Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Humans Sink Lower Still

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” directed by Matt Reeves, 2014

Lenin pointed out that ‘of all the arts, for us, the cinema is the most important.’  He probably didn’t have this kind of animal parable in mind however, but he might have.    The recent ‘Apes’ series – as opposed to the older series – focuses on  ‘animal rights,’ in which viewers sympathize with the orange orangutans, mountain gorillas, black chimpanzees, bonobos and baboons.  Like the monstrous aliens of “District 9” living in apartheid-like townships, or even Frankenstein, when so-called scary animals or monsters become more sympathetic than humans, you know something is up.  The first film, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes,’ featured the breakout of the apes from a vicious medical testing facility and a zoo in San Francisco, and their escape across the Golden Gate bridge into Muir Woods.  They are led by an intelligent chimpanzee named “Caesar,’ (Andy Serkis) advised by an intelligent zoo orangutan, Maurice, while the fighters are led by an abused bonobo called “Koba.”  Koba was, of course, the underground name for Stalin.

Jail films resonate with audiences because we’ve all been in a jail – either a job, a bad marriage, an intolerable straight-jacket of a situation or a real jail.  The ape revolution seems to be the answer to the incarceration plague, especially in the U.S.  This is not incidental imagery.

This film takes place 10 years later, in a dystopia after the almost complete collapse of human civilization due to the ‘simian’ flu.  This is something like the avian, swine, Ebola or AIDs virus – and it has wiped out most of the human population.  The freed apes are living on Mt. Tamalpais outside of San Francisco, and haven’t seen a living human in several years.  They have prospered – they hunt, live in a large log village on the mountain and have multiplied their families.  Of course, these are not only innocent and abused animals, or intelligent animals, but perhaps stand-ins for primitive peoples still living in the Amazon or on Pacific islands.  Or any hunted tribe of rebels or slaves – even Iraqis who resent someone seizing their power source - oil. Or something like Orwell’s Animal Farm.  All these resonances show up in the course of the films.

Unfortunately, the humans do show up in this Edenic world.  One particularly stupid one immediately shoots a young chimpanzee in his excessive fright. Evidently some immune humans still remain in the wreck of San Francisco.  They need to turn on the power from the dam near Mt. Tamalpais, as their diesel fuel is running out.  This involves the humans going into ape territory.  The apes don’t need electricity – they have fire. Will the two groups be able to ‘co-exist?’  Caesar decides that letting them turn on the dam is preferable to a war where many apes will die.  Caesar is no push-over, but he knows that fighting could destroy the ape society, so it is a parable of intelligent pacifism.  On the human side, Dreyfus is the commander of the San Francisco colony, a former cop, and a guy who looks like Eric Clapton.  He is preparing to kill all the apes to get access to the dam.  A scientific ‘hippie’ family convinces Dreyfus that they can turn on the dam without killing the apes, as they understand these apes are not ‘merely animals.’  (And if they were ’merely’ animals?)  Dreyfus gives them 3 days... or its war.

At any rate, while the dam does start working again, the overall attempt fails.  The screenwriters have chosen to put most of the failure on the ape Koba, not the humans.  Koba sneaks into San Francisco and finds the human's armoury of weapons and their preparations for war. Instead of telling Caesar, he keeps this knowledge a secret.  Koba and Caesar have been butting heads, but now Koba, in his rage at the humans, sets fire to the ape log village and shoots Caesar with a purloined weapon, and claims the humans did it.  This is all done right in front of a crowd of apes, so the scene is not credible. 

The war starts.  Bloody fighting around various San Francisco landmarks.  Machine guns, tanks, fire.  The armed apes defeat the humans after the heroic efforts of Koba on horseback.  After the victory, Koba kills an ape ally of Caesar’s by throwing him off a balcony, and jails the rest of Caesar's sympathizers like Maurice in a barred bus.  At this, Caesar’s son finally sees that his father is right about Koba (Stalin). Caesar is discovered badly wounded at the bottom of a cliff by the scientific family.  The woman doctor nurses him back to health in the house he lived in as a young ape in San Francisco in the prior film. The ‘good’ human father meanwhile attempts to stop Dreyfus from blowing up the tower the apes are in by pointing an automatic weapon at him. Then Caesar and Koba have their final showdown – and – contrary to ape law – (‘ape shall not kill ape’) Caesar drops Koba off a tower because Koba ‘is not an ape.’  At the end, we know the ‘war’ will continue – sequel #9, #9, #9?

Clearly this is a money-making machine first of all, like most film series or childish comic casualties like “Batman.’  Ending it would end the franchise, but war is an unending and perpetually giving commodity.  Film is the main medium that a visually-oriented population connects too, not writing.  So the series will continue until ticket revenue drops, not when its narrative logic runs dry.  After all, how many films can center on just humans fighting apes forever?    

More importantly, why do people connect with this series?  Does the audience identify with the humans or the intelligent apes?  I think at this point in both films the apes are treated, except for the example of Koba, as far more likable.  These animal revolutionaries are kinder than we expect.  The humans are either stupid, self-centered or vicious. Only one family of humans respects the apes, while the rest of the humans are an undifferentiated mass, with a leader who will kill for electricity.  The main message is that ‘co-existence’ is impossible because the humans are only interested in re-creating the same society that has been destroyed.  The ‘war’ means that the world has basically returned to barbarism – or perhaps any modern battlefield.  And in that case, innocents must die.

Pessimism about humanity is at the heart of this film, as it is at the heart of many dystopian and apocalyptic stories.  And indeed, when you look around at who controls this world, you can’t fault the idea that much.  Perhaps 'becoming an ape' might improve the situation.

And I saw it at the Riverview Theater
Red Frog
September 16, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Notes on 9/11 All Over Again ?

'Creative' Destruction

I attended a speech by a new big bank CEO.  It was ‘highly recommended’ that we all go.  I put on my suit jacket and headed to the theatrical venue.  The place was almost full.  Three executives talked, two sitting in stage-like leather armchairs.  I almost nodded off.  Until the new CEO started veering a bit off the standard fare of praising us and praising the very large profits the bank had earned this year.  The strategy, Piketty readers, is to get more ‘high net worth individuals’ to sign up with our wealth management area.  The news that the upper-middle class is getting richer and that HNWI are growing is positively giddy information for the bank.  This is a ‘growth opportunity.’  So growing class differences are just grist for some businesses, especially banks. 

He said he’d just spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley with tech CEOs.  Then the new CEO praised Uber in the context of  ‘creative’ destruction.  (Schumpeter’s phrase…)  He asked if anyone in town had used Uber and very few raised their hands, because it has not hit our town yet.  Now if you don’t know what Uber is, it is basically desperate white 20-somethings with a car and a cell-phone who have become private taxis. No medallions, no driving qualifications, no experience, no background checks, just cheap service – kind of like Jimmy Johns or Pizza Hut drivers letting you ride along.  OK.  Who is getting destroyed?  Those stodgy older Latino, black, Somali or old white drivers – i.e. whatever ethnicity drives cabs in your town – who have spent a long time getting medallions.  People with families who might be driving for years, not just as a precariat ‘gig.’   So this is sort of like union-busting, courtesy of Silicon Valley.   The ethnic component is not irrelevant.  “Uber = Cheap White Taxi” right now.  

Then he finished up by saying we need to ‘digitize’ our wealth management area.  When he realized that word might have different meanings, he quickly said, ‘getting you the best software so you can serve your clients.”  Of course, the other meaning of digitize is replacing people with software.  It was not lost on anyone.

So who is going to be destroyed?  It should really be called ‘unequal destruction.’

FBI Virus

As a leftist, I am particularly sensitive to law-enforcement issues.  Cops are not my favourite people.  In a large number of years, I’ve had what I consider to be only one positive interaction with a cop.  And I’m white!  The FBI is the domestic king-pin of this bunch and anything involving them is bad news.  A few days ago my computer came up with an “FBI” logo that said the FBI had seized my computer and I would be arrested in 48 hours for various crimes.  Now, common sense tells you the FBI is not giving anyone 48 hours to do anything.  But then again, in the back of your mind, you are thinking, “Is this some way they are fucking with people?”  Political bloggers?  Anyone?  So I pulled the plug immediately on my machine, shut down the internet and powered it up about an hour later.  The computer alone was good, so I ran an anti-malware program.  About 5 hours later I came back home to find out it had found 8 virus files, and I deleted them. 

All logical.  But any leftist has a bit of paranoia, which to me is merely a healthy scepticism.  This particular incident happened when I switched from DuckDuckGo back to Google because of ‘odd’ problems with DuckDuckGo.  DuckDuckGo does not track searches or is included in the NSA database, while Google is.  Which is one reason I was suspicious. 

So I said, what if there is even a 1% chance that this is real.  Maybe they have started doing things in a different way?  The upshot is that I realized there is no ‘safe’ place to put things or people at present.   There are no ‘safe’ houses.  I contacted a criminal attorney when I finally got to a computer, and then I thought, well, I will check the internet and see what they say about an FBI virus.  Indeed, what showed up was many hits from software companies showing you how to delete this virus.  There are at least 8 FBI viruses, all relating to different ‘crimes’.  When people phoned the FBI, they laughed and said, ‘Lady, we’d just show up.’  The FBI does not seem to be bothered by people impersonating them on the internet.  Perhaps they appreciate the increased fear levels that this FBI scam entails.  (It is actually a scam to get people to send money to pay a fine for the ‘illegal’ activity.)  

The surveillance state might not mean anything to you … until suddenly it does.  The FBI is the real virus.

Blow Back to Iraq

Some commentator on National Government Radio said the consensus around re-entering the hot war in the Middle East had reached ‘9/11’ levels.  This is typical NGR war-braying hyperbole, but some surveys showed 58% approval (WaPo, yesterday) for some kind of action, especially after the beheadings of independent journalists by the ‘Islamic State.’ (“IS”)  However the majority still oppose a ground war.  The war drums from liberals and conservatives in the U.S. media and political class have been beating for weeks now.  Uniting on Afghanistan or Libya or Ukraine or Syria or Gaza is merely business as usual for the co-imperialist partnership of the Republican and Democratic parties.  This is always prepatory to some kind of military action.  It is usually predictable that most people will fall into line when both parties unite … again. Although certainly on the bombing of Syria only a year ago after the faked gas ‘red line,’ they did not.  Obama’s speech last night should bring the numbers up more. 

War is sort of like a football game.  You have to get the fans cheering before you can play well.  Of course, the militarization of sports events in the U.S. is just more cultural collateral damage.

Obama’s speech last night ignored the prior support by Qatar and the Saudi’s for Islamic Sunni fundamentalists in Syria, and now Iraq.  Most of the money flowing into the IS is coming from Saudi Arabia – though not, allegedly or clearly, from the government.  The IS now controls the oil fields north of Baghdad and south of Damascus.  Obama also did not mention that the hand-picked Shiite government of al-Maliki helped create the temporary Sunni support of the IS – a puppet government chosen by the U.S., now discarded overnight.  The latest NGR lie is that Assad is allied with the IS!  They allege that the Syrian army ‘allowed’ IS to control the Syrian oil fields.  On the face of this, this is ludicrous, but Americans will buy almost anything. It smacks of CIA covert propaganda.  Nor did Obama mention that people in the Middle East have been looking at U.S. atrocities for years.

It is actually possible that the Iraqi Baathist and tribal Sunnis would turn on the IS at some point.  There are already killings between the two factions, usually by IS at this point.  U.S. military intervention will prevent this situation from occurring by bombing the Sunni tribal fighters too. 

Quoted in Alternet: 
Anbar tribal leader “Suleiman has claimed that ISIS fighters make up only 5-7% of Resistance fighters in Iraq, and that the resistance could oust ISIS from regions it controls. But he has said it will not do so until government forces withdraw from northern and western Iraq and a political transition grants civil and political rights denied to the people of these regions.”

The IS is part of the blowback of the Syrian and Iraqi sectarian conflicts, which were precipitated by destructive U.S. involvement and invasion.  IS is a brutal organization of reactionaries – religious fundamentalist, extremely sexist, anti-working class. Yet their real goal is control of the oilfields by using archaic Wahabbist / Salafist rhetoric and money. The IS is reported to be making $2M a day on oil   sales.  That oil was reachable through the Iraqi government until now.  That is what is really at stake and why the U.S. is intervening again.  Can it form a ‘grand alliance’ of ‘moderates’ to take back the oil, including Iran and Syria?  Good luck on that.  At this point, splitting Iraq into 3 countries is about the only real solution.  Self-determination so to speak.  The insistence on maintaining one state in boundaries marked by the English colonialists is delusional.

Red Frog
September 11, 2014, a day that will live in infamy for several reasons.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Carnival of Cruelty

"The Violence of Organized Forgetting – Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine,” by Henry A Giroux, 2014

This swirling essay and polemic hammers at U.S. culture on issues of militarism, wealth, commercialism, mass culture and authoritarianism, coming up to the same points again and again in a style so repetitive it is either hallucinatory or irritating.  Giroux is a self-styled public intellectual, as opposed to the bought & paid intellectuals working for think-tanks and newspapers.  As such he reads a lot and writes well…to a point. There is nothing new here, it is just collected in one slight place.

Giroux represents an increasingly disturbed group of what I call ‘left-liberals’ – those to the left of traditional liberalism, yet somewhere short of socialism.  Is this group pissed! Across the whole panopticon of society, every single aspect now reeks of reaction and cruelty, reflecting the triumph of neoliberalism and its twin, neoconservatism.  Their faith in the ‘American Dream’ has taken a deep nose-dive to nothing.  The ‘Procrustean Bed” is being forced on the majority of world citizens and it hurts.  (See review of “The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism,” use search box on blog, upper left.)

Giroux’s book is a kind of left-liberal primer and quote-machine for this whole milieu – the same people’s books I’ve been reviewing here for awhile.  Well-known people like Naomi Klein, Glenn Greenwald, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Stanley Aronowitz, Antonio Negri, Michelle Alexander, C. Wright Mills, David Graeber, Robert Reich, Arundati Roy, Chris Hedges, Matt Taibbi, Michael Yates, Lewis Lapham, Jacques Derrida, Theodore Adorno, Frances Fox Piven, Guy Debord, Michael Foucault, Tom Engelhardt, Eduardo Galeano, John Le Carre, Etienne Balibar and lesser known ones like Georges Didi-Huberman, Robin D.G. Kelley, Zygmunt Bauman, Kate Epstein, Stuart Hall, David Price, Gerald Epstein, Frank Rich, Robert McChesney, Michael Hudson, John Clarke, Tony Judt, Robert Scheer, Alain Badiou, Cornelius Castoriadis, James Conant and on and on, crowd the book with their quotes.

Some of these people are at the intellectual ‘doorstep’ of socialism, but have not made the next step, at least not openly.  Some have one foot in each camp. Which is perhaps why they are so mad.  A disappointed supporter of ‘capitalism with a human face’ who has seen the possibility slipping away, perhaps permanently, must react somehow. 

I am going to quote some of Giroux’s better lines, some borrowed by him, to give you a flavour of this polemical soup.  He’s a poetic lefty!

‘at the heart of the neoliberal narratives is a disimagination machine…’
the neoliberal and neoconservative walking dead’
‘ethically frozen politicians’
‘a culture of cruelty’
‘the swindle of fulfillment’
‘a new reality is emerging in the U.S.’
‘criminogenic and death-dealing forces’
‘stories as a form of public memory’
‘the amnesiac social order’
‘the information-illiteracy bubble’
‘the carceral state’
‘the fragmentation of radical politics, its metamorphoses into multiculturalism’
‘youth are in a condition of liminal drift’
‘punishing state’
‘inspection regime’
‘Terrorism is the new Communism’
‘The prison begins well before its doors.’ 
‘the social stature of the military and soldiers has risen’
‘military metaphysics’
‘desert of organized forgetting’
‘politics of organized irresponsibility’
‘decontextualized ideas’
‘manufactured crises’
‘politics of distraction’
‘language heist’
‘legal immunity to an untouchable elite’
‘ailing rib of democracy’
‘methodical destruction of collectives’
‘the consuming life is the supreme expression of autonomy’
‘power is global while politics remains local’
‘civic illiteracy’
‘thick fog of historical amnesia’
‘disposable populations’ ... ‘occupying an invisible space’
‘elitist spectacle of cruelty’
‘sacrifice zones’
‘overly washed elite of New York City’
‘punishment culture’
‘state-sanctioned carnival of cruelty’
‘the line between fiction and material reality has been blurred’
‘The U.S. of Fear has now merged with the U.S. of Amnesia’
‘Lockdown serves as a metaphor’
‘The US has become, not a nation of laws, but of legal memos; not of legality, but of  legalisms’
‘the new visibility of extreme violence’

Giroux has a chapter on Hurricane Sandy, showing how the same class and ethnic issues around Hurricane Katrina revisited New York.  He another on the handling of the Boston Marathon bombing, especially related to the ‘locking down’ of a whole city by the police.  One of his last chapters covers the fight between NAFTA proponent / Obama’s former Chief of Staff / destroyer of public education Rahm Emanuel, and the Chicago teachers union, students and community.

Giroux is for an alternative to the two party system, which he sees as two sides of the same problem.  He seems to be somewhat anti-capitalist and calls for some kind of revolution.  He opposes single-issuism and instead calls for the formation of an actual organization to take up all these issues, unlike most left-liberal commentators who ‘comment’ but never get beyond themselves.  What that organization would be – a labor party, a left-populist party, some kind of general activist organization, a reformed mass socialist party – is left to the imagination. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 5, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Long & Winding Road ...

"The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism,” by Samir Amin, 2013

Amin is an Egyptian Marxist who is now living in Dakar, Senegal as director of Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP).  His roots are closer to Maoism than anything else.   He is a particularly acute observer of relations between what he calls the ‘center’ and the ‘periphery’ of contemporary imperialism.  The center is Europe, the U.S. and Japan – the “triad.” Even in this short book, Amin has many interesting insights, expanding Marxism for the present.  This book fleshes out some of his theories about what countries are involved in what he calls ‘lumpen development’ run by a ‘corruptionist comprador’ class and what countries are really ‘emerging,’ based on their relations to the central imperialist corporations, banks and financial powers like the WTO, the IMF and World Bank.  He calls Iran, Egypt and Turkey examples of ‘lumpen-development’ due to their subaltern status in the imperialist web.  He also includes India, South Africa and Brazil.  To him, only China is truly an emerging economy, along with South Korea and Taiwan.  The latter two were allowed to ‘emerge’ by capital due to their position as virulently anti-communist states, while China did this in spite of opposition from the imperial powers.
Center / Periphery

Amin’s main thesis is that it is impossible for a country in the periphery to ‘catch up’ to the center in the context of capitalism.  He downplays the fact that certain ‘middle classes’ in peripheral countries ‘think’ they are catching up.  These classes form the basis for support to their comprador bourgeoisies.  His central thesis is that the benefits the imperial countries enjoyed cannot be completely repeated by ‘new’ capitalisms.  The earth is finite, history cannot run backwards and one well-armed imperial colossus already sits astride the world. In this sense he is right – we have reached a condition he calls ‘generalized monopoly capitalism’ which is attempting to lockup all material resources, political power and wealth world-wide.  

 In a prior book, "The Law of Worldwide Value," (reviewed below, use blog search box, upper left) Amin updated Marx's concept of ground rent to apply to the combination of wealth extracted from the colonies and poor countries of the world - calling it 'imperialist rent.'  This is the economic concept behind his economic analysis of the disparities between the center and the periphery. 

Amin’s dissing of most of the “BRICS” nations also jibes with a recent essay by Leo Panitich in the Guardian, which deconstructs what the recently announced “BRICS” Bank would actually do.  The World Bank and IMF welcomed the BRICS Bank as a valuable addition to the network of imperial commerce.  It is going to be based on many of the same political principles as the WB and the IMF.  Panitich, much as Amin would, indicates that this Bank, if it actually exists, will not as it is presently organized challenge dollar hegemony or Wall Street. 

Only the Russian petro-state has now become directly opposed to the triad, in response to the push of NATO and the EU directly into neighboring Ukraine via a coup.  Amin also predicts, as have many, that the China-bashing common in the central countries is preparing the populations for war with China.   Certainly obvious military developments by Japan and the U.S. point in the same direction.

Political Islam

Unlike so many ‘anti-imperialists,’ Amin is particularly hard on ‘political Islam,’ his term for the various right-wing movements operating under the guise of the Islamic religion. When you have to organize in a country whose reactionary parties are ostensibly based on Islam, you have no illusions as to their progressive or 'anti-imperialist' nature.  He details the confluence of the Egyptian state, the imperialists and the Muslim Brotherhood – policies even Nasser carried out.  The Brotherhood was allowed to exist as the sole 'oppositional' exception by the Egyptian government, which depoliticized the working classes in practice.  Sadat and Mubarak followed the same policy.  The Muslim Brotherhood's present pose as an oppositional movement is only as an entity vying for the same state power as the military.  He goes into detail on the Mullah regimes in Iran and Edrogan’s party in Turkey as reflections of self-same lumpen-development, with no real independence from capital.  They are only negotiating the relationship with monopoly capital, which the triad wants completely on their terms

Amin makes the very important point that political Islam is based on the ‘informal’ and the bazaar sectors of middle-eastern economies, which form such a large sector.  The rise of Hamas in Palestine, as opposed to the PFLP and the DFLP, was predicated on the erosion of jobs for the Palestinian working class.  Islam for Amin is essentially a de-politicization of society, and a return to archaic culture – all as an aide to capitalism.  In much the same way that ‘political’ Christianity in the U.S. is a bulwark of the virulently pro-capitalist Republican Party and right-wing figures in the Democratic Party like Hillary Clinton.


As a Maoist, Amin is especially interested in China.  Here his loyalty to the Chairmen somewhat derails his political approach.  After calling people who want to label China as ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’ idiotic, Amin finally comes up with a definition – ‘state capitalist.’  He contends that state-capitalism and ‘market-socialism’ are way-stations on the road to socialism – or they are not.  At the same time he says that he is not exactly sure which way China is going, as it could also become capitalist.  Amin is unable to use the words ‘bureaucracy,’ ‘capitalists inside the party’ or even ‘capitalist-roaders’ in referring to the right-wing in the CCP.  The hinge-point for him as to Chinese state progressiveness is the socialized ownership of land.  Along with several other dated points, Amin was unaware when writing this book that China is considering allowing the sale of land to anyone, including foreigners. This may have already happened.  His celebration of state-capitalism does not take into account ‘trajectory’ – i.e. to understand which way Chinese ‘state-capital is heading.  All indications are that the CP is still heading toward a fully capitalist economy with some social-democratic aspects.  In other words, is ‘state-capital’ coming or going?  The openings in 1971 to the U.S. and 1980 to private enterprise continue.

Amin blasts multi-party elections as democratic frauds, and indeed in the present context they usually are.  However in propping up a vague ‘democracy’ - like Mao - he mentions absolutely no concrete forms of mass democracy.  Neither work or geographic councils/soviets/communes, neighborhood committees, elections in which working-class or farmer parties can participate, factions within the CP (none are allowed), independent worker or farmer unions or peoples organizations, strikes or any other actual form of democracy for the working classes gets a note.  Fighting bourgeois democracy with vagueness will not suffice.

Past Ballgames - Mao & Lenin

He compares Mao to Lenin several times, to the former’s benefit.  Mao did understand how to organize the rural peasantry, unlike the Bolsheviks.  This policy helped avoid the slaughter of forced collectivization – which he calls not just a Stalinist but a “Leninist’ policy.  By introducing ‘state-capitalism’ as a new ‘stage’ in the class struggle, he sounds somewhat similar to the Kautskyists of the 2nd International and even the Menshiviks, who believed that Russia needed to go through capitalism.  He maintains that Russia did not but China does…  One quote in this respect seems absolutely odd – “Mao understood – better than Lenin- that the capitalist path would lead to nothing and that the resurrection of China could only be the work of the Communists.”    


Amin doesn’t really discuss the title of the book, evidently assuming that readers understand that ‘implosion’ means the results of the 2007-2008 financial crash or some future event.  So another book with a misleading title.  He maintains that the EU is dying from its own inequalities and austerity, and as a result the Eurozone has to be rejected by the European radical left.  While the concept of a regional block is something socialists would support, the EU was formed to consolidate the power of monopoly capital, not to consolidate democracy or prevent wars.  It is a form of flawed ‘bourgeois internationalism’ which ultimately has increased inequality between nations within the EU.  Eastern Europe has become a cheap labor/cheap materials colony of Germany and other leading EU nations, while the weaker states of the EU like Greece, Spain and Ireland have become debtor nations.  All still rely on the military power across the Atlantic – the U.S.


Amin’s prescription for what should be done by the ‘radical’ left oscillates between a vague nod to the ‘mass line’ and 3 transitional demands, the first being the nationalization of the monopolies, the second de-financialization – ending Wall Street’s control – and the third is what he calls ‘de-linking’ – replacing domination by the WB and the IMF with negotiation between nations.  He also supports resurrecting a new Bandung movement and ‘strengthening’ the UN as well.  The UN is a toothless agency at present, controlled by the Triad – a democracy of unequals.  The rising of a new Bandung is unlikely in the present case of ‘generalized global monopoly.’  Bandung was produced by a confluence of the oppositional USSR and national liberation movements, which have now become their opposite, and are for the most part integrated into the global system, as Amin points out.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 1, 2014, the saddest Labor Day. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Innocents Are Also 'Terrorists'

"A Most Wanted Man,” by John Le Carré, 2008.

Le Carré is one of the more left-wing writers in the UK.  This, one of his latest books, will also be a film featuring the last appearance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died while it was being filmed.  While not as strong a book as “The Constant Gardner” or “Absolute Friends,” this one tackles the issue of extraordinary rendition, combining all of Le Carre’s knowledge of intrusive spy-craft with a too-human story.  Issa is a mysterious Chechen, dressed in a long overcoat, spouting half-baked Islam, an “idiot’ of the Dostoevskyian variety.  He escapes from Russia to Turkey, two countries that tortured him, then from Sweden to Hamburg, Germany.  There he meets a pretty human-rights lawyer, Annabel, who takes his case – although it’s not much of a ‘case.’  The case involves a dull German banker, Brue, who falls for them both.  Issa has a claim on a vast amount of money at Brue’s bank, courtesy of his dead Russian military father, who laundered it there courtesy of English intelligence as a thank-you for his spying.  Convoluted much?

It is a somewhat unbelievable story.  The central character is not really sympathetic.  The crush developed by the banker on the cute young lawyer is cliché.  The villains – the secret services of Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. – are a somewhat familiar set of creeps, thugs and vicious bureaucrats.  Among this mess is a somewhat more intelligent arm of the German spy services, who want to use Issa to get to Dr. Abdullah.  Abdullah is a well-known moderate Islamic scholar in Germany who diverts 5% of the donations he solicits to possible Islamic terrorists.  The more subtle Germans want to ‘turn him’ into an informer, and role up other, real terrorists.  The U.S. thugs and the majority of the Germans and the UK just want to disappear both of them and send them to an unknown jail without trial – extraordinary rendition. 

Of course you know what happens.  In order to do this, one group of intelligence agents must shaft another in an evidently unending internal power struggle.  The optimists and naive ‘good guys’ lose.

It is never clearly set out that Issa is a Chechen terrorist of any actual kind – information to that effect is shot down by one of the Germans.  He’s a pathetic mumbler with grandiose ideas and a smattering of education – permanently scarred by his torture.  His access to riches, which he ultimately rejects for himself, reminds the reader of unknown princes in homeless shelters grasping unread books in their worn hands.  He’s basically innocent.

Extraordinary rendition –being abducted by secret police like the CIA and sent to an off-site gaol - was first proposed under Bush I, initiated under Clinton for accused terrorists, used by Bush II extensively and continued under Obama – though there are now ostensible rules against torture.  It is not much different than the decades-long disappearances in Latin America engineered by U.S.-trained death squads, except not all now result in death, only incarceration.  Of course, they could just send in a drone, but that would not be done in Germany. 

Le Carré continues his one-man crusade against the hypocrisies and crimes of the political and economic ruling classes of the ‘advanced’ nations. 

Red Frog
August 28, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Big Pharma Strikes Again

"Dallas Buyers Club, film by Jean-Marc Vallee, 2013

No one wants to remember the HIV/AIDs epidemic – the Ebola of the 1980s in the U.S.  Which is why it seems to have taken 30 years for a film indicting the government FDA, Big Pharma and the compliant U.S. legal system for dragging its feet on cures or symptomatic alleviation for AIDS patients.   This film is it.  Basically, the Reagan government didn’t care if gay people died.  So they did. 

It is based on the true story of Ron Woodruff, a supposedly hard-drinking, hard-fucking Texas electrician, who had to question his own homophobia and that of those around him to extend his life after getting AIDs.  (A flashback shows some gay sex, perhaps many years earlier in 1981.)  The film Woodruff lost his rodeo friends and instead becomes allies with a cross-dressing gay man, Rayon, who had AIDs too, who he invited to become his first business partner.  Woodruff always has an eye for the buck, but he also relentlessly tried to stay alive.  The corporate doctor had given him 30 days to ‘get his affairs in order.’  Instead he learned everything he could about the disease. He had paid a Latino janitor to steal AZT for him, as it was only available as a ‘trial’ drug at that point – sugar pills being given to some of the human guinea pigs. When the AZT ran out, the Latino gave him the address of a doctor in Mexico.  And saved his life for awhile.

Woodruff went to Mexico in desperation and meets a ‘barred’ physician, Dr. Vass, a grey-haired hippie doctor.  Vass prescribes vitamins, Compound Q, ddC, an antiviral, and the protein “Peptide T.”  None were yet approved by the FDA in the U.S. to deal with HIV.  Eventually he realizes with Dr. Vass’ help that AZT in the high doses being prescribed actually did not work, and could instead harm people.  Woodruff got better and 3 months later, decided to start his business, the “Dallas Buyers’ Club.”  For $400 a month, people could get as much of his ‘drugs’ as they needed.  Dozens of HIV/AIDs patients line up outside his apartment every day.  To do this, he has to smuggle the drugs into the U.S. from Mexico and contend with the FDA, who want to shut him down.  He goes to Israel, Europe and Japan to get non-FDA-approved drugs, the latter alpha Interferon.  He eventually convinces a sympathetic doctor at the local hospital that his treatments should be allowed, and that AZT doses were too high.  He later sued the FDA in 1987 when they blocked the importation of the Peptide protein into the U.S. While the judge is sympathetic, the ‘law’ is against the Club, and he ruled against Woodruff.  Later, only Woodruff was allowed the protein. 

The FDA had made a deal with GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of AZT, and evidently no other drugs could be used to treat AIDs, and no other dosages prescribed.  Then, as now, the FDA was a complete captive of the industry it regulated.  However, AZT is effective at lower doses as part of a full therapy – unlike Ron’s claims. 

The ‘Washington Post’ claimed that all the drugs Woodruff smuggled into the U.S. were ‘useless,’ including Peptide T.  This, of course, is the Washington Post, the #3 top ruling class paper in the country.  Others contend Peptide T has some beneficial effects for AIDs patients.  Whatever the exact detail on the drugs smuggled in by Woodruff, it doesn’t change the basic dialectic that the government moved slowly on AIDs.  Woodruff lived 7 years, not 30 days, even riding a bull in a rodeo one more time, according to this film.  He stopped using cocaine and started to eat non-processed food. As he is played here, he was a monument to a non-passive approach to fatal diseases. 

Critics have pointed out that the gay movement is invisible in this film.  Here it took an aggressive red-neck to help all those poor helpless gays!  Woodruff does mention he got the idea of a ‘buyers club’ from another city.  However, no national gay movement, no ACT-Up, no protests. No nothing.  Just one individual hero, a typical Hollywood proposition, just like the Mandela film. (See review of ‘Mandela,’ below.) 

Say what you will about the obnoxious Mathew McConaughey, he’s a good actor, though he usually plays the same character, which is probably himself.  In this one he portrays an emaciated HIV victim, losing 47 pounds for the film.  Just doing a film about AIDs had to make a dent in his macho.  Even as a possible bi-sexual, McConaughey has to ‘kick ass’ numerous times - but this is a Hollywood film, and his macho has to be preserved somehow.  The real Woodruff was not like that.

McConaughey made a dreadful 2013 acceptance speech after receiving the Best Actor award for this film for playing Woodruff.  In that speech he thanked God and himself for winning.  He also reprized a line from his first film, ‘Dazed and Confused - ‘alright, alright, alright!’ - which I almost heard him mutter again in this film too.  McConaughey portrays mostly working-class rebels, which is a good job to have.  The film before this, “Mud,” is a reprise of the Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and runaway Jim story – McConaughey playing a white Jim in modern times named ‘Mud.’ 

Truths normally takes years to come out, especially in the U.S.  Waiting 30 years for a mainstream movie on the AIDs/HIV crisis that is critical of the government seems normal.  It is because film makers and those who fund these films will not take political risks.  Just as MLK was hated in the 1960s, and a target of government spying and ultimately murder, but now lionized.  Just as Mandela was called a terrorist, he is now a ‘saint.’  ‘Time heals all wounds’ - because the reactionary initial response of government or corporations cannot be challenged until the real-time political impact has been reduced to almost nothing. 

Red Frog
August 25, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Black Movement Rises From The Dead


Ferguson represents a national moment against racist police violence and the military transformation of US Police.  There are no 'outside agitators' in this situation, as Ferguson is where the class is making a stand.  Cops kill non-white people in every city in the U.S.  It is a national epidemic.  New York, Florida, California, Missouri.  The left is on the offensive.

The cops tell lies about Molotov cocktails and 'gunshots,' confusing thrown-back tear gas canisters and fireworks, and the press dutifully repeats it without attribution or seeking proof.  CNN, NPR (“National Government Radio”), ABC, NBC, CBS.  Reporters continue to be arrested, per normal.  Latest are from ‘The Intercept’ and a German newspaper earlier this week.  Capt. Ron Johnson, who Holder embraced as "The Man," presided over tear gas, beatings and mass arrests of people and journalists.  A church was raided by police under his authority. Agent provocateurs have been at work.

News reports indicate that the police in Ferguson have collected $2.6M in fines, fees, tickets and penalties from the mostly black people of the town for various piddly infractions, using the poor as a virtual cash register to fund their town and department.  It was reported that Darren Wilson had been fired from another mostly black town in Missouri, Jennings, along with the rest of its police force, because of so many racist incidents.

Fox News reported that there were injuries to Wilson – a 'fractured eye socket.'  Not true, which even CNN proved.  An activist walked away from CNN’s Don Lemon, who interrupted him so many times it was no longer an ‘interview.’  The NPR reporter was hoping that Ferguson would get back to 'normal' - which means racist cops are normal.  Everyone should just go home and shut up and let the white power structure and their black puppets do their non-jobs.  Racist prosecutor in St. Louis County.  Secret mostly white and rich "Grand" jury will decide. Stacked deck, anyone?  Only pressure from the streets and everywhere else will push this indictment.  This is really a power struggle.

Shoot To Kill

Shooting to kill is the only method cops are using to stop someone 'coming towards them,' 'armed' or not.  Michael Brown 'coming toward' cop justifies killing him?  Not one black person without a death wish tries to 'grab a cops' gun. This is the same cop lie they use every time they kill someone.  6 shots!  What happened to knee-capping?  Can't cops shoot straight? (Actually not.  They have only been trained to shoot in the chest – although Brown was shot in the arm and head.)  Body left on street for 4 hours?!  Really?  They just killed another kid in St Louis who wanted to commit suicide-by-cop.  And the cops obliged. Mentally ill?  You are dead.  'I fear for my safety."  You are dead. 

Ferguson and St. Louis are saying, ‘arrest Darren Wilson for murder.’ However, not one move by anyone in the racist power structure to do this – even with the federal FBI swarming all over the place and a personal visit from the Holder.  What do you think are the odds Wilson will be arrested and convicted?  About 90% against.

“Since President Obama took office, the Pentagon has transferred to police departments tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”
---NYT - 8/20/2014

Liberate Territory

“Sharpton wants Black people and the police to understand each others' perspectives, which is the common refrain of corporate media, as well.” …Yet ”this is not about bad, rogue cops, but an entrenched system of Black oppression that the cops are paid and trained to enforce.” Even “black majority rule does not automatically transform the relationship between cops and citizens.”  Look at cities with black mayors.
---Glen Ford - 8/20/2014 – Black Agenda Report

 Red Frog
August 23, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Threatening Profits is Terrorism

"Green is the New Red,” an Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege,” by Will Potter, 2011

This impressionistic title is both a compliment and an inaccurate reference to the left-wing movements that preceded the environmentalist movement, both in scale and depth.  Potter says as much at the end of this book.  He likes the phrase because it brings the present animal rights and environmental movements into an historical context.  As they say in the factory, ‘same shit, different day.’

Potter focuses on the deeds, arrests and imprisonments of young activists in Earth First (“EF”), the Animal Liberation Front (“ALF”), the Environmental Liberation Front (“ELF”), and SHAC – “Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty,” in the period 2004 to 2011.  He himself was at one time arrested for protesting Huntington, the biggest animal torture/experimentation lab in the world, then became a journalist covering those movements.  He switches back and forth between a personal angle on the young radicals and a policy angle.

Potter traces the development of various laws aimed at stopping ‘eco-terrorism’ – a phrase that he spends much time dissecting.  The prime law was in 2006, signed by Bush II – the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act,” which broadened the concept of terrorism (as did the Patriot Act before it) to speech, protest and basically interfering with profits.  Adding a ‘terrorism’ charge to a crime vastly increases the sentence.  Laws such as the prohibition against taking pictures of animal cruelty in slaughterhouses in Iowa is one of its step-children.  The pharmaceutical, beauty and meat industries and other capitalist concerns that are based on the exploitation of animals lobbied for it.  It passed without notice in an almost empty Congress.  Dennis Kucinich, the vegan, could have stopped it by calling a quorum, but did not. 

The definition of terrorism, as we all know, is now so broad it includes almost anything the capitalist state wants it to mean.  One day it is possible that strikers could be charged with terrorism – as they are already accused of by Fox News.  The FBI, our political police, says it is “…use of force … against people and property…”   In internal documents, the FBI clearly thinks interfering with the economy can be terrorism. Potter traces every act by the EF, ELF and ALF and not one person has been injured or killed.  Well-planned arsons are the most ‘violent’ thing the latter two groups have done.  The longest sentence handed out was for an arson by a female animal-rights activist at a Michigan lab was 21 years.  Which might be the longest arson sentence in history!  Another couple got 13 years for burning 3 empty new SUVs – probably the longest sentence for destruction of SUVs.  Letting minks out of mink farms?  That will get you long time too.  Animal rights and environmental direct activists are normally included along with Al Qaeda and nuclear terrorists in the government’s handling of terrorism. A 2003 audit of the FBI told them they were wasting resources on the exaggerated threat of ‘eco-terrorism’ instead of white-collar Wall Street crime and native right-wing fascist groupings.  The FBI rejected the criticism.  Of course they would.  Subsequently Wall Street criminals and right-wing fascists blossomed.

The worst example of government overreach was the ‘terrorism’ indictment in 2006 of those running the SHAC website, which organized the campaign against Huntington.  SHAC was able to bring Huntington almost to its knees, getting it delisted from the NYSE and forced on to the penny stock 'pink sheets.'  Hence the counter-attack. They were never accused of doing anything illegal – only publicizing activities that were going on, and giving out information that illegal activists might have used.

Potter visits some of the prisons that these young ‘terrorists’ are sent to.  One is worse than a super-max – a secret prison inside the super-max in Marion, Illinois - where the inmates have less rights and contact than even the super-max.  Potter says this CMU prison is illegal under present law - the ACLU is suing over it.  At least a 100 ‘eco-terrorists’ are locked up, some in this facility along with ostensible Muslim terrorists as well as innocent Muslims.  One ALF activist was transferred from minimum security Sandstone to Marion without warning or reason.  The ostensible reason for these prisons is to so totally isolate the prisoners from any ‘movement.’  Which should give pause to anyone indicted who is part of ANY movement.  Is this their long-term plan for all activists? 

Most of the animal rights movement is sympathetic to anarchism.  Potter himself sees it as part of a vast ‘culture war,’ not a class war.  While he indicates that corporations are the ones twisting the government’s arms, he ultimately thinks this is for ‘cultural’ reasons.  You know, fear of a vegetarian nation.  Where we can’t wear pretty lipstick, even if it was used on dead baby rabbits.  I’d insist that this is really all about profits first.  They only use culture to enforce and protect those profits.  Stirring up the bacon eaters is an essential defense.

Potter himself does not have an overall political point to make.  He focuses mostly on animal welfare and seems to suggest that if the animal rights and environmental movements were persecuted less, and not accused of terrorism, all would be well.  Well, I will make the political point for him, and I'll focus on environmentalism.

The Republicans are right in stating that the environmental movement - which includes the animal rights movement - threatens ‘capitalism’ – especially the Republican’s immediate financial base among capitalists in the oil/gas/coal industries, and in auto, Big Pharma, Big Ag and Big Meat. The Democrats are 'more' based in ‘cleaner’ businesses – like technology and finance.  Some of the Democrats are putting their faith in 'alternative' industries – solar, wind, nuclear, ethanol, smart-grids, fracking, dike building, even aspects of localism.  This is the Goreite prescription.  However, no capitalist party wants to 'own' re-use, buying less, vegetarianism and acting quickly or drastically -  moving against the real culprits.  Oh no! Instead both support wars of intervention aimed at protecting energy and mineral supplies, or gaining more access to them, such as in Russia.

Can the Goreite prescription work?  If you believe that technology alone will solve hunger, global warming and climate change, ocean acidification, over population, species extinction, peak minerals and peak oil, then yes.  However, if this global complex of problems brought on by unplanned industrial development and a commodity-based, profit-based society seems a bit beyond the reach of a technological ‘silver bullet,’ then you might be led to believe that ‘capitalism’ itself is under threat from this direction.  And you’d be right.

Every industry involved in global warming – like the oil, gas & coal companies - should be immediately nationalized and put under workers’ control.   This includes auto and big agriculture, including big meat.  Just as the banking and mortgage industries have proven to be rogue businesses, which should have been seized during the 2008-2009 crisis.  The gradualist /’evolutionary’ method of a market-based society in which one technology very slowly replaces another is not possible in this situation.  Nor is the continued political influence of these barons of destruction. There is no other way to actually freeze the environmental train wreck in process.

Prior reviews on environmental topics – “No Local,” “The Search For What’s Left,”The Ecological Revolution,” “Foodopoly,” “Fear of an Animal Planet,” are below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
August 18, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Paid Administrative Leave - Again

Fear of a Black Rebellion

Our Janus-faced president, who represents a government that is the primary military procurer for Israel while ‘tsk-tsking’ the bombing of Gaza schools and UN outposts.  That perhaps ‘will look into’ the killing of Michael Brown while its Pentagon, the DHS and the DoJ increases the amount of military gear given to every Podunk cop and police department in the U.S.  That whines about the incarceration rates of abstract future black people while not retroactively changing cocaine sentences for real black people.  That condemns torture as a word while findings of independent human-rights organizations indicate it has been going on in Afghanistan up to this day, and has been covered up.  That wanted to close Guantanamo, and now refuses to release prisoners already found innocent.  That thinks perhaps cops shoot too many innocent black and brown people while its “Justice” Department does not follow national laws already on the books to track these escalating and constant killings by police.  All these are connected.

Sonic weapons.  Flash bang grenades.  Armored trucks.  M-16s.  Military helicopters.  SWAT squads.  Teargas.  Rubber and wooden bullets. A suburb in Missouri, a state that was part-Confederate  A police chief with a Confederate flag.  Reporters roughed up and arrested. And … dead and injured black people.  It all fits. 

You know governments, especially Democratic ones, want to talk about their clean hands, hoping you don’t notice the dirty one covered in blood and mud held behind their back.  Then there is the chorus of Democratic Party apologists, especially in the Black Political Elite, from the Black Congressional Caucus on down to Al Sharpton, who give political cover to Janus.  This is essential to the rule of capital.  I guess not all the citizens of Ferguson are following the script. 

Nobody in the corporate press or the networks full of useless talking heads gives two cents about Michael Brown except as a ratings bonanza, least of all Atlanta-based CNN.  As Russell Brand hinted, no wonder Robin Williams hanged himself.  If it wasn’t for protests and some minimal ‘rioting’ we’d be on to the next celebrity death.  Not some unknown 18-year old.

Clueless social-Democrats like Joan Walsh of Salon.com are just ‘shocked’ at the war in Ferguson, and say they are going to catch up on this whole issue of warrior cops.  Well, it’s a white-controlled town with a majority black population, with a poverty rate twice that of Missouri as a whole.  What has been going on is a form of class war, and it’s not always pretty.  Of course if you’re white, you can’t experience the police response to ‘walking while black’ or ‘driving while black’ or ‘being in your home while black.’  Yet anyone who has been to a single demonstration against a serious target – like the Republican or Democratic Party conventions, or police brutality, or the WTO, or a real strike – knows that the cops have become soldiers. The ‘enemy’ is the working and poor classes of the U.S.  Welcome to the American Police State.  It’s still a bit modest, but push it a little and see what happens.  Where the local and federal government has two-faces – one more real than the other. 

Now the St Louis County cops have thrown up on their bullet-proof vests in front of the whole nation.  They had to be removed by the governor today to keep them from creating more of a mess.  Call their removal from Ferguson a victory for the people.  If you can get to Ferguson, go.  Fill up that town with so many people that the cops back off.  But that includes State Police and FBI, not just St. Louis County cops.  The 'good copy/bad cop' routine is just that - a dodge. Only then can you start focusing on justice for Michael Brown.  Nothing less than jail on a homicide charge for the cop responsible will do.  

Prior books reviewed on this subject – Radley Balko’s excellent “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.”  There are also reviews on the police, like “The Wire” and “Bad Boys,” and those on the on-going American prison complex – “Are Prison’s Obsolete” and “The New Jim Crow.” Use blog search box, upper left.

PS - On Saturday, Governor Nixon of Missouri instituted 'marshall law' in Ferguson - ending the fake cop honeymoon.  The police state is now official. 

Red Frog
August 14, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fear of a Black Revolution

"Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom” (2013) and “The Butler” (2013)


Both of these movies present a liberal interpretation of the civil rights struggles in two different, yet linked contexts – the U.S. South and South Africa.  What is obvious about them is the hard line taken in these films against black radicalism. 

“Mandela” was directed by Justin Chadwick and written by William Nicholson.  Both are white.  Nicholson grew up Roman Catholic, was educated at Christ’s College in Cambridge UK, then became a BBC documentarian.  He then went on to write a play about CS Lewis and wrote parts of “Gladiator.”   He also worked on “Les Miserables” – the movie. So a well-respected liberal who takes on ‘political’ themes with a Catholic slant.  Chadwick is a long-time actor and director in the UK, mostly doing non-political dramas. 

‘Mandela’ is based on the ‘great man’ theory of history.  Mandela’s autobiography provided much of the source material.  Mandela was clearly the right man in the right place, but without the mass movement behind him and the organizational prowess of the South African CP, he would have become just another civil rights lawyer.  The film does not mention the CP, nor other leftist groups.  The growing black consciousness movement led by Stephen Biko is vague and discarded.  The CP left around mine trade unionist Moses Mayekiso (which has now formed a new left party, “The Workers & Socialist Party”) is ignored.  Winnie Mandela, who was to Mandela’s left at the end, is portrayed at that point as a big crazy problem. 

This is a 2013 film that features the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre as a key turning point, while the Marikana Miner’s Massacre of 2012 does not exist.  As such, the film hints that history stopped with Mandela winning the presidency.  The triumphalist tone take by the film – quite justified in a traditional Hollywood narrative arc – fails as an historic arc. Political meetings are ignored - instead the personal relationship between Mandela and Winnie or his first wife take priority.  The military campaign of the ANC’s Umkhonto we Sizwe is barely shown, and Mandela’s role largely invisible.  The significant ANC / SACP decision to drop demands for economic nationalization and instead propose only ‘one man, one vote’ is also invisible.  Even the decision by the De Klerk regime to endorse ‘one man, one vote’ is not depicted.  This was, of course, the key compromise that created the ‘new’ South Africa.  Recent statistics show that the South African working class, poor township residents and black farmers are now worse off than during apartheid, while rich whites still mostly own everything.

Simple bourgeois democracy cannot alleviate these key economic issues.  Another movement is brewing.  ‘A Luta Continua,’ as Miriam Makeba once said. 


“The Butler” is the U.S. version of this same standard Hollywood narrative.  Lee Daniels directed and Danny Strong wrote it.  Daniels is black, directing ‘Precious’ and producing “Monster’s Ball,” though started his career at 21 owning and running a large nursing agency. The film stars black film stalwarts like Cuba Gooding, Forest Whitaker, Mariah Carey & Oprah Winfrey.  Strong, on the other hand, is a white actor appearing on many TV shows, including “Mad Men” and “How I Met Your Mother.”  He is now involved in writing the “Hunger Games” trilogy.  Again, a white liberal interested in political themes. 

Ethnicity of course is not the only gauge of authenticity.  The American black upper middle-class has little contact with the working or poor classes anymore.  Most black ‘intellectuals,' actors and pop stars have simply stopped caring and instead, at best, celebrate the history of the aging civil rights movement – in order, it seems, to forestall another movement.  It was a movement one of whose benefits was the creation of a larger black middle class.  My gut feeling is that THIS part of the movement is what is really being celebrated. 

This film is based on a real character – a black butler that worked for every president from Eisenhower to Reagan – Gene Allen.  It is a way to introduce the history of the black rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s as a backdrop to long service with the ‘great men’ of American politics – the presidents.  Martin Luther King is quoted in the film as saying that black domestic workers played a role in showing the white man that black people could be competent and excel.  That is certainly one way to put it.  However, as several scenes show, the black butlers in the White House didn’t get wage parity until the Reagan administration, when Nancy intervened after Allen complained once again.  At that pace, we will get our rewards at death.  ‘Merit’ has little to do with it. 

However, much of this movie story is not based on Allen’s life.  The key issue in the movie is the vast hostility between the ‘butler’ and his radicalized son, who organizes to integrate lunch counters down south, then becomes a Freedom Rider, is jailed repeatedly, shot-at and fire-hosed, and eventually joins the Black Panther Party (“BPP”).  He leaves them, gets an MA degree, runs for office and becomes an activist with the “Free South Africa Movement.” Only then, sometime perhaps in the 1980s, does the movie ‘butler’ reconcile with his activist son at a FSAM rally.  Both films come together at this point, referencing this issue.

This is frankly reactionary hokum.  The intense hostility towards the son makes no sense.  Even the mother only gently reprimands her husband, but she also breaks ties with the son.  (And it’s Oprah, if you don’t get the point clearly enough.)  In one scene, the son is thrown out of the house during dinner, after he shows up as a Panther with his girlfriend and says some mildly offensive statements.  Yet at this point they had not seen their son in many years!  The Panthers are shown as violence-loving and offensive, in some FBI cartoon-way.  They are also shown as being slaughtered by the FBI and police, on orders from Nixon.  Might I remind the writer that the BPP was called the “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.”  They believed not in ‘violence’ as some vague, stupid term used by liberals, but in defending themselves from racists and racism. 

But hating on the BPP is the stand-in for hating black radicalism in the U.S. of any form.  So is the portrayal of intense animosity between father and son here – a psychological inoculation of the audience against radicalism that makes no sense as a plot line in any other way.  I expect Mr. Strong will also ruin the ‘Hunger Games’ series.  His ‘revolution’ will be televised.

The film ends with its glorious culmination – the election of Barack Obama.  And history stops again.  If it had continued, it might have pointed out that Obama has done little for the majority of black people in his 6 years in office.  He’s busy running the capitalist state, after all.  A job that has certainly proved his competency, excellence and ‘merit.’   

 The Hunger Games” is reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.  See “Black Agenda Report” for analysis of Obama’s role in the U.S.

Red Frog
August 7, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Real Estate Madness

“Last Man in Tower,” by Arvind Adiga, 2011

 Adiga is probably the most prominent modern Indian writer known in the west.  He’s been political, which should be a surprise, but it is not.  After all, this is India.

 This book is a twisted parable of neo-liberalism. It concentrates on the aging residents of Tower A, Vishram Co-Operative Housing Society, in Vakola neighborhood, Mumbai.  For a long time, this building was one of the few collective buildings in an otherwise poor slum south of the Mumbai airport.  It was originally built in the 1950s after WW II.   The building now has intermittent water pressure, its walls are stained with rain seepage, lizards and bugs invade, the elevator no longer works, the road floods.  Yet it holds a group of upright ‘pucca’ white-collar residents who have lived together and helped each other for years.  They know what each other does just by glancing at each other’s daily garbage.  They note every financial good fortune, like the ownership of a scooter, or every tragedy.  They vote on matters large and small concerning the building while sitting on white plastic chairs in front of the main entrance – their ‘parliament.’

 This is a reflection of the old India of Gandhi, Nehru and the ‘old’ Congress Party, of an ersatz bourgeois socialism.  Of a sort of gentle religious and class cooperation, a time of collectivity after World War II.  Key characters are Masterji, a retired school-teacher; Mr. & Mrs. Pinto, retired, the wife blind; Mrs. Rego, a social worker and Communist with two children; Mr. & Mrs. Puri, accountant and wife; Mary, the cleaning lady who lives in a tin hut along a drainage canal; Mr. Kudhari, Secretary of the Society, whose source of income is unknown; Mr. Kudwa, internet store owner and Mr. Ajwani, a real estate broker who frequents prostitutes.  In building B of the Vishram Co-op Society, erected in the 1970s, younger white-collar people predominate, and their roots are short. 

 Dwelling on the personal lives of people in literature can provide temporary enjoyment, but as each of us also lives our own personal lives, this is not news, nor particularly interesting.  Most people’s lives are not worth a memoir, except to their children.  Much present aesthetic fiction never gets past the ultra-personal.   It is when those personal lives intersect with the social realities surrounding them that literature can have a more widespread impact. 

Adiga has attempted to be one of those writers.  

Into this shabby gentility comes Mr. Shah, a ‘bootstrap’ developer who rose ostensibly from nothing – a country boy arriving in Mumbai.  Mr. Shah is now going to gentrify Vakola with a splendid ‘upscale’ luxury building project, involving the land on which the Vishram Societies sit.  He has many successes, and is planning his greatest development.  In Mumbai, real estate developers are known for shabby construction, lying, non-payment, breaking laws, violence and thuggery.  As in every capitalist city, in Mumbai real estate is the life-blood of commerce outside the places of production. It is a part of the relentless circulation of capital.  Real estate developers have close relations with the politicians, the police, the religious authorities.  Your neighborhood determines your status.  And ‘status’ – as Adiga observes – is constantly evaluated among the residents of Mumbai.  The caste system has now mutated in urban areas into the various micro-levels of the economic class system.

Shah mixes the Hindu religion with his business, using religious symbols on his company logos.  He hires fortune tellers to let him know when to do things.  He prays at the temple before any auspicious events, taking the 30 rupee fast lane to get by the lines of non-paying worshipers.  As in the book, “The God Market,” Adiga shows that Hinduism has become a kind of ‘prosperity gospel’ for the Indian middle and upper-classes.  Of course, Catholic, Jain, Parsi, Sikh and Muslim’s also combine business with religion.  Was it ever so.  Shah suffers from lung disease, spitting blood occasionally, a reminder of his mortality.

The proposal to be very generously bought out by Shah is put before the somewhat impoverished residents of Tower A.  Their society is to be sacrificed for the ‘new life.’  All will be scattered to different places, and the co-operative will be no more.  All but 4 agree in Tower A, while the young people in Tower B immediately agree.   So Shah, Mrs. Puri and Mr. Ajani work on the holdouts – Masterji, Mrs. Rego and the Pintos.  Mrs. Rego believes it will be a swindle.  Masterji will not move because his close friends the Pintos do not want to move, as Mrs. Pinto’s blindness would not allow her to get around another building so well. 

Mrs. Rego eventually succumbs to an appeal directed at her children’s future.  The others suffer shunning, hostile posters put on their doors, threatening phone calls and physical threats from Shah’s ‘left-hand’ man.  The Pintos do not want to stand in everyone else’s way, and eventually quit in fear.  Only one person, Masterji, holds out over memories of his dead wife and daughter in the building.  He is the last man in the tower.   His former friends and neighbors become his enemies. 

Adiga here seems to be looking at the role of individual stubbornness or anger in what ostensibly could be called ‘class struggle.’  Masterji ‘cannot be bought’ at this point in his life.  He ‘wants nothing’ – a most dangerous person.  He is not linked to any organization or movement against gentrification - even his lawyer and the law abandon him.  He is totally isolated, even from his son.  Has it come to this, even in populous India?  In disagreeing with all the other people in his building – isn’t he the one who opposes ‘the will’ of this particular majority?

Spoiler alert:

It is so.  The builder does not even have to 'do it.When he continues not to agree, the neighbors and friends of Masterji bash him over the head with a hammer, then haul him up the steps to the 6th floor rooftop of Tower A and shove him over to his death.  They go unpunished, as the incompetent police think it is suicide.  He was depressed over his wife’s death, over his diabetes, over the loss of his friends, you see.  The conspirators – at least 10 of the people in the building – go on to live more wonderful lives, at least from the last care-free Mumbai scenes on the beach in Juhu or the mall in Andheri West.  At the end even the developer Shah becomes likeable and cuddly.

So the ‘political’ author has now chosen an odd, dark story – sort of like a group of suburban Americans burying a troublesome neighbor under their backyard barbecue patio.  What are we to make of this ambiguous ending? Is Adiga now a neo-liberal, welcoming the wealth?  Or is he just holding a mirror up to the Indian pucca ‘middle-class?’  Even including a ‘Communist” auntie? Most people reading the book might agree practically – kill the old man.  As such, Adiga has tried to recruit to the side of the developers and the killers, no matter what ‘ironical twist’ he thinks he has fashioned.  As with most ambiguous stories (see review of the “Hurt Locker,” below) the impact of the story is generally shaped by the dominant environment. 

This is the message of money.  It is the golden rule in the “new” India.  Those with it will have their way. Few can resist cash waved in their faces, and for good reason, because most do not have enough. That desperation is the point of class society and, at least for me, this story too. 

(Prior books by Adiga, “The White Tiger” and “Between the Assassinations,” reviewed below.  Other books about India, “Walking With the Comrades,” “ Field Notes on Democracy,” “Water Wars,” and “The God Market,” also reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.)

And I bought it at Strand Books in London

Red Frog

August 2, 2014