Thursday, September 3, 2015

Roller Coaster Markets

Debt & Capital – a Confluence of Factors

The last month has seen a swoon in the global stock and bond markets – a drop that was to be expected given the endless financial ‘gas’ from corporate profits and government central bank policies drifting upward into the ‘stockosphere’ since 2009.  On another “Black Monday,” August 24th, the U.S. Dow Jones fell 1,100 points.  Program trading is driving the volatility, but beneath it is something else. Debt is the immediate culprit if you look, but beyond that it is a stagnant profit outlook from actual production.

Don't use this card, don't use this card, don't ...
The destruction of Greece in the interests of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the German and French bankers over the debt issue served as a prelude to the latest mini-heart attack in the markets.  The action of the ECB to cut off daily transaction abilities of Greek banks to enforce the Troika’s demands was unprecedented but expected.  It crushed Syriza, which has now gone through a left-split, with “Popular Unity” emerging out of the social-democratic shell of Syriza’s leadership.  The social-democrats found out the ECB does not negotiate.  The markets rose after this slaughter.

Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland, take note.

But now Puerto Rico has begun the path to default.  Puerto Rican bonds, bought by many retirement pension funds and 401k outfits, are the subject of many lawsuits across the U.S., especially in Florida.  Puerto Rico engaged in the same heavy borrowing as was encouraged on many other municipalities by Wall Street.  Prominent capitalists in the U.S. like the ‘sage of Omaha,’ Warren Buffet, are calling for ‘staying the course’ in making Puerto Rico bleed.  No haircuts here.  No jubilees, no way.

No one remembers that back in 2008 the Chinese government (which the writers at understand controls the ‘commanding heights of the economy,’ even if some Marxists don’t) floated the world economy through one of the biggest building booms in history – making the pyramids look like a day’s work.  Chinese growth continued through that whole sorry capitalist episode.  New cities, ship and air ports, roads and freeways, apartments and office buildings went up.  China ‘grew’ through the Great Recession and helped pull the capitalist world out of its debt crisis  - a crisis brought on by the domino effect of bogus securitized mortgages and unpaid credit default swaps that nearly brought down world finance.  I.E. debt.

Yet that situation is not over.  Last year China accounted for almost 40% of world growth.  But this year the chickens have come home to roost, especially in China.  Many of those built facilities are empty or unused. Due to the large debt overhang from over-building and real-estate speculation, according to McKinsey it quadrupled Chinese debt.  In response, the yuan was devalued by the government.  The private Chinese ‘shadow’ banking system is in trouble for the same reason.  The Chinese stock market, the Shanghai composite, took an enormous drop.  In response the People’s Bank of China – the main state bank - is propping up the market every day by buying shares, just as the U.S. central bank has done for many years in the U.S. through cheap money. 

Many commentators in the U.S. are saying – so who cares about China!  Well, China has been the cheap labor production site for world capital for many years.  It has been one of the chief importers of basic commodities like steel, cement, oil and rubber.  If it starts pulling back, retrenching and focusing on its own domestic market – and perhaps paying Chinese workers more – that puts a wrench in the model.  Since the 1980s the Chinese oriented to neo-liberalism and the ‘world market’ and have followed that path to a T.   

When Yellen’s Fed made noises about ‘cheap money’ becoming more expensive in the U.S., it also contributed to the U.S. market drop.  They are now putting this off for another month.  The Federal Reserve is basically floating Wall Street through cheap money, which Wall Street and various corporations use to loan money to us at higher rates – rates civilians then have to pay.  The ECB and the Bank of Japan are doing the same thing.  Corporations use this money for buying other companies or buying their own stock back.  Now the Fed could loan money directly to people at these rates – but that would be ‘socialism!’  So they funnel it through capitalist corporations so someone can buy a yacht.  The Fed is also buying up U.S. bonds to make them more expensive, so it will force people back to the markets.  They call it ‘quantitative easing’ – around $4.5 trillion according to Bloomberg since 2008.  It makes the 2008 $800K U.S. government ‘bailout’ of Wall Street look like a teaser. 

The Chinese state bank is doing the same thing – flooding the Shanghai market with financial support every day at 2 P.M. to cover the debts of all the ‘get rich quick’ Chinese speculators who trade stocks in their bathrobes.   Capital in China has just gotten a black eye.  China has also cut interest rates and loosened borrowing limits – yet wants to avoid more debt at the same time!  Schizophrenia.  As many have pointed out, once money is almost free and the markets are freeer from ‘moral hazard’ - what can a government do if the markets continue to drop?  Some of the largest bullets are then gone from ‘monetary’ policy.  This behavior by the Chinese central bank endangers the real Chinese economy.  Of course they have a mountain of cash they too are sitting on.

The stock, bond and commodity markets are the thermometer of capitalist health – and they are basically casinos at bottom.  Every time there is a panic, as the high speed computers trade millions of shares in split seconds, it only proves this. 

Commodities are also taking a beating.  The oil and coal industries are clocking out, while other commodities are dropping in value due to slowing economies.  Oil is again at record lows on the spot markets – below $40 a barrel.  This reflects a possible approaching recession, both around China and countries like Canada, our biggest trading partner.  The Saudi’s and OPEC have intentionally not limited oil production for political reasons – to hurt the Russian and Venezuelan economies.  Smaller U.S. oil / fracking outfits are idled or going bankrupt.  The ‘boom’ in North Dakota is being tempered.  One of the largest coal companies in the U.S. has recently declared bankruptcy, as solar and wind can compete economically.  No one is crying about that except the miners that are out of work – as capital has no plan to retrain them for another job.  Welcome to the ‘free’ market.

What are the capitalist corporations doing with their ocean of cash?  Stock buy-backs.  Not investing in plant, equipment or people – mostly just stock buy-backs, sitting on it or speculation in markets or real estate.  This is because the production of actual commodities – not financial commodities – is no longer profitable enough.  Build another factory?  Pshaw!  Labor productivity – which has helped corporations for many years make more money – has leveled off or is declining.  I.E. they have worked people’s brains and bones enough.  The environmental issue is also weighing on capital.  Basically it no longer sees a long-term future for its basic model, but can’t admit it.  The model is too rigid to change, so it just plunges ahead. 

This is the face of stagnation.  Everywhere you look both real and hidden debt is acting like a giant set of concrete shoes.  This mountain of debt – corporate, civilian and lastly government – is a sign that capital has no outlet in actual commodity production anymore.  It is instead as if a giant Hoover vacuum cleaner has sucked all the money up out of many municipalities, countries, workers, like a bloodsucker that needs a host.  What happens when the host is drying up?  The vampire bloodsucker can’t stop  - the system cannot ‘reform’ itself. 

Debt now reflects our almost French Revolution level of class stratification, as Piketty might point out.  Those below the top 10% of the society owe the most – if they have anything to owe, that is.  Now what did Marx say about debt?  Famously he described national debt as part of the ‘primitive accumulation’ process of capital. (in Capital, Vol.1)   He contended that ‘public’ debt was concomitant with the existence and growth of capitalism. 

National debts, i.e., the alienation of the state – whether despotic, constitutional or republican – marked with its stamp the capitalistic era.” - Marx

As to corporate / capitalist debt, he early identified credit as an absolutely necessary part of the circulation of capital, as the capitalist needed a bridge loan between the production of commodities and the realization of profits.  Hence credit had to become part of the ‘fictitious capital’ generated by the system.  Minsky, going Keynes one up, argued that financial capital had built-in boom-busts based on credit and debt.   This sounds suspiciously like Marx talking about production and over-production in the actual commodity economy.

Another form of debt is debt peonage for people (debt slavery) – and for whole nations.  See Greece.  The globalization of credit and debt is upon us. 

Lastly is individual debt.  Debt is now intimately intertwined with private property.  When Marx wrote Capital, the credit card, the mortgage and the auto loan were unknown.  So he does not focus on individual debt - but it fits the understanding quite easily.  Later Marxists have pointed out that capital engenders debt like a snake puts out venom.  Debt is now closely entwined with the population – through student loans, car loans, house loans, equipment or business loans and credit card debt.  This is because, as Monthly Review might point out, excess capital must find a use – and the use is to put everyone else in debt by issuing these loans. Which is why you see late night TV handing out loans on lawsuits or giving payday loans over the internet.  

As the British Marxist David Harvey said,
The perpetual accumulation of capital and of wealth is therefore crucially dependent upon the perpetual accumulation and expansion of debt.”

Debt has grown as wages and salaries have failed to keep pace with prices.  For workers, a loan of some kind became essential to survival.  So actually debt slavery is a bi-product of wage slavery.  Debt leads to the control and subsequent exploitation of labor.  This is not the position of anarchists like David Graeber, who think debt slavery came first.  U.S. household debt was $12.8 trillion in 2006.  Imagine what it is now.

Without a program to cancel all debts to the banks this situation will only get worse.  Of course, that would bring down the capital system.  Exactly.

Reviews of "Debt" by David Graeber and "Flash Boys," by Michael Lewis, and commentaries on modern slavery, below.  

Red Frog
September 3, 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2015

‘Force is the Supreme Arbiter in Human Affairs’ – Louis Lyngg

"The Bomb – by Frank Harris, 1909-1996.  (The Classic Novel of Anarchist Violence)

This is the fictionalized story of the 1886 Chicago Haymarket events, told from the inside.  Using fiction, the book allows us to go back in a lively, living way.  It is told from the point of view of the alleged ‘bomber’ – Rudolph Schnaubelt.  It was rumored that the actual Schnaubelt was one of the people who threw the bomb that killed police on that day.  The cops were attacking a radical workers protest meeting on Des Plaines Street in Chicago on May 4th, 1886.  The workers were upset over the police killing of strikers at the McCormick factory a few days before. 

Frank Harris, the author, was a well-known anarchist with varying views.  He dedicated this book to the Princess of Monaco, which gives you an idea of his oddness, and also wrote “My Life and Loves,” a romantic remembrance.  John Dos Passos, writing the introduction as a newly-minted Goldwater Republican, hardly mentions the events and instead concentrates on running down Harris as a person.  It is somewhat odd that Harris identifies the bomber as an anarchist sympathizer, as the real bomber was never really identified, but it makes some sense.

1st rally flier, last line removed in 2nd.
The bomb killed 7cops and injured more of them, along with some civilians.  The police responded by killing 4 workers and injuring 70 more.  It is somewhat of a stretch to believe agents-provocateurs would go to the length of killing that many cops.   Given the standard brutality meted out by the Chicago police against strikers and foreign-born workers during this period – attacking peaceful-legal rallies and pickets with clubs and ending with shooting workers to death – it is not hard to believe that some worker might retaliate.  Chicago in those days was a prison-house of labor – workers were unemployed, freezing to death in the winter, brutalized, poorly paid, injured and spit-upon.  The book has sections describing the filthy conditions in the pork packinghouses which work as a fitting prequel to “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair – another tale of working-class Chicago misery and slaughter-house filth.

Louis Lyngg, the heroic German immigrant and focus of this book, claimed at the Haymarket trial that he believed the Chicago cops got what they deserved - that violence should be met by violence. The narrator Schnaubelt indicates that Lyngg made the advanced bomb that did the damage, and also used one to kill himself in jail.  Lyngg was the only one of the 8 defendants who for all practical purposes pleaded guilty. The rest were railroaded for being radical labor agitators.  4 were later hung – Parson, Spies, Engel & Fischer; 2 – Schwab and Fielden - commuted to ‘life’ in prison and 1 – Neebe – jailed for 15 years.  Of these, only Parsons was born in the U.S.  Parsons had turned himself in and refused an offer of clemency, seeing it as a betrayal of his comrades.  He believed he would get justice – an idea somewhat naïve for a socialist/anarchist radical.

The bourgeois media of the day played a great role in howling for the death of labor agitators and strikers.  One Chicago Tribune editorial called for giving strikers ‘strychnine.’  This encouraged the police to split heads at a moments notice - not that much different than today.  The rich man's press later consistently lied about events surrounding Haymarket. After the bombing, thousands of mostly foreign workers in Chicago were arrested on no evidence.  At the trial of the Haymarket 8, evidence was planted, witnesses and cops lied, the jury was packed and the judge broke every legal rule promoting the prosecution.  The jury decision to execute the 7 innocent defendants was later upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.  As Parson’s pointed out in his speech in the dock, “There is evidently in America one justice for the rich and one for the poor.”  Again, today, not much has changed.  Ultimately the prosecution could not find enough evidence regarding the actual bombing, so their fall-back position was that the defendants ‘encouraged’ the bombing by their actions and words.  No one indicted and hung the editors and journalists of the Chicago Tribune or other newspapers for their words however.  The standard of ‘opposing violence’ is only operational when the violence is carried out by enemies of capital and its state, not in the reverse. 

To this day this court decision is a judicial crime that has never been admitted by the capitalist ‘justice’ machine.

As reflected in this book, of greatest significance is how the press and the capitalists split foreign-born workers from American-born workers to weaken the whole class.  Harris even goes so far as to call the different nationalities different ‘races’ – i.e. Polish, German or Croatians were another ‘race’ from “Americans.”  This reflects how much minor differences' were emphasized.  Again, not that much different from today, given the propaganda against Latinos or other recent immigrants.  Capital does not change its spots – it just re-sends the same message another day. 

Schnaubelt is the center of the story.  A middle-class German fellow schooled in Latin and journalism, he emigrates to New York and then travels to Chicago to write news stories for a leftist New York paper.  In Chicago he meets the various characters in the struggle, including Lingg and his girlfriend Ida.  Somewhat ignorant of politics, Ling schools him and oddly there is something of a ‘bromance’ between the two.  Schnaubelt points out that Spies and Parsons were both advocates of peaceful change – Spies being primarily a reformist.  The most painful part of the book is Schnaubelt’s frustrating romance with Elsie, a bewitching, lithe woman who has no time for politics but who he finds sexually attractive.  Basically they prudishly refrain from having sex in scene after scene to the point where you skip the pages.  Ultimately Schnaubelt’s double-life can go on no longer. 

The narrator points out that after the Haymarket police riot and bombing, police violence against strikers in Chicago subsided.  Chicago labor agitators, socialists and anarchists continued to fight for the 8-hour day, child labor rules, unions, higher pay and for free speech.  A year later the First of May was chosen by the 1st International to be the official labor holiday world-wide.  This became labor’s May Day tradition, one observed by nearly every working class in the world.  Yet here in the U.S., the home of May Day, it is a marginal event not even celebrated by the official labor movement leadership. 

The martyrs to the 8-hour day struggle against capital are buried in Chicago’s Forest Park cemetery, where a monument has been erected to their memory.  Every working person who works a 40-hour week – a group fewer and fewer each day – owes a debt to these labor radicals.  Given the deterioration of working conditions, it is time for a new '8-hour movement' to combat capital.  Poverty wages, ‘independent contractor’ status, long hours, illegality, temp and part-time jobs, peddling, gigs – in effect the casual precariat economy - is now nearly global.  A serious struggle against it might overwhelm capital, as it can no longer deliver for the majority, even in the central capitalist countries. 

(Other books about Chicago – “The Dill-Pickle Club,”, “Embedded in Organized Labor,” and “The Jungle,” reviewed below.)

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
August 30, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Capital is the Real Dinosaur

"Jurassic World,” 2015

Nearly every film-goer is familiar with this film series based on the books written by right-winger Michael Crichton.  But like the Bourne series written by another right-winger, Robert Ludlum, which was turned into an anti-CIA screed, this series has also turned the politics on its head.  Even the last Bond film, “Quantum of Solace’ nailed oil corporations polluting jungles.  What gives with the writers in Hollywood?

Theme Park Bucks
Corporate greed, private military contractors, war, genetically-modified organisms, the fantasy of ‘de-extinction,’ cell phones, up-tight & wired corporate executives, CEO egotism, treatment of animals as sources of profit or as ‘things’, Sea World, theme parks and zoos in general – all take hits in this film.  Ostensibly another sci-fi horror show, it actually functions as a social critique of U.S. society, though how many viewers see it that way is debatable.  It’s a popcorn movie with a sub-text, but most won’t get past the corn.

Many events in the film are unreal, but that is normal for American films.  Escaping children do not follow watercourses to the ocean but wander back into the jungle; velociraptors somehow regain affinity for their human trainer in a fight-to-the-death battle sequence; corporate executives shed their high heels and kill; no one can shoot the giant eyes out of a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex hybrid with all those guns.  OK.

But the delight is in the details.  “De-extinction” – which is now Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand’s “TED” talk interest - shows itself to be just a gimmick.  After all, thousands of species are dying presently in a ‘6th Extinction’ so who is going to waste time recreating a wooly mammoth except some capitalist corporation?  Not a word about those present species going down from the ‘de-extinctionists.’  A laughably large swimming dinosaur eats a giant shark while being watched by thousands in a re-creation of the giant Sea World aquarium.  This should put the punch-line on the decline of Sea World attendance and its stock price due to its mistreatment of sea life like Orca whales.  Many cell phones were initially bought for emergencies.  Here the sound quality is so bad on one that its useless, which is familiar to anyone with a cell phone. Several key people in the film point out that the dinosaurs (read animals) and humans are in a ‘relationship’ – not something on a spreadsheet.  Or that the dinosaurs are independent entities, not machines or things.  A raging overweight private military contractor wants to use the velociraptors as combat accessories to take out military enemies – an absurd idea that he pursues to the end.  Then there is the efficient Asian scientist cooking up a strange combination of genes to create a new monster with ‘bigger teeth’ to increase corporate profits and goose park attendance.  Read Dr. Frankenstein.  And there is the billionaire know-it-all CEO who confidently tries to pilot a copter he has just learned how to fly into the thick of things. 

Hedonistic voyeurism at the human control of these prehistoric beasts is turned into its opposite - a bloody chaos created by capital's hubris. The hybrid monster dinosaur is the logical conclusion of capital's inability to think about anything but profits. It is the dialectic turned. 

The most negative aspect of the film is the over-controlling operations executive, played by a power-suited redhead with an always-ringing cell phone.  A woman was chosen for this role, only to be straightened out by the courageous ‘man’s man’ raptor trainer with the Triumph motorcycle.  This is a conventional ‘delicate weak woman in the woods’ narrative and the most stupid thing about the film.   And no, she doesn’t get dirt on her outfit, her face, nor is her hair mussed or her delicate necklace even torn off in the midst of all the chaos.  The award for most obvious product placement goes to Mercedes – every vehicle on this island is a Mercedes Benz except the Triumph motorcycle, which only aficionados will recognize.  Evidently Triumph did not pay the filmmakers any money.  Capital makes money while skewering itself.  What did Lenin say about ropes? And is this even a rope? 

What is implicit but not commented on is the throng of well-heeled and clueless people (us, the viewers or tourists evidently…) who paid money to come to this isolated island and participate in this monstrosity.  The film is a virtual zoo for the viewers too, but only virtual.  Yet more and more people are seeing that real zoos, circuses and aquariums or their more covert cousins, ‘nature centers’ for wolves and bears, are just jails for animals.  It’s almost the same principle as taking a tour of a maximum security prison for humans. 

And I saw it at the Riverview Theater
Red Frog
August 26, 2015

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Literature Today, Cabron

"All the Pretty Horses," by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy is best known for penning “No Country for Old Men,” adapted by the Coen brothers into a film and later, “The Road,” a great post-apocalyptic story also turned into a film.  He’s a modern western writer – like Larry McMurtry, Edward Abbey or an occasional Barbara Kingsolver book.  McCarthy focuses on extremely marginal white people – outcasts of various kinds and the violence they run into or cause.  In this book, the first in the ‘Border Trilogy,’ some teenage boys leave Texas, cross the Rio Grande and ride their horses into Mexico.  The period might be the 1960s / 1970s.  They are for some reason sick of life on their ranches and decide to seek adventure by horseback. 

Horse Lovers, Horse Thieves
They are young cowboys and horse people.  One, John Grady, is an excellent horse trainer and chess player, fluent in Spanish, never misses a shot, a great fighter and along with his friend Rawlins, a survivor.  He is also successful with the beautiful rich Mexican girl on the hacienda.  Yeah, he’s not real.  Sort of a 17-year-old teenage “man with no name” - a typical masculine stereotype hiding behind the ‘alternative western’ trope.  Lone heroes are still a staple of western literature, and McCarthy is no different. 

Yet McCarthy is probably one of the best prose writers in the U.S. His stories are always either riveting or at least interesting.  (Prior reviews of “The Road” and “Suttree,” below.)  His prose is unique, sort of an adaptation of Joycean word play and sentence structure to a more spare and realistic narrative.  In this first of his ‘border’ series, McCarthy illuminates the desert in all its barren glory.  The desert is not like other places – it is immediately unforgiving.  Mountain, prairie, seaside and woods have life and water and mostly closer horizons.  The desert has little water and the biggest horizon.  The northern Mexican desert and mountains of this story play a role just like a character. 

Why should leftists care?  Few present mainstream writers write about the working class, which is the problem.  McCarthy, Russell Banks, John Sayles, Dennis Lehane, TC Boyle, Alice Walker, Tony Morrison and a few others sometimes or occasionally do, but rarely in a political way.  Mostly they write descriptive stories, with Banks and Sayles the most consistent. (Sample title: "Trailer Park," by Banks.) American literature is now dominated by people like Jonathan Franzen and the dead David Foster Wallace.  Franzen is a writer who concentrates on middle-class life.  He is the inheritor of Updike and Roth but without the chauvinism and sexual infantilism.  Wallace was a post-modernist who attempted to become ‘modern’ and failed. Most present books and TV shows about working class life paint us as buffoons or in unreal situations.  Or as bums or drunks or violent – i.e. anything by Charles Bukowski.

In the earlier part of the 20th century in the U.S. this was not so.  A large strain of writers mined working-class life for stories, including political ones.  As the academics say, proletarians had ‘agency.’  Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Richard Wright, Theodore Dreiser, Mike Gold, John Steinbeck, James Farrell and others covered political and social topics with ease.  The MFA was unknown.  While many cite the dreadful “Great Gatsby” as the great American novel, it is really the great American rich person’s novel.  Every high school English teacher loved the progressive “To Kill a Mockingbird” until Harper Lee’s actual first novel “Go Set A Watchman” came out recently and undermined it.  The educated white man who saved a black boy was still a segregationist. Yet these books are the standard.  In the process the writers from the 1900s-1940s and the class they illuminated became invisible.  In the same process, actual work also became invisible.  Ralph Ellison is not the only one to describe invisible people and invisible things. 

This invisibility is part of neo-liberal tenets.  We are merely consumers now – consumers of images, of technology, of clichés, of products, of politicians.   There is no majority anymore, just many individuals with various life-style choices pursuing 'passionate' interests. The dirty work is done behind the scenes and best not talked about except in euphemisms.  The majority must know they are not a majority.  They must know that their concerns are peripheral to crime or English professor’s love stories or various addictions - or to very important people. 

In this book, McCarthy describes a somewhat old-fashioned life on a ranchero in Mexico, with its brace of vaqueros and tasks – branding, breaking wild horses, gathering cattle.  Yet the poison in this idyllic world is a very young white drifter, Blevins, who crazily kills 3 men trying to get his handsome horse back – found and then hidden by a rich Mexican.  This is not about class in the end - it is about individual pride, possession, honor, the ‘west.’  Ultimately, marginal and extreme people are more interesting than common people for McCarthy.  That is the real theme of this book and several others by him.  It is common to much literature in the U.S.

What to do? 

Political work also requires a cultural side and when more working-class stories get told, the 'worm' will turn. Given the present economic situation, it is none too soon.

(Banks’ “Rule of the Bone,” and “Affliction,” Boyle’s “Budding Prospects, “Franzen’s “Freedom,” Wallace’s “Pale King” and “Consider the Lobster” Lehane’s “The Given Day,” Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” “Oil,” and “The Fliver King,” Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman,” Abbey's "The Monkey-Wrench Gang", "Good News" and "Desert Solitaire," all reviewed below). 

Red Frog
August 23, 2015

Monday, August 10, 2015

The FBI Works to Prevent Unity Among Leftists

"Heavy Radicals:  The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists – The Revolutionary Union / Revolutionary Communist Party, 1968-1980," by Aaron J Leonard and Conor A Gallagher, 2015

If you lived through this period and were part of the communist movement, this book will be interesting to you even if you were not a partisan of Mao.  Revolutionary Union’s (RU) allegiance to Mao’s China led the FBI to impact RU by using highly-placed informants and encouraging splits or disunity with other parts of the left. Because of this, the book has broader insights for the whole left.  It is also something of a paen to the RU, even though the authors now understand many of its weaknesses. Leonard was a member of the RU/RCP but left for obvious reasons. He is off the frame of the somewhat ridiculous cover photo, a picture of the RCP fighting police in a demonstration against the ‘capitalist-roader’ Deng Xioaping in 1979. 
Like most left groups, the RU had its strengths – when it didn’t have its weaknesses.   The biggest lesson from this book is that the FBI and the government do not want unity among leftists, and they will do everything they can to promote sectarianism and disunity. 

RCP Anti-Deng Demo in 1979
The authors focus on key figures in the RU, especially Leibel Bergman, an old communist who came out of the CP, then visited China and helped found the RU in San Francisco.  They consider him one of the key U.S. leftists of this whole period.  Other well-known figures include Bob Avakian, the present ‘exiled’ leader of the RCP who was radicalized by Eldridge Cleaver; H Bruce Franklin, who led a ‘guerilla war’ split from the RU and edited the works of Stalin; Steve Hamilton, an activist out of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and William Hinton, who wrote the famous laudatory description of the rural revolution in China – “Fanshen.” 

RU got its start by attacking Progressive Labor, (“PL”) a well-organized pro-Mao split from the CP led by labor activists from Buffalo, New York.  Some RU members like Bergman had passed through PL but rejected it partly due to its perceived line on black nationalism.  In a climatic scene in 1969 members of RU, then called the Revolutionary Youth Movement – RYM - blocked with the “National Office” of SDS - future members of the Weathermen - to ‘expel” PL from SDS.  SDS was the mass organization of U.S. students.   This happened even though the majority at the 1969 SDS conference in Chicago was led by PL.  (In essence the minority expelled the majority…) 

In their meticulous research, the authors discovered an FBI memo that encouraged their informants to take the side of the National Office in the SDS voting.   The memo states:  “All REDACTED informants were instructed to support the National Office faction in SDS against the PLP faction.” It continued: “PLP control of SDS would transform a shapeless and fractionalized group into a militant and disciplined organization.”  All former PL members can stop laughing now. 

In 1971 PL denounced Mao for blocking with Nixon and the U.S. and the coast was clear for RU to take on the Maoist mantle.  The authors claim that PL ‘stagnated’ after that, but they seem unfamiliar with the continuing efforts of PL or other organizations.  In 1971 PL led the Mack Avenue sit-down strike in Detroit and in 1975 it led a summer project in Boston that opposed the racist anti-busing ROAR organization, holding a May Day march of 2,500 in Boston.  This at a time when the authors point out that the RU OPPOSED busing in Boston, as did ROAR.  It was common on the left of that period that almost everyone was too sectarian to notice the strengths of other organizations.  RU’s long-term efforts in the coal fields or their role in the Attica Brigade and VVAW were also unknown to many.  Those efforts are detailed here.  For the most part this is still true.  Little has been learned by those who fancy history. 

At any rate, this FBI pattern of working for the disunity and weakness of the left continued throughout the history of the RU, mostly due to its significant Chinese connection.  Another FBI memo details the assignment of informant/FBI agent James Burton. “The major purpose of my assignment from 1972 to 1974 was to develop a position of contact and trust within other left-wing political groups in this country, to prevent their cooperative action, specifically the merger of Revolutionary Union (“RU”) and the October League (“OL”). 

RU later dropped their position that they should be a nearly all-white organization and also began to orient towards the working-class, similar to PL.  They embarked on a promising unification effort through the “National Liaison Committee” in 1972.  The RU’s effort at ‘party-building’ led to joint efforts with the Black Workers Congress, the October League, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party/Young Lords and I-Wor-Kuen, a group of Asian Maoists.  However, a key RU central committee individual in charge of this effort, D.H. Wright, took a different line on the national question than the RU – and the NLC fell apart.  Bergman suspected that Wright was an ‘agent’ for the FBI, working for the defeat of the effort.  The authors provide some back-up evidence that might confirm that.  To complicate the matter, the RU was changing its line about the national question re the ‘black belt’ and black leadership of the revolutionary movement at the same time.

After the NLC effort collapsed, RU went on to attack all these groups in 1974, proclaiming itself as the one and only ‘correct’ Maoists in the U.S., even as China’s path to the right increased.  This cheerleading for the Chinese ultimately undermined their fate. The RCP itself formed in 1975 after the collapse of the NLC and it following this with a series of ‘actions.’  It pulled out of union working-class sites and tried to base itself on the poorest workers – prisoners, gang members, welfare recipients.   RCP led a 4,000 strong demonstration in 1976 against the Bi-Centennial orgy in Philadelphia, though outside a larger anti-Bi-Centennial protest of 30,000. 

Events in China brought forth a massive debate within the ‘new’ Communist movement on Mao’s ‘Three Worlds Theory,” which ultimately stated that the USSR was the main enemy of the people of the world.  Given China had blocked with the U.S. on events around the world like the Angolan civil war, this could not help but impact American radicals. This was followed by a subsequent split in RU in 1978 when Avakian supported Lin Piao and the ‘Gang of Four” while about a third of the RCP supported Den Xiaoaping in the form of the “Revolutionary Headquarters” and were subsequently expelled, among much typical sectarian acrimony. 

According to the authors, Avakian left the U.S. in 1979 after the anti-Deng demonstration to avoid criminal charges and later quite consciously built a Mao-like ‘cult’ around himself, a cult which continues to this day. Looking back, RU/RCP was always dependent on the Chinese franchise.  The authors understand this too.  When that ended, RCP had no more reason for existence than any other left group, whether based on Trotskyism or other independent brands of Marxism.  The clarity and truth of their positions, their roots in actual class struggle and the sanity of their organization was all they had left - and that was quite diminished.  At the same time the ultra-left and sectarian collapse of PL into a “more Mao than Mao” ‘straight-to- communism’ group mirrored RCP’s path, so both ‘enemies’ went down together.

For further reading, this is one of a series of in-depth histories on the ostensible “new” Communist movement in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.  (It was not ‘new’ because it basically followed what it considered to be Lenin, Stalin and Mao.)  Max Elbaum’s “Revolution in the Air” (reviewed below) and Dan Georgakis and Marvin Surkin's study of the Detroit Black Workers Congress, “I Do Mind Dying” are two others.  There are also various histories of the Black Panther Party, which embraced an eclectic mix of Maoism, black nationalism and African socialism.  These books are also available at May Day Books.  

And I bought it at May Day Books at the excellent author’s talk.
Red Frog
August 10, 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The New South is the Old South

"Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee, 2015

This book has been a huge seller and oddly enough, has contributed to a revision of one of the best-beloved books in the liberal American literary canon- “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  “Go Set a Watchman” is the book that Lee wrote in New York City over 8 years while working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines and BOAC.  The eventual publisher of “To Kill A Mockingbird’ didn’t want to publish this book, but instead furnished her with an editor and a suggestion she write about Monroeville, Alabama and her past, both central to this book  Additionally, some New York friends gave her money to write.  She then produced the famous work that every high-school student has to read or watched as a film.  It is an enduring portrait of a white man fighting institutional racism in the South.  Good for the white man.

Balconies Then and Balconies Later
Well, this book sets that straight.  The main dialog is not just a return home, but a return home to a reactionary South, a South that Harper Lee discovers she can no longer live in.  The many starry-eyed liberals who are insulted about “Go Set A Watchman” are learning a lesson about the deepness of racism in the South.  A South where even Atticus Finch is a member of the White Leagues.  Yes.  Every history of the Klan and its tributaries involved not just the working-class ‘white trash’ that both middle-class southerners and northerners glory in denigrating.  It also involves the various power figures in almost every southern town.  Atticus Finch was a lawyer and part of the ‘educated’ layer that opposed the school desegregation decision by the Supreme Court in 1954’s “Brown v Board of Education.” 

The key moment is when Scout/ Jean Louise spies on her boyfriend Hank and her father Atticus attending a Maycomb County (White) Citizens League meeting.  This meeting takes place in the same courtroom that saw the trial in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and Jean Louise watches it from the same ‘colored’ balcony as in that book.    As Lee puts it, at the meeting were:  “Men of substance and character, responsible, men, good men.  Men of all varieties and reputations… it seemed the only man in the county not present was Uncle Jack…”

Ironic about that balcony. 

However Uncle Jack is there in spirit.  Uncle Jack, Atticus’s brother and a doctor, later concocts a Republican ‘small government’ logic to also support the position of the (White) Citizen’s League against desegregation and the black vote.  She finds out from Uncle Jack that Atticus had joined the Klan to watch over the more irresponsible racists in town to find out who they were.  Atticus adds later in a discussion with Jean Louise that blacks are basically ‘backward’ children who should not have the right to vote yet. 

Lee explains in this book that Atticus, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” earlier defended a black man unjustly accused of rape as he would any other attorney defense – with the added bonus that he knew he was innocent.  This incident was based on an actual trial in 1936 known by Lee.  It did not mean that Atticus was not a segregationist.  Segregationism was not on trial, otherwise he’d have been on the other side. 

And that would have been a poorly-received book.

“Go Set a Watchman” is a quote from the Bible.  It means, as later explained in the book, that a ‘watchman’ is needed as your conscience.  Scout/Jean Louise’s conscience eventually turns her away from idolizing her father and convinces her she cannot live in Alabama anymore.  She is ‘color-blind’ and that is her southern failure.  It is a summer ‘coming of age’ story in an ideological sense.  The Jean Louise of ‘Watchman’ is still somewhat of a tom-boy and perhaps a lesbian.  She acts, not 28, but still almost an immature girl, still ‘Scout’ – still sarcastic and easily angered, still flaunting the morés of Monroeville and Maycomb County, still flirting with her predestined ‘boyfriend’ without real love.  She has really become a ‘New Yorker’ in everything that implies, and it leads her to leave before the summer is over.   

The black people in “Go Set A Watchman,” – even Jean Louise’s long-time mother/maid Calpurnia – are hardening their attitudes towards the white people in town, given the supposedly nefarious  influence of the NAACP and various ‘Communists.' But their feelings actually coincide with the 'outside agitators.' This is in the mid to late 50s, mind you.  Jean Louise talks with Calpurnia at her house, but the former knows something has changed.  The idyllic world of her youth is over.  Summer is over.  The train is coming to take her away.

What this book signifies is that institutional racism in America is not going away through endless partial reforms or nice thoughts or good movies.  The south … and the north … are still variations on a constant criminal theme.  The racist basics have not changed since the first ship brought the first white ‘indentured servant’ and later the first slave ship brought the first black slave.  It is a permanent cancer on the capitalist landscape we live in.  They can only be gotten ridden of in one way - not through guilt or hand-wringing or mere words or well-meaning reforms.

Red Frog
July 30, 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

If Music Could Win the Revolution, We'd Already Have Won

"Pride,” directed by Mathew Warchus, written by Stephen Beresford, 2014

This is a one-of-a-kind upbeat film about a group of gays and lesbians from London supporting the 1984-1985 miner’s strike against Thatcher.  The Thatcher government had ordered the closing of the coal pits, attempting to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers (‘NUM’) and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of mining families.  Only in England, where class consciousness rises higher than in the U.S. could a film like this be made.  In the U.S the official GLBT movement leadership is narrowly confined to immediate identity issues and doesn’t ever broaden beyond that.  To my knowledge, it never has, even though most gay and lesbian people in the U.S. are working class. 

NUM Banner - South Wales
The British miners’ strike was an historic battle between capital and labor, as the NUM was one of the strongest unions in the UK.  Its complete and bloody defeat signaled the success of neo-conservatism and its evil twin, neo-liberalism.  After that time, the Labour Party made a turn to the market in the form of Blairite collaboration.  Thatcher’s police attacks on the strikers were a more violent and broad-ranged form of union-busting than Reagan’s parallel busting of PATCO in the U.S. in 1981.  But both drew from the same source.  Essentially the ‘pact’ between capital and labor that existed for a short time after WWII in England and the U.S. ended.  It has been called “the most bitter industrial dispute in British history.” 

In this case, it drew in a group of working-class gays and lesbians, who understood that if the NUM lost, they would too. Both groups had the same enemy – a reactionary government that no longer believed that ‘society’ existed.  The group – unapologetically called ‘Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners” (‘GLSM’) collected thousands of pounds (of money), food and clothing for the strikers.  Their attempts to get through to the NUM headquarters all meet in failure, as they are hung-up on.  They then decide to directly contact a mining town in south Wales, Onllwyn, in the Dulais Valley near Swansea.  They succeed in being invited because the elderly woman taking the call did not hear very well. 

This is a highly emotional and touching film – at least if you give a damn about the working class.  Personal stories intertwine with the main storyline.  Picket lines and police charges are remarkably absent.  It mostly centers on the remarkable alliance between these two groups of people.  The women and older men in the union are the initial contacts, while the young men shy away.  One reactionary in the union works with her son and his friend to oppose the GLSM, with murmurings about AIDs and ‘being a man.’ 

Music is the thread that helps tie the groups together, even though at the beginning the Welsh women allege that “Welshmen can’t dance.”  One older GLSM member shows the Welsh miners how in a rousing performance at the union hall.  GLSM held a huge concert benefit for the miners at the Electric Ballroom in Camden after being lambasted in the yellow press for being “Perverts supporting the Pits.”  Disco, “Bread & Roses” and pop music permeate the film, with songs by Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bronski Beat, Culture Club, Soft Cell, Grace Jones and more. 

The film does not go into the background of the organizers of the GLSM, but hints are in the film.  I looked it up and its leadership, specifically Mark Ashton, came out of the Young Communist League, the youth group of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  11 groups of the GLSM eventually formed.  It was reported in The Guardian that Arthur Scargill, head of the NUM, was channeling most funds to his pits in Yorkshire and Kent, leaving Wales adrift – which might be one reason why Welsh union locals were receptive.  The benefit concert really happened, as did a large presence of the NUM at the 1985 Gay Pride Parade in London in response to the work of the GLSM.  In 1985 the Labour Party endorsed gay rights, with the block vote from the NUM being crucial, marking a sea-change in Britain.  However, this did not help the NUM or the miners, as it's membership stood at 1,200 members in 2013. Not to mention the coal communities that could no longer get work.  Capitalism rolled on, with or without gay rights.

Red Frog
May 17, 2015

Personal Note:  My grandfather was a Welshman from around Swansea, and after emigrating in the 1920s was elected as a Labor Party councilor for Edmonton and later, to the provincial legislature in Alberta, Canada.  The New Democratic Party has recently retaken the Alberta Provincial government in a landslide victory, ending 44 years of Tory rule.  My grandfather would be happy.

Red Frog will be going on hiatus – taking a break – from publishing.  Please come back when the blog gets started again.  Thanks.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The CIA – Our Political Police

"Kill the Messenger,” directed by Michael Cuesta, 2014.  Webb played by Jeremy Renner.  

“Kill the Messenger” is a docu-drama based on the work of Gary Webb, who wrote ‘Dark Alliance’ about the CIA’s 1980s alliance with drug dealers to earn money for the Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries, the Contras.  The real story was not just “Iran-Contra” but also “Cocaine-Contra.”  Ollie North is mentioned in this account too.  The news that the CIA works with drug dealers should be nothing new, but in the 1980s and 1990s – Reagan and Clinton time – this was explosive.  Reporters have documented CIA work with drug lords in Afghanistan, Thailand, Mexico, Nicaragua, China, Burma, Panama and Columbia.   Webb was only the most personal and persistent, as he tied it to the crack epidemic in Los Angeles, which outraged the black population of that city.

Nicaraguan Contras celebrating drug money
Webb was an aggressive and non-conformist reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, who got a tip from a drug-dealer's girlfriend that her jailed boyfriend, Danilo Blandon, had worked for the CIA.  This tip – involving a transcript of Grand Jury testimony – she did in order to get her boyfriend freed, but it led Webb down the rabbit-hole to discovering the CIA’s role in profiting from drug deals.  In open court, Blandon, one of the biggest drug dealers in the U.S. admitted to working with the CIA to run drugs from Nicaragua to airports in the U.S.  The money was used to support the Contras.  Webb later got confirmation from a Nicaraguan banker and a jailed drug dealer in Nicaragua, a frightened U.S. government bureaucrat and a former CIA officer who visited him clandestinely. 

It is not news that the CIA would threaten Webb and his family physically. The CIA are killers and thugs.  But what is more illustrative is that they sought to destroy his relationship with is wife, with his editors and with himself.  They revealed an affair he had with a reporter at a Buffalo newspaper.  They knew he had issues of manic/depression.  They carefully destroyed his story with mainstream opinion by lining up their assets in the Washington Post, the New York Times and the LA Times to lambast Webb for ‘sloppy’ reporting.  The classic line in the film is that from a Washington Post editor in response to Webb's allegations: "Well, I'm talking to Langley."  The news that the CIA has friendly, sometimes paid reporters in top newspapers should not be news either.  Yet at that time, the editors of the San Jose Mercury News – a small-time paper that did not understand the power of the ‘deep state’ in the U.S. – folded and sent Webb into exile writing stories about constipated horses in Cuppertino, California. As the Mercury News editor said, "We got a call from Corporate." 

Webb’s marriage fell apart, he quit the News, and 7 years after resigning he was found shot twice in the head. This was declared a suicide, but twice seems a bit too much.  The coroner said it was possible, but didn’t explain how it happened. Webb was a real journalist, not a chair warmer.  He was the ‘Serpico’ of the newsroom.  He was supported by the black community in LA, including Maxine Waters, one of the few honest Democrats in Congress  Media interviews with Webb were held with loaded questions, then media interviews were scheduled, then canceled.  Now Secretary of State, then Congressperson John Kerry concluded that there was meat to Webb's story.  The U.S. inspector General in a 400 page report “acknowledged that the CIA had indeed worked with suspected drug-runners while supporting the contras."

The story has been buried on the ‘conspiracy theory’ page by the corporate news machine.  But what is true is not a conspiracy ‘theory.’  Most of the problems with the series are not with the essential points but with generalizations that even Webb might not have made, or are inessential. The film is worth watching, the acting convincing, the story tense, the situation familiar.  It’s sad but true, like so much else in this country.  As the source in the U.S. government said, "You get the most flak when you are right over the target..."

Another book on the drug trade: "Drug War Capitalism," reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
May 10, 2015  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Collateralized Soul Obligations

"Raising Hell,” by Norman Spinrad, 2014

This is an uproarious take on a group of U.S. labor leaders sentenced to Hell by the CEO Above - God - and their successful struggle to form a union among Lucifer’s Fallen Angels.  It’s got some belly-laughs.  It’s a short 65-page novella, part of a progressive ‘science fiction’ series at PM Press, gate-kept by Terry Bisson.  Spinrad knows something about the labor movement, unlike 99% of MFA graduates.  Here he spoofs trying to get higher wages for the demons in a hot economy where nothing is for sale  Instead the demands are winning cooler and slower working conditions - with no pitchforks - and respect for everyone.  Most of all, ‘free will’ for the demons! 

Union Miners in Hell ... or West Virginia
 Jimmy DiAngelo, a union boss of NUTS (“National Union of Temporary Substitutes”) finds himself in the sulfurous place after an unpleasant death.  He’s shoveling virtual coal next to Jerry Wurf, Mike Quill, Harry Bridges, John L Lewis, Jimmy Hoffa, Walter Reuther, George Meany and Samuel Gompers.  Behind them stand robotic 7 foot red demons making them work faster and faster, pitchforks in place  Most of the other union leaders know that NUTS used to help break strikes sometimes, so are not too fond of their new coal shoveler.  What to do?  Jimmy decides an eternity of this is a bit too long and proposes to organize a union among the demons.  After all, what are they going to do?  Kill him?

Jimmy understands that Satan has not had new demons since the Fall, so he has a labor shortage, and they can’t be replaced by scabs.  The demons finally realize there is something they want – ‘free will’ – just like the humans. And to be remembered as Fallen Angels, not just Satan's minions.  Jimmy ascends a coal pile and throws down his shovel like some dirty Norma Rae.  The strike succeeds, Lucifer negotiates after a furious entrance, and to pay the demons, gets the bankers in Hell to dream up ‘collaterized soul obligations,’ which bring in billions back up on Earth.  Even Lucifer feels sympathetic and negotiates when Jimmy brings up ‘free will,' as he was robbed of it by the CEO Upstairs.  He too is a fallen Angel.

Spinrad riffs on the 2008 economic melt-down, the ‘demonization’ of unions and union leaders, the idiocies of the concept of Hell, and the possibilities of organizing even the worst work-places.  Bankers are sent to Hell to robo-sign 7-year balloon mortgage contracts every 30 seconds for eternity. After 7 years of the loan, the Devil takes your soul.  This story might work better with people that actually take Christianity a bit more seriously than most left readers, but there it is.  

The story ends there, with Lucifer (his preferred name over 'The Devil' or 'Satan'-  Lucifer meaning “Light-bringer”) meditating on his own newly-acquired free-will.  By negotiating he has defied the CEO Upstairs.  Spinrad could have gone one further, and decided to shut down Hell, and deprive the “Great I Am” of his disposal place and biggest threat.  Instead, Spinrad has a failure of nerve, and leaves God alone, thus demonstrating the imaginative limitations of reformism. 

The book has a tacked-on section by Spinrad that contains a fairly mundane and predictable modern take on “The New Normal” economy in the world.  In it he compliments stock brokers and thinks that finance capital is the real problem over 'productive' capital.  In the third section Bisson interviews the prolific and talented Spinrad about his career – which comes off sounding somewhat braggish, unless you care who Spinrad is.  Evidently he is more popular in France than the U.S., but as he explains it, France actually cares about culture. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
May 5, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

May Day Week


Baltimore The biggest impact the rebellion against police murder in Baltimore is having is more than the increase in scale, as Baltimore is a large city with a large black working-class.  The issue of ‘class’ itself has now been put front and center in this black struggle against repression.  The citizens of Baltimore have a black President who promised ‘change’ and brought little, a new female black Attorney General who coddled Wall Street and supports the incarceration state, a female black Maryland AG, a black female mayor of Baltimore, a black police chief and many black cops on the Baltimore police force.  All basically called the young rebels ‘thugs’ and tried to focus attention on a burnt pharmacy, a burnt check-cashing store and looting.  The state wants a monopoly on violence, which is what is behind their calls for 'non-violence.' 

Yet, from the facts in this case and the long history of police settlements and violence against the Baltimore working class, the real thugs are the Baltimore police force, and ‘blue on black’ crime. Now these cops have been indicted, so facts are starting to have some impact.  Thanks to one black female prosecutor, who is finally doing her job.  That is 1 out of 6.  However the majority of the black ‘respectability’ middle and upper class had chosen the wrong side.  As Britteny Cooper said in Salon a few days ago, when they do this she doesn’t solidarize with the prominent ‘sistuhs’ anymore.

The tactic to lift up a black ‘talented tenth’ through ‘affirmative action’ was conscious social policy by the more intelligent sector of the ruling class in response to the rebellions of the 1960s.  It was mostly aimed at a sliver of the black population.  That tactic worked.  This is the fruit of that tactic.  The movement for black liberation is now at a new stage.  Young black people are not as invested in the dominant preacher / Democrat leadership that has failed these last 50 years  They resemble the radicals of the 60s.  Let’s hope they form organizations that embrace a class approach to social struggle.  Because that is what we have witnessed in Baltimore.

On a side note, the creator of the HBO series “The Wire,” David Simon, has been taking the enlightened side in the matter of Baltimore police brutality. That series was about black ‘crime’ in Baltimore, but also about corruption in the city.  Simon recently pointed out that Marx was right about the effects of capitalism on the working class. He continues to ridicule Marx’s idea of a solution – a ‘classless society’ - as ludicrous.  Well, given that one of the main reasons that the U.S. had to end Jim Crow was because of the presence of the USSR, China and other socialist revolutionary movements in the world, I’d say ridicule is not quite in order.  Nor is the odd coincidence that it was only the destruction of the majority of workers' states that really allowed capital to rule the world without greater opposition.  Of course, you must remember, admitting you like any of Marx makes you some kind of social leper.  But that is changing now.  The leopard must be changing its spots!

Bernie Sanders One of the reasons the image of 'socialism' is changing is that Bernie Sanders, an independent ‘democratic socialist’ who caucuses with the Democrats, is running for the Democratic Party nomination.  Just listening to newscasters choke on the words ‘democratic socialist’ makes Bernie’s run worth it.  He says all the right things about a host of issues, but not Palestine, where he still comes out as a war-mongering Zionist. There are certainly other positions, especially in foreign policy, where he sounds like another imperialist Democrat.  However, he is the 'real deal' as they say, a real human being and not just the pandering politician who says what people want to hear.  Sanders right now has no capitalist support. Sanders is backed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which is a deep-entry reformist organization within the Democratic Party who have propped up the Democratic Party since the Vietnam War days. (Yes, really.  They loved LBJ.) The tricky phrase 'democratic socialist' they use implies that anyone calling themselves a 'socialist' or something else is a totalitarian of some sort. 

The worst part here is that, barring some kind of ‘Obama surge” for Sanders against Clinton, this will just reinvigorate the Democratic Party and move Clinton to the left verbally, so she can win the election and run the country like the neo-liberal she is.  The Clinton’s perfected ‘neo-liberalism’ in the U.S. after all.  They are still owned by big finance.   Many unions certainly like Sanders more than Clinton, but any incipient move to Sanders will be squelched by the sclerotic union leaderships.  So a ‘debate’ may happen, but the power is not changing anywhere. Next time Sanders should try to help build an independent labor/ progressive/ populist/ party, which is the mass political solution to the '1-party-with-two-heads' bind of American politics.

May Day   These Mayday marches happen across the U.S. now.   The funny part is that “May Day” – the historic working class holiday started by socialists and celebrated all over the world, is growing more vital in the U.S. while the official American “Labor Day” is shrinking. The latter is celebrated by that same sclerotic union leadership in passive picnics and gatherings, where union members are force-fed Democratic party politicians.  Again this year some unions locals of AFSCME and SEIU are breaking the mold and endorsing the more left May Day march.  However paper endorsements mean little.  The ragged groups of socialists, anarcho-syndicalists, Latino and Black radicals, community organizations, left educators and youth  marching today in Minneapolis are separated from the Archdiosese-endorsed rally at the State Capitol in St. Paul, which is narrowly focused on the sole issue of immigrant drivers' licenses.   Nearly all these 'labor days' in the U.S. are emaciated versions of what happens in the rest of the world unfortunately.  Nevertheless, Happy May Day! 

GofT (Spoiler Alert).  Now for the fiction show that most resembles our brutal world – ‘Game of Thrones.’ Beheadings are not limited to the early Middle Ages after all.  In fact, you could basically call what happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore a beheading.    80% of the neck spine cut inside a police paddy wagon?  The only difference is the Baltimore police didn’t do it in public, unlike Daesh or the Saudis.  At any rate, ‘neo-liberalism’ is creeping into the ‘good guys’ at GofT.  Queen Daenerys ordered the public beheading of an ex-slave who killed a master who killed a slave.  Bad idea if Daenerys is really running a ‘dictatorship of the slaves.”  She’s not – as the sensitive young white males writing the show point out in a trailer.  She’s running a liberal fantasy land where ‘all are equal under the law.’  Even though in the cities she rules over like Meereen, class society has not disappeared.  The fight that broke out after the beheading between the ex-slaves and the well-dressed former masters proved this.  

Jon Snow also got into the beheading act.  Sensitive Jon was elected head of the Night’s Watch, and his first order to an old bitter-ender was angrily rejected.  So he gets out his long sword, and like his father in the first episode of this whole bloody tale, beheads the bloviating bastard. Capital punishment?  Why not just let the shit-bag rot in a dungeon?  Really.  At this rate, GofT will end in the reign of Queen Hillary Clinton.  Or King Bush III.  After all, Stannis Baratheon and his crazy red priestess Melisandre just burned the leader of the free Wildlings of the North, Manse Rayder, at the stake like Joan of Arc.  

Victory for Vietnam - 50 years ago, April 30, 1975, the U.S. and their Vietnamese puppets were finally defeated in a war for national and perhaps social liberation.  The U.S. television press chose to focus on the heroism of Americans in those last days. The myth of the 'good guys' never goes away.

Prior reviews of "Game of Thrones," "The Wire," below.

Happy May Day!
Come to our Party on Saturday
Red Frog
May 1, 2015