Friday, June 28, 2019

The Class Battle Over Land

“Capital City – Gentrification and the Real Estate State,” by Samuel Stein, 2019

This book discusses the role city government, city planners, finance companies and the real estate industry have on increasing gentrification.  Stein lives in New York, so most of the book is focused on how New York gentrified – by running industries out of town, by giving huge tax breaks and rezoning to developers and landlords, by changing laws and by lying to the public. In New York this has been done by both Bloomberg and de Blasio, though with different tactics.  Stein has a chapter on the role of the Trump family, as Donald Trump is not only a sleazy real estate capitalist but president.  Stein seems to have a thin understanding of single family homes in smaller cities and so focuses on tenants and landlords.  He does include a section on certain reforms that can slow gentrification.

Stein is a city planner by training.  He points out that U.S. real estate has become a major repository for wealth, as 60% of world assets are in real estate.  As a capitalist economy fails to profit from production, it moves assets into either market speculation (finance capital) or the rentier economy (real estate capital).  In this it is closely aided by the state.  These are mainly politicians who sit on city councils, mostly Democrats at this point. This is what he identifies as the ‘real estate state.’ 

I’m going to bullet-point this one, as the book is loaded with facts that fighters against gentrification can use:

1.     “Affordability” is never defined at a level that is actually affordable for many.  Mixed-class developments allow many more higher-end units to be built while being billed otherwise.
2.                ‘Density’ as practiced has not cured affordability and sometimes not even increased density!  Like building an extra lane on the freeway, it just increases traffic on that road, including big trucks. 
3.                Cities and residents lose large amounts of money in tax giveaways for ‘development.’  This is corporate welfare or in his term, ‘geobribery.’
4.                Mega-projects always displace working-class and darker-skinned residents.  As do large density projects.
5.                Hedge fund Blackstone is now the world’s largest homeowner.
6.                Industrial zones depress land prices, which is why city governments try to remove them.  With them go jobs and gentrification can proceed.
7.                “Market economies require planning.”
8.                “One of the tasks of urban planning … is to make capitalist development appear to be in the rational best interests of workers and bosses alike.”
9.                ‘Participatory planning' by neighborhoods is used as a charade and is never decisive.  The City Council can ignore it. Essentially the process is “open but rigged.”
10.           “Real estate went from being a secondary to a primary source of capital accumulation.”
11.           “Art and cultural production” … are ways “to bring people with money into their cities.”  (The ‘creative class’ then gets removed as prices go up.)
12.           Stein supports the ‘right to stay’ – similar to what David Harvey called “the right to the city.”

Stein discusses the ‘rent gap,’ the ‘value gap’ and the ‘functional gap’ which allow for gentrification economics in a market context.  He explains the uses of upzoning, downzoning and rezoning.  He describes value recapture from private projects, which are the window-dressing used to justify privatization.  And several other wonky terms.  This level of detail is useful for anyone attending a city hearing on a project or debating a real estate lackey.

We'll Squeeze You In Somewhere...
Stein’s immediate answers to gentrification all operate within the capitalist system, but are transitional demands.  He does not use the phrase ‘housing is a right’ but I’m sure he’d agree.  He doesn't deal with the immediate issue of homelessness.  Why cities in a capitalist economy are so large is not addressed.  Ultimately Stein wants to socialize the land.  This he sees as the end product of a mass anti-capitalist movement that repoliticizes land and rent as social issues, not natural events.

His immediate solutions?  1.  Make inclusionary zoning apply to richer neighborhoods too.  2.  Institute rent control.  3.  Stop privatization with ‘community land trusts,’ a real estate form of a co-operative.  4.  Cities should stop selling empty properties to landlords for a pittance, and instead include them in public housing.  5.  Build more public housing.  6.  Stop using property taxes to fund so many things.  7.  Pass laws or taxes against empty apartments owned or run by AirBnB landlords, empty 2nd homes, the overseas wealthy and speculators.  8.  Bring industry back to the city.  9.  Raise wages to pay the rent. 

P.S. – An excellent editorial by Ginger Jentzen against the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which rezones the whole city to allow building 3 story apartment buildings everywhere.  This plan is being looked at nationwide.

P.P.S - Trump's HUD has just endorsed a plan to fight for 'affordable housing' by getting rid of barriers to construction. So Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has a new ally.   

Other reviews on this issue:  “How to Kill a City,” “Cade’s Rebellion,” “Tales of Two Cities,” “Rebel Cities,” “Nomadland,” “Notes on Local Politics in Our Town.”

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog, June 28, 2019

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Modern Fight Against Fascism

“Serekeftin – A Narrative of the Rojava Revolution” – by Marcel Cartier, 2019

Cartier visited northern Syria for about 6 weeks in what is now casually referred to as Rojava.  He writes this book from both a factual and emotional place.  He’s a self-described “Marxist-Leninist,” a British hip-hop artist and journalist who participated in Occupy in New York. This was one of a number of visits he has made to the Middle East. 
“Serekeftin” means victory in Kurdish.  This is what has been accomplished by force of arms against Daesh (ISIS) – a necessity for survival of the peoples living in Syria.  Cartier calls Daesh a fascist force, and indeed it is.  For any leftist who knows a bit of history, the situation in northern Syria brings to mind the Spanish Civil War, the 1917 Kornilov events in Russia, present day Venezuela, even WW II.  One could see the battle of Kobani as a smaller version of Stalingrad.  One is reminded of the Lend-Lease program through Murmansk. The unity of anarchists and socialists in Rojava as an improvement over that in Spain.  The Bolshevik and Petrograd Soviet’s block with Kerensky against Kornilov in August 1917.  The mass communes of Venezuela (and China) against reaction. 

Cartier defends Rojava as a radical leftist response to ethnic brutality, hatred of women, religious intolerance, centralist control and capitalist methods in Syria.
    1.    The Federal government of Rojava (“Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria) supports a multi-ethnic society and as part of this, is against an independent Kurdish state.  In the area Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Yazidis and Armenians serve in the armed units and have control in their own cities.  This is their form of internationalism.
     2.    Women have autonomous organizations, including military ones.  The leadership of the communes is always divided in half between men and women.  Forced marriages and polygamy have been outlawed.
3.    While most Kurds are Muslim, there is no official religion – religion itself seems absent in public. 
4.    The governing structures are similar to mass democratic councils / communes / assemblies, with membership and voting from the ground up.  Each neighborhood has one.
5.    Lastly, cooperatives are the basic form of economic organization, although Cartier’s details on this are incomplete.  He only mentions two examples – a bottled water plant and a large agricultural cooperative.  The issue of oil and the presence of small businesses and farmers is not remarked upon.

All this has been done in the face of war, but Rojava was years in the making.

One of the main threads running throughout the book is a polemic against the coffee-shop Facebook warriors who denigrate Rojava because it accepted military help from the U.S.  As Cartier points out, the survival of the peoples of northern Syria was at stake.  Any cursory glance at history shows a number of very important military blocks by leftists with anti-fascist bourgeois forces, WW II being the most prominent, but Spain, Venezuela, Nicaragua and the Russian revolution providing more evidence. 

YPG Improvised Vehicle
Rojava is surrounded by enemies – the nationalist Kurds in Iraq; the Turkish army; Daesh, al-Nusra and other Salafist forces in Syria, including elements of the FSA; perhaps in the future the Syrian Army. They have no doubt the U.S. will join that list when the military role of the YPG and YPJ is over. After all, these Rojava organizations were the key ground force crushing Daesh.  During the celebration of the victory in Raqqa over Daesh, the U.S. was very perturbed when the fighters rolled out a large portrait of the libertarian socialist Abdullah Oclan, the inspirational leader of the PKK.  Oclan has been jailed on a Turkish island for 20 years - very similar to the experience Nelson Mandela went through. 

The book also serves as a guide to the various organizations in the region. Cartier talks to internationalists who visited Rojava with him, along with international volunteers who came to fight fascism and for Rojava, some from the U.S.  He also meets many soft-spoken Rojava comrades during his weeks of education, touring and visits to a number of cities in the area.  This is an intentionally personal book, but it has enough facts to convince anyone paying attention that Rojava is a positive expression of current socialism and should be supported.

Other reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left:  “Rojava,” “The Management of Savagery,” “The Death of the Nation,” “What is the War on Terror and How to Fight It,” “War With Russia?” 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
June 25, 2019    

Friday, June 21, 2019

WTF Series #6 - Funny Money

Multi-Millionaire Comedians Who Love the System

Here is a list of top political or semi-political comedians in the U.S., sorted by net worth and color-coded by assumed political affiliation.  Most of these comics have large contracts with corporate media.  While you are laughing at their sometimes accurate or lame yet well-paid jokes, remember this chart:

Name - Last
Name - First
Net Worth
Per Year







W Kamau

I’ve graded them Blue for Democrat of some sort; Pink for Republican; Green, some kind of lefty-liberal.  This data is mostly taken from the Celebrity Net Worth site, which is updated frequently.  It is pretty clear that Republicans have a very poor sense of humor from this data.  Right-wingers evidently never laugh except at people with disabilities, providing a poor and tiny audience.  You would too, if you were waiting for The Rapture®, or spent too much time cleaning your gun.

At the top is the execrable jerk-off, Sirius XM's Howard Stern.  This is the guy who just got a fawning profile in Rolling Stone and was interviewed with respect on CNN.  He’s like some kind of elder statesman now.  In the CNN interview with Anderson Cooper (heir to Vanderbilt fortune, but not an intentionally funny man), Stern stated his long-time love for the Clintons.  But he interviewed Trump 40 times on his show, building Trump’s media image. Stern is the guy that wanted to A-bomb a Muslim country after 9/11.  None of this is shocking, it is normal functioning in corporate culture.

Aahhh... how cute.
After retired money hogs Letterman and Leno, we have AT&T / HBO's Bill Maher.  Maher still occasionally talks positively about atheism and weed, but mostly he’s got a terrible case of only-Trump comedy dementia.  Present and ex-CIA, FBI, Army and Republican guests; belt-way think tankers and journalists; right-wing and moderate Democrats – all guest on his show staffing an unending “Resistance®” patrol who want to ‘go back to a time before Trump.’  Yet Trump was produced by that ‘time.’  But if you had $100M, this might be a reasonable strategy!

The rest of the list contains other network late-night comedians whose focus on Trump’s lies, cruelties and idiocies makes comedy easier.  Trump’s a very soft target, as they say.  This is the endless modus operandi of Saturday Night Live.  Perhaps only AT&T/HBO's Jon Oliver actually handles a broad variety of issues that hide behind Trump.  He and his staff actually do research! Then we have gendarmes of Democratic Party bourgeois feminism, Comcast/NBC hosts DeGeneres and especially Goldberg, who castigate anyone to the left of the DNC.  You’ll notice Bee is working her way up the charts, as her regular show on Turner Broadcasting should upgrade her wealth.  So should W Kamau Bell’s regular gig on AT&T/CNN.  His wide-eyed interviews with various racist scumbags or African-Americans that know more than him are mostly fluff. At a live show, Bell made it clear he dislikes atheists (‘a white thing’) and thinks no African Americans are atheist.  Think again. 

At the bottom of the list are two prominent liberal-lefty comedians, Dore and Camp, whose regular gigs on You Tube and RT are not lucrative.  It’s a life though.  They go way beyond Trump humor, as the whole system is actually funny and corrupt.  One of Dore’s co-thinkers mentioned that guest comics cannot do political comedy on some of the late night shows, as that is reserved for the ‘host.’  This is one way left-wing humor does not get aired on mainstream TV.

Comedy is politics by other means, and certainly openly political comedy doesn’t even hide it anymore.  As funny as these people are – and remember, they are professionals just like your lawyer, with a huge writing staff – we should know where they are coming from.  They are part of the multi-millionaire class, the 2-5%.  They have a vested material interest in a capitalist system that exists behind Trump.  He’s making that system look vicious and stupid, which is the reason he is fodder for endless jokes.

Happy Summer Solstice!

The Kulture Kommissar
June 21, 2019

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Kiss and Tell

“Post Office,” by Charles Bukowski, 1971

Bukowski has always been a conflicted figure – both repulsive and attractive.  This ‘ring of truth’ book drove his persona into the national limelight.  Unlike Bukowski’s image as a hard-drinking, womanizing, lazy bastard, in this book Bukowski’s alter-ego Chinaski works at the Los Angles Post Office over two periods for a total of more than 15 years.  No shit!  No Tom Waits’ coffee drunk loitering in dark bars here.  Chinaski lugs heavy bags of mail up hills, through rainstorms and sorts mail like a tired machine, hung-over, dreaming of scoring at the racetrack.  That is when he’s not being forced to work overtime.  He is cursed by petty and implacable post office supervisors, nutty coworkers or pathetic, mostly female customers waiting for their letters. 

This is probably the ONLY book written about working in the post office and as such, deserves a pride of place in the literature of labor - even though that might not have been its intention.  I myself got hired at the Post Office in the 1970s after passing the tests.  But when they toured us through the job-to-be – sitting at a machine for 12 hours sorting letters by zip code – I never showed up for work. 

Chinaski/Bukowski shows up, and defies his bosses time and time again.   They write him up and write him up to no avail. This is mostly during the 1960s and the spirit of rebellion is in the times, even if ‘the times’ are invisible in this book. This is the book’s main flaw.  In the 1960s rebellions were breaking out all over the country; students on strike; continual confrontations in the street with police; murder the order of the day.  In the book the ‘brothers’ at the P.O. are seen by supervisors as dangerous thugs. One word:  Watts.  It makes the postal workers union (APWU) invisible, though in 1970 there was an illegal and massive postal workers wildcat strike that went national.  Los Angles was part of all this. Yet hung-over gambler and sex addict Chinaski barely notices or cares about any of this.  You see, it is all about him.

In the Cold Rain & Snow
So the book becomes a humorous exercise in solipsism.  At this point in history, clammy sexist attitudes towards women and drunken writer romanticism don’t really fly, though they can still be funny.  After leaving the Post Office the first time, Chinaski tries to make money at racetracks.  He succeeds for awhile and just comes off as another greasy parasite when he wins.  

Workers in U.S. culture are usually depicted as buffoons or lumpens.  Here the book leans to the latter, a form of vicarious slumming.  The real value of the book is not this low-life shtick, but its crazy descriptions of 1950s and ‘60s life as a route carrier or mail clerk sorter – helpful should you be so lucky as to get hired at the Post Office.

P.S. - The film "Factotum"based on another Bukowski book about Chinaski was filmed in Minneapolis, and one scene is set in Palmer's Bar near May Day Books.  Palmer's is reviewed below. 

Other reviews on fiction books about working:  “Factory Days,” “Polar Star,” “Red Baker,” “Cade’s Rebellion,” “Night Shift” and "Palmer's Bar."  Use blog search box, upper left. 

And I bought it at Second Story Books in Ely, MN.
The Kulture Kommissar
June 18, 2019

Friday, June 14, 2019

Capital Parading as Reality

“Capitalist Realism – Is There No Alternative?” by Mark Fisher, 2019

This is another thin book from Zero Books in their non-academic public intellectual series.  Thinness is a virtue, let me tell you.  Fisher’s supposed main point here is to challenge the philosophic designation of post-modernism as the present functioning of culture under capital and replace it with the notion of ‘capitalist realism.’  This is much like authors who challenge the ‘anthropocene’ designation for the present environmental period and want to call it the ‘capitalocene.’  Fisher argues that Fredric Jameson’s idea of ‘post-modernism’ no longer makes sense because the situation has gotten much worse since the 1980s.  ‘Modernity’ as formally described no longer exists, so it is not even a reference point. 
Fisher is inspired (of course) by Jameson, Slavoj Zizek, David Harvey and the French neo-Marxists – Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault, Badiou, Lacan, Lyotard and Baudrillard.  Marx and Franz Kafka provide backup.  Movies, among them “Children of Men,” “Wall-E,” “Office Space” and “The Parallax View” make appearances illustrating points the author is trying to make.  ‘The Big Other” makes repeated visits too, which moves me to caution writers against this pompous vagueness.  NAME the ‘big other’ for fuck’s sake.  It is not true that HE does not have a name – especially for Marxists.

Fisher argues that capital has moved from a discipline society to a soft control society – control through culture.  He paints the familiar picture of the ‘conquest of cool’ – how cultural rebellion has been commodified in such a way that now actual rebellion (in the global north I would assume...) is unthinkable. The entertainment-industrial complex has created a hedonist environment where constant entertainment and food - music, videos, drink, pictures, television, movies, games, drugs - saturate the population, especially youth. This cultural soup undermines any stern ‘grand narrative’ opposing capital, as belief in anything but enjoyment and happiness is at zero.  Boredom is the enemy!  Our emotions are all that matter!  Thinking is stupid!  Even many ritual protests against aspects of capital are inert.  Fisher: “Protests have formed a kind of carnivalesque background noise to capitalist realism.”  Instead of class struggle we have charity.  I.E. there is no future beyond the infantile present.

Fisher argues that there is nothing ‘real’ about capitalist realism – ‘reality’ under capitalism is an ideological concept that pretends to be natural.  Pragmatists and 'realists' hide or are unaware of their own ideological bias as they pompously declare their own grown-up-ness. The whole 'adults in the room' trope is part of this.  Fisher discusses the issue of increasing mental health problems, which show that falsity and stress have actual consequences and reflect an underlying reality.  He also looks at the increase in bureaucratism under lax ‘horizontal’ post-Fordist capital, which gives the lie to its pretensions of increasing freedom.  Much of this is self-imposed by workers upon themselves. He calls this rise in capitalist bureaucratism “market Stalinism,” with the call center a reference point. 
Eat and Text, Eat and Drink, Eat and Facebook
Fisher, in his remarks about labor, only references public workers – in academics, in the civil service, in the British National Health Service.  He has nothing about labor in the private sector and nothing about the global south.  The various chapters in the book seem not to be a tight argument, but instead a looser series of observations.  For instance, he remarks that control societies are based on debt, not on punitive ‘enclosure.’  But he has nothing to say about debt, only about illusions.  Nor is he aware that “Fordism” is very much alive in much of the world, even in Europe and the U.S.  He is not part of any organization except perhaps the British Labour Party.  Ultimately the book comes off overwhelmed, as it seems to portray ‘The Matrix’ as a successful strategy. Marxists are those who chose 'the red pill' and Fisher has done his best to reveal what is behind appearances.  But his suggestions on how to change the situation seem slight. 

The book contains some interesting insights and neo-Marxist references, worth a look to update your own ideas.  Fisher is dead set against the heroic nostalgia of 1870, 1917, 1934 or 1968 and that makes sense.  The present and future is the thing.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
June 14, 2019

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Cult of Expert Nonsense

“Psychology and Capitalism – the Manipulation of Mind,” by Ron Roberts, 2019

This short book centers on the uses of bourgeois psychology to capital in the realms of control and illusion.  Studies have shown that since neo-liberal capitalism was introduced in the late 1970s, rates of mental distress and deaths have increased markedly - suicide, alcohol and drug addiction leading the stats.  This has affected oppressed populations the most - and at present, especially 'white' middle-aged working class men.  Yet the methods of contemporary psychology and psychiatry center their treatment on individuals alone, with no historical or social content. They ignore how capital has configured society to create stress and misery.

The psychological theories that are taught in college - Freud, Adler, Maslow, Jung, Skinner, Rogers, Erikson and others – all of them conflict.  This undermines any idea that psychology is a holistic science.  The present large division between talk therapy and biological drugs – the ‘couch and the brain scan’ approaches, as Roberts put it, also conflict, though biological reductionism is now the most prominent.  Roberts counts 11 modern forms of psychology at present - all of which are not integrated. These contradictions hint at the ideological aspect of modern psychology. 

Roberts looks at the uses personality and character studies have, and how they enable military and corporate entities to control warfare and workers alike.  Pop psychologists on PBS offer up 4 aspects of personality while rigid individual categories like neurotic, introvert and extrovert, ‘passive aggressive,’ ‘the self,’ ‘A personality,’ ‘beta males,’ nature and nurture, narcissism, pessimism and optimism and especially intelligence fill common talk – all ahistorical and individualized, with questionable scientific bonifides.  Loneliness is the exception, as it is now commonly and obviously understood to be linked to social disconnection.

Roberts outlines the misuses of psychology as an insider.  He discusses military psychology and its collaboration with torture; advertising manipulation; IQ and the bogus aspects of twin studies; manipulated drug science tests and especially the ascendant role of the individual. As to the latter, he says this about current psychology: “…the individual is the primary reality … By amazing coincidence, it is also the cornerstone of ‘rational’ self interest and individualism upon which the entire field of (capitalist) economics is predicated.”  Corporate psychology pushed through HR departments is especially geared to getting the worker to be agreeable, conscientious, punctual, resilient and flexible.  Especially flexible!  Psychology essentially “privatizes responsibility” in Roberts' words. 
PTSD - Exception to the DSM Rule

Roberts looks at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) – the bible of psychology.  The categories were developed by committees, not by research.  Half of the members of DSM committees have ties to the pharmaceutical industry.  The National Institute of Mental Health no longer supports the DSM, calling it ‘unscientific.’  The PTSD category itself exposed the rest of the categories when it allowed that a war environment might affect emotions.  The other categories were however considered disconnected from social experience.

One stunner is that the Jason Bourne series (‘Treadstone’) is actually based on a real CIA program, MKUltra, which as one of its aspects attempted to train assassins to be able to do anything without compunction.  Following this, the ‘defense’ industry is the largest employer of psychologists.  This should give us all pause. 

Roberts lists a few social psychologists who look at the links between society and individual functioning and concepts like fascism, alienation and consumer fetishism – Wilhelm Reich, Kenneth Gergen, Eric Fromm, R.D. Laing and Slavoj Zizek.  Yet their social psychology is absolutely marginal to the field as practiced now.    

At the least, every psychology student should read this book.

P.S. - There is an excellent commentary on 'mindfulness' as a method of corporate and individualist quietism in The Guardian.  This book is now in stock at May Day:

Other reviews on this issue, below.  Use blog search box, upper left: “Propaganda,” (Bernays); "Bright-Sided," (Ehrenreich); "The Happiness Industry," "Lost Connections," "Shopping World."

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
June 10, 2019