Monday, December 31, 2007

Hiring Kristol Marks A New Low for The New York Times

By MARC MCDONALD

The blogosphere is currently abuzz about the hiring of right-wing pundit William Kristol by The New York Times.

The progressive blogs are outraged that the Times has "lurched to the right." Meanwhile, the right-wing blogs are gleeful.

My own reaction (a feeling I suspect is shared by many progressives) is: Who cares?

Many of us gave up on The New York Times as a credible, trustworthy news source years ago. Many of us gave up on the paper even before the Times gave its blessing to the invasion of Iraq, after "journalist" Judith Miller pretended to investigate Bush's case for war. The Times' role in joining the rest of the MSM in cheerleading for the war was one of the most embarrassing episodes in U.S. journalism history.

Most wingnuts imagine that we progressives sit around all day sipping our latte and reading The New York Times. But this stereotype is outdated by at least 30 years. It's a stereotype at least as outdated as that of the GOP as being the "fiscally responsible" party.

The fact is, not only is the Times not as "liberal" as the wingnuts believe, but the Gray Lady's reputation has been coasting on its past glories now for decades.

Like a lot of progressives, I've been an enthusiastic newspaper reader over the years. At one time, I would have found it inconceivable to start my day without reading the Times along with my local newspaper.

But those pre-Internet days are long gone. The Times is no longer the beacon of top-notch journalism that it once was. In fact, American journalism in general has seen a steep decline in quality since the days of the Watergate era produced the hard-hitting investigative journalism that drew many of us into the field in the first place.

The reasons for the decline of U.S. journalism are many. But one reason I rarely see discussed is the increasingly shoddy way that newspapers have treated their employees in recent decades. As a former journalist, I saw first-hand just how crappy this treatment was. Journalists today have to contend with low wages, long hours and a crushing work-load.

When you have journalists making so little money that they spend half their time fretting about how to basic bills, you tend to create an environment that doesn't produce great journalism. Many journalists today are overworked, demoralized, bitter and burned out (and if the younger ones aren't, they will be, soon enough). Overall, the working conditions in America's newsrooms don't lend themselves to sort of great investigation journalism that our era is crying out for.

The New York Times arrogantly still regards itself as the nation's "newspaper of record."

But for many of us progressives, it lost that title years ago.

Indeed, if I were going to a desert island today and had to choose one newspaper, it definitely wouldn't be the Times. I'd probably select Britain's Guardian newspaper, or even The Financial Times.

Indeed, no less a commentator than Noam Chomsky has proclaimed The Financial Times as the best newspaper in the English-speaking world today.

Although it's hardly a liberal newspaper, The Financial Times offers many of the things that once appealed to us about The New York Times decades ago: intelligent, in-depth articles, extensive world-wide coverage, and a newspaper that puts substance over style.

Between The Guardian, The Financial Times and the progressive blogs, I have plenty of great reading material these days. Frankly, outside of columnists Paul Krugman and Frank Rich, I couldn't care less about The New York Times these days (and I suspect I'm not alone among progressives).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

BeggarsCanBeChoosers.com: A Special 2007 Music Roundup

By MARC MCDONALD

Politics (and life in general) can be such a extreme downer in the era of George W. Bush. So I thought I'd take a temporary break from politics and offer a list of the "Best Music of 2007." (Yes, exactly what the world needs: yet another "Best Music of the Year List.")

Actually, most of this music isn't even from 2007--it's just music that I enjoyed this year. However, most of these tunes do have connections to 2007, as explained below.

So for any of you who are sick to death of today's sickly pop parade of Britney, Justin, MTV, the Grammys, and mainstream corporate music, here's a dose of fantastic, potentially life-changing music that has been sadly overlooked by many. A lot of this music is challenging and can take time to appreciate. However, the time you spend giving this music a chance will often be rewarded many times over.

1. Karlheinz Stockhausen: Kontakte (1958) -- Stockhausen (1928-2007), a masterful and controversial German composer, died on Dec. 5. His experimental Kontakte shook up the sometimes stuffy world of "classical" music and still sounds revolutionary today. The Beatles took inspiration from Stockhausen in the 1960s (indeed, his image is one of those that adorns the famous crowd picture on the Sgt. Pepper's album. Go here to listen to "Kontakte" on YouTube.

2. Autechre: Gantz Graf (2002) -- There are countless experimental "Electronica" artists out there these days, pushing the boundaries of what music is. (Indeed, I suspect a lot of people don't even consider a lot of Electronica to be "music" at all). "Gantz Graf" is one of the most innovative pieces by Autechre, a band from Britain. Autechre have been around since 1987 and have a new album coming out in March, 2008. Go here to listen to "Gantz Graf" on YouTube.

3. The Jesus and Mary Chain: Never Understand (1985) -- A pretty tune, served up with a massive blast of roaring feedback, from this Scottish band. A lot of people hated The Jesus and Mary Chain back in the day. But time has been kind to this band. First, Sofia Coppola used their song, "Just Like Honey," for the touching final scene in her much-praised film, Lost in Translation. And now, a lot of newer bands (like A Place to Bury Strangers) are clearly inspired by The Jesus and Mary Chain. You may well hate this band, but you know what they say: "if it's too loud, then you're getting too old." In 2007, the band reunited after an eight-year break and are now working on a new album. Go here to listen to "Never Understand" on YouTube.

4. Big Country: Harvest Home (1983) -- Another great 1980s band from Scotland. Die-hard socialists, Big Country were never the hippest name to drop for the 1980s trendy crowd. But for my money, their music was brilliant, honest and powerful. Tragically, their singer Stuart Adamson committed suicide in 2001, allegedly despondent over the band's declining fortunes, (although the band's final album with him, Driving to Damascus, was one of its best records). Big Country's surviving members reunited in 2007 and are reportedly playing live shows in Scotland. Go here to listen to "Harvest Home" on YouTube.

5. Neu!: Negativland (1975) -- Light years ahead of their time, this challenging German band changed the way many of us listened to music back in the 1970s. I've always thought that the Great Punk Explosion of 1977 owed more to Neu! than they were ever given credit for. As writer/musician Julian Cope has noted, it's obvious that the young Sex Pistols listened to Neu's Neu! '75 masterpiece album. Go here to listen to "Negativland" on YouTube.

6. Manic Street Preachers: Revol (1994) -- A Welsh band that has a bizarre, tragic history. Shortly after the release of this song in 1994, their guitarist, Richey James Edwards, mysteriously disappeared. He was never seen again. The band, however, carried on and amazingly has had enormous chart success in many countries (excluding the U.S.), despite songs with decidedly anti-commercial lyrical topics, ranging from socialist revolution to Richard Nixon. The band even played in Cuba, as a guest of Fidel Castro. The 2007 album, Send Away The Tigers, was one of the band's best and a big U.K. chart hit (and the first the band has had released in America in many years). Go here to listen to "Revol" on YouTube.

7. Magma: Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh (1973) -- France supposedly doesn't produce great rock bands, right? Well, someone forget to tell Magma, a fantastic cosmic band that produced complex, challenging, Wagner-like epics about nothing less than the future destruction of the Earth. Classically-trained Christian Vander may be the greatest drummer in rock history. Actually, to even call this music "rock" doesn't really do it justice at all---it actually trivializes the mighty power of Magma. Go here to listen to "Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh" on YouTube.

8. Pete Seeger & The Weavers: Solidarity Forever -- Has George W. Bush's evil era got you down? Then I recommend that you put on a album or three by folk legend Pete Seeger, who turned 88 this year. Last year, Bruce Springsteen recorded a touching tribute to Seeger in We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Go here to listen to "Solidarity Forever" on YouTube.

9. Monks: Monks Time (1966) -- One of the ultimate cult bands. Incredibly strange and savage punk rock from 1966 from five American soldiers posted in Germany. None of their music was released in the U.S. at the time and they remained totally forgotten for many years. Sometimes, I think the best and most vital rock music ever made was made by obscure bands like this----bands that followed their own muse and had absolutely zero commercial considerations to take into account. God knows how many other completely forgotten (but worthy) bands out there await rediscovery. When you consider all the absolute dogshit that has clogged up our nation's radio airwaves and pop music charts over the years, it makes one want to cry (especially when you consider all the truly worthy bands that never got the credit they deserved). Go here to listen to "Monks Time" on YouTube.

10. Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers: Sidewalk Blues (1926) -- One of the true giants of jazz in his prime. In 2007, Rounder Records released a massive eight CD collection of Jelly Roll's recordings that surely represents one of the peaks of 20th Century popular music. It's hard to fathom that our nation's now-dismal pop charts once contained music as great as this (instead of the Britney/Justin dogshit that clogs it up today). Go here to listen to "Sidewalk Blues" on YouTube.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bush Once Again Refuses To Allow Crisis To Interrupt Vacation

By MARC MCDONALD

If anything has been predictable in the administration of George W. Bush, it's that Bush loves his European-style month-long vacations.

And when he's vacationing in Crawford, Bush doesn't like to be interrupted, come hell or high water.

And while, around the globe, politicians are scrambling to cope with the world's latest crisis, the stunning assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Bush has once again shown that his leisure time comes first, before any other priority.

It's not the first time that Bush has relaxed in Crawford while a major crisis was unfolding.

Who can forget how a vacationing Bush casually strummed a guitar in 2005 as Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury in the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States? Who can forget how Bush ignored officials' warnings about how Katrina could breach levees and put lives at risk?

It wasn't the first time that a vacationing Bush has ignored urgent warnings. After all, in the midst of his 5-week vacation immediately preceding the 9/11 attacks, Bush ignored a Presidential Daily Briefing, hand-delivered to him by CIA officials, who flew from Washington to Crawford in August 2001.

The Aug. 6, 2001 PDB, as we now all know, was titled, "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." Bush took no action (and indeed, went fishing later that day).

In the turmoil of the past seven years of Bush's presidency, few things in this world have been predictable. However, one thing that has remained predictable like clockwork is that, when crisis strikes, Bush will put his vacation plans ahead of the interests of the nation, and the world.

On Wednesday, Bush arrived in Crawford for the 69th time of his presidency. In all, Bush has spent an incredible 418 days of his presidency in Crawford. In fact, at the current rate, Bush looks to easily beat Ronald Reagan's record as the president who took the most vacation time while in office.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ghosts Of Christmas Present: Waiting To Get On Disability

By MANIFESTO JOE

So you've enjoyed that turkey and dressing, and lingered by the fireplace with family members over a glass of Chardonnay. But if you're a Web addict, you eventually log on and check out what's happening on the blogs. If you drop by this one, I'll be your Jeremiah this Christmas Day, and with a little Dickens added for flavor.

As I write this, there are hundreds of thousands of disabled Americans who are waiting, sometimes for years, to get on Social Security disability. In the era of Bush, the system is no longer funded in a way in which claims can be processed in a reasonable time.

The New York Times recently reported:

Steadily lengthening delays in the resolution of Social Security disability claims have left hundreds of thousands of people in a kind of purgatory, waiting as long as three years for a decision. ...

Some have lost homes, declared bankruptcy or even died, say lawyers representing claimants and officials of the Social Security Administration. ...

"It's been hell," said Belinda Virgil, 44. She waited three years for her hearing in November and is awaiting the outcome. Virgil is tethered to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day and has no home of her own. "I've got no money for Christmas, I move from house to house, and I'm getting really depressed," she said. ...

State agencies initially turn down about two-thirds of the roughly 2.5 million disability applicants each year. But of the more than 575,000 who appeal ... two-thirds eventually win a reversal.


The problem is that there simply aren't enough appeals judges to handle the caseload. The backlog is now 755,000, compared to 311,000 in 2000. (Hey, wasn't that the year Bush was appointed president?)

Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Many of these people couldn't survive in either of those settings.

So, what's being done? Not much. The Times continued:

The agency wants to hire at least 150 appeals judges, but the plan has been delayed by the standoff between Congress and the White House over domestic appropriations. Without new hirings, federal officials predict even longer waits ...

... in November, the Democratic-controlled Congress voted a $275 million increase for the agency. But Bush vetoed the bill, calling it profligate.
(So, like, he knows that word?)

I'm sure Bush is enjoying his turkey and dressing today. Too bad he's never had to go down to the local mission house to get it.

OK, I'm nearly done playing Jeremiah, and Dickens, too. Merry Christmas -- enjoy the rest of the day, in its true spirit. I, for one, go back to work tomorrow, thankful that I am able to do so. These are grim times for those who are not.

Manifesto Joe is an underground writer living in Texas. Check out his blog at Manifesto Joe's Texas Blues.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Giuliani's Bizarre Solution To Spiraling U.S. Deficit: Cut Corporate Taxes

By MARC MCDONALD

The most bizarre statement made by any GOP candidate in Wednesday's Republican debate in Iowa was made when Rudy Giuliani responded to a question about how America can reduce its crushing government deficit.

What was Giuliani's solution?

Was it ending corporate welfare (which costs America $300 billion a year)?

Was it rolling back George W. Bush's fiscally reckless tax cuts for the rich?

Was it stopping the disastrous Iraq War, which costs America $11 billion a month?

Nope, it was none of the above.

To reduce our nation's crushing deficit, Giuliani proposed cutting taxes. Specifically cutting corporate taxes.

Giuliani didn't propose cutting taxes for hard-pressed working class or middle class people in this country. No, his priority is with corporations (most of which already avoid paying any taxes at all, thanks to loopholes).

Never mind that the whole idea of cutting taxes to reduce deficits is an idiotic idea that has been repeatedly debunked ever since it was first proposed by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

I find it incredible that any candidate can still be calling for trickle-down economic policies, after the experience of three decades has shown that it simply doesn't work and it only leads to spiraling deficits.

And yet Giuliani and other GOP candidates can continue to propose such nonsense and get a free pass from the MSM.

I find it interesting how Giuliani seems to think that cutting corporate taxes should be a high priority for America. Between corporate welfare and tax loopholes, most corporations already get a free ride in this nation.

The tax burden in the U.S. over the years has been shifting from corporations to individual taxpayers (as has been documented by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele). In the 1950s, corporations paid around half of all taxes. Today, their burden has shrunk to less than 10 percent. In fact, today, 60 percent of all U.S. corporations pay zero income tax. Under a Giuliani administration, corporations can look forward to paying even less tax.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bolton's "Putsch" Conspiracy Theory Outdoes Right-Wing Blogs For Nuttiness

By MARC MCDONALD

Did you know that there's a big conspiracy under way to undermine our nation and our Commander-In-Chief? The Liberals and other anti-American traitors are in on this conspiracy. So are America's own intelligence agencies.

Sounds pretty wacky, huh?

The sort of thing you'd read on one of the nutcase right-wing blogs.

However, this latest wacky theory didn't emerge from the fringe blogosphere. It came out of the mouth of none other than John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

When U.S. intelligence services recently released a report concluding that Iran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003, sane people across the globe breathed a sigh of relief. Many of us felt that maybe, just maybe, this would head off the Bush regime's crazy, reckless march toward yet another bloody fiasco of a war in the Middle East.

However, NeoCons like Bolton are up in arms. Bolton has had a hard-on for war with Iran for years now. He's the sort of Republican who loves a nice, bloody war, as long as he gets to avoid doing any of the actual fighting himself (just as he did during the Vietnam War when he avoided combat by joining the National Guard, just like his buddy George W. Bush).

While the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief over the recent intelligence report, people like Bolton see it all as part of a big Liberal conspiracy.

Bolton, in an interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine alleged that the aim of the National Intelligence Estimate, was not to provide the latest intelligence on Iran, but instead to offer "politics disguised as intelligence."

Bolton labeled the report as a "quasi-putsch" by the intelligence agencies.

I used to think that such crazy conspiracy theories were limited to nutcases who write fringe right-wing blogs on the Web. (You know, the sort of blogs that claim that President Clinton once ordered a Mafia style hit on Vince Foster).

But these days, even top GOP figures are embracing the most bizarre and far-out crazy conspiracy theories. These people believe that anyone who dares speak out against their beloved Bush must be part of a giant Liberal conspiracy.

Here's a memo to Bolton and the rest of the nutcase fringe Right. Yes, there was indeed a "putsch" in America---and it occurred in 2000 when Bush and the NeoCons came to power via a massive fraud of an election.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ban On AK-47 Assault Rifle Used In Omaha Mall Rampage Was Lifted By GOP Congress In 2004

By MARC MCDONALD

For 10 years, the AK-47 semiautomatic assault weapon used in the deadly Omaha mall shootings was illegal in America, after President Clinton signed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. On Sept. 13, 2004, that ban came to an end, thanks to the GOP-led Congress.

Thanks to this idiotic decision, lethal weapons such as AK-47s, Uzis and TEC-9s returned to store shelves in America.

The AK-47 is not used for hunting (as it isn't accurate for long-range shooting). However, it is a excellent weapon to have if you are a psychopath who wishes to go to his local shopping mall and slaughter a bunch of innocent people.

It was the weapon used by Robert Hawkins on Wednesday at a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska, where he shot and killed five women and three men and then turned the gun on himself.

If the GOP retains the White House, or regains the Congress, in 2008, we can be assured that Republicans will continue to weaken what few remaining gun restrictions there still are on the books in this country. For example, we can kiss the Brady Bill, signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, goodbye.

Indeed, the current crop of GOP presidential candidates all seem to be outdoing themselves on the campaign trail, depicting themselves as foes of any and all gun restrictions. And as long as our politicians are in the pocket of the powerful NRA, we can expect more gun tragedies in the years to come.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Right-Wing Nutcases Laugh It Up Over Clinton Office Hostage Crisis

By MARC MCDONALD

"Anyone care to bet the protagonist is a card-carrying member of the Democrat Party (aka nutroot) who is frustrated that Hillary hasn't personally defunded the War in Iraq yet? Might even be a member over at Daily Kos?"
---Rotarymunkey, commenter at MichelleMalkin.com

I have to admit, I never really understood the right-wing sense of humor.

Like when Ronald Reagan joked in 1964 about the 17 million people who then went to bed hungry every night in America, saying that "they were all on a diet."

Or when Rush Limbaugh called 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton a "dog."

Or when George W. Bush yucked it up over the issue of the non-existent WMDs in Iraq during a "comedy" skit in the Oval Office.

I don't know---maybe I just don't have much of a sense of humor, because I saw nothing funny about yesterday's hostage crisis, in which a distraught man wearing what appeared to be a bomb walked into the campaign office of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.

However, plenty of right-wing folks thought the whole episode was real funny. Take (please) the wingnuts who hang out at the blog of right-wing nutcase Michelle Malkin.

As of Friday night, Malkin's comments section was full of posters who were joking about the crisis and speculating about how the "liberal" media and the Democrats would conspire to spin the episode to Hillary's advantage.

A poster by the name of "Fodder Jack" seemed to find humor in the crisis, writing, "Maybe it is a last ditch effort by the press to get an interview with Hillary."

Another writer called "Reppac122" was (like many across the right-wing blogosphere) already using the occasion to attack the Clintons. "My cynical political thinking here is that the Clintons (yes, both of them) will use this horrible situation for their political benefit."

Another writer, using the handle, "RetFireman," raised the issue of conspiracy: "Now be honest...with all that has come out lately, and I am not saying it is staged, but how many people would be that surprised to find out at some later date that it was? Be honest with yourself, and consider who we are talking about."

Commenter "Eric CharlotteNC" sarcastically mocked Liberals in his post. "If our troops weren't in Iraq this never would have happened! Or maybe global warming got this guy very hot!"

"Blacktygrrrr" added his own two cents: "The bottom line is if the hostage taker is a liberal, he will be dismissed as deranged, since many liberals are deranged anyway."

"Rotarymunkey" had this to say: "Anyone care to bet the protagonist is a card-carrying member of the Democrat Party (aka nutroot) who is frustrated that Hillary hasn't personally defunded the War in Iraq yet? Might even be a member over at Daily Kos?"

And so it goes, on and on.

Of course, none of this comes as much of a surprise to those of us who are at all familiar with the vicious hatemongering in the right-wing blogosphere.

The scary thing is Malkin's blog supposedly has a policy of screening out "offensive" remarks. If the above comments weren't screened out, one can only wonder what truly deranged nutcase comments were deleted. The mind boggles.

I'm sure there are those who would argue that Malkin isn't responsible for the deranged posters who comment on her blog. But anyone familiar with Malkin's own writings knows that she herself is a truly psychotic nutcase whose babblings over the years have been far scarier than any of the comments above.

As prominent Malkin critic Glenn Greenwald pointed out, Malkin once wrote a book "defending the ethnicity-based imprisonment of innocent American citizens in internment camps."

As media watchdog site Media Matters pointed out, the mainstream media has given, on numerous occasions in the past, significant coverage to episodes in which controversial comments appeared on progressive blogs.

How much do you want to bet that the MSM ignores the right-wing hatemongering that appeared in the aftermath of the Clinton office hostage crisis?