Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Progressive Movie Theater: Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11"



After a hiatus, we're back in action. And today, we're unveiling a new regular series on this blog.

Welcome to the first edition of Progressive Movie Theater, a series in which we take a look at notable progressive/left-leaning cinema.

Our film today is Michael Moore's 2004 documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11. After more than a decade, the film still is an effective indictment of the disastrous Bush/Cheney years.

I recall watching Fahrenheit 9/11 in the theater here in Texas (not exactly a blue state). After the film was over, I heard the loudest and most enthusiastic applause I've ever heard in a movie theater. Similar reaction was noted in theaters across the U.S.

It was clear that many people across the U.S. were frustrated and fed up with the Bush administration. And Fahrenheit 9/11 did a good job of expressing our frustrations. It's important to note that, at the time, Bush was still being treated with kid gloves by the mainstream media.

Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush's approval rating had soared to 90 percent. I'm still unclear as to exactly why this was. After all, the 9/11 attacks represented a spectacular failure on the part of the mega-trillion-dollar Military Industrial Complex's presumed first priority (to protect the homeland). As Commander-in-Chief, Bush hardly displayed competent leadership in the period leading up to the attacks.

And yet the nation rallied around Bush after 9/11. It's impossible to fathom something like that happening today if another 9/11-style attack occurred. The fact is, there would certainly be no honeymoon for President Obama. Let's face it: from Day One, there would be constant calls for Obama's resignation, as well as calls for impeachment. The attacks would in fact haunt the Democratic Party as a whole for decades to come.

In any case, back to Fahrenheit 9/11. I maintain that Moore's angry film was probably the first successful high-profile pinprick of the Bush White House. For Bush, it was all downhill from there. After the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush's popularity went into a nose dive and never recovered. Indeed, today, he is still widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.

But back in 2004, Moore was there, on the big screen, telling us that Bush was a disastrous president---really back before any other major media figure dared express such a view. In the years to come, Moore was vindicated, time and again.

As Moore stated in his Oscar speech on March 23, 2003 (only four days after the start of the Iraq War):

"We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons."

It was a remarkably prescient remark, made at a time when all the serious "conventional wisdom" was in agreement with Bush's insistence that Saddam had WMDs. Of course, as it turned out, Moore was right and Bush/Cheney and the other warmongering NeoCons were revealed to be a bunch of liars.

I find that Fahrenheit 9/11 holds up very well over a decade later. There are still many important questions the film raises that have never been adequately explained.

But one thing I find fascinating is that, if you really listen to the film's message, it's clear that the villain of Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn't really the Bush/Cheney NeoCons. It was the mainstream media.

After all, one can't really blame Bush/Cheney for their warmongering and illegal and immoral behavior, any more than you can blame a lion who eats a small child who wanders into his cage. That's what lions do. And invading other nations on false pretences to steal their oil is what you'd expect from a bunch of corrupt thugs like the Bush/Cheney NeoCons.

No, let's take a look at the film's real villains: the mainstream media. It's clear that, at every step of the Bush/Cheney administration, the media completely and totally failed to properly investigate what was going on and to deliver the truth to the American people. If the media had done its job, I believe the Iraq War would probably have never taken place. But instead of doing its job, media outlets like The New York Times assured us that Bush's case for war was solid. Those were the real villains of the Bush/Cheney years.

Incidentally, Moore has a new film on the way, Where to Invade Next. It should be released in the next couple of months. Below, you can view the trailer for this film.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Progressive Music Classics. Fela Kuti: "Shuffering and Shmiling"



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics, a salute to left-leaning music that champions the cause of working-class people around the world.

It's interesting how, for such a supposedly discredited philosopher, so much of Marx's teachings hold up well today. Case in point: Marx's famous statement, "Religion is the opium of the people."

The great Nigerian musician Fela Kuti also took aim at organized religion in his masterful 1978 track, "Shuffering and Shmiling," (sic).

Specifically, Kuti was targeting imported religions like Christianity and Islam, which he believed were causing many African working-class people to be passive in the face of corrupt Western-supported political regimes.

As Lenin once stated, "Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward."

Like Lenin, Kuti could clearly see that the African masses were being cynically manipulated by the Nigerian kleptocracy, as it systematically looted the nation.

The message of "Shuffering and Shmiling" initially takes the listener by surprise. As is the case with many Kuti tracks, the song takes a while to unfold, before delivering a jolt.

Kuti begins by gently asking for the listener's attention:

"You Africans, listen to me as Africans,
And you non-Africans, listen to me with open mind."

Then, out of nowhere, Kuti delivers his angry message to startling effect:

"I want you all to please take your minds
Out of this musical contraption,
And put your minds into any goddamn church,
Any goddamn mosque."

This is definitely no "Don't Worry, Be Happy," sing-along track. Like many Kuti works, it's a song that has both a strong groove, as well as a message. (It's the sort of brave statement that earned Kuti the violent wrath of Nigeria's power elite).

The Nigeria of 1978 is seemingly a long ways from the America of 2015. But in some ways, the differences aren't that great. One only has to see how today's GOP has cynically manipulated many working-class Americans to vote against their own interests, via "Christian" hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Today's Republican Party has wrapped itself in the flag and in a virulent form of fundamentalist "Christianity" that takes the teachings of Jesus and somehow converts them into a jingoistic, bigoted, twisted value system that has nothing but contempt for working-class people.

In that sense, the GOP is every bit as cynical as the corrupt 1970s Nigerian kleptocracy that looted and impoverished that nation. And Kuti's message is still ever bit as relevant today as it was in 1978.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

"American Sniper": Chris Kyle Was a Perfect Poster Boy for Bush's War of Lies


Clint Eastwood's blockbuster film, American Sniper purports to tell the story of real-life U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. But this is nonsense. The movie character actually has little in common with the real-life Kyle, who was a twisted, bigoted, dishonest person who (in his 2012 memoir) wrote that killing Iraqis was "fun."

What kind of person says that killing people is "fun"? (Well, outside of Jack the Ripper-type sociopaths?)

People like this aren't heroes. They certainly shouldn't have a place in our nation's military.

As the U.K. Guardian noted, Kyle had nothing but contempt for Iraqis. "I hate the damn savages," he wrote. "I couldn't give a flying fuck about the Iraqis."

But just who were the real "savages"?

After all, it was Bush's thugs who operated sinister CIA "black sites" where people were tortured. People who'd never been tried or convicted of anything faced horrific abuse.

When the Iraqis took up arms against the invading U.S. forces, it took the Bush team by surprise. After all the Bush people had claimed we'd be "greeted as liberators." The NeoCons also claimed the war would be over only in a matter of weeks.

Instead, as the war began to drag on and on and a vicious Iraqi insurgency arose, the NeoCons were stunned. But they really shouldn't have been.

As it turns out, the Iraqis were a proud people. Sure, many of them hated Saddam. But they hated occupying foreign armies even more.

And the Iraqis saw what was really going on (even if the typical Fox "News" viewing idiot didn't). That is, the real point of the war had nothing to do with the non-existent WMD. And it had even less to do with the Bush team's lofty talk about "freedom" and "democracy."

Instead, it was clear that the war was really all about stealing Iraq's oil for Dick Cheney's billionaire cronies.

Even if misinformed Americans didn't grasp this truth, the rest of the world did (not least the Iraqi people).

After all, the Iraqis knew that Bush's WMD claims were bullshit. The Iraqis saw first-hand how when the invading U.S. forces entered Baghdad, they raced to the Iraqi oil ministry building. The massive building was immediately put under round-the-clock surveillance by troops and was surrounded by 50 tanks, while sharpshooters were positioned on the roof and windows.

Meanwhile, in the growing chaos, Iraq's museums, banks, hotels and libraries were ransacked (or burned). Priceless ancient Iraqi manuscripts went up in flames. But the oil ministry remained secure.

Thus, it was clear to any Iraqi with eyes what the real point of the war was.

None of this seemed to bother Chris Kyle, though. To him, the Iraqis were savages and had no right to fight back against an invading army. To Kyle, shooting Iraqis with a sniper's rifle from a rooftop was like one big PlayStation video game. It was "fun."

In this respect, Kyle was actually quite a bit like George W. Bush. Both men were incurious types. Both men often went with their guts. Both men were absolutely 100 percent convinced of how right they were. (One recalls the memorable press conference where Bush was astonishingly unable to recall any mistakes that he'd made after 9/11).

Kyle and Bush also had one other big thing in common. They were both liars.

Kyle made all kinds of grand claims that never held up to scrutiny. For example, he made unlikely claims about killing looters during Hurricane Katrina that were never substantiated. He also made claims against Navy veteran Jesse Ventura that turned out to be bullshit. (Ventura later won a hefty defamation lawsuit against Kyle).

Ventura continues to slam Kyle's memoir as untrue. "The book is not a true story," Ventura said in a recent podcast. "The book had fabrication and fiction written into it."

Kyle remains a hero to millions of people (mostly Bush-loving wingnuts who continue to still insist the Iraq War was a righteous enterprise). Frankly, a lot of these people scare me. If you read the recent hate-filled, bigoted comments of people who've criticized Kyle (like Michael Moore) it's clear that a lot of these people are as twisted as their hero.

Kyle may be a hero to some. But to me, he's not. People who claim that killing people is "fun" have no fucking place in the U.S. military.