It's all Bush's fault. Bush lied and people died. Everything Bush does is wrong. That, in a nutshell, is the message of Marc Pitzke's recent series of articles on the Katrina anniversary.
Of course we've reported on SPIEGEL ONLINE's star Amerika-Korrespondent before. He's well known for his slavish dedication to seeking out and reporting on only the most miserable, ugly and hopeless aspects of American society. Pitzke's articles are something like a crude literary version of "The Jerry Springer Show." They are written to please a readership that desperately wants to believe that, because it rejects European-style big government and socialist-democracy, the USA is a nation drowning in poverty and social injustice.
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It is difficult to label Pitzke a journalist because his opinionated brand of campaign journalism resembles propaganda more than anything else. Unfortunately, most Germans take SPIEGEL ONLINE very seriously and don't always recognize that they are being spoon-fed one-sided refuse. Take, for example, Pitzke's latest piece, entitled "Bush's Cynical Gestures." He writes:
"And they are those 37 million who continue to live in poverty in the entire USA, those who Bush promised to care for after "Katrina." Because this number was reported by the Census Bureau, as fate would have it, as Bush was kneeling in the Cathedral. According to it, one in every eight Americans is "poor."
Ignored the Chasm in His Own Land
That is about as many as in the previous year. But while the poverty rate remained constant, the average income of the overall population rose. That means: The majority are doing better - but "the poor are getting poorer," as the independent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed. In the context of the economic upturn that was "the worst performance in recent decades." The last year in which the US poverty rate sank was 2000: It fell to 11.7% under Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton.
More still: The number of Americans without any health insurance climed from 45.3 to 46.6 million according to Census figures. The health care costs of a family of four increased by almost 10 percent. Those hit hardest: The poorest.
A literal sign of poverty: A President who wants to democratize the world, yet stubbornly ignores the growing chasm in his own country despite all the "Katrina" speeches."
Of course, Bush was kneeling in the Cathedral as the announcement came that his nation was sinking in poverty. A perfectly conceived, made-for-Hollywood image of Bush's supposed cynicism (Michael Moore, George Clooney and Oliver Stone would be proud) and another example of how important it is for media outlets like SPIEGEL to drum the image of Bush as hypocritical religious zealot/poseur into the minds of receptive European audiences over and over and over again.
Now to the question of poverty. Pitzke tells us that under Bill Clinton (when America was still happy-land), the US poverty rate sank to 11.7% in 2000 and the world was in order. Under Bush, who Pitzke claims has ignored the problem and allowed the poor to languish, the poverty rate has supposedly skyrocketed out of control, with the poor getting poorer as the rich get richer. So let's look at the numbers: Pitzke writes that one out of eight Americans is living in poverty. That would represent 12.5% (the actual figure is 12.6%) of the population, or less than 1% more than the 2000 level. This despite the massive economic burden of September 11, two wars and Hurricane Katrina. Add to that consistently strong economic growth over the past few years (compared with virtual stagnation in Germany) and the 4.6% unemployment rate (in Germany it is over 11%) and the Bush performance doesn't seem so shabby after all...
(UPDATE: Here are actual US Census Bureau figures on poverty by year. What Pitzke doesn't tell readers is that the current poverty level under Bush is actually lower than it was through most of the 1980s and 1990s, including the majority of President Clinton's time in office.)
But wait a minute. Bush is incompetent and hates the poor. Germany must be far better off. After all, seven years of enlightened, Socialist rule must have left the nation in an ideal state when compared with the horrific misrule of Bush. Let's look at the numbers...GASP...Germany - that true shining paragon of social justice and economic equality - has a poverty rate of 13.9%, up from 12.7% in 2002 and 12.1% in 1998! According to recent reports, poverty among German children is "growing as in no other industrial state," with 37% of children living in Berlin below the poverty line. How could this be in a land dedicated to economic justice, income redistribution and a strong "social" state? (Berlin is ruled by a socially-aware Socialist/Communist coalition...how could this be?!) Somehow this doesn't add up...and don't forget: Most Germans do NOT want to democratize the world and upset Osama! How could Bush's America of vast social injustice even compare to the great German social paradise?
But Pitzke isn't finished with his Katrina tirade. He continues:
"But what happened? Nothing. Instead the Republican controlled Congress refused an increase in a minimum wage for the "working poor" that has remained unchanged for ten years, and, in the same breath reduced the archaic inheritance tax on multi-millionaires to virtually zero, an election gift for wealthy party donors.
Even smaller measures concentrated on "Katrina" zones have turned out to be empty promises. Bush announced financial aid (recovery accounts) for evacuees, an "urban settlement law" and an enterprise zone on the Gulf. Only the latter came about - but, as columnist Jonathan Alter reports, the zone has mostly benefited "southern firms owned by Republican party donors who want to earn some money in New Orleans.
Not Recovered from the Katrina Depression
But Americans do indeed slowly seem to be waking up. In a current poll, 58% declared themselves "not satisfied" with the rebuilding process after "Katrina;" 51% found that Bush had not kept his promises. In another poll 64% disapproved of the country's general course. Bush's popularity remains around 39% - Ratings that have not recovered since the "Katrina"-depression.
"The government cannot do this job alone," Bush said yesterday and called on the people of New Orleans to help themselves and to take personal responsibility upon themselves, as if that weren't the only thing with which they had survived to this point. It was a perfect summary of the Republican ideology of the "small state" - and new evidence of the wise old saying that the Americans are better than their leaders."
Indeed. Ideology is what it is all about. If we are to believe Pitzke, the evil Republicans in the administration and Congress have done nothing but leave the poor of New Orleans (and America) to die while providing kickbacks to wealthy donors, all for the sake of their "small government" worldview. Of course Pitzke makes absolutely no mention of the $122 BILLION in aid approved months ago by the "Republican Congress" and President Bush. No need to trouble readers with a little detail like that. He makes no mention of the fact that, in the United States, a wide range of federal, state, local and private charity programs exist to assist the poor with everything from healthcare to housing to basic needs. He also makes absolutely no mention of the incompetence (and re-election of) Mayor Ray Nagin nor does he mention the failings of Louisiana Governor Blanco. And why would he? They are Democrats and can do no wrong. In the world of carefully selected stories written and prepackaged to satisfy pre-existing worldviews, uncomfortable facts that upset the pre-fabricated media reality are left by the wayside.
"I take full responsibility for the federal government's response, and a year ago I made a pledge that we will learn the lessons of Katrina and that we will do what it takes to help you recover. (Applause.) I've come back to New Orleans to tell you the words that I spoke on Jackson Square are just as true today as they were then.
Since I spoke those words, members of the United States Congress from both political parties came together and committed more than $110 billion to help the Gulf Coast recover. I felt it was important that our government be generous to the people who suffered. I felt that step one of a process of recovery and renewal is money. (...)
But I also want to remind you that the federal government cannot do this job alone, nor should it be expected to do the job alone. This is your home; you know what needs to be done. And a reborn Louisiana must reflect the views of the people down here and their vision and your priorities."
Pitzke interprets Bush's statement as an ideologically-motivated call for "the people of New Orleans" to take on more responsibility, exercise more self-reliance and expect less assistance from government. In fact, Bush was letting his audience know that the federal government needs help from everyone (including state, local and private institutions and citizens) and plans to respect their views in the rebuilding process as opposed to imposing its will from the top down. Furthermore, it is nothing short of laughable that Pitzke would accuse Bush, who has been anything but fiscally conservative, of trying to push a traditional "Republican" agenda of smaller government. There are many things that one could accuse President Bush of. Being a champion of smaller government and limited federal spending is unfortunately not one of them.
But this is not about reality, it is about ideology. Not the ideology of President Bush, but the ideology of Marc Pitzke, his editors in Hamburg, and the readers back home in SPIEGEL-land. It is an ideology of activist Socialism that can only survive if it can convince its captive audience that life is much worse outside the prison walls. The problem is that more and more Germans realize that they can do better elsewhere and are fleeing the grand social experiment. In the meantime, little will change as long as cynical hacks like Marc Pitzke continue to pollute the media landscape with their hackneyed tripe. The sad truth is that this sort of biased propaganda (that passes for legitimate news on the United States) goes largely unchallenged in the German mainstream and many Germans believe it to be entirely accurate, balanced and reliable. And then outside observers wonder why Germans and Americans can't understand one another...
Endnote: For more on this topic, check our previous posting: "Social Injustice, Poverty and a Ticking Time Bomb."
UPDATE #2: Jorg of Atlantic Review pointed out this article (one that Pitzke obviously missed) on poverty in the United States. (Hattip Frogg for the Census link as well.) For more facts on poverty in the United States, click here.