Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sponsored Post: FT Pub Quiz Takes Look at Wacky 2016 Election Season


As many pundits have noted, this has been one of the most wacky and bizarre political campaign seasons in decades. And I sometimes wonder if we've ever faced an election where the voters were less informed on the issues, and the candidates, than they are today.

I recall reading once about the early days of television. The great TV pioneer Philo Farnsworth, among others, had high hopes for the new medium.

"He thought it would wipe out the need for war, that it would end ignorance and illiteracy. He thought it was an educational tool," Farnsworth biographer Evan Schwartz said.

Needless to say, television didn't exactly live up to Farnsworth's early optimism. He died depressed and in obscurity in 1971.

Similarly, great claims were made for the World Wide Web in its early days. Given the unprecedented access to information that the Web unleashed, it was difficult to fathom how the Internet could ever lead to an increase in ignorance. But sadly, that's just what has happened. And although the Web has indeed been revolutionary and changed our lives, it has hardly wiped out ignorance. Indeed, we all have right-wing friends and relatives who exist in their own little fact-free bubbles and get all their "news" from the likes of Breitbart.

For example, anyone with a Net connection today has easy access to a mind-boggling amount of information and hard science data about global warming. Unfortunately, the same Web that brought us this easy access to such data has also brought us easy access to a huge number of sites that bizarrely continue to dispute the science of global warming.

Today, despite all our technology, there are as many, if not more, misinformed voters than ever before. For example, I get the feeling that only a small fraction of Donald Trump's supporters even really understand what his positions are on the issues. Not that those are set in stone (his positions often seem to change by the day). And we've all had right-wing friends and relatives who've assured us that Hillary Clinton is a "far-left" Liberal (a claim that is of course laughably inaccurate). Hillary definitely has her faults---but being far-left is definitely not one of them.

The FT Pub Quiz video below does a good job of reminding us just how wild and wacky this election season has been.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Progressive Music Classics. The Clash: "Something About England"



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.

One of the highlights of The Clash's 1980 underrated masterpiece, Sandinista! is the haunting "Something About England," a song that gives a whirlwind tour of the disasters of the 20th century. Although the song was released 36 years ago, the opening lyrics seem eerily prescient, as they describe the immigrant bashing that is going on today in both Europe and America.

They say immigrants steal the hubcaps
Of the respected gentlemen.
They say it would be wine and roses
If England were for Englishmen again.

Of course, politicians scapegoating immigrants for a nation's woes is nothing new. But is usually the case with The Clash, the societal problems they described back in the day have only gotten worse over the years (from corrupt governments to the expanding Big Brother surveillance state to widening inequality).

Like many of the cuts on Sandinista!, "Something About England" is a little hard to grasp at first. The band pack so many ideas into the song that with the seemingly rushed production, it almost seems like the whole thing will fly apart at any moment. But that only adds to the sense of urgency and appeal of the song.

At the time of its release, Sandinista! got a lot of flack from critics who complained about its sloppy, haphazard production. But the fact is, a lot of the greatest rock ever recorded has had haphazard production values, from White Light/White Heat to Metallic KO. Indeed, that is often part of its primal appeal. If music is inspired, it doesn't need pristine, state-of-the art production (take a bow, Sun Ra and Robert Johnson).

Love it or hate it, though, Sandinista! definitely had some of the best, most intriguing lyrics that Joe Strummer and Mick Jones ever came up with. Take this heartbreaking lyric from "Something About England," describing the aftermath of World War II:

The few returned to old Piccadilly.
We limped around Leicester Square.
The world was busy rebuilding itself.
The architects could not care.

Back during the horrors of the Reagan years, one of the things that helped a lot of us retain our sanity was the vital, angry protest music of the era from bands like The Clash, Minutemen, Gang of Four, The Jam, The Specials, and many others.

One might think that today's political extremists like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz would inspire a new generation of young angry and eloquent musicians. But sadly, all we get are the likes of Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift and the mediocrities of "The X Factor" and "American Idol." Nobody seems to have anything of substance to say any more. It's all the more sad when you realize just how much does need to be said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Why Ted Cruz Is Even Scarier Than Donald Trump


I've always thought Bill Maher is one of the most astute observers of U.S. politics and society. But recently, he said something that I have to strongly disagree with: that, as bad a GOP nominee as Ted Cruz would be, he'd actually be preferable to Donald Trump. I suppose it's a moot point, as Hillary Clinton would likely defeat either candidate. But if I had to choose, I'd take Trump as president over Cruz any day.

Trump is a bigot and he's said a lot of outrageous things on the campaign trail. But frankly, Cruz scares the hell out of me far more than Trump.

If you look at both candidates, they're equally repugnant on a lot of things: from waterboarding to building a big, stupid, pointless wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the fact is, Trump actually does have his good points. For example, I actually admired him quite a bit for blasting George W. Bush and the disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Trump used harsh language to slam the Iraq War that could have come straight from the pages of this blog.

On Iraq, Trump said a lot of the same things we've been saying for nearly a decade. And from a nationally televised, high-profile GOP debate stage, no less. Frankly, that took a lot of guts. The rest of the GOP field predictably slammed Trump (I recall one GOP commentator comparing Trump's rhetoric to Code Pink---which was actually true).

Another thing I like about Trump is that he has made it clear that he won't cut Social Security or Medicare. That kind of position is unheard of in today's GOP. It was astonishing for Trump to get on a GOP debate stage and make that kind of campaign promise. In today's Fox News/talk radio extremist GOP, no Republican is supposed to say anything about Social Security or Medicare without advocating either phasing it out, slashing it, or "reforming it."

Once upon a time, I myself was a political reporter. I recall countless interviews I did with various GOP candidates. Without exception, they always showed utter contempt for programs like Social Security and Medicare. Those programs were always near the top of their hit list.

In fact, at one time GOP candidates openly talked about phasing out both programs. It was only after they realized that such a position guaranteed a defeat at the polls that they modified their stance to "reforming" Medicare and Social Security. Frankly, a lot of voters (correctly) didn't even trust them on that position. So many Republicans switched tactics again and simply started taking potshots at both programs. (John McCain, among others, has referred to Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme)."

So it took a big pair of balls for Trump to take the position he did on two of the "Big Government" programs that are always near the top of the GOP's hit list. His position was something that you simply don't hear from any Republican these days.

Trump has also been surprising Liberal on programs like affirmative action. I was astonished a few months ago when I heard him openly support affirmative action in a MSNBC interview. He didn't even hedge his position---he made it clear that he supported the policy. In today's GOP, that kind of position is about as rare as support for Planned Parenthood (another program that Trump has astonishingly had a few kind words for on a GOP debate stage).

Trump has taken a lot of shots from fellow candidates and GOP commentators that he is actually kind of Liberal on some issues. And frankly, that's true. And what's more, the Liberal positions he supports are actually quite important.

One other thing I like about Trump. He has slammed the disastrous, so-called "free" trade policies the U.S. has embraced over the past 30 years. Actually, that kind of position is rare, not just among Republicans, but among Democrats as well. These days, the only kind of politician that could even dare to stand up to the hugely powerful "free" trade lobby is the very sort of candidate Trump is. Someone who is very wealthy and doesn't need the backing of the K Street lobbyists. Keep in mind that much of today's corporate America just loves so-called "free" trade. Companies like Apple have long embraced it. And as a result, the U.S. has lost much of its manufacturing base (most importantly, its once world-beating high-tech manufacturing base).

The "free" trade lobby is one of the strongest and most powerful forces in Washington. For 30 years, it has proclaimed that "free" trade is a plus for America---a claim that has gone unchallenged by the vast majority of politicians in both parties, as well as the corporate media. So, on this important issue, Donald Trump has been a breath of fresh air.

Contrast all this to Ted Cruz. With Cruz, you get all the radical extremist right-wing positions of Trump. But you don't get any of Trump's smart positions. On "free" trade, for example, Cruz is firmly in the pocket of the "same old, same old" crowd. Like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and virtually every major politician of the past 30 years, Cruz is firmly in favor of embracing "free" trade.

On other issues, ranging from tax policy to waterboarding, Cruz is every bit as extreme as Trump. He's also a Muslim-basher. Recall his scary position to "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods."

In short, Cruz is just like Trump, minus the latter's occasional sensible positions.

Like Dick Cheney, Cruz is a warmonger. He's made it clear that he has no qualms about launching yet more wars in the Middle East. With Cruz, it's like the lessons of the disastrous Iraq War never even happened. For him, war is always the policy of first resort. Cruz is like Cheney on steroids.

What makes Cruz even more scary is his extreme right-wing interpretation of the Bible and his enthusiasm for embracing what would essentially be a theocracy in America. Like many far-right evangelicals, he has no qualms about ramming his twisted interpretation of "Christianity" down the throats of the rest of us. Say what you want about Trump, but he is clearly no extremist right-wing evangelical.

Last, but not least, I've always suspected that underneath his bluster and red-meat statements, Trump is basically a pretty smart guy. But Cruz clearly isn't very bright or informed at all. I recall when Cruz called for the abolition of five federal agencies, but could only name four. Recall back when Rick Perry made a very similar mistake and was attacked as a lightweight. But after Cruz's bone-headed blunder, I don't recall a similar backlash.

Yes, Trump is scary and extremist at times. But Cruz is a full-time extremist. He's about as Far-Right crazy as it is possible to be. No wonder the likes of hate-wing talk radio show extremists like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin have endorsed him.

Trump now has most of wingnut radio, much of the right-wing Web media, the powerful corporate "free" trade K Street lobby, and the GOP establishment fighting him. That only makes me prefer him over Cruz even more.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Our Grade for Overrated Music Critic Robert Christgau: a D-Minus


To me, the best music critics have always been the ones who simply stick to writing about the music and not calling attention to themselves. For example, off the top of my head, I don't think I can name a single critic for my favorite music magazine, Britain's excellent The Wire. But the reviews in that publication are some of the best around. They're informative, in-depth, well-researched, and they give you a good sense of the music.

By contrast, the reviews of Robert Christgau, the self-appointed "Dean of Music Critics" offer none of these qualities. His reviews are short (often one sentence) and often nasty, mean, cryptic, baffling, and non-sensical. He rates each album with a letter grade, often ranging from "A" to "D."

For all his self-importance as a culture critic, Christgau may be missing the point in his music reviews. The real skill in reviewing a piece of music is not simply assigning it a grade. No, what takes talent and skill is explaining why a record is worthwhile or not.

Christgau may think it takes talent to write one-sentence reviews and hand out letter grades. But in good music criticism, I would argue that the opposite is true. It takes skill to explain, in-depth, exactly why a work deserves our attention. For a start, you've got to do some research on the music. You've got to be able to put the music into context. You've got to give the reader some helpful background on the music so that they can appreciate what they're listening to. Frankly, you can't do this in a one-sentence review.

Christgau has pissed off a lot of people over the years. Famously, the likes of Lou Reed and Sonic Youth slammed him. Christgau, however, does have his supporters. They claim that Christgau's work is important. They even defend his short one-sentence reviews.

I have to disagree. If you look over Christgau's reviews during the forty-plus years he's been a critic, you'll find that his critical radar has simply been wrong so many times that you have to question his credibility.

Take, for example, Christgau's harshly negative 1969 review of King Crimson's epic progressive rock masterpiece, In the Court of the Crimson King.

Now, I really don't have a problem with a critic who "bucks the tide" and gives an album, or movie, a negative rating, when everyone else loves the work. If the critic can back up his unorthodox view and make a case for it, this can often make for interesting reading and help put a work into context. (A good example is The New York Times' critic Richard Goldstein, who famously panned Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band).

History, of course, proved Goldstein wrong on what is now widely acknowledged as an all-time masterpiece. But I will give credit to Goldstein. He wrote an in-depth review and he actually made some good points, which he supported in his review.

Contrast Goldstein's review to what Christgau wrote in his withering put-down review of In the Court of the Crimson King. Here is the review in its entirety:

"The plus is because Peter Townshend likes it. This can also be said of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Beware the forthcoming hype--this is ersatz shit."

Christgau (who has long been hostile to virtually all progressive rock) gave King Crimson's album an absurd D+ rating. But he never bothered to explain in the slightest bit as to why the album deserved such a negative review. If you're going to slam an artist's work so viciously (calling it "shit"), you should at least bother to give a reason or two.

Time has not been kind to Christgau's opinion of In the Court of the Crimson King. The album is now regarded as a milestone. It's one of the all-time classics of the progressive rock genre. It features astonishingly skillful musicianship, epic songs, thought-provoking lyrics---in short, just about everything one could ask for in a classic rock album.

For such a short review, Christgau's dismissal of In the Court of the Crimson King is even more stupid, the more one thinks about it. In the review, he manages to get in a swipe at The Crazy World of Arthur Brown as well. In reality, that album was a masterpiece itself (capped by the thrilling Fire, an epic track that just seems to have gotten better since its 1968 release).

Actually, Christgau has never liked progressive rock, period. It's one of the many rock subgenres that he despises, along with heavy metal. Fair enough, I suppose. But given that he has contempt for so many major, popular, and enduring subgenres, one has to wonder why Christgau bothers to write about rock music in the first place.

For my money, though, the worst part of Christgau's writing (besides his self-importance) is that his critical radar is just so flawed.

Spend some time with his reviews and you wonder why anyone would take his writings seriously. When he's not slamming important albums, ranging from Nick Cave to Scott Walker, he's gushing over lightweight artists that I don't believe will stand the test of time. (Take a bow, Taylor Swift).

Christgau's infatuation with Swift is a major, baffling annoyance. I mean, Swift seems like a nice person. And I suppose her music means a lot if you're a teen-age girl hanging out at a mall in a bland suburb like Plano, Texas. But to the rest of us, I'm sorry, but this is lightweight pop of no importance. As the great Morrissey once put it when describing mindless disco, this is music that "says nothing to me about my life."

By contrast, the truly great, enduring music does have the capacity to speak to all of us. For example, these days I know teen-age girls (and loads of people of all ages) who adore the music of John Lennon and Bob Marley. Three decades from now, will Taylor Swift still be shifting millions of units a year?

Bizarrely, Christgau awards virtually all of Swift's albums an A rating. Four in all.

To put that into context, that's more A ratings than Christgau has awarded to the entire combined works of the likes of The Smiths, The Jam, The Swans, Kraftwerk, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. That, of course, is insane. The Smiths alone have more talent, wit, integrity and intelligence in one song than Taylor Swift has in her entire catalog. Well, at least in my opinion.

One thing that has always baffled me about Christgau (besides how anyone could take him seriously) are the so-called standards he uses in evaluating music. For one thing, he doesn't like songs about death (by his own admission). That pretty much rules out dark, challenging work by the likes of Nick Cave.

I guess my question on this is why? What, exactly, is wrong with writing a song about death? It's a fascinating topic, after all. God knows, I'd rather hear Cave sing a haunting song about death than Swift sing yet another syrupy love song with Hallmark lyrics. And, in any case, who needs Swift singing about love when you've got the collected works of Barry White and Prince awaiting your listening pleasure on YouTube?

Another "rule" that Christgau seems to follow is this: he really doesn't like music without a sense of humor. As a result, he routinely trashes dark masterpieces by the likes of everyone from Black Sabbath to Pink Floyd.

Fair enough, I suppose: Christgau is entitled to his opinions. But if you delve into his reviews, you'll find that Christgau gushes all over the likes of the overrated Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Actually, I quite like Sonic Youth. But really, they don't have much of a sense of humor. At least no more than the likes of Pink Floyd---a band that Christgau savages for the "crime" of being humorless.

I find it interesting how Christgau will slam any progressive artist for the "sin" of having a 10 minute guitar solo (even a really good one by, say, King Crimson) and yet he'll praise Sonic Youth's equally indulgent 10-minute guitar feedback drone-a-thons. I guess in Christgau's view, a guitar feedback wankfest takes more skill, and is more worthwhile, than a virtuoso guitar solo.

Speaking of having no sense of humor. I find it interesting that (like most "serious" critics) Christgau has zero interest of the pop gems of ABBA. I mean, really: could there be anything less humorous than yet another white, middle-class, heterosexual, music critic who loves to bash the likes of ABBA?

In any case, ABBA's music has grown steadily in stature since the band's 1970s heyday. I personally find it hard to believe that anyone could hate ABBA. Their work will endure far longer than the likes of Taylor Swift, I believe.

Considering that Christgau typically only devotes a sentence or two to his little reviews, it's amazing how much important music he has never bothered to write about over the decades. In other cases, he does seem to be vaguely aware of seminal bands---but will only review one of two of their records.

Case in point: Kraftwerk. This is an enormously influential band that were decades ahead of their time. Their influence continues to grow today in genres ranging from dance music to hip hop to techno. Much of today's music simply would be unthinkable without Kraftwerk's pioneering work. As the great Paul Morley once wrote, Kraftwerk has been even more influential on modern music than the Beatles. And yet, Christgau has little to say about them, (and what he does write is embarrassingly misinformed).

In fact, if it doesn't come from the U.S. or Britain, Christgau appears to have little interest when it comes to rock and pop. Amazingly, he has virtually nothing to say about the wonderful Krautrock bands of the early 1970s who recorded some of the greatest music ever made: Neu!, Faust, Harmonia, etc. These are enormously important bands that continue to have far-ranging influence today. But Christgau seems unaware of any of them.

The same goes for the revolutionary Japanese rock of the 1970s (Flower Travellin' Band, Les Rallizes Denudes, Far East Family Band, etc.) It was a scene documented by the great Julian Cope, among others. To my knowledge, Christgau has never written a word about this endlessly fascinating and important era of rock history. He has though written a grand total of one review of Cope's own work (the fantastic 1991 environmental apocalypse album, Peggy Suicide), a work that Christgau stupidly dismissed (although typically without bothering to explain why).

Cope is one of those music writers who is far more intelligent and profound than Christgau. And anyone familiar with Cope's work probably understands why: the man himself is a musician who has a decades-long body of powerful, inspired, heart-felt work. When Cope writes about music, he's writing about fellow musicians. He respects them enough to not stupidly dismiss their work with nasty putdowns and insults (at least without explaining why). Cope writes in-depth and with great passion. It's a shame that more people (at least in the U.S.) aren't more familiar with his writings, not to mention music.

Over time, the likes of Julian Cope, King Crimson and Kraftwerk have wound up having the last laugh. Their music will endure forever. By contrast, Christgau will be as forgotten as the disposable pop of Taylor Swift in the years to come.

Monday, April 04, 2016

How to Debate a Wingnut: Cenk Uygur Slices & Dices Ann Coulter



One thing that has long been a pet peeve of mine is when I watch a Progressive get stomped on by a Conservative in a debate. Often, the latter happens not because the Conservative has the facts on his side.

Rather, it's that Conservatives appear to do well in debates because they simply spew an endless assortment of lies, often in a loud voice. If you repeat this formula over and over again against a wimpy, unprepared Progressive who's afraid to stand up to you, you'll appear to win the debate. And in our TV culture, of course, appearances are everything.

This sort of thing happens every day on right-wing talk radio and Fox "News." More often than not, the likes of Bill O'Reilly get the better of their guests by simply shouting them down and bullying them. Oftentimes, it doesn't even matter if the progressives who appear on his show factually have the upper hand. In our dumbed-down Rush Limbaugh culture, "victory" in a debate can often mean simply shouting down the other guy.

Wingnut hate-monger Ann Coulter has long excelled in the art of bullying people during debates. I've long watched her stand her ground and appear to do well in debates, even against great debaters like Bill Maher.

Coulter's formula is simple, but effective. She throws an enormous amount of right-wing bullshit to the wall, hoping that some of it sticks. She can utter one sentence and it's so misinformed that you'd need a month to respond. So when you allow her five minutes to speak, her bullshit can simply overwhelm the unwary debate opponent. Eventually, a progressive's brain short-circuits and he's at a loss for words (which can often be fatal during a televised debate).

In the video above, the brilliant progressive Cenk Uygur gives a clinic in how to dismantle the bullshit of Ann Coulter. During this 2015 debate, Uygur completely crushed Coulter. Coulter was so humiliated during this debate that I'd bet she still deeply regrets having ever agreed to participate in the debate in the first place.

Uygur demonstrates just how you go about successfully debating the Wingnut/Rush Limbaugh/Fox News crowd.

First of all, come to the debate well-prepared. Also, don't let your opponent slither away from giving answers to your questions. And don't fall for techniques like straw men arguments. Most crucially, give the wingnuts just enough rope to where they wind up hanging themselves.

Uygur is polite. He is humorous. He sticks to the facts. He doesn't get ruffled. Instead, he knows when to simply sit back and lets Coulter hang herself with her own words. I've never seen Coulter so utterly crushed and dominated during a debate.

Remember, fellow progressives: the facts are usually on our side. If the other side ever appears to "win," it's simply because the right-wingers are clever in using various debate gimmicks like straw-men arguments. If you want to crush a right-winger in a debate, Uygur shows how it is done.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

John Oliver Exposes Insanity of Trump's Border Wall



A lot of progressives despise and fear Donald Trump. I don't. While Ted Cruz does creep me out (and frightens the hell out of me), there are actually some things I admire about Trump.

I mean, it took some big balls to stand on a GOP debate stage and repeatedly blast the decision to invade Iraq. We've been doing that at this blog for years. I've gotta tell ya, there's a certain sense of vindication when the GOP frontrunner is basically saying the same thing about Iraq that we've been saying since 2003.

There's a couple of other things that I'll admit I like about Trump. He won't touch Social Security or Medicare. That alone makes him totally unique among every Republican hopeful of the past three decades. For many years, it's been GOP Gospel that big government entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare need to be "reformed" and/or vastly shrunk. Once again, it took a lot of balls for The Donald to stand on a GOP debate stage and promise not to touch these programs.

Lastly, The Donald get a big kudo from me for his brave stance on trade. He recognizes that the so-called "free trade" policies of the past 30 years have been a disaster for America. Sanders has also spoken some about this, as well. But The Donald has really brought the issue Front and Center and I have to admire him for that. All the other GOP hopefuls are just serving up a big dose of "same ol, same old," but The Donald has, to his credit, brought the spotlight on very urgent issues that have been ignored for many years by both parties.

Taking a critical look at "free trade" is something you're never going to get from the bought-and-paid-for establishment candidates, whether they're GOP or Democratic. I personally think it's probably too late to even fix the "free trade" disaster (most highly advanced manufacturing left America years ago and it's not coming back)---but a nation has to start somewhere.

But don't get me wrong: a lot of The Donald's critics are also correct. The guy is a bigot and he does have a lot of stupid ideas.

And one of those stupid ideas is The Donald's proposal for a big wall along the Mexico border. Since he unveiled this proposal, I've long sensed that it didn't really make sense. But in the video above, the great John Oliver breaks it down, specifically how bonkers this idea really is. The bottom line is that the wall will be hugely costly and it'll create a huge number of problems and it simply won't work. If you doubt that, then watch the video above.

The ironic thing is that I've talked to a number of Trump supporters and the only things they really seem to know about his campaign is his promise to build the wall and to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. Every Trump supporter I've talked to actually still believes the Iraq War was a good idea and they have no problem with slashing Social Security and Medicare (along with all government programs, bar the Military Industrial Complex). I sometimes wonder if they even really understand, or comprehend The Donald's position on a lot of issues. Frankly, the guy IS pretty liberal on a lot of issues, (just as his critics allege). It's interested (and sad) that his most bone-headed ideas are the very ones that have attracted a lot of his supporters.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Reagan in 1988: Senate's "Obligation" to Fill Supreme Court Vacancy in Election Year



Maybe this wasn't news to many progressives, but until I saw MoveOn.org's recent email about this, it was news to me. In 1988, Ronald Reagan (as shown in the video above) stated clearly that it is the Senate's "obligation" to work to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year.

Kudos to MoveOn.org for drawing attention to this story. But I will point out that it's pointless to try to sway the Limbaugh/Fox News crowd about all this. These people are always kissing Reagan's ass and claiming that he would have supported this issue or that issue. But in reality, the "Ronald Reagan" character that is often conjured up by today's GOP is nothing more than a mirage that has little in common with the real Gipper.

The real Reagan supported things like gun control. Unlike today's "my way or the highway" zealots like Ted Cruz, Reagan actually occasionally worked with the Democrats. By the standards of the Tea Party and Cruz, in fact, Reagan was a moderate. (However, having said that, I still believe Reagan was a terrible president and a disaster for America).

Unlike today's GOP, Reagan urged the Senate in 1988 to work to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. Not that this fact will change the minds of any of today's Republicans. Hell, they're still pissed off that the Negro Muslim Marxist is even in the White House in the first place. Unlike Dems (who didn't often agree with Reagan, but accepted him as the U.S. president), today's GOP has never even really accepted that Obama is a U.S. citizen, much less president of the United States.

MoveOn.org has called attention to Reagan's words. It'd be nice if the mainstream media would now give this story the airtime it deserves.
On another note, I watched the GOP debate tonight. It was pretty much a ho-hum debate that didn't really change my views on any of the candidates. Ted Cruz is still a heartless reptile and Marco Rubio is still a smug SOB. Compared to these two slugs, Donald Trump is actually a likeable guy. Hell, I'd vote for the Donald if I had to make a choice between the three of them.

I sometimes wonder if the typical angry Trump supporters that pack his meetings by the thousands even really fully grasp Trump's positions. I mean, here's a guy who's actually in favor of Affirmative Action (and no, I'm not talking about some obscure quote from 1985. I'm talking about what he said on the issue only a few months ago). And the Donald has also savaged the Iraq War and Dubya's decision to invade so harshly that it's hard to dislike the guy, especially for those of us who strongly opposed the war. It does take guts to speak positions like these (and his promise to not slash Social Security and Medicare) on a GOP debate stage.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Progressive Movie Theater: Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11"



After a hiatus, we're back in action. And today, we're unveiling a new regular series on this blog.

Welcome to the first edition of Progressive Movie Theater, a series in which we take a look at notable progressive/left-leaning cinema.

Our film today is Michael Moore's 2004 documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11. After more than a decade, the film still is an effective indictment of the disastrous Bush/Cheney years.

I recall watching Fahrenheit 9/11 in the theater here in Texas (not exactly a blue state). After the film was over, I heard the loudest and most enthusiastic applause I've ever heard in a movie theater. Similar reaction was noted in theaters across the U.S.

It was clear that many people across the U.S. were frustrated and fed up with the Bush administration. And Fahrenheit 9/11 did a good job of expressing our frustrations. It's important to note that, at the time, Bush was still being treated with kid gloves by the mainstream media.

Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush's approval rating had soared to 90 percent. I'm still unclear as to exactly why this was. After all, the 9/11 attacks represented a spectacular failure on the part of the mega-trillion-dollar Military Industrial Complex's presumed first priority (to protect the homeland). As Commander-in-Chief, Bush hardly displayed competent leadership in the period leading up to the attacks.

And yet the nation rallied around Bush after 9/11. It's impossible to fathom something like that happening today if another 9/11-style attack occurred. The fact is, there would certainly be no honeymoon for President Obama. Let's face it: from Day One, there would be constant calls for Obama's resignation, as well as calls for impeachment. The attacks would in fact haunt the Democratic Party as a whole for decades to come.

In any case, back to Fahrenheit 9/11. I maintain that Moore's angry film was probably the first successful high-profile pinprick of the Bush White House. For Bush, it was all downhill from there. After the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush's popularity went into a nose dive and never recovered. Indeed, today, he is still widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.

But back in 2004, Moore was there, on the big screen, telling us that Bush was a disastrous president---really back before any other major media figure dared express such a view. In the years to come, Moore was vindicated, time and again.

As Moore stated in his Oscar speech on March 23, 2003 (only four days after the start of the Iraq War):

"We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons."

It was a remarkably prescient remark, made at a time when all the serious "conventional wisdom" was in agreement with Bush's insistence that Saddam had WMDs. Of course, as it turned out, Moore was right and Bush/Cheney and the other warmongering NeoCons were revealed to be a bunch of liars.

I find that Fahrenheit 9/11 holds up very well over a decade later. There are still many important questions the film raises that have never been adequately explained.

But one thing I find fascinating is that, if you really listen to the film's message, it's clear that the villain of Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn't really the Bush/Cheney NeoCons. It was the mainstream media.

After all, one can't really blame Bush/Cheney for their warmongering and illegal and immoral behavior, any more than you can blame a lion who eats a small child who wanders into his cage. That's what lions do. And invading other nations on false pretences to steal their oil is what you'd expect from a bunch of corrupt thugs like the Bush/Cheney NeoCons.

No, let's take a look at the film's real villains: the mainstream media. It's clear that, at every step of the Bush/Cheney administration, the media completely and totally failed to properly investigate what was going on and to deliver the truth to the American people. If the media had done its job, I believe the Iraq War would probably have never taken place. But instead of doing its job, media outlets like The New York Times assured us that Bush's case for war was solid. Those were the real villains of the Bush/Cheney years.

Incidentally, Moore has a new film on the way, Where to Invade Next. It should be released in the next couple of months. Below, you can view the trailer for this film.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Progressive Music Classics. Fela Kuti: "Shuffering and Shmiling"



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.

It's interesting how, for such a supposedly discredited philosopher, so much of Marx's teachings hold up well today. Case in point: Marx's famous statement, "Religion is the opium of the people."

The great Nigerian musician Fela Kuti also took aim at organized religion in his masterful 1978 track, "Shuffering and Shmiling," (sic).

Specifically, Kuti was targeting imported religions like Christianity and Islam, which he believed were causing many African working-class people to be passive in the face of corrupt Western-supported political regimes.

As Lenin once stated, "Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward."

Like Lenin, Kuti could clearly see that the African masses were being cynically manipulated by the Nigerian kleptocracy, as it systematically looted the nation.

The message of "Shuffering and Shmiling" initially takes the listener by surprise. As is the case with many Kuti tracks, the song takes a while to unfold, before delivering a jolt.

Kuti begins by gently asking for the listener's attention:

"You Africans, listen to me as Africans,
And you non-Africans, listen to me with open mind."

Then, out of nowhere, Kuti delivers his angry message to startling effect:

"I want you all to please take your minds
Out of this musical contraption,
And put your minds into any goddamn church,
Any goddamn mosque."

This is definitely no "Don't Worry, Be Happy," sing-along track. Like many Kuti works, it's a song that has both a strong groove, as well as a message. (It's the sort of brave statement that earned Kuti the violent wrath of Nigeria's power elite).

The Nigeria of 1978 is seemingly a long ways from the America of 2015. But in some ways, the differences aren't that great. One only has to see how today's GOP has cynically manipulated many working-class Americans to vote against their own interests, via "Christian" hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Today's Republican Party has wrapped itself in the flag and in a virulent form of fundamentalist "Christianity" that takes the teachings of Jesus and somehow converts them into a jingoistic, bigoted, twisted value system that has nothing but contempt for working-class people.

In that sense, the GOP is every bit as cynical as the corrupt 1970s Nigerian kleptocracy that looted and impoverished that nation. And Kuti's message is still ever bit as relevant today as it was in 1978.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

"American Sniper": Chris Kyle Was a Perfect Poster Boy for Bush's War of Lies


Clint Eastwood's blockbuster film, American Sniper purports to tell the story of real-life U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. But this is nonsense. The movie character actually has little in common with the real-life Kyle, who was a twisted, bigoted, dishonest person who (in his 2012 memoir) wrote that killing Iraqis was "fun."

What kind of person says that killing people is "fun"? (Well, outside of Jack the Ripper-type sociopaths?)

People like this aren't heroes. They certainly shouldn't have a place in our nation's military.

As the U.K. Guardian noted, Kyle had nothing but contempt for Iraqis. "I hate the damn savages," he wrote. "I couldn't give a flying fuck about the Iraqis."

But just who were the real "savages"?

After all, it was Bush's thugs who operated sinister CIA "black sites" where people were tortured. People who'd never been tried or convicted of anything faced horrific abuse.

When the Iraqis took up arms against the invading U.S. forces, it took the Bush team by surprise. After all the Bush people had claimed we'd be "greeted as liberators." The NeoCons also claimed the war would be over only in a matter of weeks.

Instead, as the war began to drag on and on and a vicious Iraqi insurgency arose, the NeoCons were stunned. But they really shouldn't have been.

As it turns out, the Iraqis were a proud people. Sure, many of them hated Saddam. But they hated occupying foreign armies even more.

And the Iraqis saw what was really going on (even if the typical Fox "News" viewing idiot didn't). That is, the real point of the war had nothing to do with the non-existent WMD. And it had even less to do with the Bush team's lofty talk about "freedom" and "democracy."

Instead, it was clear that the war was really all about stealing Iraq's oil for Dick Cheney's billionaire cronies.

Even if misinformed Americans didn't grasp this truth, the rest of the world did (not least the Iraqi people).

After all, the Iraqis knew that Bush's WMD claims were bullshit. The Iraqis saw first-hand how when the invading U.S. forces entered Baghdad, they raced to the Iraqi oil ministry building. The massive building was immediately put under round-the-clock surveillance by troops and was surrounded by 50 tanks, while sharpshooters were positioned on the roof and windows.

Meanwhile, in the growing chaos, Iraq's museums, banks, hotels and libraries were ransacked (or burned). Priceless ancient Iraqi manuscripts went up in flames. But the oil ministry remained secure.

Thus, it was clear to any Iraqi with eyes what the real point of the war was.

None of this seemed to bother Chris Kyle, though. To him, the Iraqis were savages and had no right to fight back against an invading army. To Kyle, shooting Iraqis with a sniper's rifle from a rooftop was like one big PlayStation video game. It was "fun."

In this respect, Kyle was actually quite a bit like George W. Bush. Both men were incurious types. Both men often went with their guts. Both men were absolutely 100 percent convinced of how right they were. (One recalls the memorable press conference where Bush was astonishingly unable to recall any mistakes that he'd made after 9/11).

Kyle and Bush also had one other big thing in common. They were both liars.

Kyle made all kinds of grand claims that never held up to scrutiny. For example, he made unlikely claims about killing looters during Hurricane Katrina that were never substantiated. He also made claims against Navy veteran Jesse Ventura that turned out to be bullshit. (Ventura later won a hefty defamation lawsuit against Kyle).

Ventura continues to slam Kyle's memoir as untrue. "The book is not a true story," Ventura said in a recent podcast. "The book had fabrication and fiction written into it."

Kyle remains a hero to millions of people (mostly Bush-loving wingnuts who continue to still insist the Iraq War was a righteous enterprise). Frankly, a lot of these people scare me. If you read the recent hate-filled, bigoted comments of people who've criticized Kyle (like Michael Moore) it's clear that a lot of these people are as twisted as their hero.

Kyle may be a hero to some. But to me, he's not. People who claim that killing people is "fun" have no fucking place in the U.S. military.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Exodus" Story Reveals Bible's Dishonesty


Although some might be loath to admit it, many educated adults (even non-fundamentalist Christians) are aware that the Bible is perhaps not the best source of history.

I mean, how many people still take the story of Adam and Eve seriously any more? But I suspect that most people are still unaware of just how totally wrong the Bible is as far as anything remotely approaching real history.

This wouldn't be that big a deal, except for the fact that so many people take the Bible very seriously as a profound book of wisdom. The massive and growing population of Fundamentalists continue to believe the Bible is nothing less than the divinely-inspired, inerrant Word of God.

But the Bible is profoundly wrong in its historical accuracy. The "Exodus" story (recently the subject of a big budget Hollywood Ridley Scott film) is a good example. Some people might question certain fantastic aspects of the story (like the parting of the Red Sea). But I think most people accept that there must be at least a kernel of truth to the story's main points (such as that there really was once a big enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt). Many people continue to believe that this has been confirmed in the archaeological record.

But there's a big problem to this belief: it's simply not true. Nothing in the Exodus story has ever been confirmed by any serious archaeologist, despite long quests to try to confirm anything remotely related to the Bible story.

The fact is, even many Bible apologists have quietly abandoned their quest to try to confirm the Exodus story. The problem is that there is simply not a shred of historical evidence that any of this really happened. Forget wild tales like the parting of the Red Sea---there isn't even the slightest bit of evidence that there was an Exodus captivity in the first place.

This whole story is a fairy tale. The fact is, the story of Exodus is one big lie. And if this well-known Bible story is a lie, then, really how truthful is any aspect of the Bible?

The Bible is a dishonest book, period.

A lot of agnostics spend their time attacking the absurdities, contradictions and sheer nonsense of the Bible's philosophical teachings. But if they're trying to convince believers, they're wasting their time. The Bible is so vague and archaic that the sort of people who take it seriously are never going to be dissuaded via that approach.

What agnostics should be doing is attacking the historicity of the Bible itself. People should be aware of just how many of these Bible tales lack the slightest shred of historical evidence to support them.

It's time for humanity to move beyond the fairy tales, nonsense and superstition of absurd books like the Bible.

In much of Europe, this is already taking place. Sadly, in America, large numbers of people continue to take the Bible seriously (and try to ram their twisted beliefs down the throats of other people).

Friday, December 05, 2014

Great Progressive Moments: Right-Wing Liar Dinesh D'Souza Gets Demolished By Thom Hartmann



Dinesh D'Souza is a professional right-wing liar. Like Bill O'Reilly and the rest of the right-wing noise machine, D'Souza loves to spew lies during debates. He also constantly sets up absurd straw-man arguments to try to undercut his opponents. Because of his relentless approach and because of the nature of live on-air debates, D'Souza often sounds a lot more authoritative and informed than he really is.

Lots of wingnut commentators do this sort of thing. But D'Souza has it down to an art form. It basically means that D'Souza gets away with an awful lot of crap on the airwaves. He is relentless in his tactics and is seemingly a tough foe to challenge, simply because he appears to know what the f*ck he's talking about.

Even the likes of the mighty Bill Maher has often had a tough time dealing with D'Souza's lies during debates. Maher himself is always very informed and quick on his feet. But keeping up with D'Souza's endless torrent of bullsh*t requires a great deal of stamina.

Note how in this debate, D'Souza arrogantly insists that there were GOP lawmakers who voted for Bill Clinton's 1993 tax increase and deficit reduction package. (Maher, correctly, points out that every single GOP lawmaker voted against it).

The only progressive commentator I've seen yet who is able to comprehensively demolish D'Souza on the airwaves is the great Thom Hartmann.

When you debate Hartmann, you've got to bring your A game. A erudite scholar with an amazing grasp of an huge array of subjects, Hartmann is just the sort of person to effectively counter D'Souza's bullsh*t (as seen in the video above). Every time D'Souza spews yet another false right-wing talking point, Hartmann is there to demolish it with solid facts and figures. It's a masterful performance by one of America's greatest progressive minds.