Thursday, December 05, 2013

Remembering When Reagan Embraced Apartheid South Africa


After many years of struggle, the evil system of apartheid in South Africa came to an end in the early 1990s, thanks to the brave efforts of Nelson Mandela.

But apartheid's end arrived with absolutely no thanks to Ronald Reagan, a man who embraced the racist apartheid regime.

In 1986, during the growing struggle against apartheid, Reagan used the words "immoral" and "utterly repugnant."

Unfortunately, Reagan wasn't talking about apartheid. Instead, he was using those words to describe his views on the Anti-Apartheid Act, a proposed law that called for imposing sanctions against South Africa.

Reagan's position was too extreme, even for his fellow Republicans. Reagan's veto against the Anti-Apartheid Act was overridden by the GOP-controlled Senate in October 1986.

The Gipper's position really shouldn't have been surprising. After all, throughout the 1980s, the Reagan administration maintained close ties to the South African government. Reagan even demonized foes of apartheid, such as the African National Congress, as "dangerous and pro-communist."

It's no wonder that 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu called Reagan's policy, "immoral, evil and totally un-Christian" during a visit to the United States.

If Reagan's stance on apartheid seems surprising, it shouldn't be. After all (like many Republicans today) Reagan was a master of using subtle racist messaging techniques to rally support on the campaign trail. Recall how in 1980, Reagan gave his first major campaign speech, babbling on about "states' rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi (where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964).

Reagan's subtle racist techniques, of course, continue today. We continue to see it in the ongoing GOP attacks on President Obama. As The New York Times put it last year: "There has been a racist undertone to many of the Republican attacks leveled against President Obama."

So Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela. You were a true giant and a fighter for a noble cause: the end of the evil apartheid system. It's sad that your brave fight against apartheid in the 1980s didn't draw support from the likes of Reagan.

Update: Already, the wingnuts are trying to smear and tarnish the great man's legacy (a trend I expect we'll see quite a bit more of in the coming weeks).

One article at right-wing sewer hole PJ Media is titled, "Communist Icon Nelson Mandela Dead at 95." The piece calls the African National Congress's armed struggle against apartheid as "terror attacks."

You've gotta love these wingnuts and their twisted "logic." Where was their outrage against "terror attacks" when their hero, George W. Bush, ordered the bombing of Baghdad and other cities during his invasion of Iraq? Those bombings slaughtered thousands of Iraqi civilians. And for what? So that corporate America could get its filthy hands on Iraq's oil?

Say what you want about the ANC's attacks---but at least the cause (the struggle to end apartheid) was worthwhile.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday Protests at Walmart: What You Can Do To Help


Are you fed up with the ongoing immoral, unethical behavior from Dick Cheney's favorite corporation, Walmart?

As one of our favorite progressive sites,, points out:

"Walmart reported a profit of $15.7 billion last year, yet Walmart workers must rely on food stamps, Medicaid and other anti-poverty programs to put food on the table and keep the lights on."

Do you think this doesn't affect you personally? Think again. As notes:

"Taxpayers subsidize this worker exploitation to the tune of $900,000-$1,750,000 per store, and there are over 4,700 Walmart and Sam's Club stores in the U.S."

During the eight horrific years of the Bush/Cheney's corporatist regime, no action was taken against Walmart. Today, however, it's a different story.

From As

"Fed-up workers have walked off the job at Walmart stores in Dallas, Seattle, Chicago, Miami and Southern California. And Walmart is facing federal prosecution for its pattern of illegal firings and threats to workers across at least 13 states."

Would you like to help, or participate in the upcoming Black Friday Walmart protests? Go here.

Be sure to also check out the essential progressive Web site,

Thursday, November 21, 2013

JFK Assassination, 50 Years Later: Taking a Look at the Mysterious Life of George de Mohrenschildt


(Note: this is a guest post by Tim Fleming about the late George de Mohrenschildt. A mysterious and fascinating figure for JFK assassination researchers, de Mohrenschildt became friends with Lee Harvey Oswald in 1962. Be sure to check out Tim's blog, Left of the Looking Glass).

If you want to unravel the mysteries of the JFK case, all you have to do is follow one George de Mohrenschildt, CIA covert asset, oil geologist, Russian royalty and international man of mystery. It can be said, with only the slightest bit of exaggeration, that de Mohrenschildt knew everyone involved in The Big Hit.

De Mohrenschildt was well acquainted with the Bush family. De Mohrenschildt's nephew, Eddie Hooker, had been George H.W. Bush's prep school roommate at Phillips Academy in Massachusetts. De Mohrenschildt and Hooker went into the oil business in West Texas at the same time that Bush was working there as a Dresser Industries employee. Speaking of Dresser Industries, it was closely aligned with a fashion/sportswear business in Dallas called Nardi’s. De Mohrenschildt’s wife Jeanne worked at Nardi’s in the 1950s alongside Abraham Zapruder. Yes, that Zapruder: the man who made the most infamous home movie of all time. While Jeanne designed the clothing, Abe cut the patterns. Think about that for a moment. The man who filmed the murder of JFK worked closely with the wife of the accused assassin’s best friend. My head hurts.

The De Mohrenschildt family was steeped in an intelligence background. George's older brother Dmitri worked, on many occasions, with Allen Dulles of the OSS/CIA. George himself started doing covert work for the CIA in the 1950s. When he moved to Dallas in 1952 he joined the Dallas Petroleum Club and the Council on Foreign Relations; both organizations’ membership lists read like a who’s who of Kennedy assassination suspects.

One of De Mohrenschildt’s most dangerous CIA assignments (one that he certainly would have refused had he known the consequences) was "shepherding" or "setting up" Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas in 1962-63. De Mohrenschildt was chosen for the job because of his fluency in the Russian language and his knowledge of Russian culture. Oswald, having lived in Russia on a low-level, false-defector mission for the CIA, was naturally drawn to De Mohrenschildt’s acumen in all things Russian.

The Warren Commission called De Mohrenschildt to testify, but it was hardly a rough interrogation. De Mohrenschildt was asked about his remarkable suntan and then dismissed. Warren Commission member Allen Dulles, who certainly knew De Mohrenschildt, cleverly steered the questioning away from the most dangerous areas.

That would have been the end of it, except that a couple of FBI memos addressing George H.W. Bush's involvement in the aftermath of the assassination surfaced. The memos refer to "George Bush" of the CIA having reported on anti-Castro community activity post-assassination and having named a suspect to be questioned. But Bush has always denied being a CIA employee in 1963. Oops ... Bush got caught practicing spycraft (plausible deniability for being in Dallas the day Kennedy was murdered and snooping on a group of suspects). Naturally serious investigators raised the suspiciousness of the Bush-De Mohrenschildt-Oswald connection.

According to author Russ Baker, " the spring of 1963, immediately after his final communication with Oswald, De Mohrenschildt had traveled to New York and Washington for meetings with CIA and military intelligence officials. He even had met with a top aide to Vice President Johnson. And the (Warren) commission certainly did not learn that one meeting in New York included Thomas Devine, then Poppy Bush’s business colleague in Zapata offshore, who was doing double duty for the CIA."

It is noteworthy that De Mohrenschildt was acquainted with most, if not all, the major suspects in the JFK assassination. He befriended Dallas oil barons, he worked as a covert asset for the CIA, he set up Lee Harvey Oswald, and he even knew Lyndon Johnson.

In Watergate, Deep Throat advised Woodward to follow the money. In the JFK murder case, one need only follow George De Mohrenschildt to track the outline of the plot.

Closing Comment by Marc McDonald:

On March 29, 1977, de Mohrenschildt was contacted by an investigator with the House Select Committee on Assassinations, asking for an interview. That same day, de Mohrenschildt was found dead from a gunshot wound. De Mohrenschildt's death has been called a suicide, but its timing does seem mysterious.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Repost: Five Lingering Unsolved Mysteries From the JFK Assassination



Note: this is an encore presentation of a piece I wrote last year.

It has now been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Since then, thousands of books have been written about what is probably the single biggest unsolved mystery of the 20th century. After nearly half a century, it's becoming increasingly clear that we may never fully understand what happened that day.

I myself have long harbored doubts about the government's own seriously flawed version of what happened in Dealey Plaza. The 1964 Warren Commission Report has rightfully been criticized over the years for the inaccuracies and flawed information it contained.

The vast majority of Kennedy assassination books over the decades have concluded that there was a conspiracy to kill JFK. However, many conspiracy theories themselves have been debunked over the years. In fact, sloppy work by conspiracy writers has, in my view, damaged the quest for truth in the case.

Authors like Gerald Posner, who have worked to debunk conspiracies, have in turn been harshly criticized by the pro-conspiracy community. Posner's book, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK was once praised as a solid rebuttal to the conspiracy writers. But in recent years, Posner has increasingly come under fire and his reputation has taken a beating (even among those who believe Oswald acted alone).

One problem that plagues works like Posner's book (as well as pro-conspiracy works like Oliver Stone's JFK film) is that the case is simply too vast and complex to be adequately addressed in a single work.

After reading numerous JFK assassination books over the years, both pro and con, I still keep an open mind about the case. I'm not 100 percent convinced, either way, although I do lean toward the theory that Oswald did not act alone.

In any case, there are still unresolved mysteries surrounding the JFK Assassination that haven't been adequately explained to this day. Here are five of them.

1. What happened to Mary Moorman's missing fifth photo in Dealey Plaza? Moorman is known for her famous Polaroid photo that captures the JFK assassination at nearly the precise instant the head shot occurred. What is less well-known, though, is that Moorman took other photos that day. One photo she took moments before the assassination reportedly depicted the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. The photo was reportedly turned over to Secret Service agents shortly after the assassination and vanished from sight. It has never been published and it remains missing to this day.

2. Why was Oswald's handwritten note to FBI agent James Hosty destroyed? Oswald wrote a note to Hosty a week or two before the assassination. Within hours of Oswald's death on Nov. 24, 1963, the note was torn up and flushed down the toilet by Hosty. Hosty had claimed his superior, Gordon Shanklin, had ordered him to destroy the note. However, Shanklin denied this. The lingering mystery, though, is exactly what the contents of Oswald's note were and why the note was destroyed in the first place.

3. Whatever happened to the mysterious "Babushka Lady," who was seen in the Zapruder film of the assassination? Zapruder's film depicts a woman wearing a head scarf who in turn is filming the JFK motorcade at the moment of the assassination. Given that the Babushka Lady is very close to the motorcade, her film would offer invaluable evidence if it could be located today. The problem is, shortly after the assassination, the Babushka Lady and her film vanished from history. In 1970, a woman named Beverly Oliver came forward and claimed she was the Babushka Lady and that her film was confiscated by the FBI. But her story has never been confirmed.

4. What happened in the mysterious death of Oswald's friend, George de Mohrenschildt? A noted member of the Russian emigre community in Dallas, De Mohrenschildt became an unlikely friend of Oswald in 1962. He testified at length before the Warren Commission in 1964. In later years, he became increasingly depressed and distraught and believed the CIA was persecuting him. On March 29, 1977, de Mohrenschildt was contacted by an investigator with the House Select Committee on Assassinations, asking for an interview. That same day, de Mohrenschildt was found dead from a gunshot wound. De Mohrenschildt's death has been called a suicide, but its timing does seem mysterious.

5. Did Joseph Milteer have foreknowledge of the assassination? 13 days before the assassination, right-wing extremist Milteer gave tape-recorded comments to a Miami police informant that eerily predicted key details of the JFK assassination. Milteer claimed that a conspiracy to kill Kennedy was in the works and described a scenario in which the president would be shot "from an office building with a high-powered rifle." Milteer also predicted that, in the aftermath of the assassination, the police would arrest a patsy "to throw the public off." Amazingly, the Warren Commission gave very little attention to Milteer's interview. Milteer remains a shadowy and mysterious figure to this day. His 1963 tape-recorded remarks can be heard in the video above.

Friday, November 01, 2013

How Big Business Turned Welfare For The Poor Into Corporate Welfare


America has been gutting its already-threadbare social safety net for three decades. The recent cuts to food stamps are the latest evidence of that.

Does this mean that we will eventually see the realization of the GOP's dream of ending all welfare for low-income people?

Not if corporate America has a say in the matter. And make no mistake, nothing gets done in Washington, D.C. without corporate America's blessing.

The fact is, corporate America loves welfare. (No, I'm not just talking about the billions of dollars big corporations pocket in corporate welfare every year). I'm talking about welfare for low-income people.

In fact, welfare for low-income people plays a key and crucial role in the business models of companies ranging from Walmart to the fast-food industry. Without welfare programs like Medicaid and food stamps, many of these corporations would have to rethink their entire business model.

If all this sounds odd, it really shouldn't. After all, this explains why America has a social safety net in the first place.

Of course, America is a nation that has never had much sympathy for poor people. From birth, we are taught to admire the wealthy and spit on the poor. (Yes, this is indeed odd for a so-called "Christian" nation).

Hence, America's skimpy, bare-bones social safety net. In fact, given America's hostility toward the poor, it raises a question: why does America even have a social safety net at all? It certainly isn't because low-income people have much clout in Washington, D.C.

Republicans talk a real good talk about "ending welfare." And indeed, the GOP (along with the Democrats) have managed to slash welfare programs quite a bit over the past 30 years.

But the fact is, America still has a social safety net, even if it is very skimpy. And that social safety net is going nowhere, despite what the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are demanding.

The fact, is America's social safety net exists not to protect the interests of low-income people. It exists mainly to protect the profit margins of corporate America.

The fact is, corporations like Walmart can't be bothered to pay a living wage these days. And if workers don't earn a living wage, guess who is forced to make up the difference?

Yes, that's right: you and me and tens of millions of other U.S. taxpayers.

It's clear that corporate America has cleverly manipulated the system to turn programs like food stamps into de facto corporate welfare.

Most Americans are in the dark about this. Most of us tend to believe that people on food stamps are simply too lazy to get a job.

But the reality is that "most recipients of food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, are working-class Americans with jobs, or are senior citizens or children."

Over the past 30 years, with the destruction of good middle class jobs and the crushing of organized labor, tens of millions of Americans are now finding it difficult to make ends meet without food stamps and other government aid programs.

And that's just the way corporate America likes it.

Once again, the Rich & Powerful and the corporations have manipulated the system to enrich themselves and to screw over ordinary working-class people.

I recently had a debate with a friend, who disputed my contention that today's America has become an oligarchy, the sole purpose which is to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

"If that's true, then how to you explain welfare programs for low-income people?" my friend asked.

But as it turns out, even welfare programs for the poor ultimately benefit corporate America. Really, it's just a clever form of backdoor corporate welfare in the increasingly Third World-like nation called America.

So what's the solution to all this? Believe it or not, it's labor unions. Organized labor has been crushed over the past 30 years, since the Reagan administration's crackdown on unions. Currently, only 5 percent of private sector workers are unionized (versus 35 percent in the 1950s).

If organized labor can ever regain clout in America, more workers will be able to demand a living wage. And U.S. taxpayers will no longer be forced to subsidize corporate America's already sky-high profits.

Monday, October 28, 2013

R.I.P. Lou Reed (1942-2013). "Like a Possum"



Today, the tributes are pouring in for the great Lou Reed, who passed away on Sunday. Loads of musicians are coming out of the woodwork, declaring their love for Reed and claiming what a wonderful influence he was on their music.

You know, it's a shame that more people didn't love Reed when he was still around. After all, his brilliant albums with America's greatest band, the Velvet Underground, were all commercial duds. The Velvets certainly weren't ever played on the radio---at least in America.

And Reed's four-decade solo career hardly did much better. In half a century, The Great American Record-Buying Public only put one of Reed's songs into the Top 40 charts (1973's "Walk on the Wild Side"). And even that song had to be tampered with in order to be played on the radio.

But selling lots of records was never one of Reed's priorities. Instead, he followed his muse, wherever it took him.

Sometimes, Reed's muse took him into strange and deeply uncommercial waters (such as Metal Machine Music, his notorious 1975 double album: a record that consisted of an hour of paint-peeling, ear-piercing guitar feedback.

Reed always kept his music honest and real. He refused to compromise, or tone down his lyrics. And, of course, musicians like that rarely sell loads of records.

No, instead, it is always the mediocrities who get rewarded in America's corporate record industry. As a result, it's dogshit like Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga that receive the Grammy awards and the platinum records.

As much as everyone is falling over themselves to declare their love for Reed today, I can remember a time not so long ago when it was difficult to even find Lou Reed's work in the record stores. Of course, in today's iTunes era, that's difficult to appreciate.

Back in the 1980s, I once scoured record bins for weeks, looking for the 1967 masterpiece, The Velvet Underground & Nico. It sure as hell wasn't available at any commercial chain record stores. I finally did score a copy at an independent record shop. But it wasn't domestic vinyl. It was an import, from England.

In fact, the Velvet Underground's records were out of print in the U.S. for many years. It was Brian Eno who once said that the Velvet's first album only sold 30,000 copies----but that everyone who bought a copy later formed a band.

For years, Reed was a prophet without honor in his own country. Indeed, it took an Englishman (David Bowie) to rescue Reed from obscurity in 1972 and get him into a recording studio to record what would become his only (modest) hit single.

After that one modest success, Reed toiled away for decades, producing great music but enjoying little commercial success. But he had enormous influence on other artists, ranging from Joy Division to The Strokes to the wonderful bands who recorded for Scotland's Postcard label in the early 1980s.

Reed and the Velvets have long been loved in Scotland, as evidenced by the memorable appearance of Reed's "Perfect Day" in the 1996 film, Trainspotting. Indeed, when the VU briefly reunited in 1992, they performed in Edinburgh.

Actually, I doubt Reed really ever wanted mega-riches. But still, it's a sobering thought to realize that an overrated hack like Justin Timberlake sold more copies of his latest album alone than Reed probably sold in his entire brilliant half-century career.

So Reed joins the pantheon of Great Music Talents, like Captain Beefheart and Father Yod, who created a brilliant body of work, but never really achieved proper recognition.

The video above features what I believe was Reed's last truly great recording: "Like a Possum," from the 2000 Ecstasy album. An 18-minute masterpiece, it drew mixed responses from critics at the time (like much of Reed's work). As was the case with Metal Machine Music, you either loved it or you hated it.

"Like a Possum" featured one of Reed's great lines:

I got a hole in my heart the size of a truck
It won't be filled by a one-night fuck

Tonight, a lot of us have a hole in our hearts.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Michigan State's William Penn: A College Professor Who Tells the Truth



Michigan State University professor William Penn has been getting a lot of flack over recent comments he made about Republicans (as seen in the above video).

In the video, Penn describes the GOP as full of "dead white people, or dying white people."

"They are cheap. They don't want to pay taxes because they have already raped this country and gotten everything out of it they possibly could," Penn says. "They don't want to pay for your tuition, because who are you? Well to me, you are somebody."

Predictably, the right-wing media has been throwing a hissy fit over Penn's comments. And, predictably, Penn lost his teaching duties after making these comments.

I've got to laugh about the right-wing media's response. "That mean Lib! He hurt our feelings! Call the WAAAAAmbulance!"

Of course, right-wing media in this country never uses derogatory language. They never insult anybody. They never hurl vicious insults at their foes.

Nope, they're the pinnacle of courtesy and they always use logic, reason, and truth in their statements.

Yeah, right.

There's one big thing that bothers me about episodes like this. Yes, both Liberals and right-wingers have their occasional outbursts. But there's one big difference. Usually, in their outbursts, progressives tell the truth.

By contrast, the right-wing crazies just make sh*t up.

"Obama is a Muslim who was born in Kenya!"

"Obama is coming to take away your guns!"

"Obama murdered four people in Benghazi!"

"John Kerry faked his wounds to get the Silver Star and the Bronze Star in Vietnam!"

"Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster!"

By contrast, I think anyone who is not a card-carrying member of the Fox News/Drudge/Rush Limbaugh cult would agree that, while Penn's remarks could be more tactful, basically the guy is telling the truth.

I mean, I myself personally know many Republicans who think and act EXACTLY like what Penn describes.

Their worldview can basically be summed up thusly: "I've got mine, screw everyone else."

We see Republicans who act exactly like what Penn describes in the U.S. Congress. There, you'll find dozens of "Conservatives" who enjoy lavish, taxpayer-funded salaries and very generous socialized health care benefits. And then, these same hypocrites fight tirelessly, day after day, to prevent our government from doing ANYTHING to help ordinary working people gain access to health care.

To these Republicans, "socialized, taxpayer-funded" health care is BAD. But oddly enough, they have no problem with enjoying lavish, socialized, taxpayer-funded health care themselves.

(Of course, no sane person would ever confuse Obamacare with "socialized" health care). But even this modest attempt at reform faces ferocious GOP opposition.

One reason I no longer consider myself a Democrat is that I long ago got sick and tired of Democrats who always wimp out and refuse to stand up for the truth.

After listening to people like Penn, it's clear that there are still a few fighters out there. And they don't give a damn about whose feelings they hurt. Good for them.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Rep. Alan Grayson's Petition. Tell Congress: Don't Attack Syria


As the corporate media's drumbeat for war gets louder and louder, it's reassuring to know that there is still a member of Congress who speaks the truth (and who is willing to confront the Military Industrial Complex and the "defense" contractor corporations that feed at the trough of our tax dollars).

Please add your voice to Rep. Alan Grayson's online petition to tell Congress: Don't Attack Syria.

As the petition states:

"The Administration is considering intervening in the Syrian civil war. We oppose this. There's no vital national security involved. We are not the world's policeman, nor its judge and jury. Our own needs in America are great, and they come first. The death of civilians is always regrettable, and civil war is regrettable, but no Americans have been attacked, and no American allies have been attacked. The British Parliament understandably has voted not to join in any attack. Notably, defense contractor Raytheon's stock is up 20% in the last 60 days. It seems that nobody wants US intervention in Syria except the military-industrial complex. I oppose US military intervention in Syria. Join me."

Sign the petition here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: Mark Levin's "The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic"


If you want someone who rants against "Big Government" and taxes, then extremist radio commentator/right wing hack Mark Levin is your man. His latest book, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic is another predictable screed against big government and taxes.

However, there's one big problem. Levin is a profoundly dishonest pundit. The only "big government" he takes on is that of the Left.

What Levin never mentions is that the GOP is just as fond of big government programs as the Democrats are. It's just that the GOP is more clever at claiming to be the party of "small government" (even as they pour trillions of our tax dollars into big government programs). Republicans are also very clever at creating big government programs that they try to pretend are somehow not really "government programs" at all.

As an example, take one of the big government programs that was ramped up by Levin's hero, Ronald Reagan: the "War" on Drugs.

Many of Levin's followers would likely argue that the Drug War isn't really a "government program." But in fact, that's exactly what it is. It's a massive government program that employs thousands of government workers and has cost us taxpayers trillions of dollars over the decades. (Oh, and it has accomplished absolutely nothing useful---street drugs today are as plentiful and readily available as they've ever been). And the whole thing (the vast modern day "War On Drugs" as we know it), was created by Reagan's policies. America's prison population exploded under Reagan---largely because of the Gipper's "war" on drugs.

Reagan's drug war resulted in the vast expansion of government and the building of vast new prison facilities and the hiring of thousands of government employee/prison workers and administrators. Currently, an astonishing 2.4 million Americans are rotting away in prison (many of them for small, nickel-dime drug offenses).

Hey, Levin: what would the Founders have thought about the idea of locking people up in prison for the "crime" of smoking marijuana? What would the Founders have thought about trigger-happy cops kicking in doors and arresting people for doing nothing more than simply puffing a joint in the comfort of their own homes?

It's clear that not only has Reagan's crazy drug "war" cost us trillions of dollars---it's almost cost us a great deal of our rights and freedoms. But Levin is silent about all this---even as he goes batsh*t crazy over gay marriage supposedly "ruining America." (The last time I checked, gay marriage wasn't costing taxpayers trillions of dollars).

I'm sure Levin's followers would claim that Bill Clinton and President Obama have had their chance to end the 1980s Drug War that was launched by Reagan. But Levin (of all people) should know that the first rule of modern day U.S. government is: once you set up a big new government program, it never ever goes away. For one thing, the thousands of prison employees and administrators who benefit from the whole racket now constitute a powerful lobby in Washington that fights against repealing the Drug War.

Speaking of big costly government programs, I find it interesting that Levin himself had no problem collecting a taxpayer-funded paycheck for many years while he "worked" for the government in the Reagan administration. Yes, that's right: Levin, the outspoken opponent of "big government" himself was one of the government "worker" leeches who steal our tax dollars at the barrel of a gun.

Where was his outrage back then?

I have to admit, it takes quite a bit of gall to leech off the taxpayers for many years (like Levin did) and then turn around and rant against "Big Government."

I love how Levin consistently downplays the fact that he was a government employee. In his books and radio show, he always refers to himself as having "served" in the Reagan administration. You've gotta love that noble word: "served." Wow, you'd think that he "served" in the military. Maybe he won a couple of Purple Hearts. (In reality, Levin never wore the uniform. He was a chickenhawk).

Please: Mr. Levin, save the world "served" for true heroes who served in the military.

The fact is, Levin is a stinking hypocrite. He had no problem helping himself to a nice fat, taxpayer-funded paycheck for many years. It was only after he quit his government "job" that he saw the light and began his crazy crusade (which rails against progressive Big Government but has nothing to say about the GOP's own Big Government programs, like Reagan's delusional "War On Drugs" fiasco).

The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic is yet another thoroughly dishonest, despicable screed from Levin, a scary, extremist liar who makes even Rush Limbaugh sound reasonable by comparison. The fact that (at last count), an astonishing 300 Amazon reviewers have deemed fit to give this piece of sh*t drivel a 5-star rating shows how delusional Levin's Kool-Aid-drinking base really is.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Progressive Music Classics. "Running Gun Blues" by David Bowie



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

David Bowie has never particularly been known for being either angry or political in his music. But in "Running Gun Blues," his powerful 1970 song about Vietnam, Bowie got very angry and very political.

Released only a year after the My Lai Massacre became widely known to the U.S. public, "Running Gun Blues" depicts the frightening image of a bloodthirsty soldier on the loose in Vietnam. The song appeared on Bowie's excellent (but poor-selling) The Man Who Sold the World.

I slashed them cold, I killed them dead,
I broke the gooks, I cracked their heads,
I'll bomb them out from under their beds,
But now I've got the running gun blues

Commentators like Noam Chomsky have long pointed out that, for all its notoriety, there was in fact nothing particularly unique about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. Similar massacres were taking place all over the country at the time.

Today, Americans are starting to get a better grip on just what was done in our name in Vietnam. Nick Turse's new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam reveals the mind-boggling atrocities that were committed by U.S. forces in Vietnam.

But back in 1970, most Americans knew little about U.S. war crimes in Vietnam, (outside of My Lai, which was regarded as an aberration).

I'd suspect that Bowie had his doubts that My Lai was an "aberration." In "Running Gun Blues," his protagonist has already spilled a lot of blood and now, he's eager to spill more.

It seems the peacefuls stopped the war,
Left generals squashed and stifled,
But I'll slip out again tonight
Cause they haven't taken back my rifle,
For I promote oblivion,
And I'll plug a few civilians.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

America's Imaginary Lavish Social Welfare Safety Net That Exists Only in GOP's Mind


In America, we hate the poor. We really, really hate the poor. We are indoctrinated from birth to hate the poor. Jesus may have said, "Blessed are you who are poor." But America has no time for that Jesus. Our motto is "Screw the poor."

As a result, America has never been big on social welfare programs for the poor. Even during the peak years of U.S. social program spending (during LBJ's "Great Society" years), America had a skimpy social safety net, compared to other industrialized nations.

Compared to generous European social safety nets, America these days more closely resembles the likes of Mexico than a modern First World industrialized nation. Jobless benefits, for example, are far more meager and stingy in the U.S. than they are in Europe. In fact, for one reason or another, millions of Americans don't even ever qualify for jobless benefits. (I know: I was one of them. Years ago, I applied for jobless benefits and was turned down).

The other pillar of the U.S. social safety net, food stamps, is also very meager. I recall recently playing around with the food stamp eligibility program on a Texas state government Web site. I was curious as to exactly how low one's income had to be in order to qualify. I kept plugging in lower and lower income numbers and kept getting a response page that said, "You earn too much to qualify for food stamps." Eventually, I concluded the Web site must be broken. It was only later that I discovered, much to my amazement, that the Web site was in fact working just fine and the Third World-like wages I'd plugged into the search form were indeed considered too high to qualify for aid.

In short, in America these days, if you're poor, you are screwed. The fact is, many low-income and poor people never even qualify for any type of aid. And the shocking numbers of homeless in the U.S. demonstrates that our social safety net is grotesquely inadequate to meet the needs of the needy. The fact that one in five children lives in poverty is a good indicator of that.

In fact, what meager social safety net programs that are around only exist because corporate America wants them to exist (a good indicator of just how corrupt our government is these days).

Take food stamps for example. This program simply wouldn't exist were it not for the likes of Walmart. Since Walmart (a vastly profitable mega-billion-dollar corporation) can't be bothered to pay their workers a living wage, we the taxpayer in effect subsidize their wages via food stamps, (as well as other programs like Medicaid).

Give corporate America credit: they do know how to exploit a situation to boost their profits.

Despite all this, today's Republican Party is convinced that the reason America is going broke is that we supposedly fund all these lavish, generous social safety net programs. Indeed, the likes of Rush Limbaugh constantly ramble on about "trillions of dollars" that are supposedly spent on welfare. The typical Limbaugh listener these days is convinced that America is going broke because of "excessive welfare spending" and "lavish foreign aid."

It's all a lie, of course.

Welfare programs for the non-working poor are in fact a tiny part of the federal budget (5 percent, in fact). And, as a percentage of GDP, America's foreign aid budget is smaller than virtually any other industrialized nation. (In fact, what foreign aid we do spend is often nothing more than backdoor military aid).

It's one thing for clowns like Limbaugh to lie about welfare. But I also routinely hear other, more mainstream Republicans lie through their teeth about America's "lavish" welfare spending.

The reason is obvious. It's easier to beat up on the poor and the needy and make them a scapegoat for America's economic crisis. The real reason for America's titanic deficits (out-of-control military spending and insane trillion-dollar wars) rarely gets a mention in our mainstream political discourse.

Republicans are happy to shovel trillions of dollars into the wasteful, corrupt monster known as the Military Industrial Complex. And then they have the gall to blame needy children for bankrupting the American nation.

The reason is obvious, of course. The Military Industrial Complex employs thousands of lobbyists who are willing to shower billions of dollars on "our" representatives in Congress.

By contrast, needy children don't have any lobbyists to represent their interests.

America is a nation that has a serious addiction to massive trillion-dollar military budgets. By contrast, programs for the poor are a small slice of the federal budget. To blame the latter for America's fiscal woes is the equivalent of a drug addict who spends $500 a day on crack cocaine and then blames his budget woes on the fact that he spends a quarter a day on a newspaper.

I believe today's Republicans are playing with fire when they continue to attack the poor and continue to work to slash what little remains of the U.S. social safety net.

The poor, the needy, the impoverished have been crapped all over by this government for decades. Their growing ranks (and their growing desperation) is a ticking time bomb that will eventually blow up in the face of our corrupt government and the plutocrats that it serves.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

RIP Douglas Engelbart, An Early Visionary Idealistic Computer Genius



In our popular culture today, America glorifies and worships mediocrities like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. But beyond those two obvious examples, our nation has an obsession with celebrities in general. We tend to overlook, marginalize and ignore those who have real, worthy accomplishments.

One obscure, but worthy, giant, computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart, died on July 2, at the age of 88. Although recognized in certain scientific circles, Engelbart was relatively unknown to most Americans. And it's a shame: Engelbart was a true visionary and genius who played a huge role in creating modern computers and the Internet.

Just how pioneering was Engelbart's work? To get an idea of this, watch the video above. The video shows a presentation that Engelbart gave on Dec. 9, 1968 that debuted many important computer innovations for the first time, including a computer mouse, hypertext, and many other breakthroughs.

There's not much exciting content to see early on in the video, but if you jump ahead to the video's 4:48 mark, you can watch Engelbart using a computer mouse, along with a computer. At first glance, it may not seem like that big a deal. But it's absolutely astonishing when you consider that this is all taking place way back in 1968.

Engelbart, in fact, invented the computer mouse. But unfortunately, he never got any royalties for his invention. Engelbart's mouse was wheel-driven (the ball-driven mouse was invented by the German company Telefunken in the 1960s).

Needless to say, without the modern computer mouse, personal computing as we know it today would be virtually inconceivable.

Unfortunately our society tends to relegate visionaries Engelbart to the sidelines while we praise the "accomplishments" of vapid celebrities who get paid vast sums to play golf or star in movies. Mediocrities like Rush Limbaugh get paid hundreds of millions of dollars to spew lies on the public airwaves and poison the nation's political dialogue, while true worthies like Engelbart languish in relative obscurity.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Progressive Music Classics. "Corner Soul" by The Clash



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

Few albums have ever been more highly anticipated than Sandinista! the 1980 release by The Clash. The band's previous album, London Calling had been a all-conquering masterpiece that had music writers, particularly in the U.S., swooning.

I recall how, in 1979, The Clash was hailed by many music writers as "the only band that matters." For a brief time, at least, The Clash were clearly the best band in the world.

But when Sandinista! landed in the record shops, a mere four days after John Lennon's murder, it left many fans and writers baffled. Anyone who was expecting a sequel to London Calling was likely disappointed. The massive, triple-album Sandinista! frankly seemed bloated and full of a lot of strange music that had many people scratching their heads in confusion.

At the time, I recall there was two divergent opinions about Sandinista! in the U.S. and the U.K.

Music writers in Britain had failed to embrace London Calling as enthusiastically as their enraptured U.S. counterparts had. And upon first listen, Sandinista! seemed to confirm their worst suspicions about the band.

In Britain, the band was seen as having "sold out" to punk principles. The very fact that Sandinista! was a triple album worked against it. It seemed to embrace many of the bloated excesses of the 1970s progressive rock of ELP, Jethro Tull, and Yes. It was that very sort of thing that punk had rebelled against in the first place in Britain.

I still recall the scathing review in Britain's top music paper, New Musical Express. that savaged Sandinista! as inferior and "ridiculously self-indulgent."

However, in the U.S., it was a different story. Rolling Stone hailed Sandinista! as a five-star masterpiece.

Three decades later, we can look back and ask the question: which side of the Atlantic was right? Was Sandinista! indeed a failure and a "ridiculously self-indulgent" record? Or was it a five-star masterpiece?

The answer: both sides were right. Sandinista! was "ridiculously self-indulgent." It was also a masterpiece.

Whether you love Sandinista! or hate it, one thing The Clash could never be accused of is selling out. This was a massive record, full of strange, exotic, and often baffling sounds--but with absolutely no considerations made for commercial appeal.

Additionally, The Clash, in order to give value for money to their fans, had insisted on selling the three-record set for the price of a single record. Amazingly, the band agreed to let their record company take the price difference out of their own pockets.

Between the fiercely anti-commercial nature of the record, and The Clash's insistence on "value for money" for their fans, Sandinista! represented a sort of idealism that simply doesn't exist in today's music scene. After all, most of today's musicians don't have much ambition beyond simply selling as much product as possible.

But despite the band's good intentions, Sandinista! was a commercial flop for The Clash. And the initial hostile reviews in England meant that the band couldn't even win favor among the powerful music press for their idealism.

Band leader Joe Strummer had poured his heart into the creation of Sandinista!. But what did it bring him? Nothing but hostile reviews and financial insecurity. The latter was made plain at the time, when Strummer and his girlfriend were turned down for a house loan. Nearing the age of 30, Strummer was beginning to get weary of his nomadic existence of living in squats, tiny flats, and borrowed apartments.

Three decades later, Sandinista! is still an often baffling, sometimes infuriating listen. But if you give it a chance, it's one of the most fascinating albums ever released. Strummer is at the top of his game with his intriguing lyrics, which for my money rival anything Dylan ever wrote.

Sandinista! addresses a head-spinning variety of topics that have rarely been heard in a rock context: Third World rebellions and wars. The corrupt and decadent leadership that has sold out countries like Britain and America. Out-of-control multi-national corporations raping and pillaging the planet.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The fact is, in today's world, Sandinista! is as relevant as ever. CIA goons are still prowling the planet. And corporate mercenaries are still raping and pillaging the Third World.

Upon first listen, the songs on Sandinista! often seem ragged around the edges. There is an "unfinished" quality to the record. It's almost as if the band was furiously working to crank out songs at light-speed while the inspiration was still hot.

At the time, Sandinista! production was criticized as "sloppy." But with the hindsight of years, it's clear that the often low-fi, ragged production perfectly suited the music. Indeed, a dose of Sandinista! is a perfect antidote to anyone who is sick to death of today's glossy, over-produced, sterile pop music.

Over the course of its 36 tracks, Sandinista! races from topic to topic and musical genre to musical genre.

One minute, the band is playing a bizarre form of dub. The next, they're doing a twisted take on gospel. The next, they're doing an unlike cover song by jazz pianist Mose Allison. The next, they're doing straight-ahead classic Clash rock. The experience of listening to Sandinista! is somewhat akin to listening to a wandering radio dial randomly tuning into various intriguing parts of the Third World. Only a band as talented and visionary as The Clash could have ever pulled this off.

The song "Corner Soul" (featured in the video above) has long been a favorite of mine from the album. It's a strange little song that conjures up the image of some sinister goings-on in a Third World nation, where rebels are battling an unknown enemy.

But who are they fighting? CIA-funded goons? A corrupt right-wing dictatorship? Mercenaries funded by Exxon Mobil or the United Fruit Company?

Who knows? But the fact is, battles like this have been raging in the Third World for decades now (often funded with U.S. tax dollars).

Strummer is wise enough not to turn the song into a hectoring rant against First World imperialism. Rather than spoon-feeding us a leftist rant, Strummer (as he so often does) keeps things ambiguous and leaves it up to our imaginations as to exactly what is going on.

"Is the music calling for a river of blood?" Strummer sings in a bizarre, distorted production that is as surreal as anything ever cranked out by Lee "Scratch" Perry's legendary Black Ark studio.

There has never been another record made like Sandinista!. It was an album that engaged the real world (unlike the apolitical pap that comprises today's music). Sandinista! challenged us. And it got us to thinking about what was being done in our name by CIA goons and corporate mercenaries across the Third World.

As a risk-taking record with heart and soul, Sandinista! is the sort of record that today's cowardly, corporate-whore music artists simply don't make anymore.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How the GOP's Disinformation Campaign Could Tarnish Obamacare


Like many progressives, I've never been a big fan of the Affordable Care Act. After all, in many ways, it's really nothing more than a warmed-up revision of the Heritage Foundation/GOP health care proposal from the 1990s.

However, given the awful state of the current bloated, inefficient U.S. health care system, Obamacare is bound to be an improvement (if only because it's impossible for the system to be much worse than it is now).

And if Obamacare improves access to health care for millions of Americans, it will pose a big problem to the GOP in elections for years to come.

The GOP, of course, is aware of this. And as a result, we can expect the GOP to step up its ongoing disinformation campaign against Obamacare.

You've got to give Republicans credit for one thing: the GOP does a masterful job of spreading disinformation. We saw this in 2003 with the torrent of lies that got the U.S. into the Iraq War fiasco. We also saw this with the Swift Boat lies that helped sink John Kerry's 2004 campaign. We continue to see it with the "Birther" nonsense.

To this day, millions of Americans continue to believe that Obama was born in Kenya and that Saddam attacked the U.S. on 9/11.

The Great GOP Noise Machine excels at spreading lies and disinformation. And it's clear that as Obamacare's full implementation date approaches, we'll see the GOP's lies and propaganda rise to a fever pitch.

I believe this could be devastatingly effective in tarnishing the Affordable Care Act, even if Obamacare turns out to be a success.

The problem is, the current health care system is a terrible mess. Many people are deeply unhappy with it. And now, any time anyone has any problems whatsoever with their health care, Obamacare will become a handy catch-all scapegoat.

A recent incident made me realize the obstacles Obamacare faces in countering the GOP disinformation war.

An elderly woman I know recently visited a hospital here in Texas. She had a routine checkup. There were no problems and everything went well.

However, she said she was upset and angry.

"As I was getting ready to leave the hospital, some agents from Obamacare came and started asking me questions," she told me.

"Agents from Obamacare?" I asked.

"Yeah, they were agents from Obamacare. They wanted to ask me questions. I told them to shove it and I immediately left the hospital."

I was curious. What was she talking about? Granted, this was someone who was a hard-core, Obama-hating Republican. Day after day, she marinated her brain in the toxic stew of Fox News/Drudge/talk radio filth. As is the case with other Tea Baggers, nothing she said ever surprised me.

But agents from Obamacare? That had me wondering.

I wound up calling the hospital in question. It turns out that the hospital had hired a survey company to ask patients a few questions about the quality of their care.

Somehow, in the mind of this Limbaugh-listening woman, this survey company had morphed into sinister "Agents from Obamacare."

How could such amazing disinformation come about? It shouldn't really be surprising. After all, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin railed in 2009 on about Obamacare's "death panels." And Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) recently urged a repeal of Obamacare "before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens."

I'm get the feeling that the "agents from Obamacare" incident could just the tip of an iceberg.

I was further reminded of this during a recent visit to my insurance agent to discuss my health-care plan. My insurance company is one of the largest companies in America. With Obamacare's full implementation nearing, I had a few basic questions about its impact on my current health-care plan.

Incredibly, my insurance agent knew nothing about Obamacare's impact on my policy. He was unable to answer any questions I had. Instead, he quickly steered the conversation to a Rush Limbaugh-like attack on Obamacare and on Obama himself.

"It's a mess," he said. "Mitch McConnell was right when he said Obamacare is a failure."

I thought about asking my insurance agent how he knew the Affordable Care Act was a "failure" if he knew nothing about it. But I let it pass.

Later, with a few clicks on the Web, I was able to quickly get answers to my Obamacare question. But still, it irked me that my insurance agent had made zero effort to educate himself about Obamacare's impact on his customers' health-care plans. Whatever his political views were (and it was obvious he was a Limbaugh Dittohead) he owed it to his customers to inform himself about the law.

These two incidents give a glimpse into what Obamacare is up against. I'm sure similar incidents like this are playing out millions of times a day across the country.

As the Affordable Care Act comes into force, anyone who ever has had any complaint at all about their health care will tend to instinctively blame Obamacare. And (as the "agents of Obamacare" incident shows) even people who don't have any problems with their health care coverage will still find reasons to attack Obamacare.

The whole thing could become a public relations nightmare for Obama and the Democrats.

After all, the woman who told me about "Obamacare agents" herself actually had no complaints about her health care coverage. She was, after all, covered by Medicare. Although after talking to her, I realized that she (like many Tea Party types) had no idea that Medicare is a government program.

Sigh. So much ignorance, so little time.

The problem is, a lot of Americans simply aren't very bright. Blame it on our abysmal public schools. Blame it on our terrible news media. But whatever the reason, the fact is, tens of millions of America are likely to blame Obamacare for anything and everything (even if they benefit from its provisions).

In the battle of public opinion, Obamacare still faces a steep uphill battle. Thanks to GOP lies and disinformation, a lot of Americans could well be convinced that Obamacare is a bad thing, even if the program succeeds.

Obamacare should be a signature victory for President Obama and the Democrats to rally voters in future elections. But, instead, it could well be a millstone around the necks of the Democrats for years to come.

Such is life in 21st century America: a nation in decline, where tens of millions of Americans are profoundly misinformed---and where the GOP does its utmost to ensure that people remain ignorant.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Why Today's "Stealth" Bigots Are Worse Than Old-School Racists


In a perfect society, there would be no bigots and no racism. Of course, America will never be mistaken for a perfect society. And despite our national delusion that we've become a "colorblind" society that has moved beyond racism, the truth is more complex.

In some ways, it's actually harder to fight racism these days in America than it was, say, 30 years ago. For one thing, a lot of people (particularly Republicans) deny that racism even exists today. In fact, most of these people insist that white people are the "victims" of racism.

In the old days, foes of racism had clear-cut targets and goals. Fighting for African-Americans to be able to vote in the Deep South of the 1960s was no picnic---but at least it was a concrete, clear-cut goal to work toward.

But these days, the fight against racism is more complex. It's more difficult to fight racism when vast numbers of white Americans deny that it even exists these days.

The fact that shockingly high numbers of African-Americans are locked up in prison? Nope, there's no racism in today's America.

The fact that African-Americans still are much more likely to live in poverty than white Americans? Nope, there's no racism in today's America.

The firestorm of (idiotic) controversy about President Obama's birth certificate? Nope, there's no racism in today's America.

Back in the old days, bigots were at least upfront and honest about their racism. I recall during my younger years growing up in the small towns of Texas, I knew many "old school" bigots. These people had no problem with openly using the "N" word. They openly expressed their contempt for "n*ggers."

I recall a sad scene that I witnessed in 1983 in Fort Worth, Texas, while I was working as a truck driver. While I was unloading a truck, a fellow employee was talking to his two children, "instructing" them about the "ways of the world."

"N*ggers don't work in this country," he said. "They all sit around collecting welfare. Come welfare day once a week, they all jump into their Cadillacs and drive up to the welfare office. Never forget, kids, n*ggers are the real problem in this country."

It was sad to see this middle-aged bigot poisoning the minds of his young kids.

But sometimes, I actually prefer old-school bigots like that to today's new breed of "stealth" bigots. You've got to give credit to the old-school bigots: at least they were honest and upfront about their racism. After all, we do (allegedly) live in a "free" society. If people want to be racist, that's their right.

Then there are the "stealth" bigots, who are becoming increasingly common in today's America.

You've met these "stealth" bigots yourself. They're full of quietly simmering hostility toward minorities. They routinely listen to Rush Limbaugh's racist spewings. They're the ones who're always forwarding to you unsolicited right-wing mass emails (which often feature shockingly bigoted and racist content). And yet, they always get angry and indignant if you suggest that they're racist in any way.

I once had an acquaintance who routinely raged about how minorities were "ruining" America. He routinely spewed the "N" word in private, but took care to avoid saying it in public. And he fiercely denied being a racist in any way.

Once, I was arguing with him about why America was facing financial ruin. I pointed out to him that a good part of the reason for America going broke is our ruinous wars, like Vietnam and Iraq, which cost America trillions.

But my acquaintance was having none of it. "The reason we're going broke is because of welfare going to nigglets in places like Detroit," he said.

I pointed out to him that this was not only wrong, but racist. "You do realize that the word "n*gger" is racist, don't you?" I said.

"I didn't say n*gger," he responded with a straight face. "I said nigglet."

So it goes when dealing with today's "stealth" bigots. Of course, these people have mastered their craft of "stealth" bigotry at the knee of their heroes like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the bigoted right-wing media.

Limbaugh, of course, is the master of "stealth" bigotry. This is a guy who has made an art form of skillfully dancing around the "N" word.

Limbaugh has never actually used the "N" word on his show. But he very carefully packs as much racist content into each program by skillfully using code words and "dog whistle" phrases, while pushing all the right emotional hot buttons of white working class males who are angry with their declining standards of living and eager to find a scapegoat.

Limbaugh is hardly alone in his stealth bigotry. You hear a lot of this same sort of subtle racism across the entire sewer hole of 24-hour U.S. right-wing talk radio. You also hear it on the likes of Fox News and the right-wing blogosphere. Spend some time at some of these right-wing sites and you quickly come to the realization that racism is as bad today as it's been in decades in America.

The likes of Limbaugh and Fox News show how in some ways its more difficult today to fight racism than it was years ago. After all, back in the 1970s, racist bigots often simply shared their views by word of mouth. Back then, they didn't have their own 24-hour news channels and national talk radio networks to spread their filth.

I have nothing but contempt for these new-school "stealth" bigots. If you're going to be a racist bigot in America, go ahead and put on the white sheet and openly use the "N" word. Be honest and upfront about your bigotry. But please, please, don't dance around the "N" word and pollute your mind with Limbaugh and Fox News and use words like "n*gglet" and then claim with a straight face that you're not a racist bigot.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Progressive Music Classics. "The Unacceptable Face of Freedom" by Test Dept.



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

Margaret Thatcher's declaration of war against labor unions in the 1980s kicked off a vicious attack on working-class people that ripped the nation's social fabric. British society never really recovered from the ravages of Thatcherism.

Like Ronald Reagan, Thatcher used the power of the state to force a radical, extreme form of bare-knuckled "Chicago School" economics on the nation. In both countries, the Top One Percent made out like bandits, but the middle class was ravaged.

Since the 1980s, Britain has come to resemble the U.S. in many ways. Like the U.S., Britain has seen the decline of its middle class. Britain has also experienced increasingly mediocre, under-funded social services and declining standards in public schools. Like the U.S. since 1980, Britain has become more and more a deeply undemocratic society that is increasingly ruled by an oligarchy and by multi-national corporations.

One of the sectors of British society that really felt the full force of Thatcherism early on was the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Thatcher sent in the police to brutally attack union members. The mainstream media in the Anglo-American world applauded (apparently forgetting that one of the first groups that Hitler targeted when he came to power was trade unions).

If the sound of the anger and fury of Thatcher's attack on working-class people could be put to music, it might well sound like The Unacceptable Face of Freedom by British band Test Dept.

Test Dept. was one of a wave of U.K. bands that mobilized to fight Thatcherism in any way they could. The band performed benefits for coal miners in Wales. Part of this effort resulted in the stirring 1985 album, Shoulder to Shoulder which Test Dept. recorded in collaboration with a choir made up of striking miners.

The Unacceptable Face of Freedom, recorded the following year, does a good job of capturing the transformation of British society in a prophetic manner. Like Reagan in the U.S., Thatcher worked hard to try to convince the U.K. public that society should no longer serve ordinary people and that Britain was now going to be a greedy, soulless society where the motto was "Screw everyone else, I've got mine."

A eerie passage in "F*ckhead," the opening track of Unacceptable Face sums this up nicely, when a crazed voice shouts out, "It's mine! It's mine! It's mine!" Thatcher and her goons couldn't have said it better.

The ironic aspect of the legacy of Reagan and Thatcher was that, over the long term, the two leaders unwittingly sowed the seeds for capitalism's demise as I noted in this 2012 piece. The two leaders, in embracing the radical and extremist agenda of the Chicago School, never seemed to grasp that when the middle class dies, it will eventually take capitalism down with it.

Under Reagan and Thatcher, the union members of PATCO and the NUM took it on the chin. They were like the canaries in the coal mine. In the decades since, the middle class as a whole in both nations has been increasingly decimated.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How Rush Limbaugh Damaged The GOP Brand


When Rush Limbaugh first began spewing his daily dose of bigotry, lies and GOP propaganda back in the mid-80s, Republican leaders rejoiced. In Limbaugh, the GOP had a powerful spokesman who managed to persuade working-class white men to vote against their own interests.

In Limbaugh, the GOP also had a powerful political weapon. In the 1990s, they needed to tarnish President Clinton's reputation. And Limbaugh was on the case, sliming Clinton on everything from Vince Foster to Whitewater. No facts or truth was required, just smears.

Limbaugh's success spawned an entire industry of like-minded right-wing talk radio propagandists, each more extreme and outrageous than their predecessors. They proceeded to take over the AM radio dial. Then Fox News appeared, as well as the likes of Drudge and other right-wing Web sites.

Limbaugh, however, remained the King of GOP Propaganda. And millions of ditto-head listeners across the nation lapped up everything he dished out.

Throughout the 1990s, Limbaugh appeared to be an invaluable asset to the GOP.

But it was all a mirage. In reality, Limbaugh was a growing problem for the Republican Party. And today, he's become a serious liability that continues to damage the GOP brand.

The first signs that Limbaugh was poison for the GOP occurred during the administration of George W. Bush. Of course, Bush was a disaster for the GOP. Which made things decidedly awkward for Limbaugh, the de facto spokesman of the GOP.

With Bush, Limbaugh had two options. The first was that he could criticize Bush and retain whatever few shreds of credibility he had left. The second was that he could support Bush.

Limbaugh, of course, chose to continue backing Bush. In desperation, Limbaugh continued to cling to the faint hope that the long train wreck that was the Bush presidency would eventually turn itself around and that Bush's approval ratings would halt their long descent. Of course, that never happened.

Bush never regained favor with the public. And since he blindly supported Bush to the very end, Limbaugh lost whatever credibility he had left.

Since the 2008 election, Limbaugh has relentlessly pounded away at President Obama every day. But Limbaugh's attacks on Obama are increasingly toothless and impotent and often reach the point of self-parody.

Today, Limbaugh has become a clown and a laughingstock to the general public. Sure, the shrinking numbers of ditto-heads continue to lap it all up. But nobody else takes seriously anything that Limbaugh says.

In short, Limbaugh is no longer converting anyone to the GOP's cause these days. And his once-powerful ability to spread GOP propaganda has been greatly weakened.

Even Limbaugh's once-formidable smear tactic skills have all but vanished. Over the years, Limbaugh has promoted so many discredited smears that nobody takes him seriously any more, outside of the ditto-head base.

Today's Limbaugh has become a pathetic shell of his former self. But for the GOP, it actually gets much worse. The fact is, these days, Limbaugh has become a major liability for the party.

This became evident around the time of the Sandra Fluke controversy. For years, Limbaugh had possessed a special talent to use sexist, racist speech and somehow not pay a serious price for it. But all that came crashing down when Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute."

Unlike previous Limbaugh controversies, the Fluke case didn't simply go away after a couple of news cycles. The controversy dragged on and on for months. It wounded Limbaugh deeply and led to a massive exodus of advertisers.

Of course, the Fluke case didn't merely damage Limbaugh. It damaged the GOP brand. After all, Limbaugh has been GOP's most powerful and high-profile voice for over two decades. Try as they might, GOP leaders were unable to effectively distance the Republican Party from Limbaugh's remarks.

It was one thing for Limbaugh to alienate African-Americans with his racist comments. It was quite another to alienate women (who, of course, make up a majority of U.S. voters).

I suspect that around the time of the Fluke controversy, the GOP's party leaders began to realize that they had a big, big problem on their hands with Limbaugh.

And it's a problem that's not going to go away. For all the talk about Republicans trying to become more mainstream, the fact is, Limbaugh today is as extremist and offensive as he's ever been. What's more, there's now an entire army of radical right-wing talk show hosts on the radio dial, along with the likes of Fox News and Drudge.

The right-wing propaganda apparatus shows absolutely no sign of moderating its extremist views. Listen to today's talk radio and you'll find hosts like Glenn Beck and Mark Levin, who are even more extremist and crazy than Limbaugh.

Besides damaging the GOP brand, the likes of Limbaugh and his talk radio clones are also a powerful force in pushing today's GOP to maintain its hardline, extremist positions. If any individual GOP politician dares to step out of line, he or she can expect torrents of abuse from the likes of Limbaugh.

I suspect today's Republican leaders realize that, in Limbaugh and his ilk, the party has created a Frankenstein that is doing far more damage to the GOP than it ever did to the Democrats.

It's hard for me to conceive of how the GOP will ever solve this mess. Even if they ever somehow persuade Limbaugh to tone down his extremist hate speech, a dozen other right-wing talk hosts will immediately step up to fill his shoes.

Indeed, I suspect Limbaugh realizes this dilemma himself. He likely knows that, if he tones down his radical views, he'll lose his audience to the other right-wing talk radio sharks who are circling in the water. On the other hand, surely even Limbaugh has grasped the fact that his extremism has severely damaged his beloved GOP in recent years.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Progressive Music Classics. "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Shriekback



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

The late, great Bill Hicks once lamented the decline of intellectualism in the U.S. This dumbing-down of America, he noted, started around the time Ronald Reagan was first elected. Hicks also savaged the pop music of the Reagan era and the increasing tendency of music stars to sell out to the highest corporate bidder (i.e. Madonna shilling for Pepsi, George Michael shilling for Coke).

"What kind of Reagan wet dream do we live in today?" Hicks once asked, in slamming the gutless, money-grubbing pop stars who sold out in the 1980s.

One wonders what Hicks would have thought about today's pop performers. After all, the situation is now far worse than it ever was back in the 1980s. Not only do today's pop stars have no problems whatsoever whoring themselves out to corporate America---but "selling out" rarely even generates much negative publicity these days. At least the likes of Madonna and George Michaels had Hicks around to condemn them back in the 1980s. Today, nobody seems to care.

And if all this wasn't bad enough, today's pop scene is as banal as it has ever been, thanks to the corrosive effect of the likes of Simon Cowell and the whole "American Idol" conveyor belt of soulless mediocrity that clogs up today's airwaves.

Despite Hicks' contempt for much of the music of the 1980s, I get the feeling that he might have liked a band like Britain's Shriekback. Not only did Shriekback never sell out, but their heady, intoxicating music was full of thought-provoking challenging ideas.

One of my favorite Shriekback songs is "Everything That Rises Must Converge" from the band's fine 1985 album, Oil and Gold. The album features phenomenal playing from bassist Dave Allen (whose skills powered the Marxist funk of his previous band, The Gang of Four).

"Everything That Rises Must Converge" is inspired by the 1965 short story of author Flannery O'Connor that addresses the racism of the 1960s in the American South. (O'Connor, in turn, was inspired by French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who, as Wikipedia notes, described "evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity, culminating in the unification of consciousness.")

In recent times, Teilhard's ideas have been expanded upon by futurist Ray Kurzweil, who wrote the 2005 bestseller, The Singularity Is Near.

"Everything That Rises Must Converge" makes for a powerful, thought-provoking Shriekback song of the type that is sorely lacking in today's dumbed-down music scene. Today's music artists don't seem to have much to say beyond: "Be an obedient worker and a good little consumer, and don't question authority."

Incidentally, Shriekback are still an active band to this day. Their 2010 album, Life in the Loading Bay offers some of the finest music of their career.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guns Only Give Americans The Illusion Of Freedom


Fact: America has by far the fewest restrictions on guns of any First World nation (as well as most of the rest of the world).

Fact: With over 2.3 million people locked up in prison, America has the biggest prison population and the highest incarceration rate of any nation on earth.

What's wrong with this picture?

Gun advocates often claim that guns play a crucial role in giving Americans freedom.

But the fact is, guns only give Americans the illusion of freedom.

America today is a nation is that is awash in guns. There are an astonishing 300 million guns now in circulation in America. But that didn't prevent our nation from turning increasingly into an oligarchy over the past three decades.

Does an abundance of readily available guns really give Americans "freedom"? I'm sure the very thought amuses America's oligarchy. After all, we saw who really controls our government in 2008, when George W. Bush bailed out the crooks on Wall Street with hundreds of billions of our tax dollars.

The true owners of America (the top .1 percent) hijacked democracy in America a long time ago. Today's U.S. government is nothing more than a concierge service to the Rich & Powerful. "Our" government no longer really serves the interests of ordinary Americans. It only serves the interests of the top ultra-wealthy elites.

The fact is, real democracy died long ago in America--and guns did nothing to prevent it from happening.

In reality, the oligarchy that controls the real levers of power in America isn't afraid of guns.

What the oligarchs are afraid of is an informed populace. They're afraid of high-quality public schools. They're afraid of organized labor. They're afraid of publicly financed elections. They're afraid of the repeal of Citizens United and the return of the Fairness Doctrine. In short, they're afraid of real democracy.

The true owners of America are afraid of any change in the law that is going to end the whole gravy train that has enriched them at the expense of the rest of us over the past three decades.

And they're sure as hell aren't afraid of a bunch of NRA types running around with pistols and shotguns.

Could the latter ever really protect America against a tyrannical government? It's absurd to think so.

Let's face it: pistols and shotguns aren't going to get the job done. Small arms will be no match against a professional military that has Predator Drones, aircraft carriers, Navy SEALs, nuclear submarines, stealth bombers, spy satellites, Abrams tanks and nuclear missiles.

However, as I mentioned, gun rights do serve a purpose in America: to fool the masses into thinking that we enjoy a lot more freedom than we really do.

You want real freedom? Try a place like Europe, where you'll find loads of freedoms that most Americans don't enjoy. In Europe, you'll find legal dope, legal gay marriage, legal euthanasia, strong workers' rights, 6 weeks annual vacations, the right to join a union without being fired, good public schools, unlimited speed limits on the autobahn, etc. etc.

Frankly, I think today's Europeans are more free in many ways than Americans are. This is reflected by the fact that Europe's prison population is tiny, compared to the astonishing 2.3 million Americans behind bars.

What's more is that in Europe, the continent's national governments by and large still serve the interests of ordinary people. They have to. Ordinary workers are informed on the issues in Europe. Either the politicians do right by them, or the people will take to the streets to demand their rights.

True, present day Europe has its share of problems (although I think many of these problems are exaggerated by the U.S. corporate media). Having traveled there recently, I've come to realize that Europe is more prosperous than many Americans realize.

The national governments of Europe may not be perfect. But overall, they at least make an attempt to serve the interests of ordinary working people. By contrast, in today's America, "our" government has nothing but contempt for working people.

Oh, and in much of Europe, you can buy a gun. Sure, you might have to fill out some forms first. You might have to deal with some red tape. And you'll have to demonstrate that you're not mentally ill. But yes: gun ownership is possible in many European nations. Which once again raises the issue of how "free" Americans really are, compared to their European counterparts.

For America's ruling oligarchy, easily available guns play a valuable role in maintaining the illusion of freedom. As the ruling oligarchy continues to hijack our democracy and loot our treasury, it really has little to fear from a population that is armed (but largely ignorant of the issues).

After all, the Rush Limbaugh crowd is never going to grasp the fact that the oligarchy is to blame for their declining standard of living. No, thanks to Rush, the dittoheads will just blame their woes on African-Americans, gays, poor people, illegal immigrants, and all the other usual scapegoats.

For America's oligarchy, easily available guns also have another useful function. They help keep the population fearful. Fear and ignorance are powerful tools in repressing America's working class.

America's easily available guns make for one other nice bonus for the Rich & Powerful.

Let's say that in the future a truly independent politician who is hostile to the oligarchy somehow manages, against all odds, to get into the White House.

Thanks to America's easily available guns, it wouldn't be hard for the oligarchy to get rid of such a troublesome politician. They could always turn around and blame a "lone nut" assassin. (They've done it before, after all). And they could always claim, "Well, it's so easy to buy a gun in America, the assassin had no problems buying his gun. It's just the price we Americans pay for living in a free nation."

Do guns really bring Americans freedom? I would argue that the opposite is true.

True freedom doesn't really come from guns. It comes from an informed, educated, politically active working class that isn't afraid to stand up for its rights. That is what the oligarchy that rules America is really scared of.

Friday, January 04, 2013

"Django Unchained" Continues Hollywood's Sad, Shameful Legacy of Dealing With Slavery Era


The critical adulation that greets every new movie by Quentin Tarantino is a sad commentary on our culture. Tarantino is an overrated hack who does nothing more than rip off ideas from vastly superior directors from Europe and Asia. He then waters down these ideas and re-works them into movies that are infinitely inferior to the originals.

Tarantino is hailed as a "daring" and "radical" filmmaker, when in fact his slick, commercial movies are about as daring and radical as a cup of Starbucks coffee.

Django Unchained, the latest Tarantino film, is receiving universally rave reviews, as well as big box office numbers. It has also drawn controversy (which no doubt has boosted the film's box office---as controversy always helps shift product).

I haven't seen Django Unchained and I have no intention of doing so. So why do I already detest this movie and urge my fellow progressives to boycott the film?

It's because I believe that the American film industry really has no business making mere "entertainment" movies about the slavery era.

Hell, America has never even honestly confronted this horrific chapter in our history. In fact, we are still in many ways a racist society. (The incredibly vicious right-wing attacks on President Obama over the past few years merely confirm how racist a nation America is to this day). We can try to pretend we've moved beyond racism as a nation---but we're really just fooling ourselves.

I believe most African-Americans will understand what I'm talking about. But many (if not most) white people won't---which serves to prove my point.

Django Unchained has drawn outrage from a number of notable African-Americans, including director Spike Lee.

"American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western," Lee recently Tweeted. "It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them."

Lee was right. Slavery was a Holocaust. It was one of the greatest crimes in history.

Millions of Africans died during the years of slavery. And the slaves who didn't die suffered a fate that was actually worse than death.

They were locked up in chains. They were forced to work long grueling hours for no pay at the barrel of a gun. They were beaten. They were tortured. They were raped. They were bought and sold like cattle.

Slavery was a horrific crime against humanity. And it was a colossal crime that white America has never honestly confronted.

Germany killed six million Jews during World War II. But at least that nation has made an effort to try to atone at least a little bit for its crimes. Germany has paid billions of dollars in reparations over the decades. The country has also passed strict laws to try to ensure that the nation never forgets its crime. (For example, denial of the Holocaust is illegal in today's Germany).

But America has never atoned in any way for slavery. It has never paid reparations. Indeed, America continued to oppress African-Americans long after slavery ended. America brutally oppressed black people via Jim Crow laws, as well as lynchings, and it treated them like second class citizens for many decades. Black people couldn't even vote in the Deep South, all the way up until the 1960s.

Indeed, Jim Crow still exists in today's America in some ways. The huge numbers of largely low-income black men who are serving long, harsh punishments in prison for nickel-dime petty drug crimes is evidence of that.

What's particularly nauseating about today's America is that so many white people continue to be racist, but deny it.

You've met these people yourself. They include your right-wing brother-in-law who rails against "lazy blacks collecting welfare" while you're trying to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal. These are the people who bizarrely believe white people are somehow the victims of racism these days. They also believe that no black person was ever mistreated in America after 1865.

I know a number of these people. They all listen to Rush Limbaugh's racist spewings. And yet they deny that Rush is racist in any way. Indeed, these are people who privately and routinely use the "N" word (and then publicly declare that they're not racist).

I have nothing but contempt for such people. In fact, I actually have more respect for old-school bigots who were at least upfront about their racism. I'd actually prefer a racist who is at least honest enough to openly use the "N" word and express his hatred for black people. I'll take a bigot like that any day over a typical Limbaugh listener who carefully dances around the "N" word and then denies his racism.

Slavery was a horrific crime. It is not something that America should be using as a topic for mere entertainment in another of Tarantino's overrated films.

It's a sad commentary on just how abysmal the art of cinema is these days that a mediocrity like Tarantino gets the time of day.

And yet critics line up to kiss Tarantino's ass. They over-analyze and over-intellectualize his films. They read a great deal of Deep Meaning into his movies.

But Tarantino doesn't deserve such critical devotion.

For example, consider all the critical commentary and analysis that has been prompted by Tarantino's heavy usage of the "N" word in all of his movies.

Actually, there's no mystery to Tarantino's love of the "N" word. It's nothing more than a crutch to prop up his overrated, weak scripts. The fact is, the "F" word no longer packs a punch, because of over-usage. But the "N" word still does pack a punch. It's still "controversial."

Anyone who thinks there's any Deeper Meaning to Tarantino's heavy usage of the "N" word is kidding themselves.

Critics also constantly praise Tarantino for being a "daring" and "risk-taking" director. But this is nonsense. There is absolutely nothing daring and risk-taking about Tarantino. True risk-taking directors don't enjoy movies that have blockbuster worldwide box office of over $300 million (like Tarantino's last film, Inglourious Basterds did).

Speaking of Inglourious Basterds, that film revealed just how full of crap those who champion Tarantino as a risky, daring director are.

If Tarantino were really a brave director wanting to make a war movie, he would have tackled the Iraq War. That whole evil, rotten enterprise would have been a perfect target for any director who wanted to make an edgy, risky film.

In taking on the Iraq War, Tarantino could have poked a finger in the eye of the whole jingoistic Fox News/NeoCon crowd who cheered the nation into war and who ferociously attacked anyone who dared question their beloved Commander-in-Chief. (We saw a glimpse of the latter when the Dixie Chicks made what was actually a very mild criticism of George W. Bush and received an avalanche of NeoCon hatred and death threats as a result).

Yes, the Iraq War would have been a logical target for any U.S. film director who wanted to make an edgy, brave, risky statement.

So which war did Tarantino target in his movie? World War II.


Like there haven't already been enough films about World War II.

Of course, with Django Unchained, Tarantino is simply following in the footsteps of other Hollywood directors who have a shameful track record of films set in the slavery era.

After all, Hollywood has almost always been dishonest and cowardly when approaching the subject of slavery.

Take, for example, the very first Hollywood feature film ever made: D.W. Griffith's sad, shameful The Birth of a Nation. This was an outrageously racist film that depicted African American men as stupid and as extremely sexually aggressive towards white women. The film also glorified the Ku Klux Klan.

Hollywood's other big blockbuster set in the slavery era, Gone With the Wind, was hardly much better. This was a film that glamorized the old Deep South. Slaves were shown happily singing, laughing, dancing and enjoying a colorful agrarian lifestyle. It was a grotesque distortion of the realities of slavery.

In reducing the horrors of slavery to mere entertainment, Tarantino is carrying on a sad tradition for Hollywood (and indeed American society in general) in refusing to honestly confront America's own Holocaust. It would be impossible to imagine, say, Germany making a similar film about the Jewish Holocaust.

I can hear the Tarantino defenders already, though. "But it's just entertainment!" they'll say.

The problem is that slavery is simply too horrific a crime to be the topic of a movie made for mere entertainment (particularly coming from a white film director). White America has never honestly confronted this horrific crime.

If Hollywood is to ever properly tackle the slavery era, it needs to do so with a respectful, dignified Schindler's List type film (preferably made by an African-American director). What we don't need is an profane, cartoonish, overrated Tarantino ripoff of a Sergio Leone film.