Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Would President Gore Have Done After 9/11?


I've often wondered: if Al Gore had been allowed to assume the presidency that he won in the 2000 election, how would he have responded after the 9/11 attacks? Actually, I think it's pretty likely 9/11 would never have happened in the first place under President Gore.

Gore was (and is) a reader and a scholar, you see. One of those dreaded "Liberal book learners." Unlike Bush, Gore didn't make decisions "based on his gut." Gore read about and studied the issues. He listened to experts. Oh, the horror!

And on Aug. 6, 2001, when the CIA hand-delivered a Presidential Daily Brief to President Gore, he would have actually read the goddamn thing (particularly after glancing at the alarming headline, "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in U.S.")

Unlike Bush, Gore wasn't fond of endless 5-week vacations on the taxpayer's dime. So it is entirely possible that Gore wouldn't have been on vacation at the time. I'm think it's also highly likely that if Gore had been on vacation, he'd have cut it short to deal with the PDB.

What's important, though, is that President Gore would have take action. For example, it's a virtual certainty that he would have called a meeting of his top security people. (Maybe such a high-level security meeting would have brought attention to issues like the FBI's July 2001 reporting about suspicious Middle Eastern men who were learning to fly passenger airliners at U.S. aviation schools).

I'd also suspect that President Gore would have ordered possible terror targets like airports to step up security a notch.

Sadly, none of this actually happened. Of course, that's because in the previous year, a blatantly pro-GOP Supreme Court in 2000 awarded Bush a presidency in an election that Gore won by over half a million votes.

And so when Aug. 6, 2001 rolled around, Bush was handed the fateful Bin Laden PDB and took no action, as he continued to enjoy his 5 week vacation.

And so 3,000 Americans died on 9/11. And later, hundreds of thousands of civilians were slaughtered in the trillion-dollar fiasco called the Iraq War.

Of course, Bush and his supporters have long maintained that, "No one could have predicted the Sept. 11 attacks."

That, of course, is utter bullsh*t.

As David Plotz explained in a piece on Slate, there were in fact, "tons of warnings of exactly this kind of attack."

"The (2003) congressional report on the 9/11 intelligence failures lists a dozen pre-9/11 indications that terrorists were plotting a suicide hijacking. For example, in 1994 Algerians hijacked an Air France airliner with the intention of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower. (They were tricked by French officials into landing in Marseilles to refuel, where they were overpowered.) In 1995, police in the Philippines uncovered an al-Qaida plot to fly a plane into CIA headquarters. (One of the plotters: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.) A year later, al-Qaida had the idea of flying a plane from outside the United States and crashing it into the White House. Two years later, al-Qaida planned to fly a plane from outside the United States and crash it into the World Trade Center. And so on."

I suppose it could be debated endlessly as to whether a President Gore could have helped prevent the 9/11 attacks. I personally believe it is likely. But in reality, we will never know.

We do, however, know that President Gore almost certainly wouldn't have marched the U.S. into invading the wrong country after 9/11. This is where Gore's "book learning" would have come in handy for the nation. I think it's likely that Gore wouldn't have been under the misconception, shared by the Bush crowd, that Saddam somehow was connected to 9/11. (In fact, he likely would have known that, in fact, Saddam and Bin Laden were bitter enemies).

I suppose, in fairness, it's possible that even this can't be known for certainty.

But there is one thing that is absolutely certain. President Gore would have taken firm decisive action to protect America (and the world) from a threat that is actually vastly larger than Al-Qaeda.

That is: the oncoming major threat to humanity called Global Warming.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Music For Those Who Hate the Grammys. Progressive Music Classics: "Joe Hill" by Paul Robeson



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

I didn't watch the Grammy Awards this year. In fact, I never watch the Grammys (which is nothing more than a wank-fest of the corrupt U.S. corporate recording industry to celebrate another year of the utter mediocrity that clogs up today's pop charts). Anyone who thinks the Grammys celebrate the best of U.S. popular music probably also thinks the "Best Picture" Oscar actually has something to do with the best cinema of the year.

I suppose there might be some worthwhile music at the Grammys. But as the great Morrissey once sang, "It says nothing to me about my life."

Once upon a time, popular music actually had something to say. Listen to the best songs of the 1960s for example, and you can quickly get a sense of the issues of the day, from the Vietnam War to the youth rebellions that shook the Western world.

But these days, the songs are all about sex, bling-bling, and mindless consumption. And even the "best" music these days seems clinically crafted for one purpose: to shift as many units as possible.

It's all the more outrageous when you consider that one important function of the arts has been to hold a mirror up to society. Any outsider who listened to today's U.S. pop music would conclude that most Americans drive Bentleys, drink lots of Grey Goose, and spend their days having sex with supermodels.

If today's pop music really reflected U.S. society, it would reveal a broken, deteriorating nation that is facing a major crisis. Poverty is rising. The gap between rich and poor is at obscene levels. More and more kids are going hungry. The once Great American Middle Class is becoming extinct. And yet our corrupt government does nothing but act as a concierge service for the Rich & Powerful.

Do today's hitmakers like Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke have anything to say about all this? No---in fact today's popular music has nothing much to say about anything, bar the odd left-field hit from Chumbawamba.

One artist who always did keep it real was the great Paul Robeson (1898-1976). One of the most important progressive artists of all time, Robeson was often persecuted by the Powers That Be for his beliefs. But he never apologized and never backed down.

In the video above, Robeson pays homage to another great progressive hero, Joe Hill, who was executed in 1915.

Today, it's easy for some to mock Robeson's leftist beliefs as "naive." But what I've always found really naive is how so many in our society now embrace a unregulated, unfettered "free market" as the answer to everything.

Somehow, in our society, it's always the lefties who are regarded as naive. But those who embrace hard-core dog-eat-dog capitalism are somehow regarded as "sensible" and "realistic."

But those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Back in the 1930s, unfettered capitalism led to the Great Depression. I believe that today's unfettered capitalism will likely lead to nothing less than the end of America as we know it.

The fact is, the middle class is dying in America. And without a healthy, vibrant middle class around to buy the products that the system produces, U.S. capitalism won't survive for much longer.

Where are the Joe Hills of today? And for that matter who is our generation's equivalent of Paul Robeson? You certainly won't ever find such a singer, watching the banalities of the corporate wank-fest called the Grammy Awards.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Progressive Music Classics. "Punk Prayer" by Pussy Riot



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

I have to laugh when I hear bands like Green Day described as "punk." Green Day is about as "punk" as a cup of Starbucks coffee. Green Day wouldn't know real "punk" if it walked up to them and grabbed them by the balls. (Not that corporate cowards like Green Day have any balls in the first place).

In any case, Russia's Pussy Riot has more balls than the entire U.S. corporate recording industry.

Real punk has always been about challenging the system. The Sex Pistols (at least in their first incarnation) challenged the British monarchy and paid the price. It brought the full weight of British officialdom and right-wing tabloid outrage down on their heads. Johnny Rotten was even knifed in the streets by royalty-supporting goons.

Here in the States, the Dead Kennedys also faced challenges that brought about the disintegration of the band. The artwork for their 1985 album, Frankenchrist had leader singer Jello Biafra facing obscenity charges.

However, even these challenges to the system fade into insignificance when compared to the provocations of what may well be the bravest band in the world today, Pussy Riot.

Pussy Riot, of course, ran into major problems in 2012 when they brazenly challenged Vladimir Putin, as well as the all-powerful Russian Orthodox Church. Three of the all-female band members wound up facing harsh prison sentences as a result.

It's hard to imagine a band with more integrity than Pussy Riot. And I believe that, for all the attention their 2012 arrests prompted, the Pussy Riot's full message has been watered and obscured by the Western corporate media coverage.

Pussy Riot, you see, aren't just foes of the likes of Putin and Russian Orthodox Church. They're also outspoken opponents of global corporatism and capitalism. This radical left-wing aspect of the band has often been downplayed in Western media coverage.

It's clear that Pussy Riot has higher motives than to simply sell records and make money. As the band explained in a Radio Free Europe interview.

"...the only performances we'll participate in are illegal ones. We refuse to perform as part of the capitalist system, at concerts where they sell tickets."

Another aspect of Pussy Riot that has been often overlooked is the fact that, for all the controversy that has surrounded the band, Pussy Riot makes great, powerful music.

"Punk Prayer" featured in the video above is a classic blast of punk outrage. Like all the best punk music, "Punk Prayer" is gloriously amateurish and seething with righteous anger.

I've read where Pussy Riot claims first-generation U.K. punk bands like the Cockney Rejects and Sham 69 as influences. But to me, their sound has echoes of the late, great British anarchist band, Crass (whose latter-period music often contrasted passages of pretty, melodic vocals with harsh guitar feedback).

For all the controversy surrounding the band, Pussy Riot's actual music has generated relatively little comment in the U.S. And the few comments that have been made are often hilariously misinformed and ignorant. Take (please) Kiss' Gene Simmons idiotic 2012 remarks about Pussy Riot:

"They're very pretty girls. It is not a good band, but they have the right to do whatever they want to do,"

Yeah, right: whatever, Grandpa.

Maybe I'm in the minority in my opinion, but I always thought Kiss's music was a snooze-fest. To me, Kiss was a bore even during the band's peak, decades ago, when they ripped off their musical template from the likes of (the vastly superior) Slade.

Simmons has a lot of gall in criticizing Pussy Riot. This, after all, is a money-obsessed, right-wing asshole, whose only "accomplishment" over the decades has been to boast about how many sex partners he has had.

The brave women of Pussy Riot have way more balls and integrity than corporate whores like Simmons will ever have.

Maybe they'll never get played on the radio. But give me Pussy Riot's righteous anger, integrity, and bravery any day over geriatric, commercial sell-outs like Kiss.

And speaking of cowardice, we Americans shouldn't get too smug about Pussy Riot's oppression by Putin's Russia. Too often, our line of thinking goes, "Thank goodness we live in the U.S.A. where we have freedom of speech, unlike Putin's Russia."

But let's not kid ourselves. If there were any U.S. bands around that were actually brave and subversive enough to challenge the U.S. Corporate System/Military Industrial Complex, they'd no doubt face a crackdown here, as well.

Just ask Paul Robeson.

Just ask The Weavers.

Hell, while you're at it, ask the Dixie Chicks (who faced death threats for merely making a mildly critical remark about George W. Bush).