Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ha Ha Ha?

What Can You Say About Bill Maher?

Millionaire comics are a dime a half-dozen at least.  Just look on TV.  Bill Maher is one of them, in spite of his independent streak and being on cable. He was heroically fired from a major network for saying it took guts to fly a plane into the World Trade Center.  Then he made a film making fun of religion (“Religulous”).  So he was never very ingratiated into the politics of the power elite.  That has changed.
What ya smokin' now Bill?

Now, whether smoking too much weed or trying to beat Rachel Maddow at the Trump hysteria / Russia game, he’s become a somewhat sad figure.  His self-reverential shtick is familiar, as it’s usually all about him and his Trump angst.  He only occasionally throws out some off-line opinions to his mostly Democratic Party audience.  This week’s program (Friday, May 18*) was peopled by creepy, suspicious types.  He started out with an ex-FBI agent, Clint Watts, discussing his new book on social media’s influence in politics.  As if the FBI did not engage in social media and media manipulations itself.  So perhaps they are losing now?  His talking-head ‘panel’ consisted of a former CIA agent and Republican, Evan McMullin; Dan Savage, a gay Democrat; and the dreadful opinion editor of the New York Times, hard-core Zionist and former Wall Street Journal reporter Bari Weiss.

Maher’s ‘special guest’ was a neo-liberal woman formerly from Zambia, Dambisa Moyo, who had just written a book on the degeneration of ‘democracy.’ She recommended paying politicians as is done in the private sector, but for their improvements to the country.  As if CEO’s actually get paid for performance.  She pretended there were not enough lawyers in Congress, when they are the majority in the Senate (60%) and 37% in the House.  She advocated knowledge tests in order to vote.  She said that the U.S. is the ‘vanguard of liberal democracy,' the kind of tripe that always gets plaudits from her new benefactors.

Past Maher shows have included generals, Trumps promoters, vicious Republican performance artists like Ann Coulter and a stable of approved editorial figures of the mostly moderate Democrat or Republican stripe.  He used to have Sander’s supporters on, but has run from any left-wingers for a long time now.  For instance, trying to get Tom Morello to agree with him about Hillary Clinton was just too much for Bill.

The panel was united in non-stop talk about Trump’s personal foibles, ignoring any detail of the crimes he and his party are committing every day.  The worst moment was when pro-Israeli NYT editor Weiss claimed that Hamas or the Palestinians trickily staged their protests to coincide with the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem - just to make Ivanka look bad.  Everyone made easy on her bloody Trump-lite comments, including for the most part Maher.  “When is there not a riot in that region of the world?” archly asked Moyo.  McMullin made a noise that perhaps the choice of the date was Trump’s, not Hamas, but he approved moving the embassy at some point anyway.  Savage did not challenge Weiss frontally, but he did agree with McMullin on the timing. The all agreed not to negotiate with Hamas.  The 70th commemoration of Naqba was never mentioned, nor the mass shooting of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza itself.  Weiss was most distressed that 'conservatives' had taken the Israel issue for themselves, taking it from the liberals.  Amazing!

The timing is really Trump’s – he was too stupid to realize that opening an embassy at this particular moment was ‘impolitic,’ as they say.  And so the isolated ruling class in the U.S. again ignores the thrice invaded open air prison that is Gaza, which originated from an episode of ethnic cleansing 70 years ago.

On this program, Savage was the best of this sad bunch, scandalizing the stiffies by making the point that legal prostitution is the best solution to people who cannot get ‘laid.’  This in a discussion of a topic Bill seems to have just discovered, ‘incels.’  Savage himself is not yet integrated enough into the ‘line’ of the Democratic elite or the U.S. ruling class, so he ended up being a bit of a dissident on this program.  The ex-CIA agent promoted the new head of the CIA, Gina Haspel.  Moyo finally challenged him.  Savage pointed out that the Nazis used the some of the same tactics of 'enhanced interrogation' at Dachau.

From this program ‘the Resistance’ to Trump consists of a united front of Republicans, 'ex'-FBI and 'ex'-CIA members, Zionist NYT editors, millionaire comics and neo-liberal black women.  Trump is a criminal but this array is a fake Resistance®, the business-as-usual crowd.  A wing of capital stands behind this ‘resistance.’  Maher himself has yearned for ‘business-as-usual’ quite openly.  

Another wing of capital has other ideas.

Note:  Glenn Greenwald took Bari Weiss apart in an Intercept essay in August 2017.  Nothing has changed.

More postings related to this issue or these people:  “Stolichnaya…,” "Religulous," "The Holocaust Industry," "The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution," etc.  Use blog search box, upper left.
Red Frog

May 20, 2018

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Land of Ire


IRELAND – What's Up?

ABORTION VOTE

Will be covering Ireland and will report issues of political and cultural interest.  The greatest right now is the vote on abortion on May 25, 2018.  Given Ireland voted for civil unions as the first country in the world to do so, its right-wing Catholic heritage is eroding.  The scandals around dead orphans packed into graves at Catholic orphanages didn’t help.  The Irish, like the rest of Europe, now say they might be ‘religious’ but no longer attend church in the numbers they once did.  I expect mass demonstrations in Dublin around the vote on the 25th.

England's Colony Rises

EASTER RISING

Dublin was the scene of the Easter Rising in 1916, part of the revolutionary waves that moved through the world during WWI.  There is a tour of Dublin based on that insurrection.   Jim Juice will get a nod too and any such Viking relics that are interesting.
 
THE SOUTH

Other than the scenery, there are bits of more recent history in the south of Ireland.  Besides the beer, music, windswept, wet and cool land.   A British poorhouse for the Irish.  Ruined cottages, abandoned during the famine.  The location where Michael Collins was assassinated.  The ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell.  And …

THE IMMORTAL IRISHMAN

Reading a book about the Irish revolutionary and Union Civil War general Thomas Meagher, who was part of the “Young Ireland” movement in 1848 during the ‘great hunger.’  He was arrested by the English for his role in that struggle, and was sent to a penal colony in Tasmania.  Then he ended up in the U.S. where he led the union Irish Brigade in some key battles of the U.S. Civil War.  Slavery and the oppression of the Irish seemed similar struggles to Meagher.  To be reviewed fully.

Red Frog
May 17, 2018

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Author Interviews Herself

Arundhati Roy – At the Fitzgerald Theater and on “The Thread,” Minnesota Public Radio

Arundhati Roy, Indian fiction writer and political essayist, came to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA to promote her new work of fiction “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.”  (reviewed below) Unfortunately the book was barely mentioned

Born in Small Village in Kerala to Single Mom
Hosting the event was Kerri Miller, who joined Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) in 2004 after a stint at KARE 11 local news as a reporter.  Miller was unable to rise to the occasion to adequately interview Roy, whose politics are head and shoulders above what Miller was used to.  A good number of times Roy had to say ‘no’ to some misdirected question by Miller.  As the interview progressed, Miller was left almost silent as Roy understood she had to fill in the time.  I doubt Miller has read any of Roy’s political books, which might have helped. The program is to be broadcast on MPR later.

Roy is a radical intellectual, something Miller’s well-modulated and conventional approach cannot handle.  There were no questions about the occupation of Kashmir, which is at the heart of the new book. Or a question about why ‘the market,’ as Roy called it, and Hindu supremacists have now united in India. Nor a question about caste, which plays a role in the violence against women occurring in India, a topic Roy brought up. Miller was instead obsessed with asking about Roy’s first novel, “The God of Small Things,” which won the Booker prize years ago and about Roy’s personal fierceness or other perceptions of her.  Roy at one point had to say ‘it’s not about me.’

During Roy’s long responses, she said many valuable things that go against conventional wisdom in the U.S.  She pointed out that fiction is the most holistic artistic method of describing the world, as it weaves together separate issues and silos.  Because of that, reading fiction demands that the reader not be a passive receptor but an active ‘contemplator.’  In this context she said that feminism or any other partial approach or issue is not sufficient to deal with current reality.  She decried the artificial separation between art and politics imposed by modern bourgeois literature standards.  This includes the supposed opposition of so-called ‘fact’ and so-called ‘fiction.’ She joked that some people think her scenes of poor outcasts living in cemeteries were ‘magical realism.’  Yet people in India do live in cemeteries.

Roy chided some Indian liberals for calling for the oppressed adivasi people of the Indian forests to become pacifists in the face of violent Indian government repression over corporate mining.  She used a line from her book ‘Walking With the Comrades,” (reviewed below) to ask, “Should they go on hunger strikes when they are already starving?”  For anyone who is familiar with her work, this might bring up her long introduction to Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste” where she took Gandhi to task.  Gandhi supported the caste system.  But ah, another question left unasked, another sacred cow left alone.

Roy has a quick wit and handles words like a poet.  She thinks in many languages, as she has been immersed in India's profusion of languages.  She described the present situation in India as ‘micro-fascism.’  The demonetarization policy of the Modi government devastated workers and small businessmen.  It took small money bills out of circulation in a situation where the majority exist in a cash economy.  Roy thinks that the elite promotion of practices for the Hindu masses like oppressing Muslims or women is a placebo for their own oppression.  Many rapes are linked to caste, as upper-caste / class men think they have every right to beat and rape girls and women.  What she found most disturbing was the mass of men and women that would come out in demonstrations in support of the rapists.  Roy addressed so-called ‘development’ and ‘modernization.’  She saw these as merely words for destructive market-rule, which she pointed out should be obvious ‘even to those in the most contorted yoga position.’

I think the reason that Miller is unable to actually interview someone like Roy is because of the ideas of the literary mafia in the U.S.  Politics and class are not their forte.  This mafia is headquartered in New York. Its local Minnesota arms are the Star Tribune newspaper, the Loft literary center and MPR’s Talking Volumes/ The Thread radio program.  They urge readers to cherish memoirs, especially dysfunctional ones.  Or read and write stories of families, emotions and personalities exclusively.  They focus on the life of the middle-class. And go into raptures over words and phrases alone, while greater meanings and stories go out the window.  They advocate a separation of politics and art and ignore working-class life.  People like Jonathan Franzen, Augusten Burroughs and DF Wallace are exemplars of these styles.  None of this is done in Roy’s fiction, as she understands that the personal cannot be separated from its social and economic context.

A few questions from the Indian audience members reflected their frustration with current Indian political conditions.  Roy had no answer as to how to end fundamentalist Hinduism or caste or class oppression.  She is an honest observer and even activist with excellent instincts, but is not allied to any political tendency.

Prior reviews on books by Roy, below:  Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Walking with the Comrades, Field Notes on Democracy, the introduction to Annihilation of Caste and  Capitalism, a Ghost Story.  Also commentary: "Turning Off NPR."  Use blog search box, upper left.

Most of these books are available at May Day.

Fitzgerald Theater

Red Frog

May 12, 2018


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Capital is Vulnerable to Labor


“On New Terrain – How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War,” by Kim Moody, 2017

What is interesting about the flood of books from leftists is how they continue to analyze the actual conditions of society right now, not nostalgia from 150 or 100 or 80 or 50 years ago.  This is the heart of the Marxist method and necessary if the labor left is to make ANY headway.  Moody is an editor for Labor Notes and now a professor in England.  This book takes a look at changes in the U.S. in the geographic, economic, class and political terrain since neo-liberal capitalist methods were implemented in the late 1970s under Carter.  Some of his insights are actually new or more detailed, which makes this a useful book.

The Past Is Past
Moody tracks the shift in a factual style, upending old clichés or ideas about U.S. proletarian reality, some of which are familiar to anyone who studies this issue.  But his updates actually clarify the situation.  I’ll bullet point them:

1.          1.  Moody’s most contentious point is that only 25% of the jobs lost in the U.S. over the past  40 years are due to ‘outsourcing’ work to Mexico, China, Bangladesh, India, etc. This is not the position of most analyses of job losses in the U.S.

2.          2.  The culprits for the other 75% are not imperialist globalism or even domestic ‘outsourcing’ but two things that any worker will find familiar – speed-up and over-work, which lead to higher productivity or profits. Or better technology and machinery, which lead to higher productivity or profits.  Both led to the rest of the job losses over the last 40 years according to Moody.

3.         The helpful weakness in this argument is that Moody does not understand the anti-union and cheap labor economic role of the geographic U.S. south.  It has absorbed factories and jobs from the north, as well as imported factories.  The case of car and machinery production is the most obvious.  If he included the ‘South” as a separate ‘nation’ in his statistics, it would move the 25% number significantly upwards.

            4.   Moody understands Marx’s theory of the background effects of the ‘falling rate of profit,’ agreeing with Michael Roberts and others. (See review of the The Long Depression, below.)  Neo-liberalism has essentially turbo-charged profiteering since 1977.  That was the point. This vulnerability discovered by Marx basically says that upgrading production methods with more machinery or computers or buildings (fixed capital) will ultimately stall out in another profit crisis as other firms do the same thing.  Since only labor creates surplus value, profits will drop as less human labor is used.  This will make corporations again come for workers blood and increase class conflict.

5.          Capital has created smaller, more efficient plants, dispersing workers.  Moody uses the example of steel-making mini-mills.  But it has also concentrated workers in large industrial parks and areas in urban cities. This is a big vulnerability for capital.  Moody uses the example of the Chicago area, where tens of thousands of truckers and warehouse workers handle the majority of shipping in the country.  This mass of workers doing similar jobs in industrial parks is an example of new concentrations of labor.   

6.          The lie that this is a ‘post- industrial’ society is just that, an obvious dodge.  The working class, according to Moody's look at U.S. government statistics, is still the clear majority - industrial, transport, service and white collar.  One flaw in his analysis will actually increase the numbers. Moody considers teachers and nurses to be ‘proletarianizing professionals’ (i.e. middle class).  I would consider them already members of the upper levels of the white-collar or ‘pink’ collar working class.   Teachers and nurses might replace the older 'aristocracy of labor' that was the province of the 'trades,' but that still puts them in the working class.  This would also increase the numbers of workers he cites.

7.          Another vulnerability for capital is ‘just-in-time’ production methods.  These have resulted in fewer vendors, very little inventory in stock or warehouse and thin supply chains that stretch across the country, even from the ports.  This leaves capital more vulnerable to industrial action.  He calls this new terrain part of the ‘logistics’ revolution in production.

8.          A third vulnerability is that the big cities concentrate millions of low-paid workers, who are unemployed, work part time or work several jobs or fill in full-time on others.   The ‘reserve army of labor.’ Now they are mostly African-American or Latino or immigrants, but in greater numbers than in the past.  These are ethnic castes of the population that capital has super-oppressed since the beginning of the country. As a result they have no love for the bosses.

9.          Capital, as Marx pointed out, tends to monopoly or oligopoly.  Presently in the U.S. through constant mergers and acquisitions, a few big firms control nearly every industry, some hiding behind many brands or names.  This means that companies are connecting many more workers together, which can lead to the success of strike action or any kind of rebellion against the remaining companies.  The decline of the corporate conglomerate also has concentrated companies in single more vulnerable industries, not across industries.  These are part of a 4th vulnerability for capital.

10.        Moody is not a syndicalist like some who only advocate labor strikes.  He understands that politics plays a role in labor’s overall power.  As a result, he looks at the changes in the Democratic Party, which have made it a more tightly controlled, powerful ‘conglomerate’ than in the 1970s when McGovern's activists overwhelmed the DP structure.  The present construction of the DP absolutely mitigates against labor or any other movement EVER taking over the party.  This means the destructive lure of the DP as a place were ‘movements go to die’ is weakening – though still operative.  The Republican Party is transparently a party of big and occasionally small capital, and as such, merely an obvious liar when it comes to fealty to 'the working man.'

11.        Most cities are now one-party states controlled by the Democrats.  Republicans play almost no role.  As a result, the DP hacks are open to an electoral challenge from the left, as the ‘spoiler’ allegation doesn’t work in these locales.  This is another vulnerability to the DP's wing of capital.

12.        Republicans have used state-level and local-level political arenas to shape gerrymandered districts, thus controlling the national agenda. This is why so much money now flows into even city counsel races. Moody sees the states and cities as key areas of left political and social struggle, building  blocks to a national approach.  He ultimately supports a mass-based, activist labor party on a national level which combines separate struggles like BLM, Fight for $15, NoDAPL, MeToo, Dreamers, etc.

13.        Moody carefully looks at Democrats in cities, even the ‘Progressive Caucus’ in New York, and shows how they are basically nearly all tied to the real estate and building industries in those cities.  There is never a ‘public-private’ partnership or development project they don’t like.  Moody looks at how public money flows to the real estate industries through these politicians, not for the needs of the mass of proletarians.

The basic thrust of Moody’s book is optimistic, especially the first third.  Because of the recent reorganization of capital, openings are beginning to appear that a labor movement inspired by a ‘militant minority’ could take advantage of.  Public approval of unions has increased, especially among young millenials.

His dissection of the Democratic Party seems familiar, but he goes into a level of detail on its rigid and monied structure that few on the left have done before.  Essentially he is addressing the post-Sanders “Our Revolution” crowd, the DSA and the union bureaucrat/leaders who still think a takeover of the DP in a social-democratic direction is possible. It is not. He says a strategy of attempting to 'split' the Democrats without having something to split 'to' will not work either.  These groups will end up as toothless ‘pressure’ groups that gain lip-service as their prime reward.  

Moody dates the day that the DP basically rejected union power to 1977, when the majority of a new, young wave of Democratic politicians no longer voted for union proposals.  This has continued to this day, even when in ‘power’ – from Carter to Clinton to Obama – as corporations gained a stranglehold over the party. 

This abandonment of union or working class demands is no secret, but it never seems to occur to those who insist on revitalizing the graveyard.

Other reviews on labor issues:  Class Against Class; Reviving the Strike; Save Our Unions; Embedded With Organized Labor.

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

May 9, 2018

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Journalism Nostalgia

“The Post,” directed by Stephen Spielberg, 2017

Ah, the good old days, when bourgeois journalism actually had some bite.  Put the most popular mainstream liberal director together with the vanilla skills of the two top actors in Hollywood, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks - and what do you have?  “The Post” about the publishing of the Pentagon Papers.  This story of the past will mostly resonate with freshman journalism students and Democratic Party loyalists.  What is left unsaid is that present journalism is a disaster, rightist and liberal alike.

Instead of being owned by a tony upper-class family, the Grahams, the Washington Post is now owned by Jeff Bezos, a crass internet multi-billionaire.  And the New York Times?  No longer the respected ruler of U.S. journalism.  Instead it is a paper waiting for someone to do a film on the NYT promotion of another criminal war, the Iraq war.  With the modern Post not far behind.
Government AG Tries to Censor NY Times

How the mighty have fallen.  The best parts of the film are the brief bits with Daniel Ellsberg and about Vietnam.  Through Ben Bradlee, the Post editor and Ellsberg, the whistle-blower, it reminds the historically clueless that the government lies, commits bloody crimes and then sends working-class kids off to war. Nothing has changed except people’s intentional memories.  War in the U.S. is like Groundhog Day.  Each war is always the first.

The film actually puts Vietnam in the background so that we can see heroic journalism in action and a vacillating rich woman, Katharine Graham, become a real leader.   The war is just their stage.  The Supreme Court, the top of our corrupt two-tier legal system, actually makes a right decision by allowing publication. Today’s Supreme Court?  Not so much.

The film centers on Bradlee’s push to publish the Pentagon papers at the Post.  The papers were an internal academic exercise by the military and government looking into the war that was supposed to be secret.  The papers exposed the deceptions and failures of  the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations in this long-running disaster.

The rush to publish seems to happen just a few days before a federal hearing on the NYT excerpts of the same Pentagon papers.  The NYT actually beat the Post to publication, but this seems to be peripheral in this story, which sidelines the NYT!   The rush also seems to happen towards the end of a 1 week liability period after an initial public offering of Washington Post stock.  The 4 hour mad dash to edit and publish seems odd in this context.  Even the scenes of writers and editors attempting to piece together the documents page by page seem bogus.  It assumes Ellsberg didn’t copy them in order or organize them.  Is the rush some attempt to help the NYT in their lawsuit? Exempt others from scooping the Post?  Or just an example of psychological agitation?  The Post was attempting to end their  ‘local’ status by trying to beat the Times.  A few days of delay does not seem fatal. 

The square-head lawyers hired by the Post to defend them against Nixon mostly oppose the Post and side with the government.  The business people in the IPO oppose Graham, Bradlee and the reporters on publication. The key line in the Nixonian court injunction against the NYT is that ‘the paper and its agents’ shall not publish.  The lawyers insist that Ellsberg is an ‘agent’ but he is not, he is a source. Nor is the Post an ‘agent.’  So their legal arguments for Nixon seem to make no sense either.  Normally you would fire lawyers that are not defending you.

The Real Bradlee and Graham
Of most interest are the personal relationships of Graham and Bradlee with people in the government.  Graham was a big friend of William McNamara, one of the leading architects of the war.  He shows up in the film several times as a personable liar. She also hobnobbed with Lyndon Johnson, the war president.  Bradlee was a personal friend of John Kennedy, another architect of the American war in Vietnam.  They regret that the people they liked were involved in this grave crime.  This shows the rarefied atmosphere at the top of bourgeois journalism, EVEN in those days.  Now the situation is even more pronounced, as leading journalists are many times in the same class as those they cover, and thus sympathetic to them and their aims. A recent study indicated that the majority of reporters at the NYT and the Wall Street Journal are from Harvard or Yale.  Many more are from other Ivy League schools.  These are no longer street-wise reality reporters.

While the NYT recently published Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, they have since then joined in the corporate chorus of hatred for Snowden and Wikileaks.  Perhaps if Snowden had given them secret academic papers on the failed wars in the Middle East, would they have published?  Certainly, Chelsea Manning didn’t get their nod.

The film is worth watching, if only for its nostalgia in a past that is almost gone.

Other reviews on journalism issues below:  Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent,” Mander’s “4 Arguments for the Elimination of Television,” “Southern Cultural Nationalism,” “Empire of Illusion,” “Turning Off NPR,” “The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital,” and many books on Vietnam. Use blog search box, upper left.

Riverview Theater

Red Frog

May 5, 2018




Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Poisoning the Well - Another Day in Paradise


Sulfuric Acid and the Boundary Waters National Canoe Area

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is Minnesota’s Grand Canyon.  It is the most visited wilderness area in the nation.  A Chilean copper company, Antofagasta and their subsidiary, Twin Metals, wants to put in a copper/nickel mine near it on Birch Lake in northern Minnesota.  The mine would grind up 99.5% of the rock to get .5% of the valuable ores. Read that again. This shows the extent of capitalist desperation at this point in history, given the increasing scarcity of copper and nickel.  This mine will create sulfuric acid, heavy metals like mercury and sulfates in the process, as rock exposed to oxygen creates the acid.  Antofagasta will only store the tailings in natural rock which has all kinds of fissures, so this toxic soup will leak.  Huge amounts of waste rock will be created, as well as the leveling of large areas of forest.  For the proposed mine on Birch Lake, the chemicals will leak and head north into the Boundary Area through the Kawishiwi rivers, then Canada’s Quetico Park, then into Voyageur National Park.  Any cleanup that costs over a certain amount will be the responsibility of the public.  Every sulfide mine like this in the past has had toxic cleanup problems.  Contamination could last 500 years.

BWCA Canoeing is like bicycling on water
Seems like a no-brainer, right?  Unsurprisingly Democratic governor Dayton is on the fence about the proposed mines (plural), as there is another mine proposed farther south from Birch Lake called “PolyMet.”  Most of the water flowing from that mine will go into the St. Louis River, then into Lake Superior.  The present Democratic U.S. House representative, Rick Nolan, supports the projects.  Of course the whole criminal Republican Party led by Tom Emmer is in favor, siding with a Chilean corporation against Minnesotans.  70% of Minnesotans and across the country, 98.4% of comments on the Interior Dept./ Bureau of Land Management/ Forest Service website opposed this proposal potentially draining into the Boundary Waters. Only 22% of Minnesotans are in favor. 

The Trump administration’s lackeys in the Interior Department reversed a legal ruling under Obama against the mine, and now have proposed a lower threshold of facts and public input for approval.  There are 9 months left before they have to make a decision.  Again, the U.S. is shown to have a sham democracy, as the capitalists will rape whatever land they can to extract profits, no matter what the public thinks!  As an aside, the whole Minnesota Republican Party and a wing of the Democratic Party supports these mines and also supports getting rid of general sulfide standards throughout the whole state.  The mining industry has wanted this repeal for years.

This issue also concerns the Canadian government, as their waters could potentially be affected.  If the Boundary Waters begins dying, a national park will be slowly destroyed.   More jobs will be lost in tourism, education and clothing businesses associated with the park then created by the mine.  If waters north or south of the park are contaminated, this will impact wildlife, plants, rice harvesting and humans.

Hegman Lake pictographs in BWCA
Amy and Dave Freeman are right now pedaling bicycles from Ely, Minnesota to Washington, D.C. with a signed canoe to lobby Congress about the importance of the Boundary Waters to people across the country.  They stopped in Minneapolis this weekend.  In every town they visited on a prior canoe paddling trip from Ely to Washington D.C. (yes, you read that right…), people had been to the Boundary Waters. This is not a local issue, no more than issues with the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Everglades or the Appalachian Trail are local issues.

Support “Save the Boundary Waters.”  https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/

The real question here is that in the present political situation, where the capitalists have absolutely free reign on the government, will lobbying work?  Will having corporations like Patagonia on your side help?  Or the Big Green organizations?  The odds are not good.  The other travesty of environmental damage, the Enbridge oil pipeline through northern Minnesota, is a bi-partisan project.  The main opposition is coming from the Ojibwe tribes and the ‘usual suspects,’ but no one in power.  If this attempt to protect the boundary waters fails, something more radical will have to emerge.

Prior relevant reviews: “The Race for What’s Left,” “Tar Sands,” and ‘Open Veins of Latin America’ and “Collapse.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

Postscript:  The Trump Interior Dept. has just approved the BWCA mine today, Monday May 7.  'Save the Boundary Waters' will or has already filed a lawsuit. 

Red Frog
May 2, 2018

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Starry Plough

“A Full Life:  James Connolly the Irish Rebel,” by Tom Keough, 2016

This graphic pamphlet gives the viewer the highlights of James Connolly’s life. Odd given that 102 years after the Easter rebellion of 1916, northern Ireland is still under the control of the English.  Ireland was one of England’s first colonies – with Wales and Scotland being absorbed earlier.  Theresa May’s Tory government is in power with the votes of a small group of these right-wing Ulster Protestants. The curse of colonialism never ends…

The surprising thing is that Connolly organized in many locations and was a member of many groups.
Graphic pamphlets are Cool


Connolly grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland very poor, and went to work at 10 years old.   He enlisted in the English army, but after being stationed in Ireland and then threatened with being sent to India, he deserted.  He joined the Scottish Socialist Federation after living on poverty wages for too long.  In 1893 he joined the Independent Labour Party and later became head of the Scottish Socialist Federation.  Then he went to work for the Irish Socialist Republican Party, combining the causes of national liberation and working class power – for a workers’ Republic.

Due to poverty, he left Ireland and shipped off to the U.S. where he joined the Socialist Labor Party.  He organized a shirt collar workers strike in Troy, New York. Connolly fought the AFL, which refused to enlist black, Chinese, Filipino and Italians in their unions.  He was sympathetic to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which won the first minimum wage in the U.S. in Goldfield, Nevada.  Connolly moved to Newark, New Jersey to work at a Singer sewing machine factory, then to the Bronx, New York, where he worked with the IWW.  Ultimately he organized the Irish Socialist Federation with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in the U.S. and became the editor of their paper The Harp.  In The Harp he supported the rights of women, all immigrants, opposed the hostility between Protestants and Catholics and understood that religious people could have a role in a revolution.  Connolly was also aware of the colonial reach of the British Empire, having penned attacks on their control of India. 

In 1910, Connolly and his family moved back to Ireland and with Jim Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), modeled after the IWW.  Larkin and Connolly spoke all over Ireland as the Irish and English capitalists attacked the ITGWU.  Strikes organized by the ITGWU received aid from the English cooperative movement.  Connolly advocated sympathy strikes and strikes spread across Ireland.  On Bloody Sunday, August 31, 1913, 400 workers were injured and 2 killed by police in Dublin.  The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) was formed by the left as a response to the massacre.  In 1914 Irish labour opposed WWI and Connolly organized against the imperialist war.  The English government attempted to conscript Irishmen and opposition grew exponentially.  More armed groups were formed by labour, including a women’s brigade.  The ICA and Irish Republican Brotherhood got word that the English authorities were going to arrest the leaders of all the Irish labour and anti-war organizations.  A block was formed between nationalists and socialists for an uprising against English rule.

Barricades on the Streets of Dublin
An attempt to get guns for the insurrection from the Germans failed, as the Irish drivers drove over a cliff in the dark.  Because of the lack of weapons, the nationalists called off the rebellion and urged volunteers not to show up.  The ICA, Connolly and others went ahead on Easter Sunday, 1916.  Working out of Liberty Hall they took over a number of locations in Dublin, including the Post Office. They announced a provisional government for an Irish Republic.  Because not enough volunteers showed up, after 5 days of fighting the rebels were defeated.  Connolly was arrested and he was shot along with 15 others on May 12 at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.

1916 was in a period of massive labour ferment all over Europe, as the war disrupted the normality of capitalist rule.  While the rising did not initially succeed, it led to independence for most of Ireland in 1921 after 5 years of continued conflict and civil war.  The pamphlet is easy to read, the art well done, and includes much more than I have related here, including original articles by Connolly from The Harp.

Other reviews related to Ireland:  Film:  “Jimmy’s Hall” and novel about Roger Casement:  “The Dream of the Celt.”

And I got it from May Day’s large selection of inexpensive pamphlets.

Note:  Stay tuned for information on Dublin's Easter Rising sites. 
And listen to this: "James Connolly" by Black 47:
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wukfdjJv340

Red Frog

April 29, 2018

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Russian Novels Still Get Written


“Fear” by Anatoli Rybakov, 1990

This book, unlike any other, takes you into the heart of the purge trials of the 1930s in the USSR after the assassination of Kirov.  It does not contain descriptions of camps or mass deportations or killings, but a personal story of those involved in the trials, as well as the civilians affected by the atmosphere of death and uncertainty.  The purges ultimately went far beyond the public trials themselves and insinuated themselves into every facet of social life.  It is a sequel to Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat.  It is about fear – of the government, of your neighbor, of your family, of yourself.  Rybakov’s analysis is that Stalin had Kirov assassinated, and used that as an excuse to purge opponents and rivals.  It is written as a semi-fictional account of the period, interposing the lives of the fictional characters with descriptions of real events and people.

The Sequel

The book continues the story of Sasha Pankratov, a student who is exiled to Siberia for 3 years for making a comment in a school newspaper that is seen as ‘politically subversive’ by the NKVD.  The book is centered in Moscow, and includes many references to the streets and squares of that city.  The fictional characters include an art critic who becomes an informer, even on people he has known since childhood like his barber.  An operative in the NKVD who does interrogations and gets confessions out of ‘suspects,’ but has secrets of his own.  Sasha’s mother and a young woman, Varya, who both worry and pine after Sasha. Working class exiles who can no longer live in Moscow or Leningrad.  An old census taker and family friend who finds that many people are missing in the census.  A high school teacher who is expelled from the Party, fired, then arrested.  A loyal Communist who suddenly realizes she is a target and escapes to Vladivostok upon the urgings of her sister.   A woman who marries a rich foreigner and leaves for Paris.  Relentless thugs working for the NKVD.  Arguments within families over being arrested or suspected of being a subversive for any slip of the tongue or association.  Pro-German spies working for the NKVD’s foreign section.  Doctors who see their fellow doctors disappearing, and CP leaders and workers disappearing.

These ‘fictional’ stories are interspersed with chapters dominated by Stalin as he plans the show trials for Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, Bukharin, Tukachevsky and others.  Rybakov paints a pretty accurate psychological portrait of Stalin embedded in real  historical detail.  Every fabricated confession – through threats to family, various forms of torture, lying promises that the confessor will not be shot – is based on a conspiracy theory.  It is that the ‘Trotskyites’ are at the head of a vast ‘fascist’ conspiracy to undermine ‘the Party.’  In this, the “party” has replaced socialism, the working class or revolution as the most important thing in the USSR.  That ‘party’ has actually devolved to control by Stalin and a few of his closest allies.  Many of the real CPers voting to execute their real comrades are also later killed.  Even the Cheka and NKVD are purged, to make way for new cadres controlled by Stalin and the apparatus of fear.  Stalin calls this ‘the cadre revolution.’

Other Cover
From this book, it seems Rybakov is not hostile to socialism or Lenin.  Many of the comments are couched in a defense of the “Old Bolsheviks” who led the revolution and had been in the party since the beginning.  These are the people Stalin had to remove through any method he could, as well as anyone who showed some opposition, no matter how trivial.  Some Communists shot themselves rather then continue, which is a measure of the cruel nature of the purges.

This is a powerful and long book that takes you inside a situation you never want to be in.  Many respected cultural figures were forced to applaud the purges.  Ultimately to avoid imprisonment or poverty or death, it makes cowards of everyone, even Sasha Pankratov.  He serves his sentence only to return from exile into a country where nearly everyone is afraid, and so conforms and follows orders. That is the ultimate goal of fear.

Addendum:  For the few people I know who are still nostalgic for Stalin.   Nearly all were recruited through Maoism in the 1960s and 1970s, which had Stalin in its pantheon.  At the time, China was a revolutionary beacon, which was quickly extinguished, especially after the block with the U.S.  After Che, Cuba has been unable to export its revolution and stays frozen in time defying capitalism.  Vietnam thankfully won its war and now peacefully manages its mixed economy.  The USSR and the workers’ states in central and eastern Europe are no more, as counter-revolution triumphed.  So the major ‘material’ bases for the past credibility of Stalinism as some kind of alternative has mostly collapsed, though not everywhere.  This ignores, of course, any separate political or economic or historical facts, which I won’t get into here.  Because of this disappearing history, young radicals the world over will not be drawn into Stalinism in any numbers.
And I got it at the Library!

Red Frog

April 26, 2018


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Not On PBS


'The Young Karl Marx,' film by Raoul Peck, 2018

This film looks like a traditional period drama.  Top hats, warrens of poor people in England, young romance, the working Irish, factory life, garrets, gendarmes and police, heavy drinking, cigars and chess in taverns.  But underneath the conventional British PBS veneer something else is going on.  The film humanizes Marx and Engels and serves as an introduction to their ideas and activities.   Some leftists insist the film should have been some kind of in-depth primer.  Similar complaints were lodged against the film “Reds,” but given this film is being released in the present political climate, it is not surprising.  As it is, it means something just by being released.
Top hats?

The film starts in 1843, 5 years before the 1848 insurrections across Europe and before the publication of the Communist Manifesto.  We meet various famous socialists, anarchists and communists– Proudhon, Bakunin, Weitling, Stirner, Feurbach, Courbet.  In the process, the 2nd meeting between Marx and Engels in Paris occurs, where they both praise each other’s work.  In a Parisian bar, Engels calls Marx the world’s leading dialectical thinker after writing Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, while Marx praises Engels for his study, The Condition of the Working Class in England.  On this and too much booze, they bond.  Some have called this film a ‘bromance’ but that word is actually loaded with reactionary connotations.

Engels encourages Marx to read the British economists like Ricardo.  We get snippets of their thoughts – how gathering dead wood in the forests became criminalized as part of the ‘enclosure of the commons.’  How labor is a commodity, like any other thing, to be bought and sold, just as are the people who labor.  Karl and his wife Jenny poke fun at Proudhon’s phrase ‘property is theft’ as an image, and not actually accurate.  Jenny pokes fun at the overuse of the word ‘critique’ by Karl.  We see Marx’s drunken realization that real philosophy should lead to action.  The labor theory of value, borrowed from those English economists, makes an appearance, along with their atheism and irritation with political conciliators and clichéd sloganeers.

The film shows the cruelty of the governments and police in enforcing private property and propping up the aristocracy, through killings, beatings, arrests, firings and deportations of workers and leftists. It tries to depict the convoluted relationship between Friedrich and his factory-owning father.  Marx, Jenny and their children are first thrown out of Germany, then France, then Belgium for political dissent and ultimately settle in London.  Engels marries a working class Irish woman, Mary Burns.  Marx is broke, having 2 children, a wife and a maid to support.  The wives are not the focus of the film, but they are shown as political actors in themselves.  Burns herself is even more personally liberated than Jenny.  These personal issues dominate a good chunk of the film, as is standard in most films about intellectual or theoretical conflicts in the present conservative cultural context.

The film features verbal confrontations with capitalists and vague or intellectually undisciplined socialists and anarchists.  The issues between leftists are unfortunately not clear in the film.  This included the young Marx’s differences with the old man Proudhon, the leading anti-capitalist of the time.  Marx writes The Poverty of Philosophy against Proudon, which the film shows as a very muddy inter-party debate.  Conflicts in the film centered around the role of intellectuals and theory in the workers’ movement and over vague terms like ‘kindness’ or ‘brotherhood’ versus a thoroughgoing and scientific understanding of class society and economics.  Marx was caustic in his debates, sometimes on purpose.  Oddly, personal insults seem to be a common currency, but it is not clear if this is a filmic inventions or quotes.

During this period, the underground ‘League of the Just’ becomes the public ‘Communist League,’ though as depicted in the film it is some kind of vague debate.  Splits in the League were actually caused by the differences over the competing strategy of organizing an ultra-leftist and secretive uprising versus a public mass movement for communism, the latter supported by Marx and Engels.
E0.00 Euro Note

As members of the League, Marx and Engels are commissioned to write a programme.  This becomes The Manifesto of the Communist League, otherwise known as The Communist Manifesto.  It is one of the greatest works of political writing in history, if not the greatest.  Part of its greatness is that it has stood the test of time as any reading will tell you. It came out right before and during the 1848 popular working-class  insurrections all over Europe – in France, in Hungary, in Germany, in Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Sicily.  The ferment extended beyond the League to millions of proletarians across Europe, something not really shown in the film.

If the film makes a few more people take Marx and Engels seriously, then it has served its purpose.  The fact that is has come out now is significant, as it is no secret that capitalism’s present future is cloudy at best.  Given Marx and Engels began the most through-going analysis of capitalism, one that stands to this day, they are anything but outdated.  And that is what really haunts even the present.  The cultural climate is shifting under the bourgeoisie’s feet, whether they recognize it or not.

Red Frog

April 21, 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Tech Fantasy

“Four Futures – Life After Capitalism” by Peter Frase, 2016

Sometimes you have to laugh.  This book is a ‘think piece’ about the future under 4 scenarios – communism (1.) or an environmental version of socialism (3.), and authoritarian capitalism (2.) or a descent into exterminatory barbarism (4.).  Marx called detailed plans about the future ‘cook-shops’ that he didn’t indulge in.  But given the future seems to be here, Frase has decided to ‘cook’ a brew that he calls ‘social science fiction.’

A Glass Darkly
The author seems to have been greatly influenced by Star Trek, dystopian movies, the Jetsons, recent science fiction, his pet robot and his internet phone.  The book contains appropriate slams at steampunk and Kurt Vonnegut's book Player Piano.  His idea of nature approximates a terra-formed Central Park.  His idea of food production seems to be a hamburger maker in a vending machine, or to make it more New York, an automat.  He thinks the key commodity is intellectual property.  His idea of the ‘realm of freedom’ that Marx talked about in the Gotha Program means that no one does any necessary work and has all the ‘stuff’ they could want. Like the 1% now!  Frase is a Ph.D. student studying in New York, so it kind of figures.  This is probably part of his thesis. 

This book is published by Verso Press & Jacobin.  The latter specializes in academic discussions of left politics and tries to be vague or on both sides of key issues.  Frase himself wobbles between Keynes, Marx and others.  I”ll try to plow through some of this, as there are tidbits of ideas here that are of interest.

Frase brings up the ‘universal basic income’ (UBI) as panacea in his #1, #2 and #3 scenarios, communism, rentism and eco-socialism.  He calls it a kind of transition belt that could turn capitalism into communism, a ‘transitional demand’ if you will, because it disconnects the proletariat from wage labor. Much as he identifies the welfare state itself as decomodifying labor.  He identifies the 4th International’s Transitional Program as ‘short term reformist’  - though it too is supposed to be a transitional process.  The problem with UBI is that Silicon Valley billionaires are also on board with UBI.  Why?  Because their scenario #4, exterminism includes warehousing the useless proletariat due to the fact there are no jobs, as robots, AI and computers do more work.  Guess how long it would take for people without jobs to be demonized by those who still have them? 

This technological fantasy with automation seems to be Frase’s continuing obsession.  He thinks full automation is actually possible and will leave humans with nothing left to do but non-alienated labor, though he doesn’t even call it that.  In full communism, we’d fight for status and ‘personal capital’ instead, though he does not point out that this might be seen as a residual of class society.   According to his reading of Marx, we’d have every toy and convenience available, and no one would have to do any unpleasant work ever.  Think about it.  Frase’s vision of communism sees no restrictions on production of any thing no matter how useless, because a replicator machine would make it for us.  This utopia of stuff ignores who programs and maintains the machines, who mines the minerals to make the machines, were do the raw materials come from to make each product, who moves it around; who grows the food, how is it grown, etc.  In effect, are there restrictions on resources?  Do we want to allow every single thing?

A list of real tasks will actually still exist even under communism, but they would change based on control of the conditions of labor.  That is what Marx was really talking about.  Would people be working this kind of labor 12 or 8 or even 4 hours a day?  Probably not.  In his misreading of Marx’s ‘freedom’ he confuses a full supermarket with the real necessities of education and childcare, housing, food, transportation, health care and clothing.  As even he quotes, present society already has everything, ‘unequally distributed.’  For instance, organic agriculture requires more labor than machine-intensive factory farming.  So 500 acres of pesticide and oil-based fertilizer mono-crops harvested by one tractor or combine is something he might favor.  But would communism or socialism? 

Frase’s version of socialism recognizes some of what he calls ‘scarcities,’ given the ecological limits of the world.  I do not think communism would jump over that reality either.  Humans will never be totally free, as aging and death mark our lives.  Marx was not unaware of that.  

In that context, he argues for the limited use of certain markets as a check on the plan, citing Trotsky's 1932 The Soviet Economy in Danger. He has the clever idea that if the drivers of Uber and Lyft organized on their own, with their own app as a cooperative, they could reap the profits that the capitalists at Uber/Lyft do.  Of course, this would still be undermining  and scabbing on workers with taxi medallions...

Capitalism’s strengths are its ability to develop technology and raise production.  Frase is obsessed by robotization and AI, and indeed the 2nd wave of the computer revolution is starting. As he rightly notes, capital will be able to put many more people out of work as this process unfolds, while communism/socialism would not proceed in the same way.  However, he ignores Marx’s position on the ‘falling rate of profit’ based on capital’s investment in fixed capital, which is what these robots and machines are.  In the end, surplus value profits come from human labor.  The crisis will not be caused by ‘underconsumption’ as he and Keynes claim.  Underconsumption will result because the capitalist rate of profit will ultimately drop, which results in layoffs and other means of immiseration of the proletariat. The machines are going to actually cut their throat – and ours, unless we overthrow them.

The other hidden side of this is that combined and uneven development across the world means that some people in the U.S. don’t see the Dickensian conditions that exist surrounding this utopia of robots and intellectual property.  Even up to the prevalence of many different forms of virtual slavery!  Frase says that ‘we’ are moving away from the model of ‘industrial capitalism,’ i.e. the same shibboleth about the post-industrial society we’ve heard before.  Few actual Marxists have waited for capitalism to automate everything before moving forwards.  By this stagist logic, socialism and communism is only possible on that basis.  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ has now been changed to ‘from each according to their status, to each according to their lack of work’ or some such thing.

In scenario #2, 'rentism,' is Frase’s description of abundance for everyone, but under a ruling class –– an impossible contradiction.  Frase thinks that the key to all modern commodities is intellectual property.  And indeed, these ‘patterns’ are key to the software, drug and auto industries already, along with many others, and are a large bone of contention with China.  His version of authoritarian capitalism posits abundance for everyone in the world, but somehow the capitalists want to continue to rule because they love power.  This psychological analysis ignores the material basis of power and the actual nature of capital, which is based on exploitation and commodity production, not removing scarcity.  It may seem this way to some middle-class elements in the highly developed world now, and that is the template Frase is now ‘imagining.’ In this scenario, UBI again comes to the rescue. 

Lastly is Frase vision of barbarism – or exterminism – where the unnecessary proletariat and farmers are first warehoused, then jailed, then separated, then ultimately killed en mass.  How this differs from the present wars, famines and diseases is not clear.  Except many more people will be unnecessary in the full barbarism scenario. 

Frase’s book is loaded with cultural references and quotations from other thinkers and here is its strength.  Its political outlook seems to be clouded by the prism of some sort of middle-class communism.  Enjoy!

Reviews of Hunger Games and Divergent and many other dystopian books or films, below.  Review of Rise of the Warrior Cop and Capital in the 21st Century, below.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
April 17, 2018