Sunday, May 1, 2016

Deep South May Day

May Day in the Southern U.S.

About a 100 people gathered at the corner of Broad and College in Athens, Georgia for a May Day march and event.  It was on the site of the annual "Human Rights Festival" in downtown Athens.  This had only happened once before.  This crowd was certainly larger than I expected, so perhaps there is a new spirit afloat in this passive country.  A large group of Latino activists, some black activists fighting for a living wage, a group of students (mostly young women), hippie greyheads and townies all united.  "Obreros Unidos!" was the chant.

The Famous Fist
After some speeches by a Latino activist in Spanish and an older black activist from the music stage, the demonstrators marched to the office of the president at UGA to demand a living wage, then back over to City Hall. However it was Sunday and no one was home - though it probably wouldn't matter if they were.  Inequality and working-class rights are not something that is tackled by either.

Athens/Clarke County is one of the most unequal counties in the U.S. - hosting a layer of mostly high-paid academic professionals and administrators, as it is the site of the University of Georgia's largest campus.  And then a 30% poverty rate of mostly black workers.  Your ethnicity almost determines your class standing.  But there are many underpaid working class whites in Clarke County too.  Added to this is about 40,000 students, many of whom are attracted by the state-paid HOPE scholarship - which allows almost free tuition with a B average.  If Georgia can do it, there is no reason why every other state can't. 

Unions are virtually non-existent here, even among teachers or other public employees like maintenance workers at UGA.  Fear and intimidation, as well as the law, almost prohibit unionization in various industries, according to one public teacher activist.  A Caterpillar plant has just relocated near Athens, of course without the UAW.

Being a unionist, activist or socialist in this town is pretty hard.  As is being black or Latino!  The 'mellow' mood and right-wing and religious surroundings mitigate against radicalism - except reactionary radicalism.  The vast numbers of students have not made Athens a more radical Berkeley, a Madison or an Ann Arbor.  The students are mostly interested in shopping, drinking, eating and music.  And their careers, of course.

This gathering shows that May Day is not dead yet in the U.S., even in the South.
Happy May Day!

Red Frog
May 1, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ecuador in the 1980s

“Blood Lake, a Philomena Buscarsela Mystery,” by Kenneth Wishnia, 2014

Genre fiction has broken out of its cage so many times that it has earned a place as ‘real’ fiction.  Detective stories are no longer predictable police procedurals that are so formulaic as to be sleep-inducing.  However some things remain the same.  

Guayaquil, Ecuador stilt slums
This book by a PHD and professor is one such.  A great look inside Ecuador in the 1980s, it still suffers from the unreality of constantly falling bodies.  Wishnia is a progressive of some kind who has created a reckless female detective, Philomena Buscarsela.  She is a product of poverty and was once a former leftist guerilla in the Andean highlands in Ecuador.  Unusual provenance for a female American gumshoe.  Most, like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, have no politics.  

The story has a bit too many incongruities.  For some reason Philomena returns to visit her family in Guayaquil, towing her teenage daughter along – then immediately throws herself into a dangerous search for the killer of a Liberation Theology priest who once saved her life.  Her daughter is forgotten, even though it is obvious that the police/death squad people who killed the priest would seize her if needed.  A parent would attempt to hide or shield their child.  But as she says many times, she is a ‘bad parent.’  Philomena fails to spot the tall blonde gringo ‘journalist’ that suddenly shows up at her side as a CIA asset – even though every reader does.  She even trusts the notes of a real journalist who was murdered for researching the assassination of the prior progressive Ecuadorian president to this agent.  She goes on a fruitless search for another invisible right-wing journalist in several Ecuadorean towns like Cuenca, which never makes real sense.  Ultimately she reunites with her guerrilla ex-boyfriend in the Amazonian jungle in the east of Ecuador by Macas.  This is the real literary point of her trek into the mountains, but one which doesn’t lead to any killers.  Again, incongruous. 

Through all this she seems to allow the Ecuadorian police to track her progress towards the guerillas – which is their purpose for letting her go on.  She is even friends with one cop, who saved her life and she saved his.  Philomena was a cop in NYC for 3 years, so she seems to play both sides.  She is an adept at physical violence and can throw a stiletto with deadly force, so plays the role of action heroine well.  She’s also sexy, but her sex with her Jewish boyfriend from New York, who oddly visits her, is more talk or braggadocio than action.  

The great strengths of the novel are its deep knowledge of the poverty of Ecuador during this period.  The scenes of the stilt shanty towns built over the steaming, putrid water in Guayaquil are tremendous.  Philomena rides in rickety buses, sleeps in a shabby concrete construction site, visits humble stores and peasant huts that mirror the ‘otherness’ of Ecuador to the North American reader. Her large family seems to be almost the only refuge.  At one point, she sees a rural Quichua baby and notes that its sad 2-year-old face already registers that it was born into a fucked life.   Wishnia focuses on the crookedness of the press and a confusing matrix of bourgeois Ecuadorean politicians that promise everything and deliver nothing.  He describes the violence of rightist death squads and police; the control of commodities like rice and gasoline by businessmen; the shortages, inflation and power outages of every day – the miseries perpetuated by the local comprador bourgeoisie and their North American puppet masters.  And just to be ‘even-handed’ he shows that the guerillas can perhaps be ruthless too.  

Wishnia references the on-going struggle by indigenous people against Texaco/Chevron’s pollution of their Amazonian region.  The assassination of progressive Ecuadorean president Jaime Aguilera in 1981 in a suspicious plane crash is also a part of the story.  Aguilera established a 40 hour work-week and supported human rights.  Later Omar Torrijos of Panama also died in a suspicious plane crash a few months later. Further investigations of Aguilera's death showed the plane’s motors suddenly shut down, a sign of an electrical pulse weapon.  Documents have revealed that this was part of the U.S. "Operation Condor" plan. (See book review on the assassination of Paul Wellstone, below.) This was during the period of the contra wars in Central America and the Reagan presidency, which considered anything left of Jesse Helms to be a Soviet plot.

In 2010, corrupt Ecuadorean police attempted to kill the present presdient of Ecuador, Rafael Correa.  Most suspect that the CIA was involved in that plot too, as Correa was a staunch supporter of Hugo Chavez.  This happened under Obama and Clinton's watch. Assassination is one of the surgical tools of imperialism and the domestic Right in every country.

Latin America in the 1980s was a bloody, violent place dominated by military dictators, death squads, IMF austerity loan programs, assassinations, anti-communism and poverty. These were the fruits of the heavy boot of the northern colossus.  This is a look back into that past – a place which U.S. imperialism wishes to return to in full force.  See the recent coup in Honduras, the support for right-wing forces in Brazil and Venezuela, the continual financial pressure from the central banking industry in the U.S. and Europe, our love of every right-wing Mexican president.  The past can return.

If you enjoy detective stories with a foreign, feminist and political twist, this book will be of interest.  A nice glossary of Ecuadorean and Quichua words is included in the book.

And I bought it from Mayday’s used book section.
Red Frog
April 28th, 2016

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The “God Mode”

“The New New Thing – A Silicon Valley Story,” by Michael Lewis, 2000

This is the story of former Texan Jim Clark, an eccentric ADD ‘anarchist’ who invented the first 3-D micro-processor for computers, which eventually became Silicon Graphics.  Then he started Netscape, the first net browser company.  He continued with a plan and program called “Healtheon” - health industry mid-ware that would link all of the fractionated U.S. health industry together.  Healtheon’s first IPO was called off in 1998 prior to the ‘tech wreck’ on Wall Street, but a later offering in 1999 made him a billionaire.  In the process Clark evolves into the key ‘idea’ person in Silicon Valley.  He started the lawsuit between Netscape and Microsoft over Microsoft’s anti-competitive browser monopoly.  He spends most of his time working on a massive computerized sailboat, the Hyperion – which was stylized as the 1990s predecessor to a home controlled by computers.   

The Valley of the Kings
Lewis is a journalist who normally rakes mostly capitalist muck, but in this case he has written a panegyric to a capitalist ‘outsider’ – Clark.  The book glories in all his oddities, his unorthodox style, the brilliant coders around him, his ‘genius’ and his love of money.  This is a man who dropped out of a Texas high-school.  It is somewhat like the early biographies of ruthless titans of industry like Rockefeller or Morgan, or the later ones around Bill Gates or Steve Jobs – and tiresome in just that sense.  If you look back over most of Lewis’ work, that same theme of kissing-up to a group of capitalist outsiders is there.   

MoneyBall” – the baseball recruiter that favored statistics over the ‘good ‘ol boy’ network to succeed; The Big Short – the Wall Street short-sellers who knew that mortgage derivatives were garbage; “Flash Boys,” - how some Wall Street contrarians invented a way to prevent the main firms from scamming clients through high-speed trading; “Liar’s Poker,” his first book, which didn’t lionize anyone … yet.  Lewis, while denigrating the mainstream of American capitalism, loves its outriders.  He has no outlook beyond that.

Clark knew that 3-D computing would be copied by everyone as soon as possible.  He knew that Microsoft would throttle Netscape with its own web browser, which turned out to be Explorer. He also thought that Microsoft, due to its monopoly position, would seize software control of a vertical industry like health care. So the important thing for Clark was always the … new, new thing.  The next shiny object.  The latest commodity.  This is how it works in Silicon Valley, which reflects its role as the leading commodity provider in the world. 

One absurd part of this was the promotion of Healtheon in Europe. Lewis actually went on a ‘road show’ for this product through Europe with Clark – like an embedded reporter in Iraq suffering Stockholm syndrome.  What seems obvious is that Lewis actually missed the fact that Healtheon – which was supposed to connect the 11 different sectoral ‘bubbles’ of the U.S. health care system into one web – was not as useful to a ‘single-payer’ or government-run system as in Europe.  So Lewis laughs at the Dutch or English when their eyes glaze over, while the Dutch or English are thinking – what the fuck? 

Knitting the millions of vendors in U.S. health care together, along with the numerous health firms, vendors like drug companies, equipment makers, doctors as well as multiple U.S. government programs and their vast laws, along with 50 state systems, is extremely difficult, especially without single-payer.  Clark’s employees admitted they knew nothing about the U.S. health care system when they started. Software forms an essential connection that could be used to convert the U.S. to single-payer more easily.  The real point of this failed road-show was missed by Clark’s crew, even though it is staring these ignorant geniuses in the face.  Single-payer is the road to simple software.

Lewis covered the Microsoft/Netscape lawsuit, surprisingly filed by the U.S. Justice department, until its denouement when one of Clark’s e-mails seems to have torpedoed the case.  Lewis is then locked-up with Clark and crew on board the Hyperion’s first problem-filled crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.  (The ‘god mode’ is Clark’s override authority on the Hyperion’s 24 computers.) In this book Lewis ends up being like those craven biographers that rich people hire to paint them or write about them.  It’s unseemly at a certain point. 

This book again emphasizes the value of the technology ‘boom’ as one of the engines of capitalist profitability. The Marxists at Monthly Review think because technology doesn’t employ as many people as the rail or auto industries, it is not a significant development that can energize capital. This can also be said of the financial services industry, especially Wall Street. Yet these two forces are the only thing breathing cash (and new commodities) into the stagnating capitalist economy.  On a practical level, technology has actually made imperialist ventures across the globe more possible.  This is a topic that some Marxists really have to understand, instead of preaching about imminent doom all the time.

Profitless Silicon Valley companies like this, that ‘might’ make money in the future, were behind the 2000 dot-com bubble that crashed the U.S. financial markets.  “Value investors’ they were not. 

Let’s look back to 2000 and see what Jim Clark wrought.  3-D computing is still with us, useful for architects, doctors and Hollywood, but Silicon Graphics filed for bankruptcy in 2009.  Netscape Communications was bought by AOL and is now ancient history.  Clark inspired the first efforts at interactive television – ITV – which flopped. @Home, which was based on a computer network providing data to televisions, merged with Excite in 1999 and went bankrupt in 2001.  myCFO, a financial company for billionaires, was sold to Harris Bank in 2002 and is now an ordinary part of their investing platform.  Healtheon merged with Microsoft’s WebMD and now is called “Change Healthcare” - the largest exchange and payment system for health data and finance in the U.S.  All of these programs mostly enable the system as it is.  But it is true that a single health care software program would be essential to a single-payer system.  But so far over-head costs in the U.S. health-care industry still outpace actual medical costs, so software alone is insufficient.

Clark is on the list of the 400 richest Americans, so this is a portrait of a billionaire.  Many of the companies Clark was involved in bit the dust, but he was their inspiration.  He launched them, then collected.   A few of them were useful and the others were not. Oddly, he was involved in the documentary, “The Cove” about the criminal slaughter of dolphins for meat in Japan.  What do Marxists make of men with ideas like this, driven by greed, which are sometimes useful?  It is that there is plenty of proof that greed is not the only stimulus to new ideas.  Paeans to Silicon Valley internet heroes have become cheap literature and Lewis should know that by now.      

Other books by Michael Lewis reviewed below:  Liar’s Poker,” “The Big Short,” and “Flash Boys.”  Other books or commentary about technology below:  Cypher Punks,”  Citizen Four,” “In Letters of Blood & Fire,” “The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital” and “Creative Destruction.”  Use blog search box, upper left. 

And I bought it in Mayday’s excellent used book section!
Red Frog
April 20, 2016

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Foreclose on the Banks

"99 Homes,” a film by Ramin Bahrani, 2015

This is a companion to the film, “The Big Short” which did not dwell on the foreclosures or unemployment caused by the housing bubble.  Instead, ’99 Homes” takes you into the foreclosure industry in 2010 in Orlando, Florida.  It follows the story of one family that is evicted, much to their surprise.  The lead character who is evicted, Nash, in desperation then goes to work for the real estate ‘mogul’ Carver who evicted him – eventually putting Nash himself in an impossible situation. Nash is a working-class carpenter who used to do building work until the building boom ended, but is over his head in this situation.  His values ultimately dominate his desperation.

Housing is Someone Else's Private Property
Nash eventually takes over from Carver doing evictions and comes face to face with all the misery caused by the foreclosures – an aged man who has no relatives and nowhere to stay; families with children who have a ‘lawyer’ and think they have a stay or are appealing their eviction; angry people with guns.  One man has proof his house sale was never advertised – so Nash has to forge an affidavit of publication.  In the real world the housing courts in Florida processed these illegal foreclosures – fraudulently robo-signed paperwork, missing deeds and mortgages, no proof of ownership by the banks – with nary a hiccup.  We see scenes of the 1 minute ‘hearings’ after which the banks are given control. 

Allegations of falsified documents were at the heart of an investigation by state attorneys general and the federal government into foreclosure abuses by Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., and Ally Financial's GMAC mortgage unit. Orange County, Florida, where Orlando is, was cited as one of the worst.

Then the thug sheriffs are sent out to enforce the evictions for the bank’s representative, while a crew of impoverished workers loads all the evicted family's possessions on the boulevard, with a cruel removal deadline of 24 hours.  Families are forced to find emergency housing, and Nash’s family ends up in a rundown and noisy motel full of other evictees. 

The courts, the police, the banks and the real estate industry were all in one big shiny cabal, and still are.

Fraud by the real estate brokers against the Fannie Mae government foreclosure program is also shown.  Appliances stolen, then sold back to the government to make the houses ‘whole’ again;  stolen appliances sold for a profit; water and electricity shutoffs enforced by bank representatives; damage to houses in order to stop other agents from selling the houses.  Carver wants to ‘carve’ up more houses and is attempting to muscle out the bigger competitors who are taking over hundreds and even thousands of homes.  Nash goes along with these schemes to get his son and mother back in their old house, but the contradictions eventually become too much.

This film was written and directed by two Indians.  Evidently we need Indians to cover U.S. tragedies, while so many American directors are making super-hero movies or other forms of head-in-the-sand entertainment. 

Review of “The Big Short,” and “The Divide” by Taibbi, as well as various commentaries re foreclosure, are below.  I will be doing a somewhat damning retrospective of Michael Lewis’ work based on his 2000 book, “The New New Thing,”

Red Frog
April 16, 2016

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Innovate This!

“Listen Liberal – Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?” by Thomas Frank, 2016

The timing is perfect.  In the shade of his credulous disappointment with Obama’s two stints as president, and the looming re-run of a Clinton II presidency, Frank has come out firing on all of his cylinders.  He takes every cherished idea and myth of the ‘new’ Democratic Party (“DP”), gently describes it, quotes it succinctly, nicely pokes it, then puts a bullet in its brain. The Democratic Party clich├ęs of ‘innovation,’ ‘the sharing economy,’ ‘the creatives,’ entrepreneurship, meritocracy, technology and education are all put on the rack and found wanting in the light of class reality.  What Frank investigates is the class nature of the Democratic Party, finding it to be a ‘party of professionals,’ not a party of the working class.   These ‘knowledge’ economy professionals who form the hard voting base of the DP are actually a capitalist ‘new economy’ echo of the ‘old-industry’ Republicans.  Or as Gary Hart first called them, "Atari Democrats."

This is an intimate class analysis that even takes on the subtleties of righteousness and ‘goodness’ pushed by this strata.  Frank does this after attending a glitzy back-slapping session put on by the Clinton Foundation, hosted by Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates.

Let us be Frank

In the process, he lumps in the pro-Democratic top executives of Wall Street and Silicon Valley (unaccountably leaving out Hollywood) with the part of the 9% that forms the immediate base and transmission belt for the DP – academics, lawyers, doctors, engineers of various stripes, corporate and non-profit managers, the elite in media, software, arts and journalism  – what Frank terms the ‘well degreed.’  In essence, the ‘smartest people in the room,’ as they fancy themselves.

Frank’s ‘professional class’ is really a wing of the petit-bourgeoisie / middle class in U.S. society – what Marxists have always identified as a prop for capital.  Small businessmen form the other part of this class – they are the usual base for the Republican Party.  The two parties share this strata, as they do the topmost strata of the 1%.  Frank essentially says that the working class has been abandoned by the DP, which is why so many now vote Republican or don’t vote at all.  Unlike the DP mantra that ‘they have nowhere else to go’ – they actually do.  The DP’s triumphalist emphasis on ‘demographics’ is an example of this.  It’s like a line from Blazing Saddles: “We don’t need no stinkin’ workers.’ 

Frank agrees with most other left economists (Piketty et al.) and sociologists that it is the 10%, not just the 1%, that have benefited in the last 40 years.  This is crucial in understanding the role the professional strata plays in spreading the influence of the 1% into the rest of society.  Leaving this out basically camouflages how the 1% rule. Occupy Wall Street, while having a catchy slogan, on a deeper level was essentially wrong.  I pointed this out in December 2011 post (“Look Who We’re Calling Comrade”) that dwelled on the number of millionaires in the U.S., but was looked at as some kind of egg-head.

In the process Frank humorously reviews the dour history of the Clintons, then analyses Obama’s copycat version, which he called “Clintonism on monster-truck tires.”  Jimmy Carter, the born-again peanut entrepreneur from Hicksville, Georgia is left out, but he certainly started things in the late 1970s.  Clinton’s enormous failures – deregulating Wall Street, NAFTA, the incarceration and drug-war state, deregulation and privatization across other industries, strengthening a two-tier justice system, stranding unions, welfare ‘reform’ – all have been exhaustively covered, as have Obama’s versions of these policies.  What Frank shows is how these policies really reflected a conscious move towards the ‘well-degreed’ strata of professionals in the U.S. and away from the great unwashed proletariat, essentially moving this section of moderate Republicans into the DP camp - where they are now.

You will note that nearly every reactionary measure negatively impacting the working class by Clinton or Obama was in league with the Republican Party.  And yet these DP people – Hillary included – have the gall to picture themselves as the true opponents of Republicanism, when they have actually enabled a good part of it.  Even their bickering around the Supreme Court indicates they cooperate to have a ‘split’ court – all of whom support increased government power, including the ‘liberals.’

After the romance with Wall Street fizzled a bit after 2008, the DP decided to love tech. Google was name-checked by Obama in half of his ‘state of the union’ speeches while its head, Eric Schmidt, is one of his close advisors.  Schmidt called entrepreneurs the ‘value-creators’ of society.  Sound familiar? The DP promotes the ‘sharing’ economy.'  You know, tech firms like Uber, which takes jobs from tax drivers; TaskRabbit, which is nothing but a digital temp agency; AirBnB, which sidesteps housing, safety and tax laws for profit, or Amazon, which is a tax-free WalMart.  This kind of ‘disruption’ is really part of their creation of a precariat of workers, where one day most can hope to be temps standing around in front of hardware stores hoping for day work.  Just bring your ‘smart’ phone! This is the future for the majority that the enlightened DP describes as ‘progressive.’

Frank takes on the argument that the ‘big bad Republicans’ made the Democrats do all these things.  As one answer he takes an in-depth look at Boston and Massachusetts to see what a paradise of DP control looks like, as this state is thoroughly Democratic.  Outside the environs of the high-tech corridor, universities and pharmaceutical companies of Boston, Massachusetts is in a state of poverty and de-industrialization.  Inequality is one of the highest in the nation.  It is not just black people that have been left behind.  High drug prices, high education costs and unemployment are the result of this ‘innovation’ economy.   The DP’s black Massachusetts governor later went on to join Bain Capital, Romney’s firm!  If Boston was the Capitol of Panem, it makes sense.  Or perhaps its Martha’s Vineyard, where both Clinton and Obama take holidays among the deserving wealthy.

The ‘brainy’ Democrats love of ‘complexity’ even extends to the ACA and Dodd-Frank – two of the most complex pieces of legislation ever enacted, both running to thousands of pages, which probably no human being understands completely.  Dodd-Frank is still being written years after it was voted on.  Just on the face of it, there is something wrong here.  But only if you’re not an expert!

Frank’s visit to the 2015 Clinton Foundation gala allows him to look into Hillary’s plan for women in other parts of the world (and shows her plan for American women too.)  Essentially it involves promoting entrepreneurship among 3rd world women through micro-lending.  Essentially this means getting 3rd world women involved in the banking industry.  Essentially Peter Edelman showed that micro-lending does not alleviate poverty or empower women, but only increases indebtedness.  (Duh…)  Exxon, Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart all have micro-finance programs.  Frank points out that these corporations are buying ‘compassion credits’ similar to carbon offsets.  Poverty is actually profitable, as is labor, which is why both endure.  And so ‘gilt’ must be ‘suffered’ and the DP appears as moralistic as some Texas Baptist.

As Frank coyly notes, if you take into account the removal of welfare supports or housing foreclosures for many poor women, you can say that Hillary’s slogan is ‘No ceilings, no floor!’

What is missing here is the most deluded group of all - not counting many established black 'leaders.'  It is top union leaders.  In the run-up to the 2016 election, the edicts came from on high from nearly every ‘international’ union headquarters that Hillary Clinton was to be endorsed.  Rank and file unionists were stunned.  The slavish teachers’ union bureaucrats were first in line.  This might reflect their role as the MA/BA aristocracy of labor that they fancy themselves, even though the ranks of their unions know better.  Imagine teachers endorsing people who support charter schools and Rahm Emanuel!  This is no different from poor rural people in Kansas voting Republican because of Jesus.  Even the SEIU, which has been the union most out-front with “$15,” backed Clinton, who did not support the demand. The ‘hope’ placed in Trumka or the split in the AFL-CIO have come almost to nought.  Four or more internationals and many local bodies have instead chosen Sanders, which certainly reflects that the union movement is not quite dead.  But its damn close.

This is a fast, entertaining read, with Frank's characteristic understanding of the 'commodification of dissent' and his ability to see through 'hip' rhetoric.  Frank was the editor of the "Baffler" and wrote "What's the Matter with Kansas" and other books that look at the culture of politics.

Other books on the DP:  The Democrats:  A Critical History,”Death of the Liberal Class,” commentaries, “Red Wedding,”Sanders, a Left View,” etc. and books analyzing class itself – “Class Lives,” “Chavs,” “Understanding Class,” “Rich People Things,” “The Precariat.”

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

April 10, 2016

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hidden HIstory of the Italian Left

"The Unseen,” by Nanni Belestrini – foreword by A. Negri, 1987

The unseen, the hidden half, the invisible people of Italy act.  A novelistic treatment of the events during the autonomist movement in Italy in the mid to late 1970s – a period of working-class turmoil similar to 1968.  Not on the NYT’s best seller list.  Will not be reviewed by the NYT Magazine.  No one on National Government Radio (“NPR”) will ever talk about this book or any book like it.  It is a play of light and dark, victory and prison.

A Negri, Theorist of Autonomist Movement
This is a picture of a generalized class struggle that does not last. A contest of power between the capitalist state, factory owners and the autonomist left.  The comrades wear shabby clothes: “How do you think about clothes when you are betting everything you’ve got?” The Leninists want a vanguard to lead the struggle.  The Italian Communist Party (PCI) is running the city and wants illegality to end.  It is the time of the ‘historic compromise’ – 1976 - when the PCI made a popular-front block with the Christian Democracy, the leading capitalist party.  The actual left was outraged. 

The villages around the city, a railroad ride away, are run by the Christian Democrats, a party based on the wealthy families in each town.  In the villages everyone works, especially at home, where piecework from the small factories dotting the area is doled out.  The families, especially the mothers, work for added hours every day putting together cheap parts to supplement their incomes. Some southerners have moved in from the backward rural south of Italy and a few village folks give them piece-work too.  The radical youth hate the ‘sanctimonious bigots all priest-loving hypocrites’ in the village and go to the city as much as possible.  “The movement was my family,” the lead character says. 

Young Italian students shut down a school in the face of their screaming principal.  Thousands of leftists fight carabinieri in an attempt to shut down a fascist headquarters after fascists kill a left demonstrator.  Helmets, tire irons, big wrenches, Molotov cocktails/petrol bombs and tear gas.  Cops run over a demonstrator with a giant jeep and shred his body. 

The illegal occupation of an empty Catholic building for a performance space, a clinic, a resource center, a press office. Many practical skills involved, as these are not bookish people. The comrades make a tactical decision and refuse to evacuate, then are stormed by carabineri with teargas.  60 of them escape over the roofs.  Real-life drama, better than all the fake Hollywood super-hero movies.

Tute Bianchi, struggle continues 1994-2001
The young lead character is arrested and interrogated because of a weapon found in a house he rented 3 years ago from a crooked attorney who wasn’t paying taxes.  The judge is also the prosecutor.  The appointed ‘defense’ attorney is indifferent.  The unseen is dumped in a medieval dungeon presided over by an incoherent dirty troll and then convicted on this incoherent evidence as a ‘terrorist.’

Indiscriminate arrests of activists are the order of the day if they have any connection to the movement. That is Italian justice.  Penned in a formulaic trial, the men and women prisoners meet in a swirl of color. There is a seesaw of power between prison captives and prison administration. Pictures of gruesome prison violence between non-politicals.  A ‘gentle’ prison rebellion by the comrades, capturing guards, seizing floors and grinding weapons.  Plastique is in play.  The comrade prisoners are lulled into complacency by prison negotiators until a sudden attack by helicopters, black ninjas and bombs.  The carabineri shoot and do not care if anyone dies. Then all the prisoners – politicals, non-politicals and even disguised guards – are beaten and beaten again by the guards.  Broken noses, faces, legs, arms, ribs, hands, brain damage.  The guards go on to destroy the prison, then blame it on the inmates.  Then the Berlusconi newspapers lie about it all. 

Still other inmate rebellions.  Refusals to eat the horrible prison food, dumped in the central walk. Flooding the floor.  Pots and pans banged at night.  Torches invisible to the population.  Similar to the IRA and Bobby Sands.  To no avail, as time must be served.  Forgetfulness must be observed.  

A centre is rented from a “Marxist-Leninist” Maoist organization that can’t afford the rent due to their tiny membership.  It then serves as an organizing place for the whole mass movement. Group theft, ‘the spectacle’ and creative disruption follow, allowing the movement to control the city neighborhood around the centre. In the villages, workers and students go from factory to factory, shutting them down in support of a factory occupation.  Sweat shops are invaded and destruction commences.  A feminist rebellion in the ranks.  A split of an armed action group from within the affinity group.  A leading 'military security' comrade becomes an informer.  

In this atmosphere, a stillborn pirate radio station is started.  But by now many have been arrested, had psychological breakdowns, committed suicide, become informers or drug addicts, and the station cannot go on the air.  Solidarity, the greatest weapon of the rebellion, has disappeared.  The government of the capitalists has crushed the movement.

The text is written without capitalization, periods or any punctuation, only blocks of paragraphs.  Sort of like ‘stream-of-consciousness’ except perhaps by an excited youth or a TV or movie camera that blinks regularly or perhaps like a prose poem.  You feel like you need to put the capitals on and place the periods, but you get used to it. The rhythm of the text suggests its own invisible punctuation.  Like the invisible history it charts.

Other books about Italy or anarchism on sale at Mayday and reviewed below:  The Dark Heart of Italy,” “Trumpolini,”Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs”, “Something in the Air,” “How Non-Violence Protects the State,” “The Society of the Spectacle” and “The Bomb.”  Use search box, upper left.  

P.S. - Inmates at many U.S. prisons, especially in the south, are on strike against the slave labor regime in American prisons.

And I bought it at Mayday Books in their excellent left-wing fiction section. 
Red Frog
April 5, 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Cosmic Tapestry Instead

"The Big Bang Never Happened,” by Eric J Lerner, 1992

Once a theory becomes the title of a long-running comedy TV show and also a Hollywood movie called ‘The Theory of Everything,” you know it’s doomed.  Lerner shows you why.  Lerner is a plasma cosmologist who, from his somewhat dated vantage point in the 1980s, disassembles the weak scientific evidence of the Big Bang cosmology and suggests a more provable and simple replacement.  In doing so, he also traces the history of philosophic, religious and scientific thought starting in Greece, and shows how Platonic idealism and mysticism have made a comeback through the theory of the Big Bang.   Lerner is a science writer, so the text is mostly understandable to a layman, and when its not, it normally doesn’t matter ‘too’ much.

Spiral Galaxy - spacey power generator!
The book collects the work of many different scientists working against the scientific ‘establishment,’ which protects its pet theory with vehemence.  Lerner even questions the ‘peer review’ process, which blocked publication of his plasma articles in astronomy journals because of the power of leading astronomers.  Lerner sees the Big Bang theory as a re-creation of Augustine’s ‘ex nihilo’ Christianity circa 400 A.D., reflecting a current stagnation of science and (bourgeois) thought.  But this is not yet the dominant view among cosmologists.  He points out that most of the people in the field use math-based, not empirically-based methods, reflecting the recurring influence of idealism. 

Lerner even identifies the Greek abhorrence of labor as key to understanding the origins of the anti-empirical outlook. Most in cosmology don’t want to get their hands dirty in a lab, as 95% of papers in 1980 were math-based, seeking 'beautiful' formulas.  He indicates how science is affected by social attitudes.  As part of this he suggests that the idea of ‘pure reason’ originated from money earned through slavery and the consequent abstract accounting generated by that practice.  Lerner links the historical triumph of science with the triumph of free labor after the middle ages. (Or as a Marxist might also put it, the triumph of wage slavery…)

The foremost thinker in this book is Hannes Alven, who pioneered a new way of looking at the formation of planets, the solar system, stars, galaxies, and super-clusters of galaxies.  Alven thinks they are created mostly by massive electro-magnetic forces.  Alven and Lerner see the universe as an infinite electro-magnetic energy grid that has always existed, and is changing all the time.  Gravity itself plays a complementary but limited role in this universe.  Lerner points out that gravity alone (the ‘rock’ upon which general relativity and the Big Bang rests) does not have enough power to account for the mass, shape, age, size and energy in the universe, or the supposed original ‘expansion.’ 

Alven first began to foment a different theory by looking at the aurora borealis, common in his home country of Sweden.  The aurora borealis is caused by electro-magnetic solar prominences on the sun sending out charged particles that interact with the earth's magnetic field.  It forms characteristic colorful plasma filaments – something  Alven later noticed was common to galaxies too. What is remarkable is how ‘scalable’ the tiny shapes produced in lab experiments with electro-magnetism are – cells, filaments, ribbons, helixes, whirlwinds, vortices and spirals.  They are very similar to the structure of massive galaxies and super-clusters – and Alven thinks they reflect a common energy source.  The structure of giant galaxy clusters has been called the ‘cosmic tapestry’ and looks like an electrical-magnetic force field, not the result of an explosion from one point.   

Some of the books’ high points:

  1. Lerner shows the evidence for ‘black holes’ is thin – a favorite topic of Hawking.  He thinks they are much more likely some sort of electro-magnetic quasar.  Spinning galaxies create a massive current that spirals towards the center of a galaxy - some ‘ten billion-trillion amperes’ – ending in a massive outpouring of energy at the center.  Note:  Even Hawking is now backing off on black holes, given the myriad problems associated with the theory, such as some energy leakage. 
  2. The Big Bang predicts certain quantities of elements like helium that do not actually exist in the quantities required of the Big Bang.  Experiments have shown that stars generate helium normally, so you don’t need a Big Bang to explain its presence in the universe.
  3. Dark matter is another unlocated companion to the Big Bang theory – still to be found.  It is necessary because the amount of matter in the universe is too little for the Big Bang theory, (100 times less!) so they had to make it up.
  4. Super-strings?  A purely mathematical invention, never located either.
  5. The universe is ‘clumpy’ and un-homogeneous, not uniform or homogeneous, as assumed by Einstein.  Later cosmologists expected smoothness and consistency in the universe, given the conditions of the ‘birth’ of the universe - an explosion from one source.  However, the observable universe is not like that.
  6. Ancient super-cluster star galaxies are many billions of years older than predicted by the Big Bang.  Similar to the Greenstone rocks found in Ely, Minnesota, which are 4.3 billion years old, older than the time indicated in the Bible.  It’s the same problem, but here these clusters are around 60 billion years old, not 10-20, the age of the Big Bang.
  7. According to Lerner, the Hubble red shift, which is a key piece of evidence for the Big Bang, is still an open question – the only really open question.  There are several theories - perhaps it is a reflection of changes in our part of the universe.  Alven thinks the red shift is caused by matter/anti-matter collisions.  These two forces generally are kept apart, but sometimes the barriers between them (the “Leidenfrost” layer) are not sufficient.
  8. Experiments have shown there is something faster than light. 
  9. Galaxies and galaxy clusters have a structure related to each other - almost like a ladder - not a spray from a central location.
  10. The too smooth cosmic micro-wave background radiation is not a reflection of the Big Bang.  It was first theorized as some sort of background echo of that event, but has been shown to be produced normally in the present.
  11. Einstein’s theory of a closed universe, with gravity bending everything back in upon itself, is based on a level of gravity that is not in existence.
  12.  The growing variety of particles theorists use to populate the universe – neutrinos, axions, WIMPS, the many quarks, leptons, gluons, muons, pions, baryons etc. - might exist in a lab – but most do not. 
  13.  Infinity is supposedly the property of God, according to religious Catholics.  Hence they believe that nature or the universe cannot be infinite or unending.  Otherwise, ‘nature’ is God - and that’s paganism or pantheism. If you think the sun is really the most important thing in our little corner of the Milky Way galaxy, you’d be a bit of a pantheist and not a good orthodox Christian. 
  14. Lerner thinks that order comes out of ostensible chaos.  The theories of the ‘heat death’ of the universe or the final triumph of the ‘second law of thermodynamics’ – entropy - over every other process is simply wrong.  The development of the universe, of planets, of life shows that complexity grows out of simplicity, that change usually leads towards some kind of overall development or progress.  Thermonuclear fusion in stars is an example of growing complexity, not deterioration.  Lerner tops off his theory with the development of humans.  He is somewhat of a positivist. 
  15. Time goes in one direction.  Einstein considered time to be just another dimension, when actually it is the context in which the other dimensions exist.  Time does not reverse and there is no proof that it does.  To abandon time and history is to abandon experimentation, as nearly all science is based on measurement by time.  Going back in time is a fiction trope.
  1. Lerner connects scientific ideas with their social context.  For example, quantum physicists like Heisenberg and Bohr were brought up in Germany and Denmark during fascist times, when they worked on the Nazi nuclear program.  During this period they interpreted quantum theory in a mystical way, reflecting the dominant ideas of fascism.  They believed that logic doesn’t apply to the quantum world and that particles had ‘free will’ and could appear randomly.  Einstein opposed them in their dismissal of causality.    
  2.  A ‘theory of everything’ is impossible because the universe is infinite.
18.  Cosmic rays are not a product of the Big Bang, but of forces in the present universe.
  1.  Protons do not decay.  Proton decay was predicted by the ‘grand unified theory,’ a cousin to the ‘theory of everything,’ but this decay has not been discovered. 
  2.  Baby or multiple universes don’t exist, as posited by Hawking.  Again, no proof.
Lerner provides an explanation of plasma cosmology as an alternative to the Big Bang. Plasma cosmology relies on basic physics, violates no rules of science, is testable and observable, and has been shown to be accurate from small scales to large.  It is based on the force of electro-magnetism, produced by rotating bodies conducted through space gases – the plasma.  Electro-magnetism and quantum phenomena may even be linked by microscopic hydrodynamics on the micro level.  As Lerner puts it, “The result of this gravitational-electro-magnetic stage of evolution is the production of a complex and ordered system of entities, ranging from stars to galaxies to super-clusters, each pouring out concentrated electrical energy.”  Lerner thinks fusion is the ultimate source for carbonless power, yet present science has not been able to get around standard cosmology to focus on it.  

If you are interested in this topic, this book is a good addition to your library.

Other commentaries and books on this topic below:  Mike Gimbel’s talk at Mayday Books (video), my commentary and his pamphlet on the issue, “Dialectics and the New Physics,” reviews of the books “Reason in Revolt,“ and the “Ten Assumptions of Science.”  Use blog search box, upper left.  Other reviews on the relationship of science to dialectics, like "Ubiquity,' are also below.

And I bought it in the excellent used section at Mayday Books for $1

Red Frog
March 29, 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

Jury of the Spotless Minds


March 14, Monday.  First day of this jury pool.  100 people in jury waiting room in basement of courthouse.  We are told there are about 300 hearings a day upstairs, many being trials.  Maybe 3 black people, 1 Latino in the whole pool from what I can tell.  2 panels were called on Monday – 18-24 people a piece.  I was not called.  The majority left sat and dozed, worked, read, cruised the internet or just stared.  One woman started a puzzle.

Dogs Deliberate our Fate
Tuesday, March 15, 3 panels were requested and I was called on one. As you go up to the courtrooms, they actually scan you like an airport, as if someone would plan to kill someone by accidentally getting called on a jury for their case!  It is a ‘criminal’ matter.  The Hennepin county attorney is there, representing the ‘Government v Hassan’ or some caption like that.  Charges are 5th degree assault and ‘disturbing the peace.’  4 police officers are the witnesses – the only witnesses.  A black Somali man is the defendant.  In voir dire (the process of asking questions of jurors to choose a jury), they wanted to know if anyone was related to police. 3 people were. Lord.

The panel was asked if they could be impartial about police.  This question was put to an all white panel, with no Somalis.  No real peers for the defendant!  I told the judge I was a supporter of Black Lives Matter and did not believe cops told the truth, even under oath.  I was dismissed.  No one else said no, and perhaps they lie to themselves.  The setup is familiar - a black man before a white jury, brought up on bullshit charges, with cop witnesses.  5th degree assault and ‘disorderly conduct’ probably mean he breathed heavily on a cop and 'disorderly conduct' meant he called him a name.  Hennepin County is wasting our time and money – represented by a wet-behind-the-ears prosecutor who is probably carrying out the will of the police.  The all white panel was youngish, with two psychologists - boy and girl scouts eager to do right.  You know that bad feeling you get when something looks like a trap or a setup?  

 Wednesday, March 16, I was called again in the first pool.  This time a civil insurance case – ‘State Farm v some appliance repair business,’ over costs to flooded home. In voir dire again.  State Farm did not want to cover the flood, of course.  Insurance is about making profits, not insuring people.  They rejected an unemployed black man who said he had been upset that he was called to serve on a jury.  Also a fat white Burger King worker, a working-class guy that said he had a bad experience with State Farm and some girl who assembled catheters.  I was also rejected, as I had a bad experience with State Farm too and said I didn’t like insurance companies.

They actually ask questions like, “Will your opinion of insurance companies allow you to make a fair decision in this matter?”  To answer these questions without lying would require most people to be born yesterday or to be completely ignorant.  They actually asked how you felt about being in the jury pool – like it’s some kind of great event.  You are supposed to be ‘interested,’ ‘no problem,’ ‘excited,’ etc.  You are supposed to believe justice will be done.

Rest of Wednesday, sitting with other rejects from other panels.  Now the proportion of black people is still about the same - 3 out of 20.  Looking at this group, my gut feeling is that they are filtering out lower working-class people, mostly black but also white ones.  Then they let us rejects go, and everyone cheered. 

What would you do if you were on a jury about some bullshit marijuana charge?  Prostitution?  Loitering?  Sodomy?  Or all the other things that are illegal that shouldn’t be?  Or the plaintiff was some rich corporation or person?  One theory is you lie, risk contempt of court, get on the jury and vote innocent or guilty depending on your politics.  I chose not to go that route.

To get on many of these juries, it seems you have to have no opinion about much of anything in society.  Or at least not be honest about it.  You must have a ‘spotless mind.’ And have the presence of a clean-cut, obedient Eagle Scout. Yet even these very-filtered juries are an exception to the rule of justice in the U.S.   Nearly all criminal defendants, without adequate defense counsel or funds, are forced to plead guilty to lesser charges.  Most civil cases settle, at least in Hennepin County.  As you can see here, few juries, many trials.  Justice grinds on, but, like raising and slaughtering animals for meat, you don’t want to see the sausage-making.  

Red Frog
March 25, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Old & New Conquistadors

“The Open Veins of Latin America – Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,’ by Eduardo Galeano, 1973-1979. 

Galeano makes the supposedly dry phrases of Marxist and political economy come leaping to life.  Primitive accumulation, sub-imperialist, international division of labor, agro-export and resource-export economies, mono-cropping, sub-proletariat, debt and wage slavery, international ‘credit’ and national debt, capital imports, cultural neo-colonialism, reserve army of the unemployed, horizontal and vertical monopolies, oligopoly, latifundia, disequilibrium, under-development, disinvestment, internal imbalances, unequal exchange, denationalization, profit repatriation, lack of internal markets, ‘free’ trade, national & comprador bourgeoisie, imperialism, colonialism, slavery – all take on powerful resonances through his lyrical prose.  He intended to write a history that was not boring.  He has succeeded.
Romantic Conquistadors meet Colorful Aztecs - 1519
Galeano tours Latin American history the way a novelist might.  He concentrates on the various economic periods of Latin America’s history, not on its emotional crises or its artistic heritage or its magical mirrors.  Starting from the cruel consequences of Columbus’ landing in Hispaniola up to Latin American’s role as a cheap labor and resource colony for American and European manufacturers, the ‘open veins’ are those relished by vampiric economic systems.  Looting, rape and pillage are polite words to describe the results. Though this book mostly ends in 1973 on the eve of the coup against Allende, basically it still results in heaps of bodies and economic blood-letting, as colonialism and imperialism have distorted Latin America to this day.

Galeano makes clear that the ‘national bourgeoisies’ of Latin America did not even fulfill the role of consolidating an independent ‘national’ economy in their various countries, let alone uniting in a real common market or country as happened in most of North America and Europe.  The seaports to elsewhere are the centers of these countries, not the roads to each other.  Unity was the dream of Bolivar and his followers and the many revolutions against outside control, most of which failed.  History will see if the present state of Latin America, which is attempting to move away from the dictatorships of local thugs and imperial capital will actually create independent countries or a united hemisphere.  Cuba was the only one that completely broke with the imperial system, and that was because it took a working-class path.  It would seem that only the working-class can even accomplish national tasks.  Given recent events in the BRICS and their South American subsidiaries like Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, the outcome is not at all clear.  The age of market & finance imperialism mitigates against real independence.

Galeano describes the relations of production between the ‘horseman and the horse.’  The initial extraction of silver and gold over the bodies of indigenous slaves in places like Potosi’s Cerro Rico (8 million lives!) and Ouro Prieto, exported through Spain to the bankers in England, the Netherlands, France & Italy.  This made European industrialization possible.   The creation of agro-export economies producing sugar, indigo, cotton, rubber, tobacco, coffee, cacao, meat – leaving less food in the stomachs of the campesinos than in the stomachs of the Europeans and later, the Americans.  This agricultural economy spurred African slavery in the islands, in Brazil and other parts of Latin America.  Then the removal of resources - first guano, then nitrates, oil, natural gas, copper, iron ore, tin, bauxite, nickel, manganese, saltpeter, diamonds on a mass scale.  These processes destroyed the soil and left wastelands of poverty when the rushes were over. As time went on, the weak and parasitic comprador bourgeoisies were bribed to sacrifice local ‘light’ industrial development to imports.  Later heavy industry invaded owned by foreign corporations using local cheap labor and resources, their profits expatriated to build skyscrapers in New York.  Import prices rose while raw materials’ prices went down like a broken teeter-totter.   Lastly, debt through colonial and imperial banks and later entities like the World Bank become the biggest national import while crippling interest one of the largest exports.  Will the paralytics even be provided a wheelchair? asks Galeano. 

White Devil God of Potosi, Bolivia
In the process, the Latin American ‘rebellions of the hanged,’ as the Old Gringo B. Traven might put it, are enumerated.  The crushing of Montezuma.  The war led by Tupac Amaru in Peru that got rid of slavery and forced labor, and who was later tortured to death in the central plaza of Cuzco.  The longest black slave rebellion in history, in Palmares in northeast Bahia Brazil, which eliminated money and created a free republic.  It was portrayed in the book “The War at the End of the World” by Mario Vargas Lhosa.  The bloody dismemberment of Paraguay in the “War of the Triple Alliance” by ‘neighbors’ at the behest of British money.  This event was denounced by left populist Huey Long as a war benefitting the criminals at Standard Oil of New Jersey.  Capital yawned.   

The repeated efforts of nationalist, anti-imperial leaders to break from outside control – Zapata and Cardenas in Mexico, Sandino and his later followers in Nicaragua, Varela & Rosas in Argentina, Arbenz in Guatemala, Gaitan in Columbia, Lechin in Bolivia, Artigas in Uruguay, Alvardo in Peru, Jagan in Guyana, Vargas and Goulart in Brazil, Francia and Lopez in Paraguay and Balmaceda & Allende in Chile.  The Cuban revolution which overthrew the slavish Batista kleptocracy was the only long-running but isolated break.  And now that too is under threat.

The titles of chapters alone are indicative:  “The Dimensions of Industrial Infanticide;” “Development is a Voyage with more Shipwrecks than Navigators.” “Cheap Hands for Coffee,”  “…the Importance of Not Being Born Important,” “Technocrats are Better Hold-Up Artists than Marines” “The Contemporary Structure of Plunder,” “The Goddess Technology Doesn’t Speak Spanish,” and so on.

Clearly U.S. attempts to undermine Latin America independence and wealth continue to this day.  The undercover support for the coup and dictators in Honduras (with Clinton leading the pack) is only the latest example.  The TPP is still on track and the IMF and World Bank still salivate over their loans.  The backing of the corrupt president and ruling stratum in Mexico, the U.S.’ nearest neighbor, is another example that impacts the U.S. every day. The U.S. is also backing middle & upper-class demonstrations in Brazil and Venezuela. 

Galeano ends thus:  “The task lies in the hands of the humiliated, the dispossessed, the accursed.  The Latin American cause is above all a social cause:  the rebirth of Latin America must start with the overthrow of its masters, country by country.” 

Related reviews below:  An Anthology of the Writings of J.C. Maritequi,” “The Daminficados,” “The Diary of Che Guevara,  Secret History of the American Empire,” “The Shock Doctrine,”

And I bought it at Mayday Books!

Red Frog

March 18, 2016