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SPIEGEL ONLINE: Correspondent Marc Pitzke's Cynical Propaganda

(By Ray D.)

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.

Today's SPIEGEL ONLINE: "Republican Election Campaign: Fear to Help Bush to Victory"

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.

And, oh, by the way, here's what President Bush actually said in the speech referenced by Pitzke (for the German translation, see this site):

"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.)


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I think you pretty much covered it all. I would only ask if Clinton was criticized even more than Bush (I only started reading your blog a couple years ago). You can go look a historical record of the poverty percentage at:


Bush's highest year of 12.7 is less than or equal to six of Clinton's eight years. The average between the two of all years in their term also shows Bush with a lower overall average.


Let's take a look at that bit of overstatement. Halfway through President Clinton's tenure in office in 1996, the poverty rate was 13.7 percent. Halfway through President Bush's tenure, the rate is 12.7 percent, a full point lower.

In 1996, the Clinton budget allotted $191 billion for poverty entitlements. That was 12.2 percent of the budget and a whopping amount of money. That's why Bill Clinton (search) was called the first black president by some.

However, the Bush 2006 budget allots a record shattering $368 billion for poverty entitlements, 14.6 percent of the entire budget, a huge increase over Clinton's spending on poverty entitlements.


Also, Notably missing from much news coverage was another aspect of poverty statistics, the diminishing gap between races. A study by Manchester College found that this disparity has decreased by a startling 19%. More African Americans and other minorities have moved out of poverty than in the past.

Our (US) definition of poor is also quite different than it is in most parts of the world....

Economists W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm made a similar argument in their book Myths of Rich and Poor, pointing out that most "poor" families aren't so deprived: they have microwaves, color TVs, cars, VCRs, and other nice material things. In fact, for most of these measures, a poor household in 1994 was better off than the average household in 1971.

Another interesting related note: by one measure of well-being, the amount of dwelling space per person, the average poor American is better off than the average European (pdf; see p. 23).


Bush is not perfect; and, like all foreign leaders there is plenty to criticize him about. But, Germany clearly does not even know the man. He has done more for global poverty and global human rights than anyone I can think of in decades.

Do Germans take Spiegel Online seriously? How can they when it serves up this kind of garbage?


they do, they do, without any doubt.

We got problems. But last I heard Germans are fleeing in record numbers.

Germans Leave in Record Numbers, Fleeing Unemployment

Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Thomas Koerber, an engineering technician from Viernheim, Germany, was looking for a new job. He found it -- 4,700 miles away, in Canada.

``I looked around, found a job I liked in Canada, and left Germany within two months,'' Koerber, 39, said in a telephone interview from Calgary. ``If I can get a better job abroad, and if I'm being treated better, I'm gone.''

Koerber is one of 145,000 Germans who fled the fatherland last year amid record postwar unemployment, pushing emigration to its highest level since 1954, Federal Statistics Office figures show. Last year was also the first since the late 1960s that emigrants outnumbered Germans returning home from living abroad, the statistics office said.

I am not aware of any Americans fleeing to Germany in search of opportunity. Perhaps there are some that I am not aware of. Anyone aware of an American entreprenuer/tech geek/engineer/scientist who moved to Germany in search of greener pastures?

"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,...".

Average income has risen as stated, but so has Median income (the income where 50% of all people are above this income and 50% below this income), which means that the poor ARE doing better than before (the only way the median income can rise is if there are fewer people with low incomes), so to say that the "poor are getting poorer" is not accurate.

Regarding Katrina, I don't think the European press has accurately depicted the massive scale of the storm. The debris field from Katrina was 90,000 square miles, the size of a large European country. Trees were downed and roofs blown off houses as far north as Tennessee. Are all the affected coastal plains cleaned up yet? Well, of course not.

Some areas are doing better than others, namely those places where residents aren't playing victimized refugee in other states waiting for a mythical fairy to waive a magic wand over their abandoned properties.

Not only is NOLA on the Mississippi river delta and Gulf of Mexico, but parts of the city are below sea-level. I, know it's not a popular position, but I don't think it's a wise expense of taxpayer dollars to assist re-development/over-development along the coastal plain areas prone to hurricane devastation. Willing private investors and insurance companies can underwrite development in these areas at their own risk. I've seen comments from European and American defenders of rebuilding NOLA as it was, saying things like much of Holland is below sea-level. Well, Holland doesn't have a problem with recurring hurricanes.

(2006-08-29) — One year after hurricane Katrina, despite an outpouring of billions of dollars from government, church and private charity, and countless teams of volunteers who have come to their aid, many residents of New Orleans have still failed to restore their homes and neighborhoods, or even to clean up the storm-tossed debris, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA.

“Katrina was a tragedy in itself,” Rep. Pelosi said at a news conference in a neighborhood where moldy furniture still lay in front yards, “but it exposed a tragedy of greater proportions. Some people in this region have lost the spirit of our forefathers — the work ethic, the persistence, the determination to overcome adversity.”

The California lawmaker said that when she becomes the next Speaker of the House she plans to use her new prominence to tell Americans to “stop expecting the federal government to protect you from natural disasters, and to bail you out afterward.”     more

I saw the Bloomberg article as well but I'm actually not sure if this great trend is nothing more than business as usual. In fact the 145,000 figure represents a decline in the percentage of Germans leaving as the population of Germany(Federal Republic) was 51 million in 1954. While the current population, as of 2005, is around 81 million. Only 2% left last year while 3% left in 1954. No real mention , except anecdotally, of what type of people were leaving, trained technicians, entrepreneurs, war brides etc. I would hate to have to analyze the current state of affairs in Germany on such a snippet of an article.


The linked website, Scrappleface, is satire, I hope you were being ironic.

You don't even have to follow the link to know that it's satire because you'll never here the words “stop expecting the federal government to protect you from natural disasters, and to bail you out afterward” come out of the mouth of Pelosi.

@Pat -
To be pedantic, it would only be ironic if it weren't satire. But no, I wasn't being serious. However, anyone who would take seriously an article claiming that Pelosi "reserved her harshest comments for people who have 'made a lifestyle out of blaming President Bush for everything.'" pretty well deserves whatever they get. ;)

Well, you can never tell. Kate at Small Dead Animals put up a fake speech by someone in Harper's government and got 25-30 comments on its contents before someone else had to put up the truth in all caps.

Good lord, I bet fell in my floor. I was wondering if I had slipped into a parallel universe! Hilarious!

The Republicans didn't refuse to increase the minimum wage. They attached a tax measure. This is typical partisan political maneuvering in the U.S. Democrats voted down the minimum wage hike in lock step to avoid cutting estate taxes.

The Democrats wanted to soak the rich more than increase the minimum wage, their perogative.

As for the poor in the United States, there is a huge underground economy. Some people claiming to be poor are doing brisk businesses outside the measured, taxed economy.

"there is a huge underground economy." Beagle,

Yeah it's called gyppo. Works very well.

Grünen-Fraktionsvize Jürgen Trittin sagte, Strafaktionen im Streit über die Atompolitik bedienten nur "die Bombenfantasien des Herrn Rumsfeld".


If you are obsessed with hate fantasies, you forget that it is Iran who wants the nuclear bomb.

News Flash

Bloomberg magazine has come out with its list of the most powerful women in the world. Angele Merkel has replaced Condolesa Rice as the most powerful woman on earth. Condi falls to number 2.

Way OT, but continuing Gabi's post.

As Gabi mentioned, Jürgen Trittin (former Minister in Schröder's government and currently part of the Green Party leadership) says in Der Spiegel that talking about sanctions against Iran only serves Rumsfeld's "bomb (or bombing) phantasies". Apparently, Trittin is convinced that Rumsfeld (and obviously America's leadership, because Rumsfeld doesn't act on his own) just can't wait to bomb Iran. This coming from one of the top politicians in Germany (fortunately not in power anymore, but that can easily change in the future).

Unlike other moonbats though, he also offers a solution. The solution ? To "finally start talking with Iran". He means really, really serious talks now. No more fooling around at the tea table.Nope. This time, real talks. Talk until you can't talk no more. And then talk some more. Anything, but not Rumsfeld's "bombing phantasies".

Unfortunately, voices from saner circles of Germany's political spectrum are not much saner. Disapointingly, Wolfgang Gerhardt, the Foreign Relations expert of the Free Democrats (FDP), also has an insane solution: "keep talking anew with each other". In other words, keep talking, no matter what. Probably until Iran has The Bomb. Then we can finally relax and stop talking. (I believe it will be Iran's Bomb who will do the talking by then).

The goal is not to stop them from building The Bomb. No, the goal is to "understand" them. And if we understand them, we'll get a better idea who they will bomb first, and what we can do so we don't get bombed ourselves. Anything is acceptable, anything, including Iran's Bomb, but not Rumsfeld bombs.

The quality of the Spiegel is going down the drain.
You can't take this kind of article seriously.

Trittin is not in power anymore.
This is good news.
Juts ignore this kind of American hater.

Interesting what kind of solution German media offer:

Ralf Beste im SPIEGEL: "Vielleicht hilft es aber auch nur, dass westliche Angebot nochmal aufzustocken - soweit, dass es unwiderstehlich wird und denjenigen in Iran nützt, die schon länger intern für einen Ausgleich mit dem Westen warben. Dazu wären nur die Amerikaner in der Lage, durch das Angebot eines "Grand Bargain" mit Teheran. Die Amerikaner, so das Szenario, würden den Status Irans als Hegemonialmacht im Mittleren Osten akzeptieren und dem verhassten Mullah-Regime den Verzicht auf bewaffnete Intervention garantieren. Im Gegenzug würde Iran den offenen und den heimlichen Krieg gegen USA und Israel aufgeben - und dazu auch die Option auf Atomwaffen aus der Hand legen."


What other solutions are available?

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