Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Innocents Are Also 'Terrorists'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Frog
August 28, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Big Pharma Strikes Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Frog
August 25, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Black Movement Rises From The Dead

FERGUSON FACTS

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

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

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

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

Shoot To Kill

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

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

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

Liberate Territory

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

 Red Frog
August 23, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Threatening Profits is Terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. - Naomi Klein, in her new book, quotes scientists who say 2017 is 'zero year' for climate change.  After that point 2 degrees Celsius is inevitable, which will cause massive problems.

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Paid Administrative Leave - Again

Fear of a Black Rebellion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Frog
August 14, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fear of a Black Revolution

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

WAITING on FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

WAITING on PRESIDENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Frog
August 7, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Real Estate Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Adiga has attempted to be one of those writers.  

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

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

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

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

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

Spoiler alert:

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


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

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

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

And I bought it at Strand Books in London

Red Frog

August 2, 2014