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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

May 13, 2008


Smelling the Bush Economy

Here it is in a nutshell: The Bush economy stinks. Now, sure, you can spin the numbers any way you want to. Even the Bushies manage to take bad news and make it sound good - sort of. But we know what our pocket books say and what our bank accounts have in them, and it isn't good.

Take real wages (a.k.a real earnings, as the Bureau of Labor statistics puts it). Because of the constant value, 1982 dollars, we have a jump-off point to compare like values from yesterday to today. More to the point, we can compare Bush's economy from one year ago to how it sits today. And, again, it isn't good.

Although the "Current Dollar" earnings today are higher than they were last year at this time ($584.44 per week, March 2007, versus $603.67 per week as of March 2008), the real wages have actually dropped considerably. Using the 1982 standard, which the BLS of the US Department of Labor uses, today's $603.67 is worth $279.80. In comparison, last year's $584.44 was worth $282.52.

In other words, in one year our average weekly earnings have dropped by one percent. And when one takes into consideration the price of gas, food and just about every other staple of American life, those numbers are so much worse.

In seven of the past twelve months, real wages have actually decreased with the period of October 2007 through January of this year seeing decreases of -0.2, -0.7, -0.1 and -0.5 percent, respectively. In March of this year we saw an increase of 0.2 percent, but when you couple that "good news" with the "not so good news" that the inflation rate increased by 0.3 percent, we're still even deeper in the Bush administration economic hole.

And when taken with the recent increase in gas prices and food, the news is even worse.

As compared to the constant 1982 dollars, our average weekly earnings have had six months of negative growth as well. From October to March, the percentage which they have fallen looks like this: -0.3, -0.8, -1.0, -1.4, -0.8 and -1.0, respectively.

And these numbers are from March, before the current Summer assault had begun at the gas pumps. The Consumer Price Index for energy (they don't measure gas prices alone) rose at a 1.9 percent rate, and in the preceding twelve month period (March 2007 - March 2008), it went up a whopping 17 percent!

With the rate gas prices are rising today, one has to wonder what the Memorial Day through Labor Day numbers will look like. I can wait to see.

And it isn't just gas that has risen. Every measurable price index, from food and energy to recreation and education have gone up disproportionately to our weekly paychecks (for those of us still lucky enough to have weekly paychecks). And as many of us are still losing our jobs, as noticed by the dwindling job numbers, we see our medical expenses rising beyond our dollars as well. With steady increases over the past twelve months, medical costs to us, the American taxpayer, have risen by 4.6 percent, outpacing both our wages and other many of the other CPI indexes they're measured with. It's even more than the increase of food over that same period by 0.1 percent (4.6 to 4.5).

In other words, they're pricing us out of our own lives.

And there is no answer coming from the Bush administration. Nothing. I haven't even heard the President come out with one of his "Make the tax break permanent" statements, which is his go-to answer for just about everything, and the tact taken by his would-be successor John McCain.

even they know that scheme won't work any more.

And just out of curiosity, what has happened to Dick Cheney. The man behind the man has seemingly left the man he was supposed to guide. Maybe his guidance was finally rebuffed by the worst President for the middle class I have even seen as a last gasp. Or maybe he has stolen enough and simply can't digest any more.

Hey, anything's possible.

In any event, the answers won't come from bush or McCain. And it only seems as if it will get worse before November.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter, Inc.

In all the 15 years we have been writing about the tube, we’ve seen some amazing and disturbing things. Let’s face it: TV can be shocking. And not just because of Tila Tequila and Flava Flav.

The scenes of 9/11, Katrina, the war–all have been harrowing yet essential viewing. Would we have understood the magnitude of 9/11 if we hadn’t watched the planes go into the buildings and then collapse? Would we have believed parts of America could be turned into the Third World if we hadn’t seen the people screaming from their rooftops for help? Don’t we believe and disbelieve the war is really happening based on how often we see it–or don’t–on the evening news?

So is it surprising that TV journalists think that if they say the Clinton candidacy is done, it’s true?

Except in America, such pronouncements don’t come from state-run media. That’s actually one of the most basic tenets of a democracy. No totalitarian press. Free press, free elections and voting till the voting is done.

One of the most pernicious aspects of the past seven and a half years of the Bush Administration has been the media bending over and spreading for Bush and his cohort. The same media that couldn’t get enough of crucifying the Clinton Administration for everything from wanting to allow gays in the military to wanting a health care system that worked to the infamous blow job, abrogated their responsibility when it came to pursuing the criminality of the Bush team.

Throughout that time we have taken on the special mission of reporting the “news you’re not seeing” facet of the Bush Administration. We’ve noted time and again what TV news *should* have been reporting on, but didn’t or wouldn’t.

A lot of power has accrued to the TV media as a consequence of this getting in bed with Bushco. Tim Russert, NBC’s senior political reporter and host of *Meet the Press*for example, was involved in the Scooter Libby scandal over the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, as was his regular guest pundit, Robert Novak. Did NBC suspend him, even for the duration of the trial? No–he was essentially reporting on himself and his friends while Libby’s trial was going on.

The fair and balanced FOX hasn’t been the only voice of the Bush Administration over the past seven and a half years.

Anointing Russert, George Stephanopoulous, Chris Matthews and other TV news reporters and pundits as the people who speak for, rather than about, politics and policy has made for a blurring of the roles between the Fourth Estate and the politicians–our First Estate–they are supposed to cover impartially. Which makes it acutely dangerous for Americans who, as 85 percent do, rely solely on TV journalism for their news. (For example: Why did no one ever think having NBC’s Andrea Mitchell–married to Alan Greenspan–cover the White House and other political issues was a conflict of interest?)

We admit, more even than the weekly presentation of female murderers on *Law & Order,* it’s been a scalding revelation to see just how sexist and biased the news media has been throughout the election season.

If Barack Obama *is* the Democratic nominee (which will only be decided either by the super delegates when the primaries end June 3rd, or if Hillary Clinton decides to leave the race, but Russert can’t declare it), he will be the first presidential candidate to have been invented by TV like Eve from Adam’s rib. The question is, can the candidate created by Oprah, fed by a TV media that not only refused to ever ask him serious questions or vet him, but also repeatedly trounced his competition even as she won five major contests in a row, survive the GOP? That’s the news you’re not seeing. The biggest news of the year. Stay tuned.

Another news item that got whisked under the carpet this week, while America was paying attention to Barbara Walters telling Oprah about her interracial, extra-marital adultery from 35 years ago was this: Pet remains mixed with that of our dead from Iraq.

Turns out the Dover Air Force Base Port Mortuary, where all troop remains arrive from Iraq, doesn’t have its own crematorium. (Must not have been planning for a 100 year war.) It contracts to two funeral homes. And they do pets as well as humans. So Fluffy and the soldiers and Marines are sharing the same space–and mixing it up in ways that can only be deemed totally insensitive even by this Administration’s standards. The Pentagon sent letters to military families–that would be more than 4,000 families–apologizing for insensitivity.


Perhaps the same folks who have been manipulating the election could actually report on something as significant to our national sensibility as this? Because we caught it on the middle of the night news the night we forgot to take the Ambien.

Speaking of Barbara and her revelations, not everyone thought she should be telling all. Including Star Jones, Walters’ former co-host on *The View* and the latest black career woman to discover that her husband is gay after everyone else knew. Jones, still re-inventing herself, is getting a divorce from Al Reynolds, who we said when they got married, should have been wearing the gown at their wedding. Walters’ firing of Jones is part of her new tell-all, as is the reason for the feuding. Seems the entire *View* team knew Jones had gastric bypass but Jones demanded they all lie and say she was on a diet.

Barbara, Barbara. Is this the same woman who interviewed some of the most important heads of state in the last 40 years and blazed a trail for female reporters? Little on TV surprises us, but that someone of Walters’ stature would lower herself to the level of a skanky tabloid gossip–that’s appalling. So much for your legacy, Miss Walters.

Speaking of legacies and re-inventing of one’s self, Isabella Rossellini is in yet another incarnation. The daughter of Ingrid Bergman has already been a world-class model and an actress. Now she has turned her sights to directing.

Rossellini appeared on the May 8th episode of *Jimmy Kimmel Live* with her strange new series of short films commissioned by Sundance Channel. The films, titled *Green Porno,* are conceived, written, produced, directed and starred in by Rossellini and are about–wait for it–the sex lives of insects.

The one she showed on *Kimmel* was about bees. Rossellini plays the male bee, hunts down and has sex with–porno style–the female bee. But then (as apparently happens to bees after they mate), her/his penis is snapped off and she/he dies. Kimmel noted that we tell kids about the birds and the bees, but never mention the penis snapping off.

Weird, creepy, utterly scandalous, but also brilliant. Check out the series at SundanceChannel.com–click on Green Porno to see the films or watch Tuesday nights. The praying mantis is our personal favorite.

Speaking of sexuality, *ER* had a superb storyline this week about the risks of non-prescription hormone treatments for transitioning FTMs. A young woman comes to the ER at County, apparently dying of liver failure. Then it turns out, when the woman’s mother arrives and asks for her son, that the young woman is a young man–or at least in transition.

Throughout *ER’s* many seasons (the 15th will start this fall, making it one of the longest-running prime time series) has often dealt with risky and risqué issues, many having to do with sexuality.

At its best–which hasn’t been for some time–*ER* has broached difficult subjects and dealt with them humanely as well as educationally. This was one of those episodes. Lois/Lonnie was in liver failure from hormone treatments that were not prescribed, but bought from a friend of a friend via Mexico. The estrogen contained an adjuvant that caused liver failure. Without a transplant Lois/Lonnie would die.

Abby (the terrific Maura Tierney), contemplating leaving County for greener pastures, is fed up and doesn’t take her patient’s father’s homophobia well. Her scolding forces him to man up and he offers to give his son/soon-to-be daughter a piece of his liver.

The episode was all the more poignant for raising an issue we so often ignore in the LGBT community: Most TG’s cannot afford sex reassignment surgeries or treatments and so they troll the Internet for the next best thing, sometimes killing themselves in the process. Lois/Lonnie was trying to save money for the surgery.

Achingly sad but perfectly done with Abby once again proving what a fabulously caring doctor she is–not despite her flaws, but because of them. It’s episodes like this that make us think *ER* isn’t over yet.

Speaking of not over yet, Luke and Noah–who looked like they may have called it quits last week–are on again over at *As the World Turns.* Luke has decided he can’t live without Noah. Lots of cuddling and hand-holding and almost- kissing on the sofa occurred after the reconciliation. We never get enough of these two. Like only the rarest of soap couples, we really believe their story. They look like two college guys in love. So sweet, so sexy, so real. Sigh.

*Soap Opera Digest* has a feature interview with Van Hansis and Jake Silberman in the current issue. Check it out at SoapOperaDigest.com. When the Daytime Emmy nominations were announced last week, Hansis earned his third nomination for Outstanding Younger Actor for the role of Luke. It’s difficult to imagine how he *doesn’t* win this year. The buzz is all his and he totally deserves it for one of the best performances on daytime. (Check out his Daytime Emmy interview on YouTube.)

Speaking of best daytime performances, our gal Ellen is up again for both best daytime talk show and best daytime talk show host. *Ellen* has done one of her best turns ever and has done a lot of serious stuff this year. It’s just icing that she’ll take it away from *The View.* Again.

The super model we love, Tyra Banks, is also up–against Dr. Phil and some other shows in the self-help category. Our money is on the always delightful Banks, a constant friend to the queer community and a role model for women everywhere.

Finally, this last tidbit comes from Craig Ferguson, who in his May 10th monologue asserted, “Brunch, the only openly gay meal.” And then did a whole queer shtick about brunch.

Gotta love it. Stay tuned.

In response to Madman's thinking that the Democratic primary is over because Tim Russert said so, Victoria Brownworth responds: Hillary Clinton is poised to win two more states and thousands more votes as well as more delegates. For those of us still laboring under the delusion that the country has 50 states--not 48 as the DNC thinks--and that all Americans get to choose the presidential nominees, not just the ones Barack Obama says can vote.

Perhaps Greenberg should consider who will be the Republican VP, since that's of far more concern to our side.

And for the record: the polls still show that not only do Americans want Hillary to stay in the race, but she's still doing better than Obama.

Pardon me for wanting to actually WIN in November.

And Madman responds:

I could give a good darn (I cleaned it up - we are a family newsletter, after all) what Tim Russert thinks. Yes, I think it's over, even in spite of Hillary Clinton's win in West Virginia tonight. I supported Senator Clinton, but can't imagine how she could win the Democratic nomination.

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-Noah Greenberg