don is "rich" by any definition of the word.  Maybe not Gates-level super-rich, but still rich enough for it to have left me speechless when Don made his comments about sitting in first class.

Until those who are rich like Don -- who make more money than 99% of the rest of the country -- acknowledge that they are rich and that the amount of money they earn and the wealth they possess is part of the problem, there's no hope of stopping and reversing the rising level of income inequality and economic injustice in this country.

August 14, 2001
   9:05 p.m.  -- 
Even as a little kid I had a sense that teachers were doing something very important in their jobs of teaching the country's children.  And I wondered why they seemed to be not particularly well paid.

It still strikes me as completely bizarre -- and probably one of those free market distortions of what we would ideally like to see -- that the people who create cartoons for our children to watch on Saturday morning are paid many times the amount we pay our teachers.

In most other industrialized countries, teachers are paid at a level relatively higher to other jobs than in the United States.  

A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, summarized in The New York Times, showed that in the United States teachers are paid just under the average U.S. per capita income.  In South Korea they are paid 250% (2.5 times) the average per capita income of that country.   A chart in the newsprint version of the Times article had the figures for Switzerland at 188%, Mexico at 178%, Germany at 163% and France at 128%. 

Out of all the member nations of the OECD, 21 pay teachers a salary relatively higher to other jobs than the U.S.; only four pay a relatively lower salary.

Relatively meager salary levels indicate a lack of value accorded a job.  What kind of priorities is that?

No wonder the United States faces a shortage of teachers. 

August 13, 2001   2:05 p.m.  --  There is a widespread notion in the country that the Bush presidency is somewhat less than legitimate, since he lost the popular vote, and gained an Electoral College victory only through a Supreme Court diktat.

Rabid right-wingers, apparently desperate, have enlisted a ridiculous T-Shirt  to counter this belief.

The "Bush Country" T-shirt shows a map of the United States coded not state by state, but county by county -- the now-familiar red for Bush, blue for Gore.  On a county by county basis, the nation is indeed awash in red.  All this red "Bush Country" must have looked very exciting to the T-shirt designers and their conservative backers.

But what does this map actually mean, given that the popular vote and the electoral college were virtually evenly divided?  It merely means that a large number of the most sparsely populated areas of the country voted for Bush.  What this bizarre fact proves to the right-wingers about the legitimacy of the Bush presidency is anyone's guess, but it doesn't prove much to me.

August 12, 2001   10:50 p.m.  --  Two medical-related stories appeared in The New York Times the other day: "Diet and Exercise Are Found to Cut Diabetes by Half" and "Anticholesterol Drug Pulled After Link With 31 Deaths."  The obvious link between them is invisible to too many people.

In the first story, patients who ate less fat, exercised two and a half hours per week, and lost a moderate amount of weight cut the incidence of diabetes by more than half among those most at risk.  These results were better than obtained by use of drugs.

Well, if you don't poison the body with fats, burden it with too much weight, and if you combine that with moving around a bit like the body was designed to do, of course the body will function better and be much less likely to develop diabetes.

Since the vast bulk of the fat which people ingest is contained in animal-derived foods -- meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs -- one way to avoid diabetes is to eat in a more vegetarian style.

As far as the other story about the anticholesterol drug being pulled, most people don't really need that drug at all.  The body produces cholesterol on its own.  You don't need to ingest much, if any, to be healthy.  Only people with a genetic problem which causes their own bodies to produce too much cholesterol perhaps need a cholesterol-lowering drug.

But for most people, wouldn't the obvious solution be -- stop eating so many foods containing cholesterol.  Then you won't need a cholesterol-lowering drug that may kill you.

Cholesterol is found, in practical terms, only in animal-derived foods -- the same foods implicated in diabetes.  People insist on eating huge amounts of these foods every day, and then want a "magic pill" to cure them of the poison that they have ingested.

Well, even if another cholesterol-lowering drug works for them, that wouldn't take care of the problem that eating animal foods is, as the companion story reported,  linked to the incidence of diabetes -- as well, I should add, to the incidence of many types of cancers.

The common lesson of the two stories is: take care of your body by exercising and avoiding animal foods, and your chances of living a longer, healthier life will be greatly increased.

Unfortunately, people are lazy, and it's true most would rather pop a pill than alter their "lifestyle."  But the proven, dramatic benefits of such lifestyle changes are rarely given the prominence they deserve in the medical advice that most people receive. 

If patients adopted preventative measures involving lifestyle changes, the medical/pharmaceutical establishment would make far less money from selling people its magic pills and treating them for heart disease and cancer.  Could that be the reason why such preventative measures seem to take the back seat to the magic pills in the medical advice and treatment that most people receive?

August 11, 2001   10:00 p.m.  --  Do you share my bewilderment at what has got to be one of the worst penny ante corporate rip-offs?

After you dial local information and -- without the involvement of a live human -- the recording gives you the requested telephone number, a different recorded voice comes on the line and sweetly asks if you would like to be connected automatically for 45 cents.

Every time I hear this recording, I shake my head in wonder.  The directory and local calls are free (or rather, there are no additional charges, the costs of these two automated services being subsumed in your monthly fee).  But for the software to automatically connect you, the phone company wants 45 cents.

If it were 5 cents, I say to myself, sometimes I would, if in a real rush,  do it.  A dime, and I'd hesitate.  Twenty-five cents, and I'd laugh at the thought.  But when I hear 45 cents requested, I wonder what the phone company is thinking.

They offer long-distance for 5 cents a minute, but want you to pay 45 cents to be automatically connected on a free local call?

Who would do this, especially on a regular basis?  Even were I quite wealthy, I still wouldn't take advantage of their kind offer, given the blatantly rip-off nature of the transaction.

What makes it sad is, I bet the reason the phone company has continued to offer this service is because a lot of (non-rich) people really do utilize this automatic connection feature!

August 10, 2001
   9:30 p.m.  --

[I}n the early hours of July 22, 92 young people were dragged from their beds by squads of Italian anti-riot police officers who beat and jailed them.

Witnesses described students crouching as they were kicked, pummeled with clubs and thrown down stairs, and emergency room doctors said a number of the injured would have died without treatment. Television crews arriving on the scene later filmed pools of blood and teeth knocked out during the raid.

At least two dozen [students] were hospitalized.
[from The New York Times, August 8, 2000]]

When police brutality against protesters occurs in the "heat of battle" -- during the actual demonstration when emotions are high -- the police often use the excuse of having been provoked.

That excuse is not available in this Genoa raid. 

Moreover, while it turns out that these students were not -- as the police initially claimed -- of the anarchist, violent type, but belonged to the majority of peaceful demonstrators, even if these students had been anarchists, the police still would have had no right to brutalize them.

This police atrocity brings to mind the 1969 murder by the Chicago police of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton while he slept in bed. 

Thank goodness no one was killed in the Genoa raid, even though as indicated in the excerpts above, the police apparently inflicted wounds on a number of students that would have been fatal if left untreated.

There has been some of the usual official hand-wringing over the police action:

Spain's European Affairs Secretary, Ramon de Miguel, called the scenes a replay of fascism.  Hans- Christian Ströbele, a European deputy from Germany, said the Genoa police reminded him of "the military dictatorship in Argentina."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Bush administration has not joined in the outcry:

[One U.S. demonstrator's] family has complained that the United States government has not done nearly enough in speaking out against what went on.

"The U.S. is conspicuous by its absence in the list of nations that have protested to the Italian government over the imprisonment and the behavior of the Italian police in their handling of the protests in Genoa," her father... said in a message on the family's web site.

A spokesman for the American Consulate in Milan said, "We're doing all we can."

I'm sure they're doing all they can.  All they can to refrain from gloating in public about the brutality against the demonstrators.

If you challenge the powers that be in a serious way, the message of the police action seems to be, you're going to suffer dire consequences.  One must expect that would be the case most of all when you challenge the people who own and control the world.

August 9, 2001   9:35 p.m.  -- The Colombian government has just broken off peace talks with the second largest rebel group in that country.  According to the newspaper account, the U.S. State Department supported this move.  A better wording would likely be "ordered" this move. The U.S. has pumped over a billion dollars into Colombia, including a huge amount of military aid.  As in the past, the infinitely powerful Northern uncle calls the shots.

Equally alarming is the report yesterday that an ultra-violent right-wing paramilitary force, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia:

  • numbers 8,000 men
  • is extremely well-financed to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, by donations from large landowners, ranchers, industrialists and financiers
  • enjoys the collaboration of certain military units
  • has killed nearly 1,300 people this year, including trade unionists, peasant leaders and human rights workers. 

According to the Colombian Attorney General, the Self-Defense Forces are waging "a war without quarter against the Colombian left."

Supposedly, "alarmed officials in Washington" are pressuring Colombia president Andrés Pastrana to dismantle the organization.  Sure.  How much would anyone like to wager that the U.S. military/CIA/NSA  is deeply involved in the activities of these paramilitary killers?

Indeed, we have here in Colombia a Contras-type terrorist organization.  Just like the Contras, the Self-Defense Forces earns huge sums from the cocaine trade.  And, of course, just like the Contras were fighting to restore the Somocista oligarchy in Nicaragua, the Self-Defense Forces are fighting to maintain the privilege and extreme wealth enjoyed by the Colombian elite at the expense of the impoverished citizens of that country. 

I earlier wrote about how Coca-Cola and some of its bottlers in Colombia have been accused of utilizing right-wing  paramilitary groups to intimidate and assassinate labor organizers.  I discussed elsewhere how the Bush administration has "re-hired" hard-line Reagan-era diplomats like Elliott Abrams, John Negroponte and Otto Reich, and has set up a well-funded effort to interfere in Nicaragua's upcoming presidential elections.

Doesn't this all sound nauseatingly familiar? 

Despite the end of the Cold War, the United States is continuing its murderous ways in Central and South America.  Our southern neighbors have a saying, "so far from God, so close to the United States."  All I can say is, God help the suffering poor in Central and South America.

August 8, 2001   9:00 p.m.  -- The front page lead story in The New York Times the other day was headlined  "Census Data Show A Sharp Increase in Living Standard."  This seems to be one of the least justified headlines in recent memory.

The evidence the article gives for a "sharp increase in living standard"  basically boils down to:

  • more high school and college graduates
  • more people owning cars, with 18% owning three or more
  • bigger homes, with a "slight" increase in the number of houses with seven rooms or more
  • growing family incomes

More high school and college graduates: What does this have to do with standard of living?  Perhaps the assumption is that more well-educated means higher income.  The article doesn't give any data about this.

More people owning cars, with 18% owning three or more: The article doesn't tell us if the increase in the number of people owning cars is "sharply" higher or just a bit more.  18% owning three or more cars fits in with the proposition that those in the top income brackets are doing far better proportionately than the rest of the country, not with the proposition that there is a broad-based "sharp increase in living standard."

Bigger homes, with a "slight" increase in the number of houses with seven rooms or more: How much bigger, and whose homes?

Growing family incomes: Adjusted for inflation?  Growing how much? Spread throughout the population, or only in the upper income brackets? The result of more and more families with two or more parents/others working?  The result of working many more hours?  The article doesn't give us a clue.

You may well be thinking of a host of other measurements that go into "standard of living" which the article doesn't touch upon, such as access to decent health care, the quality of housing, how clean is the air and water...

Beyond the fact the the article's headline is not borne out by the article itself, isn't it the case that many Americans feel they are working harder than ever and have less to show for it?

If The New York Times was a Republican-oriented newspaper, I'd just assume the publication was engaging in some pro-Bush spinning.  But since the newspaper is traditionally Democratic-leaning, the headline is quite puzzling.

August 7, 2001   9:05 p.m.  -- If you grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, or if you've studied that era, you know that the political spectrum has shifted rightward a great deal since then.  Bill Clinton and others from the Democratic Leadership Council segment of the Democratic Party -- because of the policies they espouse -- would have been "Rockefeller Republicans" back then. 

This rightward shift has meant that those of us with a progressive bent have been increasingly marginalized during the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush Republocrat administration of the past 20 years.  How ridiculously far this process has taken us is deliciously illustrated by the inimitable Tom Tomorrow in "Are You a Left Wing Wacko."

August 6, 2001   8:45 p.m.  -- Have you ever seen one of these self-consciously amusing signs posted where there are animals on display?

Abuse, aggravate, agitate, alarm, anger, annoy, badger, beset, bother, bullyrag, disquiet, distress, disturb, exasperate, fluster, frighten, frustrate, goad, harass, harm, harry, hassle, heckle, hound, hurt, intimidate, irritate, jeer, maltreat, molest, nettle, persecute, perturb, pester, plague, provoke, rattle, ruffle, scare, shock, tantalize, tease, torment, torture, tousle, upset, vex or worry

While the sign is probably meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, I took a moment and thought about each admonition.  Even without having been a pet owner, I can readily imagine the applicability of each of those verbs to a non-human creature; in other words, animals can experience all of these emotions.

Go back and read the sign again.  Isn't what I just wrote true?

How can some people maintain that animals are some sort of automatons, which we should feel free to imprison, experiment on or kill for food as we see fit?

August 5, 2001  10:25 p.m.  -- In his "On the Contrary" column today in The New York Times, Daniel Akst makes an attempt to -- in his own words -- "figuratively" "crush" the anti-globalization protesters.  Akst utilizes a classic three-pronged strategy: make ad hominem attacks; set up and cut down straw men; and, finally, cast the villain as hero.

Ad hominem attacks: With sneering condescension, Akst starts off by labeling the protesters "ardent young people" living in the "balm of extended studies lasting well into adulthood," who "arrive by jet" (oh! the horror of that!) and throw "public tantrums."

What does this remind you of?  How about the catcalls to "Grow up" and "Get a job" hurled by construction workers at anti-Vietnam War protesters in the mid-1960's.  Akst's fancier words are no more valid a response to the Genoa protesters than were the construction workers' catcalls back then. (And we all know how unwarranted those protests against the Vietnam War were!)

On a factual level, Akst paints all the protesters with the same broad brush, one applicable, if at all, only to the violent anarchists who the protest leaders themselves wish would go away.  Akst ignores the existence of a broad coalition of "adult" labor unions and human rights and environmental organizations, which comprise the leadership and vast majority of the protesters.

Cutting down straw men: Akst next opines that the protesters "have no coherent idea what they're after," "appear unable to even articulate" an economic vision, and "appear to be against the only thing giving the world's poorest nations any hope at all: continued global economic growth."

Perhaps Akst didn't do his homework?  Perhaps Akst formed his opinions of the protesters' goals by listening to 20-second sound bites from CNN?

If Akst had bothered to consult the web sites of any of the organizers of the demonstrations -- for example, the Fifty Years is Enough campaign -- he could have quite easily found out the protesters' goals.  Simply put, the protesters want internationally what most people want within their own country: an open, inclusive and democratic decision-making process; economic fairness for all segments of the population; and protection of the environment.

Moreover, by doing a bit of research, Akst  would have realized that the media-christened term "anti-globalization protesters" must be seen as shorthand. No rational person doubts that the world will become increasingly integrated. These groups make it perfectly clear that they are not trying to stop the process of globalization. They make it perfectly clear that they are not against global economic growth. 

What they are against is the globalization process as presently constituted.  What they are for is a process of globalization and economic growth which adheres to the aforesaid principles.

The Villain as Hero: Finally, Akst writes of the protesters that "their ideas are a threat to the very people they seem bent on helping."  It is not the protesters, Akst would have us believe, but rather the G8 nations whose "economic infinitely more plausible and more humane."

Permit me to be a bit skeptical.  Aren't the G8 nations the same folks who imposed upon the world 500 years of slavery and colonialism?  Didn't the formal end of colonialism (if not the lasting effects) come just 40 years ago?  And now these same folks have suddenly decided to reverse course 180 degrees and implement a global economic structure that will help the former colonies and slaves?  I don't think so.

Even more bizarrely, Akst criticizes the system of "huge foreign loans" that was part of a "litany of failures."  But who devised that system of "huge foreign loans?"  None other than the G8 nations after World War II.  This system has led since then to an ever-increasing inequality of wealth and income between the G8 nations and the Third World.

Does he really think that the intention of the G8 nations is to now decrease their share of income and wealth in the world?

Akst's attempted counter-argument would be the "global economic growth" he offers as the answer to the world's suffering poor.  This is, of course, the "rising tide lifts all boats" concept.  Well, Reagan's failed policies showed trickle-down economics wouldn't work domestically in the U.S., and there is no reason to suppose it would work internationally.  Quite the contrary.  The inequality of wealth and income in the United States has vastly increased since 1980.

Of course, even if a rising tide would lift all boats, that wouldn't be the case if the owners of the yachts were surreptitiously blasting underwater holes in the hulls of the smaller boats.  That is exactly what the protesters fear is happening behind the closed doors of Genoa and other such locations.

Akst's column claims it "tilts at conventional business wisdom."  Not in his column today.  He simply repeats the long-established talking points of those who own and control the world's wealth.

August 4, 2001
  9:30 p.m.  --
As discussed yesterday, Joe Lieberman shamelessly attempted to ingratiate himself with Bill O'Reilly the other day when Lieberman appeared on O'Reilly's cable talk show. Yet there's something even more objectionable about Lieberman's appearance.

O'Reilly was at one point criticizing Lieberman's contention that in addition to people who paid income taxes, people who paid payroll taxes should also have been sent the recent tax "rebates."

O'REILLY: [Y]ou would be taking money away from other people to give them money because they didn't pay tax in the first place.

And that's the redistribution of income that many working Americans don't like the Democrats for.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, no. We always say, I said it last week at a Democratic Leadership Council meeting, we're not for redistribution of income. We want to grow the economy.

The dreaded "redistribution of income."  Let's call it ROI.

Any economic system that is not totally static winds up redistributing the relative proportion of income and wealth that different segments of the population enjoy.  Even when the economy grows.  The question is, from whom -- and to whom -- will the money flow.

Lieberman and his ilk who condemn ROI use that term to mean a money flow from the middle class and/or the rich, to the poor.  O'Reilly says "working Americans" don't like it, with the assumption that the ROI is from them to those who don't work.

But that's not what has ever happened, certainly not in the last few decades.  In other words, what about ROI the other way, from the poor and/or the middle class, to the rich?

Any economic system designed by the wealthy will be set up to transfer an increasingly higher percentage of income and wealth from all others to them.  That's how the wealthy became so, and they certainly aim to continue that process. That's human nature.

And that's exactly what has been happening:

[O]ur economy has been getting increasingly unequal. Whether measured by wages, income or wealth, for 25 years the share of the privileged has increased, and everyone else (a roughly 80 percent majority) has become relatively worse off. [from United for a Fair Economy]

In future days I'll present some numbers illustrating this outrageous ongoing process. 

For now, however, let's open our eyes and understand that when those like Lieberman and O'Reilly express their opposition to ROI, they are really only opposing ROI that would come from the rich and go to the middle class and the poor.  They are quite happy with ROI in the other direction -- from the poor and the middle class to the rich -- which is precisely what has been happening, and which is a subject that Lieberman, O'Reilly et would make verboten.

August 3, 2001
  8:15 p.m.  -- 
Joe "The Pious Prude" Lieberman guaranteed his place in the Ass-Kisser's Hall of Fame with his performance yesterday on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News talk show "The O'Reilly Factor."   As you read these bits of the transcript, keep two things in mind:

First, these written transcript excerpts can't even begin to convey Lieberman's fawning tone.  If these excerpts were dialogue in a screenplay, each of Lieberman's subsequent lines would have the stage directions "(obsequiously)", "(more obsequiously)", and "(even more obsequiously)."

Second, this conversation took place in the face of O'Reilly's usual overbearing, pompous egomania, which Lieberman was so clearly eager to feed.

Now the excerpts:

A harbinger of things to come...

O'REILLY: So, Senator Lieberman, welcome to THE O'REILLY FACTOR. [sarcastically] I'm glad you finally made it here.


Lieberman works in a congratulations to O'Reilly for how well his program is doing in the face of stiff competition:

LIEBERMAN: That's the problem... [W]e say to them, you used to have a code of conduct in movies, television.

You drew the lines on which you would compete so you wouldn't go down into the gutter. Why don't you do it again?

O'REILLY: No, they can't because there's too much competition now. The industries are wide open. There's too much competition to get the eyeballs...

LIEBERMAN: You're doing OK.

O'REILLY: Yeah, we're doing fine.

Lieberman's "shocked, shocked" that he had been invited on the program and didn't know about it:

O'REILLY: And that brings me to my other question. You guys, Gore and you, you'd be sitting in the White House right now... if you'd come on THE FACTOR. Now...


O'REILLY: ... no, you would have, and here's why.


O'REILLY: We had so -- we have a very large audience in Florida. And many of those people are independents or libertarians, a lot of people.

And you guys flat out would not come on this program. We were stunned.

LIEBERMAN: Seriously? Seriously?

O'REILLY: We were stunned.

LIEBERMAN: I've got to tell you the truth. I never knew that I was invited.

He likes Bill, he really, really likes him, and he'll certainly keep coming back:

O'REILLY: Oh, come on. Then fire your whole staff because we kept calling and calling and calling, and the Gore guys not only would they say no, he's not going to come on, they'd say, "We hate you, we hate you," because they thought were rooting for Bush, you know.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah. Well, I like your show and I like you. And, you know, I'll keep coming on, because (INAUDIBLE)...

Again, he's glad he came on the show, in fact so glad, he jokes maybe he should use O'Reilly as a consultant:

O'REILLY: Listen, Hillary Clinton is going to run for president. Did you know that?

LIEBERMAN: No, I hadn't heard that.

O'REILLY: Oh, yeah. She's been sneaking over to Iowa... and she didn't think that we knew. But we do know.

And she's been having her caucus groups like this. And she says she's not going to run, but she's running. Now...

LIEBERMAN: All right, I'm glad I came on the show.

O'REILLY: Would you run against her? Could you see that, can you envision that?

LIEBERMAN: Oh, look, it's early, a lot closer to 2000 than 2004... I'm keeping the doors open.

O'REILLY: Yeah, but she's raising all kinds of money with Hill PAC and she's going out to Iowa, I know it's early, but if you don't get on the stick, she's going to have a big advantage.

LIEBERMAN: All right, maybe we should consult. You can give me some advice on this.

And a parting kiss-up to O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: Hey, good to see you. You're welcome anytime. You tell that Al Gore I'm looking for him too.

LIEBERMAN: All right. We've been trying to figure out why we didn't do better in Florida. And now I know why.

O'REILLY: Now you know. OK, nice to see you, Senator.

O'Reilly is by now grinning ear to ear, even more pleased with himself than usual.

It's understandable that Lieberman would like access to the eyes and ears of O'Reilly's one million viewers, but have you no shame, Joe?  It was embarrassing to watch.

Please, Joe, do your most obsequious ass-kissing in private.

[other Fox-related articles about: O'Reilly; Hannity]

August 2, 2001
  9:15 p.m.  --
The level of U.S. interference in the upcoming Nicaraguan presidential election is much worse that I previously thought. 

I wrote a week ago that based on the differential in population size between the United States and Nicaragua, the $5.6 million earmarked by the U.S. State Department to "assist" in the Nicaraguan presidential election is the equivalent of a foreign country spending over $356 million to "assist" in a U.S. presidential election.

However, there is not just a big difference in population between the two nations.  The United States is incredibly wealthy, and Nicaragua is horribly impoverished, one of the poorest nations on earth.

In 1999 the U.S. Gross Domestic Product was $7.6 trillion, 525 times Nicaragua's GDP of $14.6 billion.

So in terms of the impact that spending $5.6 million in Nicaragua will have, that's the equivalent of a foreign country spending $2.9 billion to "assist" in a U.S. presidential election.

Everyone is well aware of the corrupting effect of money on U.S. politics.  Imagine how $2.9 billion would distort election results in this country.

It will be no less so in Nicaragua.  Since the United States makes it very clear which candidates it does and does not want to win in Nicaragua, the money we are spending there is likely to hinder, not advance, the cause of democracy there.

[for more detailed info]     [to oppose U.S. intervention]

August 1, 2001
  9:35 p.m.  --
In its recent report detailing how Fox News is anything but "fair and balanced," the progressive media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting documented Bill O'Reilly's obsession with Jesse Jackson.  O'Reilly's The Factor program has run 56 negative segments on Jackson since late 1998.  This focus on Jackson goes deeper, however, than a personal fixation on O'Reilly's part.

Fox News seems to have undertaken a concerted, network-wide campaign to anoint new leaders of the African-American community, through a constant drumbeat of negative pieces on the established leaders, and the allocation of huge amounts of prime time exposure to the conservative African-American individuals Fox would prefer as replacements.

For example, "Does Jesse Jackson Represent the Whole African-American Community" was a major segment on Hannity & Colmes yesterday.  From that program you expect this sort of thing.

But even The Edge with Paula Zahn has been pressed into the service of this agenda, running a recent piece entitled "Is the NAACP Selling Out Black America?"

Self-proclaimed "leaders" of the African-American community such as the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson of an organization called Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, and Kevin Martin of a group called Project 21, are repeatedly given an amount of airtime by Fox far out of proportion to their positions, if such exist at all, as African-American leaders.

Fox allies like the ultra-conservative get into the act also, running "stories" like "Civil Rights Leader Questions NAACP's Legitimacy." And who is that "civil rights leader"?  You guessed it, the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson.

Interestingly, Fox also gives airtime to spokesmen for the New Black Panther Party, from the opposite end of the political spectrum as Martin and Rev. Peterson, but still highly critical of the established African-American leadership.

One of the criticisms leveled by Martin and Rev. Peterson concerns the close relationship of the established African-American leadership to the Democratic Party.  It doesn't take a genius to point out that 90% of African-Americans voted for Gore.  Clinton was, and still is, wildly popular in the African-American community.  Any close relationship would seem to be called for, not something to criticize.

Another constant refrain is that when Jesse Jackson threatens to lead boycotts of companies which refuse to end unfair racial practices, he's engaging in "shakedowns" and "extortion."  These Fox-selected African-American "leaders" don't explain how what Jackson is doing is any different than what advocacy groups on both the Right and the Left have done for decades in their respective efforts to correct what they see as corporate misbehavior.

Fox News is owned by ultra-conservative, Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch.  I can't recall seeing a single African-American host or news anchor on Fox News.  (Come to think of it, I can't even recall seeing an African-American reporter, although I may have missed one.)  It thus seems doubtful that Fox has its finger on some significant current in the African-American community that the rest of the media have missed.

This whole effort by Fox is just one more example of its "unfair and unbalanced" reporting.


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