Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Hidden, Long-Term Cost of Fracking

By MARC McDONALD

Fracking is big business in America these days. Business commentators have gushed that the fracking boom has caused an economic boom in the United States. They claim fracking gives a competitive boost to our industries, thanks to lower fuel prices.

On the other side, activists have attacked the environmental harm caused by fracking. This was memorably demonstrated in the 2010 documentary, Gasland, that showed the environmental damage done by fracking to communities across the U.S.

Fracking is no doubt bad for the environment. And the shale gas being released is bad for the climate change crisis.

But there's another, mostly hidden, cost to the fracking industry that rarely gets much attention.

That is: while the fracking boom may produce short term economic prosperity, it will be a disaster for U.S. industry over the long term.

Why is this?

It's because fracking merely postpones the day when America must transition over to renewable energy. That will be a complex, costly process. But it is an inevitability. And the longer we postpone this, the more costly it will become.

Other industrialized nations, mostly in Europe, are now working furiously to make the difficult transition to renewables.

For example, Germany is working hard to implement its ambitious Energiewende policy of transitioning over to renewable energy. The costs will be massive---perhaps more than $1 trillion. And it will take decades to implement.

Germany is now making the sort of difficult choices that all nations will eventually be forced to make. The fact is, even with fracking technologies, shale gas is a finite resource. It's an industry that a number of skeptics like Bill Powers and Richard Heinberg have convincingly argued is overhyped.

Many business commentators in the U.S. have boasted that fracking gives U.S. industry lower energy costs and a competitive advantage over their overseas rivals. But this is the short of narrow-minded thinking that has caused great damage to U.S. industry over the decades. It's the same sort of short-term thinking that led Detroit to focus on building huge gas-guzzling cars in the 1950s and 1960s (when the Japanese and Germans were busy perfecting small, fuel-efficient vehicles that later conquered world markets).

Yes, in the short term, U.S. industry may enjoy an advantage.

But over the long term, it's clear that the German Energiewende approach will prove to be the correct approach to energy policy. Yes, it will be costly. But eventually, it will pay for itself.

In fact, once German industry masters this technology, it will no doubt be exported to other nations that wish to move away from fossil fuels. The future demand should be huge.

Other nations, like Japan, China and Spain are working hard to progress down the long road of transitioning over to renewable energy.

The very fact that high-tech renewable energy technology is cutting-edge, costly, and complex makes it appealing to export-oriented nations like Germany and Japan. These nations have always preferred to embrace industries that have high entry barriers and good export prospects.

But by embracing fracking's false promise, the U.S. is only delaying the inevitable. U.S. industry could be a major future player in high-tech renewable energy industries. But instead, it's likely that we'll cede control over these crucial industries to other nations like Germany and Japan. It's yet another step in the long, sad story of America becoming more and more like a Third World nation.

For all the billions of dollars we spend on fracking, at the end of the day, all we'll be left with are dry holes in the ground (and lots of areas where the groundwater is contaminated with fracking chemicals).

Fracking is not just bad for the environment. It will likely actually hurt America's economic prospects over the long term.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

God's Own Army: A Progressive Poem

By MARC McDONALD

Inspired by Manifesto Joe, (a stellar poet who has done a lot of good work) I figured I'd give this poetry thing a shot.

God's Own Army

They are God's own army,
and they are knocking at the door.

They'll save you from the queers,
and they'll save you from the whores.

They'll tell you who God hates,
so you too can go to war.
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Progressive Music Classics. The Mekons: "This Funeral is for the Wrong Corpse"

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By MARC McDONALD

Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics, a salute to left-leaning music that champions the cause of working-class people around the world.

The narrative of the Rich & Powerful and the corporate media was simple back in the day. When the Soviet Union died, we were told, socialism died. End of story.

In 1991, it was clearly time to bury Das Kapital in the landfill and embrace capitalism. The End of History, as Francis Fukuyama put it, was upon us.

However, a strange thing happened along the way to socialism's funeral.

First of all, decades of unregulated, brutal, dog-eat-dog "free" markets led to a spectacular growing divide between the classes. The Top One Percent saw its fortunes (and political influence) soar. The Middle Class pretty much died. And the poor grew vastly in number.

Once again, a lot of people started asking the question, "Is capitalism really the best system we can come up with?"

And the ideas of Karl Marx once again began to be debated. In fact, one of the surprise bestsellers of this year was Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty. It was an eye-opening book that basically served to update Marx's observations with current data.

Amazingly, for a relatively dry academic book, Capital soared to the top of the bestseller lists. Even the The Financial Times (hardly a lefty newspaper) had kind words to say about Piketty's book and admitted that he had raised important points.

It's clear that Piketty hit a nerve and raised important points about the failures of unregulated capitalism.

But wait a minute: haven't we already been through this whole debate before? Didn't socialism die back in 1991? Weren't we told that capitalism was the only way forward?

Well, actually no.

As British band The Mekons pointed out in their classic 1991 song, what was buried with the Soviet Union wasn't the real deal anyway. As The Mekons put it: "This Funeral is For the Wrong Corpse."

They're queuing up to dance on Socialism's grave,
This is my testimony,
a dinosaur's confession,
but how can something really be dead,
when it hasn't even happened?"

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams Slices & Dices George W. Bush, Sarah Palin

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By MARC McDONALD

A lot of great comics (Steve Martin, Woody Allen) pretty much left stand-up comedy behind when they went to Hollywood. But the great Robin Williams (1951-2014) not only never abandoned stand-up, he excelled at it all his life.

In stand-up mode, Williams was a true giant that towered above today's other puerile, mediocre talentless hacks, like Larry the Cable Guy and Dennis Miller.

On-stage, Williams was America's greatest Progressive Truth Teller since Bill Hicks. And unlike the relentlessly politically uncompromising Hicks, Williams was so damn funny that he had fans across the political spectrum. Since Williams died, I've chatted with a number of people, including Conservatives. Nobody I've yet talked to has said a word about Williams' politics.

In the video above, Williams is in fine stand-up form in a U.K. appearance shortly after the election of Barack Obama.

Williams brings the house down as he skewers the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and John McCain. His trademark hysterical rapid-fire delivery is a marvel to behold and he keeps up an astonishing pace of smart political comic turns and dozens of spot-on impersonations of the Rich & Powerful.

No matter what your political persuasion, it's hard not to laugh.

Smart political comedy just lost one of its greatest talents. The world is a more empty place now.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

How Unions Are Unfairly Scapegoated For Detroit's Woes

By MARC McDONALD

There are many reasons for the catastrophic decline of the once-mighty U.S. auto industry over the decades. But it's unfair and inaccurate to point the main finger of blame at unions, the usual scapegoat.

The world's two dominant auto-exporting nations are Germany and Japan. The auto industries in those two nations are heavily unionized. And what's more, unions in Germany and Japan are backed up by strong pro-labor laws that U.S. workers could only dream of.

Although the auto industries of Germany and Japan are heavily unionized, those two nations have absolutely crushed the U.S. auto industry in markets around the world in recent decades. And they've consistently beaten Detroit on its own turf, as well.

In fact, the only reason the U.S. even still has a domestic auto industry at all these days is that Japan Inc. deliberately pulled its punches with "voluntary export restraints" in the 1980s. The latter was a shrewd move by Tokyo to head off moves by the U.S. to raise trade barriers.

Many Conservatives and "free-market" advocates love to scapegoat unions as the cause for Detroit's decline. But as usual, the GOP's simplistic analysis has little to do with the real world.

The fact is, if unions are so bad, then why do the auto industries of Germany and Japan continue to go from strength to strength in conquering world markets? I've done quite a bit of world travel myself and I've seen a number of nations where American cars are a very rare sight on the roads these days. But I have yet to see a country where the roads aren't filled with Volkswagens, BMWs and Toyotas. (It's true that Japan has struggled in China---but that is for political reasons, not competitive reasons).

Although no "free market" U.S. economist would ever admit this, it's clear that unions have actually helped increase the competitiveness of the Japanese and German auto industries.

How? For a start, unions and strong pro-worker labor laws, have essentially forced the auto industries of Germany and Japan to take a very long-term view. By contrast, Detroit (in common with U.S. corporations in general) has always taken a very short-term view.

The likes of General Motors and Ford have simply focused on the next quarter's profits. Meanwhile, the likes of BMW and Toyota have traditionally planned decades ahead.

Unions in Germany offer labor protections that U.S. workers would have a difficult time grasping. The average German worker enjoys an astonishing 6 to 8 weeks of paid vacation. In fact, figures from 2012 show that Germans enjoy among the shortest work hours of any industrialized nation. On average, Germans work around 1,397 hours per year (versus the 1,790 hours that U.S. workers put in). Despite this, Germany vies with China for the title of the world's biggest exporting nation.

Even the supposedly "workaholic" Japanese put in fewer average hours yearly (1,745 hours) than U.S. workers do these days. The fact most Americans feel otherwise is due to stereotypes about the Japanese that are as outdated as the idea that "Made in Japan" is a sign of subpar quality. (In reality, Japanese manufacturers lead the world in the sophistication of their high-tech manufacturing, virtually all of which is done by union labor).

In addition to short working hours, all German auto workers enjoy the protections of two unions: the industry union (the powerful IG Metall), as well as a "works council" union. And unlike U.S. workers, German labor law requires that German workers get representation on companies' board of directors.

And if Germany's labor laws look pretty good for workers, it could be argued that Japanese workers get an even better deal in many ways. After all, in accordance with Japanese law, employees are the top priority for corporations, followed by customers and (in last place) shareholders.

Strong Japanese labor laws make it virtually impossible for large corporations to do mass layoffs. Although the U.S. mainstream media has been declaring the death of so-called "lifetime employment" in Japan, the fact is, the system remains largely intact.

The U.S. mainstream media (particularly the business press) has long criticized the "high wages" of U.S. auto workers as contributing to Detroit's woes.

But this ignores the fact that German and Japanese auto workers get even better pay than U.S. auto workers. However, this reality is often obscured by the U.S. mainstream media, which tends to report the wages of overseas auto workers using the misleading so-called "purchasing power parity" yardstick. According to the latter, Japanese auto workers' wages are often reported as being lower than U.S. auto workers wages, when in fact Japanese workers make among the highest wages in the world when measured by market rates.

Speaking of high wages, the Germans are hardly slouches in that regard, either. In 2011, Forbes magazine reported that the average auto worker in Germany made $67.14 per hour. By contrast, the average U.S. auto worker made $33.77 per hour. Despite this, excluding "transplant" assembly plants, Germany produces more automobiles than the U.S. (5.5 million in 2010, vs. 2.7 million in the U.S.)

How can this be? I believe a good case could be made that unions, as well as smart labor laws, have actually been a big plus for the auto industries of Japan and Germany. As previously mentioned, unions encourage the auto industries of those nations to take a very long-term view.

Take the Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle. Since its introduction in 1997, the Prius, a very high-tech advanced car, has been an enormous home run for Toyota. But it took a very long-range vision and many years of hard work before the first Prius rolled off the assembly line.

In the meantime, Detroit's auto executives scoffed at the idea of hybrids. At first, they claimed that the technology wasn't feasible. Then, they claimed that hybrid cars would never sell. They insisted that consumers were only interested in buying big, gas-guzzling SUVs.

In doing so, Detroit's CEOs were continuing in a long tradition of making the sort of catastrophic decisions that have doomed the U.S. auto industry over the decades.

Detroit's executives have been wrong on just about every major important trend in the global auto industry for decades. They were wrong when they initially rejected air bags, claiming they were impractical and would never sell. They were wrong in the 1960s when they refused to place much emphasis on building the sort of practical, fuel efficient cars that would explode in popularity worldwide during the 1973 oil crisis. (When that crisis hit, Germany and Japan were already well-placed to cash in, thanks to their prowess in building small, fuel-efficient cars).

It's important to note that these disastrous decisions were made by Detroit's CEOs, not by the unions. And what's even more outrageous is that Detroit's CEOs have pulled down pay packages that are vastly larger than German and Japanese auto CEOs.

The latter fact was memorably illustrated during trade talks between Japanese and U.S. automakers back in 1992. The Tokyo negotiators pointed out that U.S. auto executives made vastly larger pay packages than their Japanese counterparts. The U.S. negotiators angrily dismissed this point as a "red herring."

Perhaps it was, but the Japanese had a point that was apparently missed by the U.S. media. That is: why on earth are Detroit's CEOs paid so well in the first place when they've presided over the disastrous decline of the U.S. auto industry over the decades?

Readers with a long memory might recall that the 1992 talks included the infamous incident in which George H. W. Bush collapsed and vomited on the Japanese prime minister, Kiichi Miyazawa. In a way, it was symbolic of the way U.S. workers have been treated since unions were crushed, starting with the Reagan administration.

Today, unions continue to get loads of blame, particularly by the Republicans, for all that is wrong with the U.S. economy.

This "blame the unions" approach dates back to the Reagan years, when "free market" Chicago school economists assured U.S. leaders that if they crushed organized labor and embraced dog-eat-dog capitalism, the U.S. economy would soar. In reality, the only thing that soared was the pay packages of short-sighted CEOs.

Three decades later, unions are vastly weaker. Unions now only represent around 7 percent of the private sector workforce (versus 35 percent back in the 1950s). And yet, America's manufacturing base is at an all-time low. Detroit is in ruins. It's impossible to imagine that the U.S. auto industry will ever again pose a challenge to the mighty auto industries of Germany and Japan.

Side note: much has been written about the successes of the non-unionized auto plants that have sprung up in southern states in recent decades. But the latter hardly represent any sort of real renaissance for the U.S. auto industry.

In fact, these auto plants are doing nothing more than final assembly (which is by far the least sophisticated part of the overall auto manufacturing process). The real heavy lifting, as far as technological know-how, continues to be done in Japan and Germany.

The existence of these assembly plants hardly demonstrates any real strength in U.S. auto industry competitiveness. Rather, they exist because the Germans and Japanese (and increasingly, the Koreans) are happy to farm out low-tech "grunt work" to low wage plants in the U.S. (as well as various other similar facilities in Third World nations across the globe).

Increasingly, it is becoming apparent that the U.S. itself is becoming a Third World nation. And indeed, it is hard to conclude otherwise.

The U.S. auto industry was once the awe and envy of the world. Thanks in large part to the auto industry, the U.S. became the greatest economic national success story in world history (at least, until the recent spectacular rise of China).

There are many reasons for the decline of the U.S. auto industry. Incompetent, short-sighted CEOs. Stupid trade policies. The Reagan administration's embrace of the service economy and the subsequent neglect of America's manufacturing base. A naive embrace by U.S. leaders of the pipe dream called "free trade." A disastrous neglect of America's infrastructure and public schools (even as our nation's bloated military budgets soared into the stratosphere).

But frankly, it's misguided, and wrong, to point the main finger of blame at unions. To be sure, unions aren't entirely blameless. But it's clear that there were many other factors in Detroit's decline. The continued existence of powerful unions and strong pro-worker labor laws in Germany and Japan only confirms this point.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cliven Bundy: The Real Welfare Leech

By MARC McDONALD

I don't know much about the cattle business. But I'd suspect that if one owns a cattle ranch, your biggest expense by far is buying food for your cattle.

Wingnut hero Cliven Bundy owns a prosperous cattle business. His cattle get to graze for free on publicly owned land. (That's right: all taxpayers, including you and me, are subsidizing Bundy's business). He refuses to pay the $1 million he owes the government for supplying his cattle with free food over the decades.

In short, Bundy is a government welfare leech. He can't be bothered to pay the same grazing fees that tens of thousands of other ranchers across the West pay every year.

And yet, incredibly, this right-wing asshole has the gall to criticize African-Americans for living off "government subsidies." That, in and of itself, is an outrageous lie. The vast majority of African-Americans in fact never collect any kind of government subsidies (although this is widely believed by the Rush Limbaugh crowd).

Speaking of which, Bundy's comments on African-Americans sent the previously supportive right-wing media scurrying away from Bundy on Thursday.

Which raises a question: why?

After all, the right-wing media and its wingnut followers pretty much all believe what Bundy said about African-Americans. Switch on a wingnut talk radio station on any week day and you'll hear similar views (although perhaps not as crudely or explicitly expressed). I myself have had countless discussions with right-wingers over the years and they all have expressed similar views to Bundy's.

Limbaugh, the de facto spokesman for the GOP has in fact been making racist and offensive remarks about African-Americans and other minorities for many years. So has Fox News.

And yet, Fox News, after strongly supporting Bundy earlier this month, meekly tiptoed from the whole story after Bundy's racist remarks.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Progressive Music Classics. Killing Joke: "Empire Song"

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By MARC McDONALD

Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics, a salute to left-leaning music that champions the cause of working-class people around the world.

The great post-punk band Killing Joke released their sixth single, "Empire Song," on March 20, 1982. It turned out to be an eerily prescient song when, less than two weeks later, Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands.

Thatcher's Britain then sprung into action, gearing up for the subsequent Falklands War. "The Empire Strikes Back" was the cover story headline on the April 19, 1982 edition of Newsweek magazine.

The whole episode seemed to have been predicted by "Empire Song," particularly in the infamous chorus:

"Back to square one, another empire backfire"

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Russia's current actions in Crimea demonstrate that "The Great Game" of empires is as alive and well today as it was in the 19th century.

The only difference is that, back in the old days, the great powers were a bit more honest in admitting that they simply wanted to steal the resources of the countries they exploited.

These days, imperialism is often masked and obscured by a lot of lofty talk about ideals. (For example, the Bush/Cheney NeoCons often talked of noble goals of bringing "democracy" to Iraq, rather than just admitting that they wanted the fucking oil for their billionaire cronies).

Like Robber Baron capitalism, imperialism never really died. It simply went through a fallow period. I'd suspect that the current episode in Crimea is merely only the beginning of what will be a new round of resource grabbing by the Great Powers.

Killing Joke is one of those bands that proved to be highly influential over the years, but never really got the credit they deserved. For example, Nirvana blatantly ripped off Killing Joke's 1984 "Eighties" single on their 1992 song, "Come as You Are."

And vastly inferior "industrial" bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails have made a career out of stealing Killing Joke's basic template and watering it down for popular consumption. (The latter is the main reason why the whole "industrial" genre quickly became stale and cliched).

Unlike the tiresome bands that followed in their wake, Killing Joke always had an element of menace and danger in their work. What's more, they had a real message, tackling horrors like Monsanto, war, propaganda, corporatism, and other modern ills in their lyrics.

Killing Joke's approach hasn't been a formula for commercial success, but it has led to three decades of fantastic music of integrity and honesty.

Monday, March 03, 2014

"12 Years a Slave" Oscar Win: Get Ready For Inevitable Whining By the Rush/Drudge/Fox Crowd

By MARC McDONALD

12 Years a Slave is a great film that deserved its Best Picture Oscar on Sunday night. And already, I can just see the inevitable backlash from the racist Right-Wing Propaganda Noise Machine of Limbaugh/Drudge/Fox.
Here's their twisted little version of U.S. history:

The Civil War ended slavery in America.
And after the Civil War ended in 1865, no black person was mistreated in America ever again.
And all Americans lived happily ever after.
The end.

(Oh, and if any black people are still struggling with poverty and other hardships, well, it's all their own damn fault. Slavery happened a long time ago, and black people have had since 1865 to get their act together).

Oh, and all the following never happened:
  • The lynching era.
  • The torture/murder of Sam Hose.
  • The Jim Crow era.
  • The 1921 Tulsa race riot that destroyed the "Black Wall Street" (killing as many as 300 African-Americans).
  • The terrorism of the KKK.
  • The Tuskegee syphilis experiment.
  • The murder of Medgar Evers.
  • The murder of MLK.
  • The deadly police attack on MOVE.
  • The shooting of Amadou Diallo.
  • Ronald Reagan's 1980 "States' Rights" speech.
  • Willie Horton.
  • The murder of James Byrd, Jr.
  • George W. Bush praises officials at Bob Jones University.
  • The "birther" controversy.
  • President Obama is a "subhuman mongrel" remark by GOP hero, Ted Nugent.
  • The ongoing harsh incarceration of hundreds of thousands of young black men in U.S. prisons for small-time, non-violent, petty drug possession offenses ("crimes" that wouldn't even merit jail time in most of Europe and the rest of the First World).
Etc. Note: Limbaugh/Drudge/Fox News fans: I can hear your complaints already, "But we white males are the REAL persecuted victims in today's America!" Yeah, if Rush says it, it must be true. Get ready to hear a lot of right-wing bullsh*t about how "Liberal" Hollywood tries to make white people feel guilty about slavery and the historical mistreatment of African-Americans. Yes, the "Liberal" Hollywood that brought us, Birth of a Nation.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Progressive Music Classics. The Fatima Mansions: "Something Bad"

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By MARC McDONALD

Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

These days, I think pretty much everyone outside of the Rush/Drudge/Fox crowd now accepts that George W. Bush's eight years in the White House were a true disaster for the American nation, as well as for the world.

Bush's two terms were so awful that it's easy to forget just how bad his father's term in office was, as well. So while the memories are still fresh of how GWB was an arrogant, incompetent little prick and a warmonger, it's important to remember that Bush senior wasn't a whole lot better. Clearly, the apple didn't fall far from the tree.

Bush senior's time in office back in the early 1990s was truly a miserable period. After eight agonizing years of Reagan, it was almost too much to bear.

It was a dark and sinister era in many ways. It was a time well summed up by the 1992 song, "Something Bad" by the Irish band, The Fatima Mansions.

Led by Cathal Coughlan, The Fatima Mansions were (ironically) named after a crumbling housing estate in Dublin. Coughlan was gifted with a wonderful voice. He had a knack for lyrics that could lure you in with their beauty---and then, when you least suspected it, come at you like a sudden switchblade with deeply disturbing imagery.

Clearly, The Fatima Mansions weren't intended to be easy listening. Nor did they aim for the charts. Instead, they meant to jolt you and, oftentimes, leave you with a queasy feeling. In this, they shared the same approach as other provocative bands like Whitehouse and Throbbing Gristle.

While always intriguing, Coughlan's lyrics were rarely straightforward. But in "Something Bad," there was no doubt as to what the target of his venom was.

"One man felt ashamed running guns and cocaine,
For his short-term gain, so every one of us must pay.

In his New World Order, you can have some nerve gas with your air,
Thanks to the CIA pussy in the President's chair.

Something bad is giving birth,
In the sky its belly bursts."


"Something Bad" appeared on the excellent 1992 album, Valhalla Avenue (which sadly was never released in America). It's an album that alternates between songs with lovely melodies and harsh electronic noise (sometimes in the same song, to jarring effect). It's a wonderful antidote to the lame, safe-as-milk, cynically contrived music that clogs up the airwaves these days.

To me, "Something Bad" is a stark reminder that George W. is hardly the only Bush that has inflicted damage on America. The entire Bush family has been a disaster for the country over the years. God help us if another Bush ever succeeds in making it back to the White House.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

America's Hypocrisy in Condemning North Korea

By MARC McDONALD

Lately, the U.S. (and the U.N.) have been spending a lot of time attacking North Korea's human rights record. I'm no fan of North Korea. But something about all this just doesn't pass the smell test for me. After all, it seems like we've been down this road before---although America's persistent collective amnesia prevents us from grasping this truth.

In any case, in the aftermath of horrors like Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Mahmudiyah, I'm not sure the U.S. has much moral authority left to lecture other nations about "human rights." (The fact that a lot of readers are likely scratching their heads and wondering what Mahmudiyah was all about is a good indicator of just how ill-informed Americans are when it comes to our own nation's crimes).

Say what you want about North Korea. But at least they're not going around the world invading other nations to steal their oil.

Yes, the ruling cabal of North Korea is brutalizing their own people. But the U.S. really needs to get its own house in order before we lecture other nations.

I want to make it clear: I don't support North Korea. But I'm always leery of these horror stories that we hear in the U.S. corporate media about what supposedly goes on in these tightly-closed nations on the other side of the world. I mean, who the f*ck in the U.S. really knows what's going on in North Korea these days?

To tell you the truth, I sometimes think I'd like to visit North Korea myself someday, just to check it out and see that nation for myself, first-hand. However, that's illegal for me, as a U.S. citizen, to do. Which raises a question: why? If America is really a "free" nation, then why does it set limits on where U.S. citizens can travel?

Travel to Cuba is also illegal for me to do. However, interesting enough, though, it was perfectly legal for me to visit South Africa during the dark days of apartheid.

Back in the 1980s, the U.S. government had zero regulations about U.S. citizens visiting (and U.S. corporations conducting commerce with) what was, at the time, one of the most evil regimes in history.

But oppressing black people is one thing. Tampering with the United Fruit Company's profits is quite another.

Maybe it's simply because I'm a contrarian bastard who has been lied to so many times that I simply no longer buy anything the U.S. government is peddling.

But something about America's outrage over North Korea's human rights record just doesn't pass the smell test, for me. And what's more, do we really think that America's corporate oligarchy really gives a sh*t about human rights in North Korea? (No, what they're really shedding tears over is potential lost soft drink sales).

I mean, have we already forgotten that a lot of the horror stories we were told about Saddam simply never happened?

How about Saddam Hussein's alleged shredder that we were assured was being used to horrifically kill his opponents? "See men shredded, then say you don't back war," went the headline in one U.K. newspaper. The trouble was, it turns out this notorious machine never even existed. However, it did serve a useful purpose in the corporate media's mandate to transform the Third World tinhorn dictator Saddam into the next Hitler.

Or how about the war-time propaganda/crock of sh*t that was the 1990 Nayirah testimony? The heart-rending stories of Saddam's troops taking babies out of incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals and leaving them to die all turned out to be fabricated. But such horrific tales did help whip up support among the U.S. public for war in Iraq.

Or how about the WMDs that all our American leadership insisted posed a threat to our nation? Anyone who disputed the WMD allegations was treated as a kook, or a traitor.

And I always take what I hear from the exiles of such regimes with a grain of salt. Much of what the Iraqi exiles assured us about what was going on in Iraq was either exaggerated or fabricated.

I'd be the first to admit that North Korea is probably in reality a very bad place. But frankly, what goes on there is none of America's f*cking business. We really need to start paying reparations to the millions of families in Iraq and Vietnam that were the victims of our aggression before we continue to point the finger of blame at other nations and lecture them on "human rights."

And if it's human rights abuses and authoritarianism that really bothers you, then please take a look around your house. Odds are, a majority of your household possessions were made in China (which, despite a lot of wishful thinking by the U.S. corporate media, is still very much a Communist nation, with abysmal human rights that are probably on a par with North Korea).

Incidentally, while Americans are constantly making a fuss over North Korea's human rights, why aren't we similarly all worked up over a hell-hole like Saudi Arabia? The latter is ruled by a horrific leadership that brutalizes women, tortures and murders its opponents, and funds Islamic terror groups around the world.

And yet, little is ever mentioned about any of this in the U.S. corporate media. The Saudis are our friends and allies, we're told. More importantly, they hold a lot of U.S. assets and are valuable partners to corporate America and the U.S. military industrial complex. Indeed, the likes of George W. Bush had warm ties to the Saudi ruling class and even invited its members out to friendly barbecues at his Texas ranch.

It's hard for me to put my finger on specifically what bothers me about the U.S. corporate media's continuing outrage over North Korea. But something just doesn't pass the smell test for me. Once again, the corporate media is working overtime to build up an insignificant Third World tinhorn dictator into the next Adolf Hitler. To what end remains unclear.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Would President Gore Have Done After 9/11?

By MARC McDONALD

I've often wondered: if Al Gore had been allowed to assume the presidency that he won in the 2000 election, how would he have responded after the 9/11 attacks? Actually, I think it's pretty likely 9/11 would never have happened in the first place under President Gore.

Gore was (and is) a reader and a scholar, you see. One of those dreaded "Liberal book learners." Unlike Bush, Gore didn't make decisions "based on his gut." Gore read about and studied the issues. He listened to experts. Oh, the horror!

And on Aug. 6, 2001, when the CIA hand-delivered a Presidential Daily Brief to President Gore, he would have actually read the goddamn thing (particularly after glancing at the alarming headline, "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in U.S.")

Unlike Bush, Gore wasn't fond of endless 5-week vacations on the taxpayer's dime. So it is entirely possible that Gore wouldn't have been on vacation at the time. I'm think it's also highly likely that if Gore had been on vacation, he'd have cut it short to deal with the PDB.

What's important, though, is that President Gore would have take action. For example, it's a virtual certainty that he would have called a meeting of his top security people. (Maybe such a high-level security meeting would have brought attention to issues like the FBI's July 2001 reporting about suspicious Middle Eastern men who were learning to fly passenger airliners at U.S. aviation schools).

I'd also suspect that President Gore would have ordered possible terror targets like airports to step up security a notch.

Sadly, none of this actually happened. Of course, that's because in the previous year, a blatantly pro-GOP Supreme Court in 2000 awarded Bush a presidency in an election that Gore won by over half a million votes.

And so when Aug. 6, 2001 rolled around, Bush was handed the fateful Bin Laden PDB and took no action, as he continued to enjoy his 5 week vacation.

And so 3,000 Americans died on 9/11. And later, hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered in the trillion-dollar fiasco called the Iraq War.

Of course, Bush and his supporters have long maintained that, "No one could have predicted the Sept. 11 attacks."

That, of course, is utter bullsh*t.

As David Plotz explained in a piece on Slate, there were in fact, "tons of warnings of exactly this kind of attack."

"The (2003) congressional report on the 9/11 intelligence failures lists a dozen pre-9/11 indications that terrorists were plotting a suicide hijacking. For example, in 1994 Algerians hijacked an Air France airliner with the intention of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower. (They were tricked by French officials into landing in Marseilles to refuel, where they were overpowered.) In 1995, police in the Philippines uncovered an al-Qaida plot to fly a plane into CIA headquarters. (One of the plotters: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.) A year later, al-Qaida had the idea of flying a plane from outside the United States and crashing it into the White House. Two years later, al-Qaida planned to fly a plane from outside the United States and crash it into the World Trade Center. And so on."

I suppose it could be debated endlessly as to whether a President Gore could have helped prevent the 9/11 attacks. I personally believe it is likely. But in reality, we will never know.

We do, however, know that President Gore almost certainly wouldn't have marched the U.S. into invading the wrong country after 9/11. This is where Gore's "book learning" would have come in handy for the nation. I think it's likely that Gore wouldn't have been under the misconception, shared by the Bush crowd, that Saddam somehow was connected to 9/11. (In fact, he likely would have known that, in fact, Saddam and Bin Laden were bitter enemies).

I suppose, in fairness, it's possible that even this can't be known for certainty.

But there is one thing that is absolutely certain. President Gore would have taken firm decisive action to protect America (and the world) from a threat that is actually vastly larger than Al-Qaeda.

That is: the oncoming major threat to humanity called Global Warming.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Music For Those Who Hate the Grammys. Progressive Music Classics: "Joe Hill" by Paul Robeson

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By MARC McDONALD

Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

I didn't watch the Grammy Awards this year. In fact, I never watch the Grammys (which is nothing more than a wank-fest of the corrupt U.S. corporate recording industry to celebrate another year of the utter mediocrity that clogs up today's pop charts). Anyone who thinks the Grammys celebrate the best of U.S. popular music probably also thinks the "Best Picture" Oscar actually has something to do with the best cinema of the year.

I suppose there might be some worthwhile music at the Grammys. But as the great Morrissey once sang, "It says nothing to me about my life."

Once upon a time, popular music actually had something to say. Listen to the best songs of the 1960s for example, and you can quickly get a sense of the issues of the day, from the Vietnam War to the youth rebellions that shook the Western world.

But these days, the songs are all about sex, bling-bling, and mindless consumption. And even the "best" music these days seems clinically crafted for one purpose: to shift as many units as possible.

It's all the more outrageous when you consider that one important function of the arts has been to hold a mirror up to society. Any outsider who listened to today's U.S. pop music would conclude that most Americans drive Bentleys, drink lots of Grey Goose, and spend their days having sex with supermodels.

If today's pop music really reflected U.S. society, it would reveal a broken, deteriorating nation that is facing a major crisis. Poverty is rising. The gap between rich and poor is at obscene levels. More and more kids are going hungry. The once Great American Middle Class is becoming extinct. And yet our corrupt government does nothing but act as a concierge service for the Rich & Powerful.

Do today's hitmakers like Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke have anything to say about all this? No---in fact today's popular music has nothing much to say about anything, bar the odd left-field hit from Chumbawamba.

One artist who always did keep it real was the great Paul Robeson (1898-1976). One of the most important progressive artists of all time, Robeson was often persecuted by the Powers That Be for his beliefs. But he never apologized and never backed down.

In the video above, Robeson pays homage to another great progressive hero, Joe Hill, who was executed in 1915.

Today, it's easy for some to mock Robeson's leftist beliefs as "naive." But what I've always found really naive is how so many in our society now embrace a unregulated, unfettered "free market" as the answer to everything.

Somehow, in our society, it's always the lefties who are regarded as naive. But those who embrace hard-core dog-eat-dog capitalism are somehow regarded as "sensible" and "realistic."

But those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Back in the 1930s, unfettered capitalism led to the Great Depression. I believe that today's unfettered capitalism will likely lead to nothing less than the end of America as we know it.

The fact is, the middle class is dying in America. And without a healthy, vibrant middle class around to buy the products that the system produces, U.S. capitalism won't survive for much longer.

Where are the Joe Hills of today? And for that matter who is our generation's equivalent of Paul Robeson? You certainly won't ever find such a singer, watching the banalities of the corporate wank-fest called the Grammy Awards.