Sunday, June 20, 2010

Time Is Running Out For Democrats to Pursue Charges Against Bush, Cheney

By MARC McDONALD

Of all the disappointments that progressives have endured in recent years, one of the biggest is the Democrats' failure to pursue any charges of wrongdoing by George W. Bush or Dick Cheney.

And now, with the mid-term elections only five months away, it's clear that the window of opportunity is closing, perhaps forever.

There is a reasonably good chance the GOP will retake the House in November. And if that happens, the Dems can kiss goodbye any opportunities to investigate any wrongdoing by the Bush White House.

Not that the GOP will not show any such restraint if it retakes the House. Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California is already chomping at the bit to go after President Obama.

If the GOP captures the House, Issa will become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He'll have power to subpoena White House officials to appear before the committee under oath.

Issa has made it clear that he plans to vigorously pursue investigations against the White House. And no doubt, other Republicans will do the same. In fact, it's likely the GOP will appoint a special prosecutor with an unlimited budget and subpoena power to go after President Obama as vigorously as Ken Starr pursued Bill Clinton.

It doesn't really matter if such a partisan witch hunt actually uncovers any real wrongdoing by Obama. That's not the point, anyway. The point is to harass the White House and bury it under an avalanche of subpoenas, creating distractions, and making it difficult for Obama to govern.

And while the Republicans have no qualms about pursuing a witch hunt against Democrats on purely cynical political grounds, the Dems lack the backbone to investigate a president who did untold damage to America and its standing in the world.

It's incredible that the Dems have yet to seriously investigate anything that Bush did from 2000 to 2008. The Iraq War fiasco alone deserves a special, major investigation. We already know that Bush lied the nation into a pointless, immoral, $3 trillion war that killed 1.2 million Iraqi civilians.

And that's just for starters when one examines the record of Bush/Cheney.

The list goes on and on. PlameGate. Halliburton. Abu Ghraib. NSA warrantless wiretaps. Failure to comply with Congressional subpoenas. 2000 and 2004 election irregularities. Obstruction of 9/11 investigations.

The American people deserve justice. They deserve to know exactly what happened in the White House during the Bush/Cheney years. They deserve to see the veil of secrecy lifted and the lies exposed.

But thanks to the timid, cowardly Democrats, the window of opportunity for justice is slowly closing shut, perhaps to never re-open again. Bush and Cheney will ride off happily into the sunset, with smirks on their faces, and will likely never face any charges.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Today's Bible Reading: Jesus Gives His Views on the Rich and the Poor

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By MARC McDONALD

Today's reading from the Bible is from the book of Luke:

Jesus said:
"Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God."

"But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation."

From Luke, chapter 6, King James Version

You know, maybe I'm biased here, but I get the feeling that Jesus was not a Republican. Strange then, that the Republicans cynically wrap themselves in the Bible, as well as the flag, and claim to be the party that stands for "Christian" values.

Republicans worship the wealthy and they have nothing but contempt for the poor. So what will be their fate? For the answer to that, let's turn to another Bible passage (from Matthew, chapter 7):

"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

Progressive Music Classics. Crass: "Nagasaki Nightmare"

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By MARC McDONALD

Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

I consider the 1977 to 1984 era to be the Golden Age of Protest Music in the rock era.

Yes, the 1960s was also obviously a tremendous era for protest music. But the fact is, many of the later punk bands were revolutionary in ways far beyond anything contemplated by the likes of Dylan and other 1960s musicians.

Take Crass, for example. These British hard-core anarchists not only talked the talk, they walked the walk. For the most part, they lived up to their own very lofty ideals, during their 1977-1984 existence.

While the 1960s generation of musicians later grew complacent, bloated and fat and retired to their gated palatial estates and their cocaine, Crass never, ever sold out. They always stated that they would break up in 1984 and they lived up to their word.

Crass despised (and exposed) the hypocrisy and lies behind the corporate capitalist systems of the U.S. and Britain. And unlike other punk bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols, Crass never signed to a major music label.

Crass refused to play ball with the very corporations that were obviously at the root of the problem. So the band formed their own small, idealistic record label and released their own records (as well as those of other independent, like-minded bands).

While this helped ensure that the band never sold out, it also meant that Crass records were very difficult to come by, particularly in America (at least, if you lived in an area that was lacking in well-stocked import record stores).

As a result, at the time, I could only read about this intriguing band in the occasional import publication that wrote about them. What's worse is that, for whatever reason, it was always difficult to get ahold of non-album import singles, due to some inexplicable quirks in the record distribution of the time.

Given that many of the era's best music was released only on singles, this meant it was often hard to get copies of vital songs, ranging from Joy Division's "Atmosphere" to The Jam's "Going Underground" to "Complete Control" by the Clash to "Ghost Town" by the Specials. I could only read about the music and wonder what these music behind these intriguing titles sounded like.

Crass were one of those bands that released their best stuff on non-album singles. Not that the albums were mediocre, by any means. In fact, their albums like "Yes Sir, I Will" and "Christ the Album" were powerful and memorable, and bursting at the seams with innovation and rage.

At the time, I had a taste for straight-ahead three-chord, angry punk. But Crass quickly tired of this format and branched out into experimental, risk-taking music that often owed little to punk (or rock'n'roll) tradition. In fact, the band admitted that their biggest influences weren't rock'n'roll at all, but included the likes of English composer, Benjamin Britten, creator of the 1945 opera, "Peter Grimes."

I must admit that Crass's tendency to experiment musically often left me baffled at the time. But as the years have gone by, I find that the band's most interesting music was created when the band took creative risks. (By contrast, Crass's early three-chord punk, which I adored at the time, I now find the least interesting music in the band's catalog).

Crass were a band that was constantly challenging the system. They questioned anything and everything, from society to traditional female roles, to religion to capitalism and imperialism. They had more ideas per bar that most bands have in their entire careers. They expressed themselves not only through music, but through a never-ending blitz of spoken word works, graphic art, poetry, and more.

Eventually (and perhaps inevitably) they brought the wrath of British officialdom down upon their heads. The beginning of the end started when the band attacked Margaret Thatcher with songs like "How Does It Feel To Be the Mother Of A Thousand Dead?" released in the aftermath of the 1982 Falklands War.

The band was condemned in Parliament and faced prosecution under Britain's Obscene Publications Act. While this persecution took its toll on the band, it also vindicated the band's stance that concepts like "Freedom of Speech" and "Democracy" in countries like Britain and America are nothing more than an illusion.

Crass music is not easy listening. It's not the sort of music that one can use for background music. It demands the listener's full attention. And it can often be an unsettling experience. Usually, it's enjoyed best in small doses. (I have yet to make it all the way through a ferociously angry record like "Yes Sir, I Will" in one sitting----the rage, the intensity and the boiling anger is just too great to absorb all at once).

Like much great art down through the ages, Crass's music is often dangerous and revolutionary. It can often jolt you with its power. And it constantly raises the question: "Is our society today really the best that we as a species are capable of?"

One of the best, and most unsettling, Crass songs is "Nagasaki Nightmare." In it, the band do one of the things they do best: tackle and confront, head-on the evils of our modern world.

One might ask: do we really need to be reminded, in vivid detail, the horrors of what happened at Nagaski? To which I answer: you're goddamn right, we do. We need to be reminded every fucking day. Only then can we be jolted out of our complacency: the same complacency that led to other horrors like the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and the presidencies of Reagan and Bush/Cheney.

Listening to a track like "Nagasaki Nightmare," I can't help but think: "Where in the fuck are today's radical bands that have something to say?" It's not like there's nothing to protest any more. In fact, I'd say that we have more to protest now than we did back in the early 1980s.

But today's music artists don't really have much to say about anything. Yes, there are "punk" bands today, like Green Day. But Green Day are about as dangerous and radical as a cup of Starbucks Coffee. They're nothing more than corporate whores---and their music is safe and sanitized.

While truly radical and risk-taking music may be pretty much dead in the U.S. and Britain these days, at least we have the recorded legacy of bands like Crass to remember.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

As Hunger Rises In U.S., Millions Forced To Wait For Food Stamp Benefits

By MARC McDONALD

Feeding America, a non-profit food bank network group, reports that hunger is "increasing at an alarming rate in the United States."

Despite this, a recent review by The Associated Press found that dozens of food-stamp programs in 39 states left at least a quarter of applicants waiting weeks or months for food aid.

America is currently in the grip of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. With millions of ongoing job layoffs and a high jobless rate, it shouldn't be surprising that many American families are now finding it increasing difficult to afford even the basics, including food.

The cost of the U.S. food stamp program runs around $50 billion a year. That may sound like a lot, until you consider that it is nickel-dime chump change, compared with other government programs that primarily benefit the wealthy.

Take for example, Bush's bailout of the corrupt gangsters on Wall Street. That welfare-for-the-rich program is set to cost the U.S. taxpayers a cool $1 trillion.

Of course, even that pales in significance compared to the $3 trillion that the U.S. is flushing down the toilet in the fiasco known as the Iraq War (and the ever-growing costs of the fiasco known as the Afghanistan War).

For the same amount the U.S. spends in a few months in Iraq, we could fully fund the U.S. food stamp program for one year and ensure that no children go to bed hungry.

But then again, crony corporate pigs like Halliburton and Blackwater might then have to suffer a slight decrease in the billions they've reaped in closed, no-bid contracts in Iraq.

So while the Top One Percent of rich Americans continue to gorge themselves with a generous helping of our tax dollars, ordinary citizens continue to struggle as the U.S. economic crisis continues.

AP notes that currently, a record 40 million people (one in eight Americans) now rely on food stamps.

"The number of participating households increased by one-fifth in fiscal 2009, and many states' food-stamp rolls grew by a third or more" AP reported.

Monday, June 07, 2010

How the American Dream Turned Into a Mirage

By MARC McDONALD

Although it's difficult for many Americans to admit it, the "American Dream" was always a lie in many ways, dating back to the nation's founding. It was a lie when slave-holder Thomas Jefferson included the words, "All men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers believed in equality---as long as the discussion was limited to white, wealthy, male property owners.

But the phrase, "the American Dream" always sounded good. And that was enough to make it seem real in a nation where the often-juvenile culture has often had a difficult time facing up to cold, hard reality, unlike the cynical, world-weary Europeans.

After all, Americans not only tolerate it when our leaders lie to us, we want to be lied to.

Hence, Jimmy Carter got grief when he served up a dose of bitter, but honest medicine to the American people in his so-called "malaise" speech in 1979.

By contrast, Ronald Reagan told us not to worry and assured us that America was still great---and millions of Americans loved him for it.

And speaking of Reagan, if there is a date when the American Dream started turning into a mirage, it would have to be traced back to Jan. 20, 1981, the date Reagan was sworn in.

The "American Dream" was already on life-support when Reagan swaggered into Washington. At the end of his eight years in office, it was all but dead.

Before Reagan, the "American Dream" at least existed on some level in American life. Ordinary citizens could in many cases find prosperity through diligence and hard work. In many ways, America was a land of opportunity. Class mobility was higher in the U.S. than in many other nations (although that's clearly no longer the case).

But even in those pre-Reagan years, much of the "American Dream" was smoke and mirrors. By the time Reagan was finished with America, it was pretty much all smoke and mirrors.

First of all, take a look at the so-called "prosperity" that emerged during the Reagan years. As was the case with Reagan's ideological British soulmate, Margaret Thatcher, much of this "prosperity" was attributed by free-market economists to Reagan's deregulation of the economy and cutting of taxes.

"I will cut taxes and balance the budget," Reagan told America. In other words, we Americans were going to get something for nothing---and that's something we've always been suckers for.

At the time, serious economists scoffed at Reagan's supply-side economics---and they were later vindicated. The only thing Reagan's tax cuts for the rich resulted in were the towering budget deficits which haunt America to this day.

And even the "prosperity" supposedly created on Reagan's watch was all a lie. The only reason Reagan was even able to run giant deficits and fund his massive military build-up was the fact that the Japanese were quietly persuaded to loan the U.S. Treasury the billions that made it all possible. (In this sense, the U.S. author and East Asia expert Chalmers Johnson was correct when he wrote that it was Japan, not the U.S., that won the Cold War).

Similarly, Thatcher's "economic boom" in Britain had little to do with her slashing of taxes, her deregulation and her union busting. Rather it was the massive new discoveries of North Sea oil on her watch that fueled a boom in the U.K. economy.

But back to the death of the "American Dream." The core feature of the latter has always been a strong, prosperous and resilient Great America Middle Class. And the U.S. middle class never really recovered from the Reagan years.

The reasons are many---and they can all be traced back to Reagan's policies. They included the crushing of unions, the weakening of U.S. labor laws, the exporting of manufacturing jobs, and the gutting of America's already-meager welfare state. These are all policies that were carried on by Reagan's successors (including Bill Clinton).

So what's the net result today? A vastly shrunken U.S. middle class. A soaring prison population that is the biggest in the world. The fact that it is in increasingly difficult for most Americans to afford even the basics of a good life (from a college education to decent health care).

Whatever "prosperity" that exists in America is nothing more than a mirage these days. It's a mirage fueled by credit card debt and by the hundreds of billions of dollars from East Asian central banks that prop up the U.S. dollar.

It's an illusion that is clearly unsustainable. The time will come when the likes of China and Japan will no longer choose to bankroll our Ponzi scheme economy.

However, not everyone has suffered in the years since Reagan first took office. America's Top One Percent, for example, have done very well. In fact, since 1980, the Top One Percent has seen its share of the national wealth more than double, from 20 percent to 42 percent.

And thanks to tax loopholes, America's super wealthy often pay less of their income into taxes than the working class does. Even mega-billionaire Warren Buffett has admitted that he pays less of his income into tax than does his secretary, who makes $60,000 a year. (This, despite the fact that Buffett said he didn't even try to avoid paying higher taxes).

Many Americans still have a difficult time accepting that the "American Dream" is over. But as the U.S. economy continues to deteriorate, as the foreclosures continue to mount, and as the good-paying jobs continue to vanish, it is only a matter of time before cold, hard reality sets in.

And when that day comes, American society could undergo a violent upheaval. The only question is: who will ordinary Americans blame? Will they focus their anger on the real culprits (the out-of-control corporations, the bought-and-paid-for politicians, and the Wall Street gangsters?) Or will they succumb to the dangerous Pied Piper's song of the deranged Tea Baggers? Time will tell.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Progressive Music Classics. The Clash: "Clampdown"

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By MARC McDONALD

Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

I first heard the songs that would make up The Clash's massive double album, "London Calling" at a Dallas concert the band gave in 1979. To tell you the truth, I was initially a bit disappointed. I came to the concert expecting to hear the classics I loved from the band's first spectacular two albums. Instead, the set-list was comprised mostly of unfamiliar yet-to-be-released songs from the band's forthcoming new album.

When the record first arrived on import vinyl in U.S. stores in late 1979, I grew to appreciate it more, after more listens. One thing that was immediately apparent was that The Clash had abandoned simple, three-chord punk. And the lyrics were now much more worldly, literary, intriguing, and often cryptic.

The band also seemed to be prophetic in songs like "Clampdown," one of my faves from the new record. A year later, Ronald Reagan would be elected to the White House. Yet the band was already referring to an "evil presidente" (sic). That and the chilling reference to Three Mile Island gave the record a "ripped-from-the-headlines" immediacy that perfectly captured the troubled era.

Part of of the lyric to "Clampdown" could easily be applied to today's Tea Baggers: "We will teach our twisted speech, to the young believers. We will train our blue-eyed men, to be young believers." Chilling fascist imagery that captures well the image of today's increasingly extremist Right-Wing America.

Indeed, "Clampdown" as a whole could be seen as a prophetic title that neatly sums up the horrors that Reagan and the New Right unleashed upon America, and the world, starting in the 1980s.

Take a look, if you can stomach it, at the pop charts of today. There's nothing more than an endless parade of cowardly pop stars, with nothing to say outside of "Have sex, be happy and be a good little consumer."

Bands like The Clash simply don't exist any more. Which is a shame, because today, we need them more than ever.

1-2-3-4!
Hey, hey!
Ooh!
The kingdom is ransacked
the jewels all taken back
and the chopper descends
they're hidden in the back
with a message on a half-baked tape
with the spool going round
saying I'm back here in this place
and I could cry
and there's smoke you could click on

What are we gonna do now?
Taking off his turban, they said, is this man a Jew?
’Cos working for the clampdown
They put up a poster saying we earn more than you!
When we're working for the clampdown
We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers

The judge said five to ten but I say double that again
I'm not working for the clampdown
No man born with a living soul
Can be working for the clampdown
Kick over the wall 'cause government's to fall
How can you refuse it?
Let fury have the hour, anger can be power
D'you know that you can use it?

The voices in your head are calling
Stop wasting your time, there's nothing coming
Only a fool would think someone could save you
The men at the factory are old and cunning
You don't owe nothing, so boy get runnin'
It's the best years of your life they want to steal

But, you grow up and you calm down and
You're working for the clampdown
You start wearing the blue and brown and
You're working for the clampdown
So you got someone to boss around
It makes you feel big now
You drift until you brutalize
You made your first kill now

In these days of evil presidentes
Working for the clampdown
But lately one or two has fully paid their due
For working for the clampdown
Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong!
Working for the clampdown
Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong!
Working for the clampdown

Yeah I’m working hard in Harrisburg
Working hard in Petersburg
Working for the clampdown
Working for the clampdown
Ha! Gitalong! Gitalong
Begging to be melted down
Gitalong, gitalong
Work
Work
And I give away no secrets – ha!
Work
More work
Work
Work


(From the lyrics database Sing365.com).

Thursday, June 03, 2010

After a Break, We're Now Back in Action

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As you've noticed, we've not updated BeggarsCanBeChoosers.com in a while. The reasons are many: I needed a break, and also we ran into some technical issues that made it impossible to publish for a while. These are now resolved and we plan to start publishing here again on a regular basis. Things should start to get interesting as we head into the upcoming election season, leading up to November.