Monday, September 29, 2014

Let Us Put Childish Things Aside

"Hey, how ‘bout that NFL?”

I used to play American football until I stopped growing for awhile in 7th grade.  I continued to play some neighborhood soccer, intramural basketball, tennis and ran track, but I left all of it.  I chose not to be a jock.  However, this society markets the idea that being a jock is the best part of an education - so much so that academic or practical learning becomes second-class. 

Yeah, you will find a place in the NFL, the NBA, the NHL or the MLB.  Right.  You’d be lucky to become a high-school coach or a sports physical therapist. More likely your fate will be gaining weight while watching games on TV.

There was a time when sports were innocent games.  The excitement of high school sports, especially football on a cool fall evening. Playing all night under the hoops.  Powering it against the tennis backboard.  Sweating on a summer day in a partially mowed field with a soccer ball. Not any longer.  Sports is a business and the NFL is the ‘business-iest’ of all.  Let’s look at this outfit.

The NFL itself is listed as a ‘non-profit.’  Don’t laugh.  The government in 1944 gave them a special waiver to declare themselves a non-profit.  Yet NFL commissioner Roger Goodell makes a base salary of $3 million a year, but in the last 5 years collected $105 million with his other bennies.  In 2010 he was reported to have made $44M alone. The NFL made $326 million in dues, licensing and royalties in fiscal 2012, and that amount has probably increased.  The top five managers of the NFL made more than 50% of the earnings in 2010. They say they lost money in 2012, but analysts put that to the many mortgages they hold.  Real estate is one of their prime assets.

Football itself brings in about $10 billion annually, according to CNN.  Yet in spite of this lucre, many teams don’t pay their cheerleaders minimum wage.  This from very profitable franchises. They  behave sort of like the Wal-Mart’s of sports.  At least 5 teams are being sued right now for back pay by members of their cheerleader squads. 

Most teams blackmail the towns they live in to kick in money for new stadiums.  Of course Green Bay can’t and never will, as Green Bay is municipally owned.  We saw it here in Minneapolis.  Hell, this town has gone on a stadium spending spree – new ones for the baseball and football teams, a new one for the local state college team, and even a new one for the semi-pro baseball team is in the works.  They had to override democratic rules that would leave this up for a vote of county citizens – because they would have lost the vote.  Yet not one capitalist economist says there is ever an economic payback to the general public from this corporate welfare.  These upgraded stadiums are now home to upscale consumers instead, not the proletarian masses.   The $5 buck ticket in the bleachers?  Gone. What is really ridiculous is that for football stadiums, there are perhaps only 8 home games all year.  As a defender said in the local paper, ‘executives’ moving to Minneapolis (or your town) need a professional team and stadium as part of their ‘cultural’ experience. This monied audience is the real target for the 'upgrading' of sports.

Detroit has been the victim par excellence, as exposed by its bankruptcy.  The powers that be put Detroit on the hook for a new baseball stadium to replace Tiger Field, while shafting a mostly black retired Detroit municipal workforce out of part of their pensions and health care.  Now the Red Wings want a new arena with municipal funding.  The Lions abandoned the Pontiac Silverdome 12 years ago, which is now a wreck, for a new stadium in downtown Detroit, also partly funded by municipal money.  This has helped a few bars and restaurants around the field, but basically, people come to watch the games, then leave. 

This scam is not limited to the U.S. NFL.  South Africa’s World Cup stadiums are mostly empty, and the towns are struggling to pay for and maintain them.  Brazil will now face the same problem.  Russia’s Sochi Olympics were the most expensive in history.  Those structures will begin to decay as the years go by - more white elephants.   

The parallel between militarism and American football is obvious, especially when there are jet flyovers, celebrations of the troops and military color-guards at every game. The game itself is violent, much like war.  Don’t be surprised that a militaristic society also loves militaristic games. 

The NFL is haunted by concussion issues.  So are colleges and high schools.  Many NFL players, whose work life is very short in the league anyway, are still affected by slams to the head.  Early death, dementia, chronic encephalopathy or Alzheimer’s is their fate, much like the indentured ‘wrestlers’ of the McMahon-controlled World Wrestling Federation. In 2012, there were 251 diagnosed concussions in the NFL, in 2013, there were 228.  They were sued in a class action that settled in 2013 on this issue.  To top it off, a significant number of players go bankrupt or are in significant financial stress after they leave the NFL – around 78% over 5 years.  They are not prepared for the temporarily high salaries, and instead spend freely. 

Then there is the domestic violence and male chauvinism.  Recently we’ve all had to look at bruises on 4-year old bodies or a woman viciously attacked by her husband-to-be in an elevator.  Both of these by black players. Earlier it was the bullying and isolation of an openly gay player by some white Neanderthal.  Legal run-ins by NFL players are constant.  As someone joked, they should announce their legal charges along with their statistics and Alma-mater when they play.  American football is violent and, like soldiers, some carry this logic off the field.  It is based on a macho culture similar to the army.  Which might be why it is the most–watched sport in the U.S.

Then we have the bigotry of tradition, i.e. the "Washington Redskins.' Even though Native Americans oppose that name, big fat white rich people don't.  'Nuff said.   How about the 'Alabama White Boys" as a team name?  Or Georgia Peckerwoods?  Montana Palefaces?  White Phoenix Little Dicks?  Washington White Skins?

For all the people pining after their golden youth, and want their kids to follow the same path.  For those who can’t let go and instead spend their lives obsessed with football - on Saturdays, Sundays, Monday nights and now even Thursday nights!  I’m talking especially about residents of the southern U.S., who put football above even Jesus…  For all the football wives and widows.  These fans must be exhausted!  It’s not a game, folks, it’s a business.  A very corrupt business.  What is wrong with the NFL is what is wrong with capitalism.  Take the sport out of the hands of its billionaire owners, municipalize the teams and stadiums, remove the advertisers, de-professionalize it and ‘perhaps’ you can bring back real football. Honest football.  But perhaps, even as a game, it cannot be rescued anymore. 

Red Frog
September 29, 2014 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bukharin’s Ghost

"Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives,” by Stephen F Cohen, 2009

The counter-revolutions in the USSR and in Eastern Europe provide valuable information about how not to organize a socialist society.  This book by Stephen Cohen, a historian of Soviet history and a social-democrat of sorts, is an outstanding detailed addition to the literature.  He styles himself in public forums as sort of a latter-day George Kennan, prescribing a rational and non-hostile approach to Russia.  This book is a good companion volume to the analysis of the counter-revolution in Poland, “From Solidarity to Sellout – the Transition to Capitalism in Poland,” reviewed below. (Use blog search box, upper left.)  Cohen identifies the principal initiators and beneficiaries of counter-revolution in the USSR as the majority of the former Communist Party nomenklatura led by Boris Yeltsin.  It was not a ‘revolution of the people’ or ‘oppressed nations’ or some automatic breakdown, as the Western fairy tales go. 

Bukharin

Cohen is a ‘kind of’ co-thinker of Nicolai Bukharin, the executed leader of the Right Opposition in the USSR, who was killed in 1938.  Cohen spends some time on a defense of the New Economic Policy (NEP) developed by Lenin as a post-war strategy, then supported by the whole party.  Cohen thinks the NEP and a ‘mixed economy’ should have become a permanent feature of the USSR.  He supports the general thrust of Khrushchev, Gorbachev and the Chinese Communist Party, and their approaches to a ‘mixed economy.’  Cohen was a Bukharin biographer, and met with his family.  Doing that time he came into possession of some of the last 4 documents written by Bukharin while he was jailed in the Lubyanka – a novel about his childhood, a book of poetry, a philosophical treatise and a book on modern politics and culture.  Bukharin was rehabilitated by Gorbachev in 1988, along with a million other individuals. Khrushchev had earlier released and rehabilitated millions more.

Cohen shows how, even while Bukharin’s ‘confession’ admitted he was a ‘"degenerate fascist" working for the "restoration of capitalism" he also attempted to undermine the terms and claims of Stalin’s show trial.  Bukharin was, of course, put in an impossible situation, trying to protect his family (which didn’t work anyway) and perhaps spare his life.  He chose, like his politics, a ‘middle’ path.

The oddest part of this section is the complete invisibility of Leon Trotsky.  As an historian, this is negligent.  Cohen mentions Trotsky’s name once, but not as an opponent of Stalin.  He claims the title of most significant opponent of Stalin for Bukharin.  He does not mention that Bukharin collaborated with Stalin in ousting Trotsky from any leadership position in 1924 after Lenin’s death, or later helped to remove Kamenev, Zinoviev and many others from leadership.  Cohen misrepresents Lenin’s Last Testament in the process.  Nor does he mention that Bukharin edited Izvestia from 1934 until 1937, which was full of anti-Oppostion slanders during those years.  A letter to “Koba” from Bukharin was even found on Stalin’s desk in 1953, which shows how close they were.  Bukharin was the original author of the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ - a theory carried out by Stalin. Trotsky, unlike Bukharin, was never rehabilitated by the Soviet bureaucracy, and for good reason.

Gulag Survivors

But I have not come to bury Cohen, but to praise him.  He was one of the first (and perhaps only) U.S. historians to collect the stories of gulag survivors, which he started on during his time in Moscow through contact with the Bukharin family.  He interviewed first-hand many ‘zeks’ - some from the Communist Party elite and later from other sectors, 60 in all, later turning over the material to another academic.  Stories of ‘camp life’ were prominent during Khrushchev's time, then disappeared, so by the time Cohen did this in the 1980s, it was again difficult.  The gulag survivors came out into a society where they were ‘eyeball to eyeball’ with the people who put them in the camps.  A continuing theme in his book is proposals for a memorial to the victims of the Stalinist camps and the purges which even Dimitri Medvedev recently supported.  Of course, it has never been built.  A Nuremberg solution was kicked about, but rejected by Khrushchev as hitting too close to home.

Perestroika & Glasnost

Cohen’s detailed description of the effects of the years of perestroika and glasnost are invaluable.  They provide a very careful rebuttal to the anti-communist and capitalist orthodoxy about who brought ‘democracy’ to Russia, who ended the ‘cold war’ and who began to change the economy.  It wasn’t Yeltsin, it was Gorbachev.  Cohen takes direct aim at every myth promulgated by American ideologues who can't admit a 'Communist' could ever do anything right.  But in the process he exposes Gorbachev to accusations of preparing the ground for counter-revolution too. Yeltsin and his cronies were all in Gorbachev’s camp.  The privatization and ‘grabbing’ of collectivized property began under Gorbachev.  The ‘multi-party’ democracy envisioned by Gorbachev led to capitalist restorationists gaining a large voice in the political arena.  Yeltsin was elected President or Russia by this method.  In his eagerness to do away with the cold war, Gorbachev backed Bush I during the first Iraq war, thus encouraging the U.S. in the Middle East.   

Yet this fits Cohen’s thesis that the ‘existing socialism’ under Gorbachev could have become kind of like a Scandinavian social-democracy if given the chance, and not the disaster that American-approved capitalist ‘shock treatment’ became.  Yeltsin’s shock treatment led to 10 years of the most severe peace-time depression in human history in Russia.  A Scandinavian social-democracy could have certainly been a vast improvement!  It was headed that way until the fateful Belovezh meeting in 1991, when Yeltsin and two other Republic leaders - Belarus and Ukraine - plotted to destroy the USSR, and did. 

Cohen points out that the most democratic and free period in modern Russia was during glasnost.  After Yeltsin gained power, he re-seized the media, jailed opponents and most famously militarily attacked the Russian Supreme Soviet in October 1993 with tanks, dispersing it, outlawing and arresting opposition parties and killing many.  Putin has only continued this process, but perhaps in a less clumsy, drunken way.  As you might remember, Putin gave Yeltsin life-time immunity after taking over. Putin continues to represent the new capitalist oligarchs and Russian nationalism in an authoritarian manner.

Soviet bureaucracy

Cohen has a long defense of Victor Ligachev, who was demonized by the West for not going along with Gorbachev 100%, but backed off as it became apparent that Gorbachev’s reforms were leading to counter-revolution. Ligachev was a transitional figure in the bureaucracy, but without a mass activist Communist Party and working class, any resistance to Yeltsin was aborted.   The August 1991 coup attempt, which did not involve Ligachev, was the pathetic last attempt by a wing of the conservative bureaucracy to retain power. In essence, isolated bureaucratic defense of a workers state is ultimately a failed policy. It failed because the leaders of the military – the armed bodies of men – had already begun to go over to capital, taking their lead from the majority of the nomenklatura.  Some military leaders were already engaged in privatization.  It also failed because it had no mass support.  Cohen puts the main emphasis on Yeltsin, but the ‘one man’ theory of politics is dwarfed by the social class theory of politics – as even a social-democrat like Cohen should know.

Cohen clearly points out that there is no such thing as a monolithic party, in spite of all the song and dance about ‘democratic centralism.’  Cohen identifies at least 3 major groupings in the Soviet CP during Gorbachev’s time which could have become mass parties.  He mourns that Gorbachev did not initiate a mass social-democratic party in the USSR or Russia.  Cohen indicates  that these ‘crypto-parties’ existed in some form throughout the USSR's post-revolutionary history. 

Trotsky’s warning about a counter-revolutionary faction of the bureaucracy came to life when a pro-capitalist majority of the Soviet bureaucracy demanded capitalism and privatization, and took power under Yeltsin.  They had immediate financial benefits from this transition – ownership of factories, oil and gas fields, offices, etc.  Cohen elucidates how the history of Russia since then is the history of this seizure of public property by this group of  new oligarchs.  Trotsky always pointed out that the bureaucracy was ultimately counter-revolutionary in effect, and also for a faction, in practice.  This book proves the point.  This also jibes with Kowalik’s views about what happened in Poland.  There, the individual factory managers grew more and more independent, and the plan disappeared. 

Reformability

Cohen has a long discussion on whether the Soviet system was ‘reformable’ (in a debate with pro-capitalist ideologues) and, after going through all the alternatives, shows that the facts indicate it was reformable.  In other words, there is no such thing as fate, but only ‘lost alternatives,’ much as in every society.  Even the Soviet CP in 1990 elected their leadership for the first time – something the U.S. C.P. is probably yet to do. 

National Question

Cohen also punctures the myths about nationalistic uprisings all over the USSR.  While it was true of the tiny Baltic republics, most realized that the USSR was a ‘single economic space.’  There was a March 1991 referendum among the populations, which voted overwhelmingly for the Union.  In August 1991 the 9 major republics negotiated a new Union structure.  Only a few months later the Union was dismantled from the top by Yeltsin’s coup.  At that point, even the befuddled Communist delegates in the parliament voted to dissolve the USSR after an hour of discussion!  A fait accompli.  

Hostility to Russia

Cohen eviscerates the ruling class attitude towards Russia and clearly places the blame for the ‘new cold war’ on the U.S. and its allies – a process that started years ago under Clinton, and has come to fruition under Obama and the Ukraine.   If you imagine, as an American, a Russian coup in Mexico, with their missiles ringing the USA in Canada, the Caribbean and Central America, you might know how the Russians feel.  Putin even tried to help the U.S. in Afghanistan, but it did no good.  Cohen pays particular attention to the Ossetian war in 2008, which was a proxy war between Russia and the US.

The new cold war started after the US unilaterally rejected Russian membership in the WTO, adopted sanctions against Belarus and deleted any mention of a Russian/US partnership in 2006.  According to Cohen the new cold war consists of:  1. Military encirclement of Russia; 2. hypocritical denial that Russia has any legitimate security concerns outside its border; 3. even an assertion that Russia does not have full sovereignty inside its own borders; 4. double-standards on behavior; and 5. nuclear superiority.  This geo-political jihad for world domination by U.S. imperialism is ongoing.

Cohen

Cohen is married to one of the editors of the Nation magazine, a social-democratic outfit that criticizes Democrats, then votes for them, and never advocates or organizes for an independent socialist, peoples or working-class party.  It is, in essence, the left-wing of the Democratic Party.  His stubborn defense of Bukharin makes him an intellectual outlier in this bunch – after all Bukharin was a Bolshevik – and his more intelligent analysis of the provocative coup in Ukraine and military/economic encirclement of Russia by the US and EU ruling classes is refreshing.  This all puts him outside the orbit of the Democratic Party, yet that is the party the Nation ends up supporting year in, year out.  

Most notable in the book is its analysis based on the ‘great men’ of Russia.  That analysis fails to take into account that the weaknesses in the USSR were not just forced collectivization or the purges or Stalin, but a long-running bureaucratic system that shut out the working class from exercising ultimate power.  These crimes were outgrowths of that top-end control.  Which is why the bureaucrats found it so easy to ‘take’ the factories, mines, offices, oil and gas fields, mills, shops and warehouses when their turn came - and to ultimately end the USSR. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 23, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stirring up the Bacon-Eaters – Eat Like an Indian

The September 21 March and Actions in New York USA on the Environment
Let’s talk about meat.  It’s a subject I hesitate to bring up, but it’s unavoidable anymore.  Environmentalism isn’t just about cars, coal or communities.  Meat is a very large contributor to global warming.  Many people are addicted to it, just as they crave sugar, fat and salt.  You tell them to eat less bacon and their eyes bug out, and they stuff their faces with more.  You will have to pry the bacon from my cold dead hands!
Even the fundie Christians ascertain that the U.S. is a “Christian” nation because we eat pork – while Muslims and Jews ostensibly do not.  See?  Pork is what makes America Christian!  A jokey survey of Tweets showed that kale is mentioned in more Democratic states while bacon is mentioned in more Republican states on Twitter.  So bacon is a Republican food evidently. 
There are many ‘productionist’ leftists who think that meat is an irrelevant, personal issue.  The same people think that any measures ordinary people take to slow global warming are irrelevant.  I would argue that they are not. Essentially the governments and capitalist corporations of the world aren’t going to deal with this issue adequately.  As each person realizes that some other method is needed on a personal level, that can translate into public activism.  In other words, if I can eat less meat, or stop eating it, why can’t the society?  
The productionist leftist’s logic is similar to someone who fights racism while being an open bigot or someone who supports women’s rights while being an open male chauvinist.  It is nonsense.  According to the ‘International Vegetarian Union’ vegetarianism was outlawed in the Soviet Union in 1929.  Abortion and homosexuality later followed in the 1930s.  So there is a history to this.
The march and actions on Sunday show again that it is people’s movements that will slow climate change, not the capitalist parties.  In the U.S., 20 million people were in the streets in 1970 when the first Earth Day occurred.  This led to the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the creation of the EPA.  Where did those people go?
To some facts, especially about cows and red meat:
·                     Demand for meat is expected to grow by 60 percent in the next 40 years.
·                     Cattle and other livestock now use over 30 percent of the entire land surface of the planet, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. About a third of all crops grown are used to feed that livestock.
·                     The rainforests of the world are being bulldozed to create pastures for these animals, destroying the lungs of the earth. Cattle are the source of almost 10 percent of the CO2 choking our atmosphere and contributing to catastrophic global climate change.
·                     Cattle manure contributes 65 percent of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere (which is 296 times more heat-trapping than CO2), and cow burps and farts are the source of 37 percent of the methane (23 times the power of CO2).
·                     Twenty percent of the world’s pastures are already degraded from overgrazing, and the planet’s water supplies, already seriously stressed, are being severely damaged from runoff from animal waste and the pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and other products used to grow feed crops for factory-farmed animals.
·                     Much of the fossil fuels used in agriculture involve animal ‘husbandry.’
Actually they are trying to develop fake meat in the labs because this cannot go on much longer.  Locavores, gourmands, gluttons and hipsters insist eating ‘grass fed’ whatever, from local signature farms, will someone change this situation.  It does not.  It might treat the animals better (until they are slaughtered, that is) and be more healthy for the consumer, but the effect on communities and the environment is almost the same. 
The corporate-controlled FDA is tentatively – after nearly 40 years of tip-toeing around the problem – asking animal breeders to use less or no antibiotics in animal feed.  For instance, it is regularly applied to chicken feed in all 5 top U.S. chicken factory-farm corporations.  The odds of them complying are nil. Voluntary guidelines?  Really?  How are they going to breed sick and crowded chickens anymore? While this may prevent a pandemic by getting rid of such widespread use of antibiotics, it does not change the climate portrait. 
Meat kills 4 ways - you, the animal, the community and the environment.  1. The higher your ingestion of meat and animal products like cheese, the higher your risk for heart attacks and strokes.  It also leads to other problems, like cancer and even constipation.   2. Animals feel pain, experience fear and have emotions.  Killing them is similar to killing any mammal, even a human. 3. It is far more inefficient to grow crops for animals than to grow crops directly for humans.  Dedicating land to animals essentially leads to starvation – no different that setting aside good crop land for bio-fuels.  It is not just the capitalist commodification of an essential like food that is responsible.  4. And lastly, meat is the SUV of foods, using land, water, oil and artificial fertilizer in immense amounts.  Even the UN has pointed out that meat is one of the prime producers of carbon into the atmosphere.  This is no secret anymore. 
Meat consumption in the U.S. has been going down for years, so something is happening. In 2012 5% of the population were strict vegetarians in the U.S., 2% followed a vegan diet, and 33% of the population followed a lower-meat / pescatarian diet.  Young single liberal females with lower educations were the highest group in these categories.  In Sweden, Italy, Germany & Switzerland, the vegetarian number is around 9-10% of the population.  According to Wiki, eating meat is still prestigious in China, yet 5% of the population is still vegetarian.  It is 31% in India, 13% in Taiwan and around 8% in Israel.  Most of these statistics seem to be dated, so the numbers now are probably higher.
Ultimately the Big Meat industry will have to be seized without compensation, put under workers control, and partially phased out, just like coal plants. 
(See review of “Salt, Sugar, Fat,” below.  Use blog search box, upper left.)
Red Frog
The 'Pescatarian Bolshevik'
September 20, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Humans Sink Lower Still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Notes on 9/11 All Over Again ?

'Creative' Destruction

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

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

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

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

FBI Virus

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

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

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

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

Blow Back to Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Carnival of Cruelty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Long & Winding Road ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Islam

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

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

China

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

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

Past Ballgames - Mao & Lenin

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

Europe

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

Recommendations

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

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