Friday, November 16, 2018

Spa Treatments

“Richistan – A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich,” by Robert Frank, 2007

This 2007 book is a grand tour through the isolated provinces of wealth – by a Wall Street Journal reporter, right before the 2008 crash.  Since then, “Richistan” has only gained more wealth.  The book is mostly Robin Leach and his “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” with a slice of analysis, like American cheese within a massive Wonderbread sandwich.    But since most U.S. citizens have no clue how RICH the upper class is, the Wonderbread might be useful.  As capitalism gets more and more unequal, it is becoming harder and harder to hide.  ‘Conspicuous consumption,’ as Veblen noted, is back.

American Toxic

Did you know you could make $100K as a ‘butler’ in the household of one of these kings of capital?  You see, life gets complicated the more investments, houses, mega-yachts, jets, cars, lawns, jewelry, software, children, vacations, paintings, real estate, concierge doctors and staff you have.  Someone has to organize all this, and the millionaires and billionaires aren’t going to do it all.  This is not Downton Abbey butlering, this is going to school to be a “Certified Household Manager.”  There are still many job openings, so apply soon.

The most value in the book is Frank’s description of the different layers of the U.S. version of ‘Richistan,” which a Marxist would call the bourgeoisie or the upper class.  About 11% of the country had assets of over a million dollars in 2004, which, if you assume each household has 3 people, that is about 33 million in these households.  By millionaire, this means disposable income. As of now there are 330M people in the U.S., so roughly a bit more than 10% of the population were in millionaire households in 2004.  Little has changed since then, except the numbers for the upper class have gotten larger. This ‘parallel country of the rich” has 4 layers according to Frank.  It is mostly energetic ‘new money,’ not inherited and staid ‘old money’:

  1. Lower Richistan – made up of professionals like doctors, lawyers, bankers, corporate executives and money managers.  Half of their wealth is from salary income, the rest from Wall Street equity and profits from businesses. 7.5M households in 2004, $1-10M.
  2. Middle Richistan – made up of some salaried, but more entrepreneurs, business owners and Wall Street or real estate equity.  2M households in 2004, $10-100M. 
  3. Upper Richistan – made up of entrepreneurs who own or sold companies, CEOs, hedge fund owners, who have even more real estate and Wall Street equity.  Population in the 1000s, $100M and up.
  4. Billonaireville – In 1985, there were 13.  In 2006 there were 400.  In 2018 there are now 585.  Income from owning companies, subsidiaries, holding companies, investment funds and foundations.  Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, David Koch, Michael Bloomberg, Sheldon Adelson, Phil Knight, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Forest Mars, John Menard Jr. and the Walton family - a familiar list of scumbags.
Frank’s understanding of the various strata of these classes is that they are not all conservatives – many are centrists or even ‘liberal.’  Both the Democratic and Republican parties benefit from their largesse.  Lower Richistan voted for Dubbya Bush but no doubt they have now moved into the Democrat column.  Frank uses a recent example of 4 rich Democrats who changed the agenda in Colorado.  The upper class is internationally-oriented, especially the farther up the food chain you go.  They are not all ‘nationalists’ except when it comes to calling in the military to defend their overseas properties or wealth.  Many gained their wealth as ‘Instapreneurs’ who invented and sold their business in a ‘liquidity event.’  According to Frank’s 2005 figures, of those above $10M, only 3% were celebrities and only 10% were of ‘inherited wealth’ – which seems low.

Frank profiles various rich people – a merchant who made millions on toy ceramic villages; a workaholic owner of vacation properties for the upper class; a tech millionaire who lost it all in the 2000 Dot-Com crash.  Donald Trump even gets mentioned, as he hosts gala ‘black-tie’ balls at Mar-A-Lago for the new rich.  Of most interest is a billionaire in Texas who uses a better method of ‘social investing’ to build wells, solar installations, farming projects and schools in Ethiopia.  According to Frank, his methods reveal the incompetence and waste of the large NGOs.  But he’s an exception to the rule, as people like Bill Gates try to privatize education with their millions in donations, which only helps the privatizers.

Expropriate This!
These rich try to pretend they are ‘middle class’ and ‘just regular folks,’ and they are sometimes dismayed and dwarfed by the massive size of their mega-houses and mega-yachts.  They send their wastlings to ‘rich kid therapy’ camps to try to prepare them for being multi-millionaires.  These are ‘rich people’s problems’ you will never have.  But you do know about debt, which is also oddly growing even for the mega-rich.

Frank makes much of the economy that now surrounds Richistan.  Upper-end businesses that cater to them – boat-builders, jet manufacturers, some builders, vacation planners, couture houses, high-end jewelry stores, hedge funds, automobile manufacturers like Rolls Royce – are doing very well.  This is the real ‘trickle-down’ economics, but it only trickles to a small segment of the population.  Like those well-paid ‘household managers’ mentioned previously.  Marx even commented on this kind of spending 150 years ago when he had to consider whether it would provide enough investment and growth to save capital.  He concluded 'no.'

As to the future of Richistan, Frank laughingly quotes Andrew Carnegie as to a prospective “reconciliation between rich and poor, a reign of harmony.”  He thinks that the rich can help ‘reform the education and health-care systems.”  This is Frank’s ‘hope.’ Given he wrote this in 2007 and the king of ‘hope’ was elected in 2008, and the inequality between the classes, education and health care are worse now in 2018, I’d say ‘hope’ is now a weasel word.

Other reviews on this topic, below:  “The Servant Economy,” “Rich People Things,” “Understanding Class,” “Capital in the 21st Century,” “Look Who We’re Calling Comrade!” “Creative Destruction,” “Revolutions – Lapham’s Quarterly.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day’s excellent used/cutout book selection!
Red Frog

November 16, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Empty Churches - Nuns or Nones

The Rise of the ‘Nones’

Across the street from my house stands an impressive church, constructed in modern Scandinavian design with a lofty roof.  The Lutherans who used to inhabit it grew old, their congregation smaller and they sold the building, unable to maintain this magnificent structure.  After months of emptiness, it was finally purchased by an Oromo Christian congregation made up of local residents, many formerly from Ethiopia.  Their SUVs, vans and new cars line our streets Sundays and even Saturdays.  They seem to be enthusiastically religious, which is somewhat typical of new immigrants to the U.S.  After all, churches provide a kind of community, some bad entertainment and a cool building!
Perhaps a good place for the homeless...

However, the local Minneapolis Star Tribune has been running a series on the ‘Rise of the Nones’ – i.e. people who have given up on organized religion.  At this point, about a quarter of U.S. residents describe themselves as such.  They might practice yoga, they might be agnostics, nature-worshipers, pagans or ‘spiritual;’ they might be consistent atheists, or they might just spend their Sundays resting, working, being with their children or drinking coffee and reading the internet.  When you work your whole life for an employer stealing your time, a church stealing 2-3 more hours to ‘think magically’ is a no-go. Certainly my Sundays have been very enjoyable and useful, as I have not attended a church since I was 17.

Not pledging your fealty to some religion is politically fraught however.  Atheists are even more disliked than gay people or Muslims in the U.S., if you believe the surveys, so don’t mention that while running for office.  Socialism has a higher rep than atheism in the U.S., which is certainly an improvement over socialism’s past.  Yet atheism is the theoretical opposite of religion, its anti-thesis, so it actually is the greatest threat to religious faith on an ideological level.  Philosophy starts, after all, where religion ends.  As do science and reason.  And religion is ending.  As Slavoj Zizek noted, the theoretical synthesis that rises above the false conflicts of religion is no religion at all.

The Trib seems to be worried, along with local ‘faith leaders,’ because one of the pillars of ideological capital is organized religion.  Organized religion itself is at fault in this decline, of course.  If you look at the reactionary role of evangelical Christians like the Southern Baptist Convention in U.S. politics, it is abominable.  They are one of the primary mass bases for the vicious Republican Party and its control of the South and rural areas. The evangelical yellers shilling for your money on TV don’t help either.  Even weird offshoots like fundamentalist Mormons, who wear odd underwear, believe in multiple wives and having sex with young girls doesn’t give religion much heft.  Or the idiotic essential myth of the Scientologists, who believe everything started when the earth was occupied by aliens.  The Catholic Church has become a pariah for its hosting of the largest group of pedophiles in the world.  This scandal is world-wide.  Like Christian evangelicals, the Church’s positions on abortion, divorce, contraception, the role of women, pre-marital sex, masturbation, planned parenthood, pre-marital children – all medieval.  Even their occasional opposition to capital comes from a preference for a pre-capitalist economy – when the Church was the benevolent ruler of serfs.  The new Pope was ‘hired’ to deflect an understanding of these basic Catholic teachings. 

Islam world-wide has ‘puked on its own shirt,’ as its generally hostile approach to women’s rights is obvious in many countries in which it dominates.  The embrace of bloody mass terror by fundamentalist political Islam has made religion seem to be the idea of madmen.  Saudi Arabia and the Gulf theocracies emphasize the point.  Some schools of Islam support female genital mutilation, which doesn’t help their brand either. The “Jewish” state of Israel has endorsed creating Bantustans for Palestinians, which hasn’t helped Judaism’s reputation.  The rabbinical men in Israel who are unable to do anything but read the Torah even have to be trained to earn a real living. Or the dominant Hinduvata corporatists in India, worshipping cows and polluting the Ganges on a regular basis, who insist all religions other than Hinduism are evil.  Even Buddhism now has its own recent crime, as seen in the ethnic cleansing against the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar by ‘liberals’ like Suu Kyi.   The sexual cults formed by Christian, Buddhist or Hindu gurus are well known, including the Rajneeshee sex cult in eastern Oregon, which reminds you again that fundamentalist religions have a DEEP problem with sex and women.  (The film “Wild Wild Country” is about the Rolls Royce guru and his Rajneeshees.)

Fundamentalist religion is digging its own grave, and this has resulted in the collapse of religion in countries like Ireland or Iran and now the U.S.  Certainly in Europe religion is pretty much already buried – again except for recent immigrants.

I want to take a look at this chart, which has information on the issue of class and religion.  A recent NPR media lie is that Trump’s base is ‘working-class, rural white men.’  It ignores the dominance of large farmers, ranchers and small town merchants and businessmen in these communities, along with the professional strata of lawyers, doctors or dentists that most small towns still have.   This is part of NPR’s job, which is hiding businessmen’s role in reactionary politics, including in the Republican Party.
This Pew Research Center chart is another refutation.  It reveals that the upper class is the most religious and the working class the least.  For the most part, the more educated, older and wealthier you are, the more religious you are.  On the ethnic or color side (here mislabeled ‘race’), even Latino/a U.S. residents, who were reliably Catholic until recently, are also leaving the fold.  The Catholic Church has been one of the biggest losers. The figures belie the Pew surveys stock line that the unchurched: ‘cross all incomes and education levels.’  

Religion is a product of certain material circumstances.  It is essentially a ‘political’ cloak that needs to give itself an appearance of ‘godliness’ in order to gain authority.  Yet Christian socialism used to be a current, as was Liberation Theology.  Both have largely disappeared.  It is clear that being ‘spiritual’ is not a barrier to political action, though it might become one has any class struggle gets more intense.  Nor is being religious, as some African-American, Latino, Arab or Native American preachers have shown in their struggles against racism, deportations or the government.  But the larger currents of religion are dying and this bodes well for reason, science, Marxism and the working class. 

For other reviews on religion, type:  FGM,” “Ireland,” “God is Not Great,” “Violence” (Zizek), “Libertarian Atheism and Liberal Religionism,” “Annihilation of Caste,” “Jude the Obscure,” “Spiritual Snake Oil” "The Dark Side of Christian History" and “Islamophobia.” Use blog search box, upper left.

Written on a Sunday morning.
Red Frog
November 13, 2018

Friday, November 9, 2018

Global Class War

“Can the Working Class Change the World?” by Michael Yates, 2018

This is a short book that does not answer the question in its title.  It should have been called “The Working Class Must Change the World.”

The first part of the book is a basic analysis of capital from a Marxist international perspective.  Sort of a primer that looks at how profit is created through labor and inputs from nature.  It includes a brief description of the class structure, and how different strata intersect – or don’t.  The second part is a look at some of the main forces working people have used to combat capital – unions and labor parties, revolution and the workers’ states created by them, along with a focus on small farmers and peasants.  The third is ‘why’ working class people must replace capital with a sustainable, planned and equal society worldwide.  A society of ‘we’ not ‘I.’  Basically Yates sees it as unavoidable or things are only going to get worse.

Yes, because middle-class liberal won't do it.
Yates looks at all the divisions within the working class, divisions that capital uses to ‘divide and conquer.’  Gender, caste, ethnicity and color, language, religion, geography, nation, skill sets, income levels, age and imperialism all impede an understanding that humans are actually similar.  Yates points out that these differences are all intimately intertwined with class and economics worldwide, going hand in hand.

So anyone buying this book will be asking – where are the material sources of optimism for all those who labor?  What are capital’s weaknesses now?  And what are its non-material and theoretical weaknesses?  Clearly, his brief history shows that the working classes HAVE changed the world in the past, in many, many ways and have been the main force for social progress since the 1700s.  Yates’ present examples of progress click on some familiar groups that have made headway recently, like Occupy, BLM, continuing Swedish or German labor power, Indian Naxalites or the MST in Brazil.

But the main question remains.  Just in this country, a cursory look at the weak, divided and politically confused U.S. working class makes the Marxist insistence that those who labor will one day embrace the abolition of wage slavery – to be somewhat pessimistic.  The book “On New Terrain” by Kim Moody actually gives some material reasons why labor might be able to grow once again in the ‘global north’ due to long supply chains, connecting technologies, vulnerable just-in-time methods, corporate oligopolies and heavy urban and sectoral concentrations of workers.  One thing Moody did not include is the weakening Rightist grip on the U.S. South.  On the ideological level, capitalist institutions are in low repute everywhere.  The corporate faction fight between Democrats and Republicans is just more evidence of that.  The ‘global South’ is certainly more organized and active than anything in the wealthy capitalist countries, and that will continue. This is where I certainly look.  Only in parts of Europe does labor still hold many institutional cards.  Yates has almost nothing about these issues.

This book is a good primer for those who are unfamiliar with the labor movement or socialism.  It includes a concentration on the question of food, as agriculture is ignored many times by leftists.  It ignores rentier or financial capital.  It is aware of the ‘metabolic rift’ between nature and society created by capital that Marx understood.  It looks to indigenous peoples’ early communism for a guide to the future and gives a list of programmatic demands.  It ignores the question of what forms of organization the actual Left can take to grow.  The military question does not come up.

Yates does not seem to directly address the question – why the working class or even an economic focus?  The working classes, including small farmers, are the vast majority in the world, so ‘democracy’ demands a proletarian and peasant focus.  A large aggressive proletarian political party would dominate any representative society, even one where it was forced to go underground.  Working class labor is far more essential than many of the highly compensated, lauded and worthless occupations that dominate capitalist societies.  Just think of the many useless lawyers, corporate managers, advertising executives and sales people modern capital has created, just as a start.   Because of workers’ inherent power, withdrawing labor is one of the most powerful forces there is.  The world-wide ideological campaign against ‘communism’ has limited unity and organization since 1991, but that shows signs of weakening in some places – even in the U.S.  Instead, political polarization is now becoming the norm.  The neo-liberal bourgeois center is crumbling as its cruel and incompetent face is exposed.  Another serious economic collapse similar to 2008 could spell the death knell for capital on a world-scale, but it also might usher in barbarism once again.

Just to be cranky, I sometimes look to see if there are scratches on used LPs I buy.  Perhaps I need to start reading a few paragraphs in books before I buy for the same purpose.  But for you, this book might be dynamite!

Other reviews on this topic, or by Yates:  “On New Terrain,” “In and Out of the Working Class” (Yates), “Reviving the Strike,” “Embedded With Organized Labor,” “Save Our Unions,” “Re-Building Power in Open Shop America,” “Class Against Class,” “Southern Insurgency,” “Is the East Still Red?” ”From Commune to Capitalism,” “The Rise of China,” “The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism,” “Walking With the Comrades,” “The God Market.”
And I bought it at May Day Books most thorough selection of Left books!

Red Frog

November 9, 2018 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Your 'Democratic' Duty is Done ... or Not

Notes on the Election:

  • The Suburbs had it up to here with Trump.  A general puke.
  • Voter suppression still works.
  • Nancy Pelosi quoted Reagan against Trump today.
  • The most right-wing Democratic Party senators lost.  No tears.
  • No one in the mainstream press ever interviewed journalist and researcher Greg Palast.  Even though he uncovered and sued Georgia and the Republican Kemp for, among other things, trying to kick over 350K people off the voter roles by mailing postcards to them.
  • The new 'NAFTA' will be upheld by both parties.
  • In Minnesota, urban & suburban areas united in their hatred of Trump and his minions.
  • What environment?
  • What do Ben Jealous, Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum have in common besides losing or in troubled recounts?  They are in … the SOUTH.  A place not like other places.
  • Again, stalemate, divided government, lawsuits, investigations.  Government by scandal.  Yet each faction of the capitalist class is still entrenched and has a loyal following.
  • A blue …half-wave.  Some other midterms had higher changes in the House.  But the elections are not over.
  • Trump actually came out to endorse pal Pelosi as Speaker of the House.  Like recognizes like.
  • The dire Democratic lie that Ralph Nader lost the 2000 election for Al Gore is exposed once again.  A right-wing Supreme Court vote, Gore's gutless concession, 300K registered Democrats voting for Bush, white riots at the polls, ballot shenanigans, other small parties running and most of all - ‘voter suppression’ – as epitomized by 1.5M former felons in Florida now getting the right to vote back.  The white Democrats forgot about ol’ “Jim Crow” when they lied, but the non-white folks of Florida never did.  A count by the NORC later found that if the recount had been done properly, Gore would have won by 60 to 171 votes.
  • Let’s see what the Sanderites / DSA’ers do when subject to the blandishments of the corporate Democratic leadership in the House.  Tough or naifs? Co-opted or confrontational?
  • The vile anti-union viper and Republican Scott Walker lost in Wisconsin.  He just gave $45B to Foxconn, a Chinese conglomerate.  At that rate, Wisconsin could have hired plenty of people to do something useful other than build iPhones.  Now FoxConn is going to bring in Chinese engineers.  Who got conned by the fox?
  • Was there anything more chickenshit and vicious than the Republican hysteria about thousands of destitute Honduran and Central American migrants slowly walking to the U.S. border?  15,000 soldiers?  Do they know what the word ‘invasion’ actually means?  They actually do, but a lie is useful for people who don't.
  • Locally, the hated Rich Stanek, a Republican, lost the Sheriff's race in Hennepin County to a gay member of his staff.  His office had stood behind ICE, massive evictions and house sales, marijuana arrests, collaboration with DHS during the Republican convention and a shoddy evidence lab.
  • Now that we have marked ellipses on a ballot, we can go back to watching Netflix and bitching at home or on FB. Or not.  I mostly choose 'not.'
  • Honduran coup = refugees = Clintonian blowback.
  • Wall Street gave 2-1 to the Democrats this cycle.  The market is up over 500 points today.  Even centrist Republican Michael Bloomberg issued an election ad all over the country to 'Vote Democrat.' 
  • Glenn Greenwald pointed out that elections in Brazil are far fairer, far more efficient and less problematic than the shoddy U.S. version.  As are elections in many European countries. Of course, that does not guarantee a good result, as Bolsonaro shows.
  • Did even 50% of the electorate vote in this 'huge turnout'? Sources say 49%.
  • Upshot - the Democratic Party didn't really change their spots.  A bit more diversity, a few social-democrats, but otherwise... In fact, some of the women who won were former CIA or military, i.e. conservatives.
 Red Frog
November 7, 2018

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Neo-Primatives

“Postcards from the End of America,” by Linh Dinh, 2017

If you traveled by Greyhound, Megabus or train on a limited budget around the U.S., walking through worn-out neighborhoods and drinking in dive bars, you’d know something about what happened to the U.S. after the 2008 economic collapse.  Linh Dinh did.  He’s a 50-something, funny guy born in Vietnam who voyaged out of his home base in Philadelphia, a crap town if there ever was one, busy talking to everyone he met.  They were making money in fracktown Williston, North Dakota, hipster Portland and techie San Jose, but everywhere else – it was easy to find a tent city or flop house.  The period:  April 2013 to June 2015. 
Travel Writing At Its Finest

Dinh’s a lefty with a way for comedic words and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.  He’s good at tearing up the stupid or hypocritical, Wall Street and the Pentagon, politicians, war-mongering and consumerism – and even liberals and expensive college educations.  He makes fun of post-modern art, “Apocalypse Now” and the Iowa Writers Workshop, so he’s not quite a denizen.

Half-Feral Towns
He sends a ‘postcard’ essay from each town he visits, like the hollowed-out formerly industrial stretch above Philly – North Philly, Camden, Norristown, Trenton, Levittown, Vineland and worse.  Some of which are now ‘bullet’ towns. Or California’s San ‘Hose,’ home of the tech industry, which sleeps side by side with the homeless.  LA’s downtown tent city, New York’s Washington Heights or San Fran’s Tenderloin, where the yuppies are moving in.  In Washington D.C. 7,000 homeless bed down every night around the White House and the Capitol after the tourists are gone.  A native American Rez town in Montana, Wolfs Point, where the dead pile up; and the deindustrialized Joliet, Illinois of the 1980s union ‘war zone.'  Even the dirty South – art squats in New Orleans and free food at a bar in the wasteland of Jackson, Mississippi.  And other places, 32 postcards in all.

This is what is really going on outside ‘the bubble.’  This is ‘travel writing’ of a different kind. 

Pictures From a Great Recession
Dinh favors a budget beer early in the afternoon, which is where he meets most people – sitting on stools drinking cheap beer in half-empty bars.  He’s always enthusiastically amazed by their stories of misery or injustice.  After all, even the unemployed, retired or barely working will not give up drink.  Or those working 80 hours a week. He retells their hard stories without condescending.  Or after getting off a train, walking blocks and blocks through absolutely unwalkable neighborhoods – observing the sad flags of patriotism, the constant militarism of too many war monuments, the kitsch of nothing.  As a man of Vietnamese heritage, he has a unique angle on these U.S. war memorials.  He even strolls through historic suburban Levittown, a place that only a car can reach, but now is called by some: “Leave It Town.”
Living Large in L.A.
Misfits in America
Here are some quotes from Dinh’s book:
  • In gentrifying Oakland booze is served up “…by the loveliest daughters of the working class…while their uglier cousins are left huddling in tents, not a half a mile away.”
  • “Now if you can barely drink in the heart of any American City, no matter how tiny, you know it’s seriously messed up.”
  • “How can I compete if I don’t hire Brazilians?  Everybody everywhere is hiring illegals…”
  • “…organized violence is an American right of passage…”
  • “In Manhattan alone, there are now 200 Subways, 74 McDonalds…194 Starbucks, 500 Dunkin’ Donuts…” not to mention Applebees, TGI Fridays, Olive Gardens, Outback Steakhouses and Red Lobsters.
  • “… these United States of universal debt bondage.”
  • Williston, ND: “Everyone’s tired here.”
  • Wolf’s Point, MT: “…a friend of mine just got his left leg sawed off.” (From diabetes.)
  • A Beverly Hills Israeli businessman who imported workers from Thailand for huge upfront fees:  “Instead of 3 years of regular work, they were often furloughed without pay.  Some lived in a shipping container.  Some were beaten.  Workers spoke of eating just bananas and hunting birds with rubber band slingshots because they were so hungry.”
  • Rich people:  “…those who have only been waited on can be extremely demanding, if not rude, to the waitstaff.”  Duh.
  • On elections:  “…all to give citizens the impression that their participation matters, for in the end, the lying buffoon who gets to stride into the White House has long been vetted and pre-selected by the banks, death merchants and brainwashing media that run our infernally corrupt and murderous country.”
  • “Besides Netflix, an early twenty-first century American is also kept in quarantine by Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and of course, online porn.”
  • “I’ve stopped going to museums.”
  • On downtown Washington DC “If this is their only exposure to the U.S., then the country is truly a utopia of handsome, well-dressed people who cherish the arts, fine dining and well-made cocktails.”
  • “In small towns across America, you have this basic scenario of little or no manufacturing jobs left, so the locals must scramble for service jobs…”
  • We might be reaching:  “…peak white man.”
  • “…people the world over talk to each other while drinking. It’s called socializing.”
Other books on this topic:  “Nomadland,” “How to Kill a City,” “The Sympathizer,” “Palmers Bar,” and books on Vietnam.

And I bought it at May Day’s excellent used/cutout section!
Red Frog
November 6, 2018     

Friday, November 2, 2018

No Mystery

“The Plot to Kill King – The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by William Pepper, 2018

Forget fake murder mysteries.  Forgot fake drama.  Forget unsourced conspiracies, conjectures and magical thinking.  This is the real stuff. This is evidence.  This is the definitive description of the victory of the security state in the 1960s.  The murder solved, after almost 50 years of legal trials, depositions, affidavits, testimony and just plain common sense.  The FBI, the military, the Dixie Mafia, the power structure of Memphis, the corporate media, even SCLC informants – all involved in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 
A mystery no longer.

After all, who had motive, who had opportunity, who had the means, who had the power to kill a leader of the black community that was fast becoming a national and international anti-war leader and a fighter for the rights of labor – in short an anti-capitalist?   And then to stage an extensive and long running cover-up?  Some sad petty criminal?  A ‘fall guy”?  Another patsy? A guy who was at a gas station when the fatal shot was fired?  A man who declared his innocence for 30 years? Think about it.  J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, was the person who most hated MLK.  Hoover and the government considered MLK a 'communist.'  And 'the only good communist is a dead one,' as the quaint phrase went.  The trail of FBI break-ins, surveillance, media plants, disinformation and plots against King, tracked by even the corporate media, are only the tip of this iceberg.  If you had a real police investigation, Hoover would be suspect Numero Uno.  But alas, few want to go there. Below water in the coldest part of the iceberg is a scoped rifle in the hands of a racist, macho Memphis police officer, crouched in the bushes across from the Lorraine Motel.  With backup from military intelligence, the mayor and police chief of Memphis, the New Orleans mob, the chief doctor at the hospital, FBI handlers and FBI-influenced media and authors which to this day retail the flimsy ‘official’ story.

Here is the truth.  Searing as it is and instructive as it is to anyone who challenges the U.S. power structure.  Learn and be forewarned.  As Pepper says, “…with respect to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., no act, no matter how heinous, by any public official is unthinkable.” 


Pepper initially believed the official story about James Earl Ray being the assassin.  However, after interviewing him years later in prison, he changed his mind.  The man was quiet, believable and not a bigot.  This book is the story of trying to prove the innocence of Ray, and since the state had no interest in doing that, Pepper had to instead prove who really did it.  In the process, familiar break-ins, bribes, stolen information, murders, planted and distorted news stories, legal maneuvers, frightened or planted witnesses, bought judges, intimidation and years-long FBI efforts to silence Pepper followed.  As people told him time and time again, ‘You don’t know who you are dealing with here.”

Throughout the book, I tracked 112 facts that contradict the official version of the assassination, which was based on the scanty evidence of one very drunk ‘eyewitness,’ a bag containing the wrong gun and some personal effects, and a poor and obstructed ‘shooter location.’  Ray initially ‘confessed’ under heavy intimidation, then quickly reversed his plea, and that was all the state needed to have him die in jail years later, although he was supposed to be eliminated quickly.  The ‘fall guy’ strategy worked to a T, using only 4 falsities.

Pepper’s investigation included a civil trial years later in which Lloyd Jowers, the City of Memphis and the Federal Government were declared responsible for the murder by a jury. Only one person from the local press covered the trial, almost completing a news blackout.  After the trial, it was attacked as a ‘fraud’ by FBI–influenced journalists who had not attended. At this trial, the King family worked to clear Ray’s name, as they too had come to believe that MLK was killed by the government with the help of the mob.


Pepper, in a prior 1995 book “Orders to Kill,” named the assassin as Earl Clark, a sharpshooter and lieutenant in the Memphis Police Department (MPD.)  After getting further evidence, in this book Pepper names Frank Strausser, another MPD marksman, as the actual shooter, with Earl Clark kneeling by his side.  Lloyd Jowers, mob-connected owner of nearby Jim’s Grill, handled the rifle and payoff as part of the killing. The Mayor of Memphis, Henry Loeb; MPD chief and former FBI agent Frank Hollomon and Frank Liberto, local Dixie Mafia boss, all organized the hit locally.  Chief deputy to FBI head J. Edgar Hoover Chuck Tolson was their liaison with the FBI.  The FBI procured the weapon in Oregon, and oversaw Ray’s handler, a New Orleans mafia gunrunner named Raul Coelho.  The FBI broke Ray out of prison prior to the assassination as part of the set-up.  They then tried to kill Ray in prison after he was convicted, including setting up another prison break so they could hunt him down. This was only stopped at the last minute by the intervention of the Governor of the state.

Military intelligence groups – including Special Forces Alpha 184 - were involved, triangulating King from high rooftops around the Lorraine.  A military Psy Ops team photographed the killing from across the street on the roof of a fire station and their photos caught the real assassin. One of the many witnesses who saw Earl Clark jump down from the bushes after the shot and get into a nearby MPD car was killed that same evening by a local mob enforcer, Chess Butler.  Even the head surgeon at the hospital which had been pre-chosen to transport King, St. Josephs Hospital, a Dr. Breen Bland, was connected to the plotters and made sure King did not survive the emergency room.   The plot went according to plan.

The saddest and most controversial aspects of this plot are that there is some evidence that 3 people in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) group accompanying King to Memphis were also helping the FBI.  One of them, Reverend Kyles, was the one that knocked on King’s door right before 6:00 PM, then moved far down the balcony away from King’s room.  Another was … Jesse Jackson, who according to testimony, arranged to have King’s room changed from a secure location on the first floor interior of the motel up to a room on the exposed balcony.  The man kneeling over King right after the kill shot was also connected to the government.  Jackson was on the right-wing of the SCLC and might have opposed King’s widening opposition to the Vietnam war, labor support and a pledge to bring thousands of poor people to Washington D.C. – something which terrified the ruling elite.


Anyone reading this book will remark that the whole cast of characters and modus operandi seems similar to the hits on John Kennedy in Dallas and Robert Kennedy in LA.  A southern city, the FBI, the mob, local police, the withdrawal of protection, a patsy, operating room manipulation, a shoddy cover-up, many bad facts, dead witnesses, a suppliant media, intimidation all around.  Interestingly, this book indicates that Hoover started a ‘Prayer List’ that included both Kennedys and later King.  This was after the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s, as the Kennedys had turned against McCarthy, Hoover’s ally.  Witnesses in this book even saw mobster Jack Ruby and gunrunner Raul Coelho together in New Orleans.  Another close witness quotes LBJ as saying that he would never be humiliated again 'by that bastard,' a few days before JFK was killed.   Pepper did not want to go there, which makes sense for this case. 

Another dark secret is that the racist Mayor Loeb wanted to lure MLK to Memphis and to do that, he pushed the sanitation workers into a strike by ignoring their demands.  The crushing of two black sanitation workers in a garbage truck while they hid from the rain was also intentional, so as to create even more of a crisis. 


This is a description of how it actually happened.  The most direct shot to the balcony of the Lorraine was not from a cramped high rooming house bathroom (as the official story goes), but from bushes right across the street, on top of a wall higher than the Lorraine balcony.  A number of witnesses confirmed the shot and activity came from there. The shooter, Strausser, a beefy bigot and thumper, practiced shooting at the MPD range all morning.  He parked at the nearby fire station, then went around into the empty lot. All normal police protection had been withdrawn from King.   With Strausser were Clark and Jowers - the latter got muddy pants from kneeling in the bushes.  A backup shooter was in the rooming house, along with the military teams on the other buildings.  James Earl Ray himself had driven to a garage to get a tire on his white Mustang fixed and knew nothing of what was going on.  Witnesses say the bundle with the decoy gun was dropped in the doorway of Canipe Amusement company next to Jim’s Grill right before 6 PM, by either Raul or one of the local mafia fixers by the name of Adkins. 

Just after 6 PM, Strausser shot King in the mouth with one shot.  Jowers immediately ran into his cafĂ©, Jim’s Grill, and was seen by a witness as he brought the death weapon in and broke it down.  Clark jumped down from the bushes, ran up the street and got in an MPD car, and was seen by many.  Strausser left size 13 footprints in the muddy earth, and probably got away through the back lot.  The next day the police ordered the bushes cut down and trees trimmed, contravening any crime scene methods and making the supposed ‘shot’ from the rooming house unobstructed.  The police traced the rooming house registration and the bundle to Ray.  All other evidence has been ignored, destroyed or downplayed by Congress, law enforcement and the criminal courts.  The plot went off – the only hitches being Ray, Pepper and the truth. A ‘pay log’ for the plot, with Raul’s name on it, was later found, but the government could not admit Raul even existed.  It is actually amazing how sloppy and open the whole thing was, but they figured they were immune.  Pepper ultimately produced 70 witnesses that contradicted this government ‘open secret.'

This book is required reading on MLK Day or any other.  The gauzy “I Have A Dream” media representation of King trotted out once each year hides a far more radical reality, a “Christ-like” leader who was becoming a threat to the whole U.S. system - and was crucified by that same system. 

Other reviews on this topic, below:  “”Orders to Kill,” “They Killed Our President,”The Strange Death of Paul Wellstone,” “Finks,” “The Devils Chessboard,” “American Made” and “Kill the Messenger.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
November 2, 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Dark Days

Has Representative Democracy Failed?

In the U.S. we may soon find out – again.  This Sunday’s election in Brazil of a near fascist, Jair Bolsonaro, indicates that the ‘democratic’ part of bourgeois representative democracy is in crisis.  Bolsonaro is a deeply anti-communist, anti-labor and anti-union figure.  He is intent on bringing terror and perhaps death squads and military force into Brazil once again, as was done under the military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 (as part of a U.S.-backed coup) to 1985.   Yesterday, left-liberal journalist Amy Goodman only commented on Bolsonaro’s homophobic, sexist and racist side as befits her identity politics, but Glenn Greenwald set her straight as to Bolsonaro’s essential animus, which is aimed at the Left in all its shapes.  Bolsonaro is carrying the flag of God too, as fundamentalist Christians and Catholics rallied around his candidacy.  He intends to destroy the Amazon rain forest in the interest of corporate mining, cane sugar ethanol, beef cattle and soy bean interests.  This will accelerate global warming, as these trees act as a massive carbon sink.
Bolsonaro and his "gun" hands.  The NRA loves him.

This victory is ultimately due to the failure of the formerly left-wing Workers Party, whose leadership slowly moved towards neo-liberalism and a closeness to the Brazilian capitalist class and all that entails, the 'appearance' of corruption included.  Neither Lula nor Rouseff were corrupt - it was a state lie engineered to remove them from power.


This week the bloody fascist attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh; the MAGA-bomber and his inept attempts to send bombs to Democratic Party politicians; the killing of two black people by a racist at a Kroger’s in Louisville after trying to get into a black church – all are part of a pattern of increasing right-wing, racist and fascist activity in the U.S. that accompany this breakdown in bourgeois democracy.  Right now working-class people need to go beyond candle-light vigils, occasional marches or Facebook posts and join or form organizations that can defend our class and every part of our class. 


Trump’s election through a deeply flawed U.S. electoral system, Orban’s election in Hungary, Putin’s re-election in Russia, the success of the Brexit vote, the recent election of Salvini in Italy, the past election of a far-right government in Poland, even the coming resignation of Angela Merkel in Germany after the success of a far-right party in Bavaria – all show that something is wrong in the very structure of parliamentary ‘democracy’ and the underlying capitalist economy and its war-making. 

The flip side is that the overthrow of the elected leader of Ukraine by NATO or State Department plans for a coup in Venezuela or Nicaragua, or the State Department embrace of the military coup in Honduras in 2009 show that even parliamentary democracy can be ignored when necessary by imperial power.  As has been true for many years...  The present caravan of destitute Hondurans is partly blow-back for Clinton’s support of the Honduran coup, along with years of destruction in Central America that started in the 1980s.  This is being compounded by food insecurity due to climate change, forcing starving farmers off the land.  The practice of the  U.S. government basically wrecking other countries is consistent.  Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine also come to mind.

We should be reminded that in 1933 Hitler was handed the Chancellorship by Von Hindenberg after the Nazi Party won a large minority of the German vote.  This ascension to power was later approved by another ‘democratic’ vote in Germany.  Mussolini was constitutionally appointed leader of Italy by its King Emmanuelle II in 1922.  It was all ‘legal.’  On the other hand, the Spanish fascists and part of the capitalist class ignored the election of the liberal left and started a class war that they won, with the dictator Franco staying in power in Spain from 1939 until 1975.  Again, even parliamentary democracy can be ignored when needed.  Right now it doesn’t have to be disposed of, as yet...


Here in the U.S. it is obvious that corporate money, gerrymandering, voter suppression and purges, bogus ‘provisional ballots,’ vote count manipulation, legal Party limitations that stop 3rd parties, first-past-the-post rules, felony limitations, polling place shenanigans, ID laws, post-office box prohibitions, Supreme Court votes, lobbyists, the mass of non-voters and media propaganda have all distorted the ‘democratic’ process of voting into something unrecognizable and alienating.  That is not to mention the restrictions on actual democracy in the Constitution, which are multiple.  Essentially the system now clearly serves the needs of the wealthy, the corporations, the upper middle class, the 10% and no one else.  It is no longer actually ‘democratic.’  This is not news to many and has been pointed out in book after book, many of which are carried at May Day.  

In the coming election in the U.S., observers say the Democrats will carry the U.S. House, but not the Senate.  Whether this is true or not, the factional war within the capitalist class will still result in a continuing stalemate of sorts, common since the rise of the Tea Party and the ascendancy of neo-liberalism.

Socialists of course would like a more democratic system, even under bourgeois democracy, and support whatever will make this system actually representative.  However, based on the failures of 'democracy' since the model of voting was promoted by the bourgeoisie to replace royalty in the late 1700s - another model of democracy is necessary. Certainly a theocratic dictatorship like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is not the way to go – it is only the way to go back. 


The other form of democracy is through the rule of workers' councils in workplaces and in neighborhoods.  Right now, parliamentary democracy – representative democracy – is limited or done away with based on the needs of the underlying capitalist economic system.  Any analysis of the failures of bourgeois democracy shows that it is the capitalist class which is behind it every time.  A more direct democracy – workers’ democracy – could involve everyone from the bottom-up, in their community and workplace.  After all, the working classes are the overwhelming majority worldwide.  If the main parts of the economy were socialized, the role of the rich and corporations would weaken and even disappear.  Expropriating that class and disarming their armed servants puts an end to their threat to the actual democracy of the majority. Building a form of this democratic dual power as the legislative one crumbles will be a sign that people are fed up with the way it is now.

The danger of a new bureaucracy or a dominant party would be dealt with through strengthening the councils so that they gradually acquire all power.  Any working-class parties should eventually ‘whither away’ or be ‘whithered away!’ 

While this sounds like a 'utopian' scheme at this point in history, the present situation or the dark past are not really promising.  At some point when the democratic crisis becomes intolerable – and that time is coming - a choice for a new system of democracy will have to be made. 

Counterpuch article 10/31 on workers' councils in Iran - being called for now.
Iranian Workers' councils

Book reviews on this topic, below:  "All Power to the Councils," "Facing Reality," "Workers' Councils," "October - the Story of the Russian Revolution," "Building the Commune," "Maoism and the Chinese Revolution."  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
October 30, 2018

Friday, October 26, 2018

Of Poetry & Plays

Poetry:  “Welcome to Brooklyn Criminal Court,” by Chris Butters, 2018

Most poetry in the U.S. is apolitical, personal and exclusively aesthetic, or its just plain saccharine and banal.  "Precious" is the word that comes to mind.  Believe me, I’ve attended a good number of local poetry readings here in Minneapolis and it is sometimes quite painful or laughable or both.

Chris Butters is not that kind of poet.  A socialist who worked as a court reporter, he brings reality and feeling together in this poem about Brooklyn Criminal Court, a place where he worked for 30 years.  A witness, so to speak, to all the misery, injustice, fear, humor and bureaucracy of that institution.  

Butters has published prior political poetry books, including “Propaganda of a Seed,” and “Americas” and others.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York.  He has been a radical activist for many years and his poetry reflects his social concerns.
Electrical Power Outage at Brooklyn Criminal Court
 This is a link to the written poem.  I can't find a way to upload the .mp3 file yet:    
Chris read it on NYC WBAI (99.5 FM)'s Arts Express radio last month.  Enjoy!

Butters’ poetry books will be available at May Day Books. 


“The Visit,” by Friedrich Durrenmatt, a play by Frank Theatre, 10/29/2018

This is a play about revenge.  Durrenmatt was a Swiss dramatist who in style at least followed Bertold Brecht’s epic methods.  Frank Theatre, as is their wont, staged this at the industrial Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul, a train terminal full of vintage trains and tracks.  The play itself is set in a small, depressed town, Gullen, served by a few trains.  The train station is a key locale in the play.  So it fits…
The Visitor Comes to Town
This is one of the more disturbing plays you might watch, as it tells the story of a young girl of 17, Claire, who gets pregnant and is betrayed by her lover in two ways.  She is ultimately exiled from Gullen due to the pregnancy and the actions of her lover.  The baby later dies due to her poverty as a prostitute in another town.  She wants revenge, and after becoming one of the richest women on earth from fortunate marriages, she impoverishes the town for years unknown to them, then returns … by train.

Claire’s plan is to bribe the broken citizens of the town with a billion marks, IF they agree to kill the man who betrayed her.  And it works, as the citizens eventually vote to kill him and do so collectively.  The man’s wife and children are even in on the plan, yellow shoes and all. Your sympathy is with her, then with him, then – well really, death is not a just penalty for his actions.  But for the rich it is easily accomplished. 

Ultimately deeply cynical but also accurate, it proves money can buy almost anyone. But it also highlights the treatment of women, especially pregnant working-class girls, who in many countries were and still are shunned, sent away and in other ways mistreated - even forced to bear children.  At the time the play was first performed in Switzerland (1956) women could not even vote in that country - they gained the vote in 1971.

A creepy play - partially class conscious, partly feminist, partly reactionary, half funny, half sad…basically disturbing.  And not really Brechtian in theme, just in the staging and theatrical methods.  I say ‘partly reactionary’ because of the moralistic structure of the play – almost like a Brothers Grim horror fairy-tale that is supposed to teach us a lesson through the false extremity of its choice. 

The play is no longer running here, but it may open in your town some day.  Frank Theatre will soon be reprising “The Cradle Will Rock,” a proletarian and left-wing musical they first put on in 2003.  It became the basis of the excellent film by Tim Robbins called “Cradle Will Rock.” That movie added Diego Rivera’s painting of a mural for Nelson Rockefeller, hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and anti-communist agitation against the Federal Theater Project onto Blitzstein’s original play and the real events surrounding its performance. In 2003 those Frank Theatre performances were in a torn-apart Sears store - very prescient, given Sears recent bankruptcy.

Other plays reviewed below:  “Oil & the Jungle,” “Love & Information,” “Ideation,” “Things of Dry Hours,” “Revolt She Said. Revolt Again,” “Puntilla & His Hired Man, Matti,” “The Lower Depths,” “A Bright Room Called Day,” “The Good Person of Setzuan,” “Camino Real,” The Dutchman” and 3 written Sean O’Casey plays.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I saw it in St. Paul, MN, USA
Red Frog
October 26, 2018