Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ted Cruz shows he only cares about himself by not endorsing Donald Trump in GOP convention speech

By MARC McDONALD

From CNN on Wednesday night:

"Ted Cruz sensationally withheld an endorsement of Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, earning a chorus of boos from the floor before he was upstaged in a power play by the GOP nominee himself."

In many ways, Cruz is the ultimate modern-day Republican. A lot of Republicans are greedy and care only about themselves. But Cruz takes it to a whole new level. Despite his rhetoric, he doesn't give a damn about the Constitution, or the GOP, or the voters, or anyone but himself.

On Wednesday night, we saw exactly why Cruz has earned a lot of harsh criticism this electoral season (with much of the harshest attacks coming from fellow Republicans). Trump has told a lot of lies this campaign---but he definitely told the truth when he said of Cruz:

"He's a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him."

I know a lot of Republicans. Almost all of them are greedy and only care about themselves. They really don't give a shit about anyone else. Cruz is simply another example of the modern-day GOP mindset of "I've got mine, screw everyone else."

A good example of this mentality is an acquaintance of mine named Chris. He describes himself as a "rugged individualist," a Republican, and a "hard-core Libertarian." Chris claims to be strongly against ALL government spending with the sole exception of so-called "defense" spending.

If you didn't know the guy and had a conversation with him, you'd be under the impression that Chris lives in a remote cabin somewhere in the wilderness. You would think that he hunts his own food and digs his own well water and lives off the grid. You would think that, after listening to this self-described "rugged individualist." But you'd be wrong.

In reality, Chris is a retired government employee. For 25 years, he worked in what he himself describes as a "cushy" easy government office job. He enjoyed lavish benefits, like seven-week paid vacations that private sector workers could only dream of. Chris then retired in his 40s with a full government paid pension of $60,000 a year. That rock solid pension will be guaranteed until the day he dies, even if he lives to be 100.

All of this, of course, is paid for by taxpayers. Chris's government pension alone could eventually put a couple of million dollars in his pocket over the coming decades.

The bottom line is: Chris has a fantastic deal---all paid for by the taxpayers. His job benefits are vastly more generous than any private sector job I've ever heard of.

So you might think Chris would be a little bit grateful to the government that gave him a job (and the taxpayers who paid his salary and pension).

But the fact is, Chris has nothing but contempt for the government. And you'll never, ever hear anyone whine louder about having to pay taxes. If you let him, Chris will bend your ear all day about how he's supposedly "never" benefited from the government in any way.

I've known plenty of Republicans like Chris over the years. They talk a good talk about being hard-core "capitalists." And then they put on a pair of their best running shoes and run away to go to work in a cushy government office job for their entire working lives. Many of them, like Chris, are already retired and enjoying their cushy government pensions.

The reason I mention all this is that Ted Cruz reminds me of a lot of these people. After all, the taxpayers pay his lavish salary and the generous pension that he has to look forward to. But does Cruz have any gratitude to the government or the taxpayers?

No. Cruz doesn't give a shit about anyone but himself. Sure, you'll see him loudly whining about government spending. He would shut down the food stamp program tomorrow if he had the chance. But curiously, he doesn't have a word to say about one of the biggest drains on government finance: the lavish pay packets and pensions that government employees like himself get to enjoy. The fact is, a typical food stamp recipient, like a single mom with kids, only get a few thousand bucks worth of benefits a year (and a lot of them work full-time, as well).

Government employees like Cruz get literally millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded salaries and pensions over the course of their lives.

Indeed, Cruz is always whining about the IRS and vowing to shut it down. It makes me wonder if this dumb SOB has ever stopped to consider that, if it wasn't for the IRS, he wouldn't get a salary or a pension.

Say what you want to about Donald Trump. But he does seem to be aware of the fact that the government screws over the taxpayers to fund a lot of cushy (and let's face it, unnecessary) government jobs and pensions. Trump puts his money where his mouth is---he even has said he'll not accept his $400,000/year presidential salary if he's elected.

I very rarely agree with Republicans on anything. But I do have to admit, I wholeheartedly agreed with the Republicans who soundly booed Cruz at the GOP convention on Wednesday. They seemed to grasp a basic truth about Cruz: the guy only cares about himself and he doesn't give a shit about the Republican Party, (or indeed, who wins in November).

"Conservatives" like Cruz would likely defend his stance of "I've got mine, screw everyone else." But the likes of Cruz need to be reminded that it's We The People who pay his lavish salary and pension. This asshole works for us, whether he realizes it or not. If these people have such contempt for the government, then they need to quit their f*cking cushy government jobs and go get a real job in the private sector that they claim to adore so much.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"The New York Times" Still Peddling Long-Debunked Bill Clinton Haircut Myth

By MARC McDONALD

In 1993, the mainstream media peddled the myth that Los Angeles International Airport shut its runways for nearly an hour and inconvenienced many ordinary passengers whose flights were delayed so President Bill Clinton could get a haircut. The "story" was Page One news in "The New York Times," "The Los Angeles Times," "The Washington Post," "The Boston Globe," and elsewhere.

There was only one problem: the story was complete bullshit.

But that's OK. The media does sometimes screw up. Nobody's perfect.

There's only one problem, though. Here we are, nearly a quarter of a century later and the media is still peddling the "haircut" myth.

Are we talking about Fox "News"? Uh, no, actually, we're talking about "The New York Times," a newspaper that is allegedly "Liberal."

On Wednesday, the "Times" once again regurgitated the long-debunked myth about Clinton's haircut, in an article about French President Francois Hollande getting expensive haircuts on the taxpayers' dime.

As the "Times" put it: "In 1993, two of Los Angeles International Airport’s runways were shut for nearly an hour so that President Bill Clinton’s Beverly Hills hairstylist could come aboard Air Force One to give him a haircut." (Note: by the time you read this, it's possible that the "Times" will have run a correction---but as of 10 p.m. Central Time, July 13, the "Times" is still peddling the haircut myth).

When I read this story yesterday, I vaguely recalled reading somewhere that this story had been long ago debunked. Then I remembered: I'd encountered this fact years ago, not in a "New York Times" correction, but in a 2005 Al Franken interview on Air America.

Rather than run a correction in 1993, "The New York Times" has continued to peddle the Clinton haircut myth over and over for more than 20 years. As media watchdog site, Media Matters put it in 2007, the story was long ago exposed as a crock:

According to Federal Aviation Administration records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the May 18 haircut caused no significant delays of regularly scheduled passenger flights - no circling planes, no traffic jams on the runways.

Media Matters has debunked "The New York Times" claim over and over----and yet, the "Times" has repeatedly regurgitated the haircut "story."

It's a myth that just won't die, much like the "Vince Foster was murdered" story and Al Gore supposedly claiming to have "invented" the Internet.

Comedian Bill Maher has a segment on his show that refers to right-wing "Zombie Lies" that are regurgitated over and over and never die.

You know what else never dies? Right-wing (and corporate media) lies about Democrats.

Over the years, I'd bet there's probably been more coverage of "stories" like the Clinton haircut and the Vince Foster "murder" and Obama's birth certificate than there has been of real scandals like Valerie Plame (remember her? The vast majority of Americans don't). That was a real scandal. But the same media that snoozed through the Plame case never misses a chance to trot out the Clinton "haircut" myth.

You know, it's one thing if the OxyMoron Limbaugh peddles crap like this. It's quite another thing if the "Times" does it. After all, a lot of people take the "Times" seriously. (Actually, I don't---and I haven't since "Times" reporter Judith Miller wrote stories supporting the pack of lies that Bush used to peddle his Iraq invasion). Of course, that was a much more serious failing by the "Times." Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children died.

But still, I find it astonishing that, after 23 years, the "Times" has yet to stop printing lies about Bill Clinton's 1993 haircut. Who needs Limbaugh when you've got "The New York Times" peddling the same outrageous lies?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Shocking Brexit Result A Huge Blow For Anglo-American Capitalism

By MARC McDONALD

British voters' decision to leave the European Union will have an enormous impact on the global economy for years to come. I expect there will be a number of losers as a result. I think Britain eventually will rue the day it decided to leave the EU. And I think the U.S. will also suffer as a result of this momentous vote.

But in the long run, the biggest loser is the entire system of Anglo-American capitalism.

I always thought that the British got a much better deal than they ever fully realized from the EU. The fact is, a lot of the hysterical scare stories about the EU (often peddled in the Tory-leaning tabloid media) were often exaggerated, or downright false. What many ordinary Britons often failed to grasp was that Britain actually got a pretty deal from the EU over the years. It enjoyed all the advantages of being in the world's largest trading block---plus, it enjoyed special accommodations from the EU for its finance sector (a key and crucial component of the U.K. economy).

Now, those special accommodations have gone up in smoke. I'd suspect that, as a result, a lot of lucrative financial activity is going to migrate to cities like Paris and Frankfurt. London will inevitably be the loser.

A second big loser in the aftermath of Brexit is the U.S. It's not for nothing that President Obama pressured Britain to not leave the EU. Britain has long been a big advocate of the very sort of unbridled free market capitalism that the U.S. favors. Now, the U.S. no longer has Britain to advance its interests in the EU. This is a hugely significant story which I feel many commentators have not fully grasped.

Although it may not be immediately apparent, the biggest loser of Brexit is the whole system of Anglo-American capitalism. The fact is, many EU nations never really felt comfortable with the whole free-wheeling, winner-take-all, screw-the-poor, dog-eat-dog Anglo-American capitalist model. The French have derisively referred to "Anglo-Saxon capitalism" over the years. The French, along with the Germans and Italians (and most of the rest of the EU), prefer a "mixed economy" system that has elements of capitalism and socialism. It's true that some elements of this model exist in Britain, and even the U.S.---but it is in fact vastly more advanced in continental Europe.

Until Brexit, Britain was a steady and firm advocate of Anglo-American capitalism within the EU. Now that Britain is out, the EU will almost certainly move further away from the model of Anglo-American capitalism that has been hugely influential since it emerged with the Chicago school of economics in the 1970s.

I've never been a fan of the whole unregulated, dog-eat-dog model of capitalism that has dominated the economies of the U.S. and U.K. in recent decades. I've always thought the continental European model was preferable.

With Britain out, the EU will now be free to go its own way on economic policy. The world's largest economic trading block will no longer have a member state pushing for yet more deregulation and less taxes (and other hearty servings of Thatcher/Reagan medicine). It's hard to see this development as anything other than a huge setback for Anglo-American capitalism. And the mixed-economy European model (which has never really gotten much credit for its successes from the sort of free market "experts" that dominate the economics field) will now be free to develop on its own. It'll be interesting to see what results from this.

Maybe, just maybe, our corporate media and our elites will eventually be forced to acknowledge that the European mixed-economy model (while not perfect) is actually a much better system for coping with the challenges of the modern world than the unregulated Anglo-American model. In recent decades, the latter has resulted only in the enrichment of a tiny elite, while the middle class has shriveled and the ranks of the poor have soared. It's an unfair, crappy system that has failed and deserves to be tossed into the dustbin of history. Brexit is a huge dagger through its heart.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

If Obama is responsible for Orlando, is Bush responsible for 9/11?

By MARC McDONALD

Sen. John McCain got a lot of flak on Thursday for saying that President Obama is "directly responsible" for the shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub in which 49 people were killed.

I've got a couple of observations about this remark. First of all, McCain jumped the shark for me a long time ago. I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised at this latest nutty remark. Some time during the fiasco of the Bush years, McCain went from being a straight-shooter, sensible Republican to being prone to unhinged outbursts that one would normally encounter on talk radio.

But I wouldn't be too hard on McCain. Other Republicans have been saying virtually the same thing about Obama for years. In GOP World of Drudge/talk radio/Fox News, Obama is to blame for everything bad that ever happened. In their view, if someone slips on a grape peel, Obama is to blame. Over the years, many Republicans have rushed to blame Obama for everything from the Boston Marathon bombing to the San Bernardino attack.

For example, Ted Cruz repeatedly blamed Obama for failing to heed a warning about the San Bernardino attack that didn't even occur before the attack.

Oddly enough though, Obama never gets the slightest bit of credit from the GOP for anything good that happens ---and a lot of good has indeed happened on his watch.

Take the fact that there hasn't been a 9/11 on Obama's watch. (The likes of Orlando and San Bernardino, while horrific, were vastly smaller in scale that the apocalyptic disaster of 9/11, by a million miles the worst terror attack in America's history).

Incidentally, all mass shootings are acts of terror. Let's face it: in the U.S., mass shootings are routine events---and have been for decades.

The fact is, there hasn't been a 9/11 on Obama's watch. Obama in fact, has had a stellar record in keeping the American homeland secure. But he gets zero credit for it from the GOP. Just as he gets zero credit for the record stock market, the record corporate profit levels, and the record monthly streak of private-sector job growth. But listening to right-wing media, you'd be completely in the dark about any of these facts. I continue to hear Republicans (incredibly) claim that the disastrous Bush economy was better than Obama's economy.

While Obama gets zero credit for no 9/11 attacks and the stellar stock market, who do you think will immediately get ALL of the blame the second this stellar track record comes to an end? You can be assured that if there's another 9/11, Republicans will be howling that same day that it's all Obama's fault and that he should immediately resign. The same deal with the roaring stock market. If the market crashes tomorrow, it'll all be Obama's fault.

But some observers might make the claim that "This is just politics---it works both ways."

Does it, though?

Recall the aftermath of 9/11. I don't recall a single Democrat pointing the finger at Bush. In fact, the nation rallied around Bush. Bush's approval rating soared to 90 percent. I'm still unclear as to why this was. Even if you could argue that the Commander-in-Chief Bush was blameless for the disastrous breakdown in national security, I'm still in the dark as to why Bush's approval rating would soar into the stratosphere.

After 9/11, Bush's approval rating remained sky-high for years. It was only after the Iraq invasion started to descend into hellish chaos that Bush's approval rating began to sag.

So there you have it. If Obama is in charge, he gets blamed for everything. But if a Republican gets dandruff or has a leaky faucet, it's all Obama's fault.

Recall that with Bush in the White House, he pretty much got a free pass on just about everything.

War crimes? No problem.

Torture? No problem.

Illegal and unconstitutional warrantless wiretaps? No problem.

Lying the nation into an unnecessary, disastrous war? No problem.

Bush always got a free pass from Republicans (and frankly, from a lot of other people, as well as the mainstream media, much of the time).

All this came to an end, of course, when Obama was sworn in. And, of course, it continues today with Hillary Clinton. Say what you want to about the email scandal---but on a good day, Bush had bigger scandals than that before breakfast.

And take (please) the so-called Benghazi "scandal." Benghazi has now been investigated by 10 different congressional committees, chewing up over $7 million in taxpayer dollars. Incredibly, the endless and blatantly partisan investigations into Benghazi have now lasted longer than the government's investigation into 9/11.

As Dick Cheney put it in an interview with Sean Hannity about Benghazi, "I think it's one of the worst incidences, frankly, that I can recall in my career."

Yeah, Dick, whatever.

Never mind that, under Bush, there were 39 attacks or attempted attacks on U.S. embassies and embassy personnel. 87 people died during those attacks. And every attack was treated by the mainstream media as nothing more than a routine 24-hour news cycle story. Benghazi has gotten vastly more media coverage than all those attacks combined.

Of course, one of the key difference is that, when Benghazi happened, the gigantic million-watt Republican propaganda loudspeaker amplified the story. The whole right-wing talk radio/Drudge/Fox News GOP apparatus was able to breath constant new life into Benghazi. By constantly fanning the flames and shrieking about Benghazi, the GOP noise machine was able to repeatedly push the story into the mainstream media.

And, of course, as long as the Great GOP Noise Machine is around to distort news coverage, we can expect to see more of the same throughout a Hillary Clinton presidency. Which is one big reason why Hillary needs to restore the Fairness Doctrine. Until that happens, the likes of Rush will continue to pollute the public airwaves unchecked (public airwaves, which incidentally are owned by the American people).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

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

By MARC McDONALD

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.
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Monday, May 09, 2016

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

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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.

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

By MARC McDONALD

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

By MARC McDONALD

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

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By MARC McDONALD

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

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By MARC McDONALD

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

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By MARC McDONALD

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.
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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"

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By MARC McDONALD

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.
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