Sunday, May 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Frog
May 17, 2015

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

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The CIA – Our Political Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Frog
May 10, 2015  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Collateralized Soul Obligations

"Raising Hell,” by Norman Spinrad, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 1, 2015

May Day Week


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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