Category Archives: Resources

Looking into the Iranian and North Korean nuclear threats

Want to know whether the US should withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran or what’s involved in the upcoming negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons? Check out “War Games,” the latest episode of Jeremy Scahill’s “Intercepted” podcast, available on in the iTunes store or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll learn a ton — all critical information in understanding today’s (and yesterday’s) world…Like which country or countries are currently the biggest threats to world peace?

“The Death of Stalin”

As a student of history, particularly Russian history, I was curious about the new film “The Death of Stalin,” then appalled when I did some online research and found out that it’s a slapstick comedy about officials grasping for power after Stalin died in 1953. What’s funny about something like this? Nothing. Also shocking is the way the film gives absolutely no context about Stalin, one of the key historical figures, for good or ill, of the 20th century. As Peter Hitchens, a London reader of The Guardian wrote in that paper’s letters section on 10-27-17, “As far as I know, this is the first time a mass-market film has dealt with this event. We may be saturated with serious drama and documentary material on the Nazis and the end of Hitler, but the equivalent evils of the Stalin nightmare haven’t received anything like the same treatment. For most who see the film, it will be the first time they’ve ever heard of these strange events. And what do they see? An intensely serious moment in human history played for laughs, with lavatory humor and plentiful use of the failed comedian’s standby, the F-word. We’re so free and safe that we can hardly begin to imagine a despot so terrifying that his subordinates are even afraid of his corpse. This trivial and inaccurate squib doesn’t help us to do so. Perhaps it’s the comedians who need to be satirized, by some fitting seriousness about a serious subject.”

The only critical review I found of the film online was one posted on the World Socialist website (www.wsws.org) on 3-9-18. David Walsh describes it as “a fatally ill-conceived ‘black comedy’ about the demise of the gravedigger of the Russian Revolution, Joseph Stalin, in March 1953. The film is not so much maliciously anticommunist as it is, above all, historically clueless. Iannucci presents the various surviving Stalinist officials, Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, Nikolai Bulganin, and the rest, all of whom had gallons of blood on their hands, as a largely ineffectual bunch of bunglers and toadies, jockeying ‘comically’ for position. The betrayal of the Russian Revolution was one of the greatest tragedies in world history [not to mention the planned famine in Ukraine and Stalin’s purges, which together killed more people than Hitler]. Iannucci’s film doesn’t begin to confront the vast significance of events in the Soviet Union.

Taken in and of themselves, there are amusing lines and moments, until one remembers the general context and the historical stakes, and the laughter freezes in one’s throat. All the actors are fine at doing what they’re asked to do, but what they’re asked to do is terribly off the mark. It’s impossible to make sense of a film like ‘The Death of Stalin’ except in the context of the disastrously low level of historical knowledge or interest that exists in the arts at present.

Iannucci is a Scottish-born television, film and radio writer and director, responsible for ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ (along with Steve Coogan), ‘The Thick of It,’ ‘In the Loop,’ and ‘Veep,’ among other efforts, and under the right circumstances, he’s capable of creating funny, pointed satire. When it comes to bringing out the dishonesty, careerist opportunism, and stupidity of garden-variety politicians, media personalities, and other establishment figures, he probably has few equals today. However, when the writer-director steps outside the fairly narrow confines of parliamentary and entertainment industry backroom shenanigans, he falters badly. The second half of ‘In the Loop,’ which satirized the British government’s complicity in the Bush administration’s drive to war in Iraq, is politically blunted and largely unfunny. HBO’s ‘Veep,’ too, about a fictional female US vice president, finds Iannucci over his head. For all its coarseness, it’s quite timid in its portrayal of the ugliness of American politics, with little mention of war policy, drone strikes, and other things that surely consume a great deal of a real president’s focus and attention.

Art and comedy have to rise to – or at least approach – the level of the events or personalities they’re treating. That is, there needs to be some artistic and intellectual correspondence between subject and object. Iannucci’s film is based on a [non-comic] French graphic novel series by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin. Iannucci has undoubtedly added his own touch. And it’s simply inappropriate and, at times, grotesque.”

I believe history, as the backstory to current and future events, is the key to understanding where we are and where we could go, and I’m more than saddened by the preponderant lack of knowledge of or interest in it today – probably because of the boring, textbook-centered way it’s taught in high school. Good historical novels and films can make up for some of this, but bad ones, like “The Death of Stalin” just deepen the ignorance. Take the time to be curious about your world, and how it came to be the way it currently is. Find important history books by reading reviews on Amazon, then buy or borrow and read them!

 

Notes on two new books added to Resources

Hi, all — just wanted to let you know that I’ve added my notes on two new books to “Resources, Non-fiction Books.” They are No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Want by Naomi Klein (2017) and Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2016). The notes on Nothing Ever Dies also include my notes on Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize winning 2016 novel about the Vietnam War, The Sympathizer. Look for “Resources” in the top bar of the web page.

As always, I heartily recommend that you read these books in their entirety yourself, but in case you don’t have the time, money, or interest to do that, these notes may be helpful to you. Share any and all widely.

An effective way to counter Trumpism

Just listened to Micah White on the This Is Hell podcast (the 11-19 episode), and want to try to share his main points with you while they’re still fresh in my mind. First of all, White doesn’t think the incremental reformism of most progressives, including Obama and Hillary Clinton, will get us far enough fast enough – especially in terms of attracting voters. Since the election of Donald Trump (which demonstrates this), White thinks we’re in for a long spell of populist fascism (the Trump model) unless we can create populist democracy by building a broad social movement focused on gaining governmental power. Dismissing street protests unconnected to such a goal as mere feel-good exercises, White points to the speed with which Trumpism gained power and similar time-lines for left-social-movement parties in Europe (Syriza in Greece, Five Stars in Italy, and Podemos in Spain).

Once political power is gained, changes can be made – like ensuring that no one goes hungry in Nehalem, OR, where White recently gained 20% of the vote for mayor. Believing that trying to gain control of small local governments should be part of any left social movement, White points out that leftist-controlled cities and towns could change from a city council form of government to one controlled by a popular assembly, beginning a movement toward “horizontal” (decentralized) democracy. At the same time, revolutionary (wanting real change) leftists could run for state and national offices for the purpose of changing government to be accountable and democratic, which it definitely isn’t now. For years Congress has been almost 100% unresponsive to what polls indicate most Americans want on a variety of issues. This, I believe, is why the majority of eligible voters (57.9% in this year’s election) choose “none of the above” by not voting.

White believes the best way to oppose Trump and Trumpism is to start planning now to try to win elections in 2018 and 2020. Get power in order to change how power functions. Dissatisfied Americans who voted for Trump would see how much responsive to their needs this kind of government would be, and switch from being unconscious fascists to conscious democrats.

Sounds like the only way to me. What do you think?

Why Clinton lost and what to do about it

If you want to hear a good analysis of the recent election from a leftist Brit, check out podcast episode #927 at www.thisishell.com. Or better yet, subscribe to the This Is Hell podcast on iTunes. Unfortunately, “This Is Hell” transcripts are a year behind, so I went to the article “Saturn Devours His Young” by Richard Seymour and his fellow editors on www.salvagezone.com. Here are its salient points:

“Between 2012 and 2016, the Republican vote barely changed, but the Democrats shed, at the latest estimate, approximately six and a half million votes. And 2012 was already three and a half million votes lower than Obama’s 2008 peak.” Early on, Clinton demoralized Democrats, managing “expectations down to close to zero, scolding Sanders supporters that universal healthcare was ‘never going to happen.’ She barely even had the grace to be red-faced about her convivial relationship with Goldman Sachs and Wall Street. Far from embarrassed, she was proud of her plaudits from Henry Kissinger, Laura Bush, and Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, her team noised it abroad that she would be looking to privatize social security, and re-arm liberal imperialism after Obama’s ‘Realist’ detour. And, while she dropped her old opposition to gay marriage and rowed back on locking up those ‘superpredators’ she once warned us about, she deliberately focused her campaign on wooing suburban Republicans. To little overall effect, other than the collapse in the Democratic vote.

Low voter turnout has always been key to Clinton’s strategy of “center-fishing” for the largest single segment of a shrinking pie. Banking on mass demoralization and abstentionism, it’s a democratic maneuver that embraces the hollowing-out of democracy. If discussed at all, this relied-upon and too-little-investigated mass disaffection has generally been described as ‘apathy.’ Liberal intellectuals are more likely to rage against marginal third-party candidates than look at the decades-long shame of a crisis of representation.” Ninety million eligible voters stayed home on Election Day this year, an estimated 57.9%.

Trump voters aren’t “mainly the poor and ‘left behind.’ Ample research and exit polls demonstrate that Trump had stronger support from among those with incomes above $50,000 than Clinton, including specific groups like male college graduates. The likelihood is that most workers, white or black, rather than rallying to Trump, simply didn’t vote. Numbers voting for both parties were down on 2012: but for the Republican candidate, only by relatively little; for the Democrat, by a lot.

This is not to deny that Trump won over some white workers, that he shook loose some elements of the Democratic coalition. The particulars of this are important though. Many commentators, for example, are citing, a ’16 per cent swing’ to Trump in certain rustbelt states – but declining turnout might mean that is rather than evidence of large-scale party defection, this represents greater motivation of Republican voters to actually vote. Such judgments can only be made with close analysis of the statistics across several variables. For example, in Wisconsin, the level of Republican support increased by just over 1,200 votes. The bigger change was that the Democrats lost roughly 240,000 votes. In Michigan, thus far, the Republican gain of approximately 165,000 votes is greatly outnumbered by the Democratic loss of roughly 300,000 votes. On the other hand, in Pennsylvania, the Democratic losses and Republican gains were more or less even at approximately 230,000 votes. To assess the meaning of this, one would still need to understand how much of the Republican gain in these states was concentrated in the working class, and how many of these were new voters, as opposed to former Obama voters. Instead, already every datum is being fed into the rapidly emerging nostrum that Trump ‘won over the white working class.’ The national figures alone already tell us this is wrong, as are many of the conclusions the anguished Left is coming to, especially the idea of blunting, with whatever niceties, our pro-migrant, internationalist, anti-racist politics.

In neglected, rusting areas in the US and Europe there are concentrated layers of unemployed and poor workers who don’t vote, downwardly mobile ‘skilled’ workers who often vote right, and middle-class strata who resent being ‘left behind’ with the wreckage.

In this election, for the first time, millennials were the largest generation, outnumbering babyboomers. And millennials, to the extent that they voted, supported Clinton by a margin of 54 to 46%. Those aged 45 and over, however, preferred Trump by a margin of 53 to 44%. Generational change has brought with it changes in demographic composition as well as in attitudes toward race and sex. One of the functions of Trump as father figure in this election was to devour the more multiracial, socially liberal young and their threat to the values, interests and property of older, whiter and more affluent voters.

There was, for a brief moment, the possibility that a social-democratic campaign, launched to the surprise of veteran cynics of all wings from within one of the main capitalist parties, could galvanize and enthuse the left-moving young, linking debt-ridden students and racially oppressed young people to the neglected in the rustbelts, as well as the working-class mainstays of the Democratic vote. Bernie Sanders, in his own way every bit the ‘anti-political’ politician that Trump is, outpolled Trump and other Republican candidates far more convincingly than Clinton. There was no guarantee that he would have won, but this was by far the best, the only plausible chance to counter the electrifying effect that Trump’s potential fascism was having on the Republican base. The resilient and disgusted Democratic establishment, coupled with the inherited weaknesses and poor class-rootedness of the Left, ensured that it was passed up. Newly leaked emails actually show that the Democrat machine actively bolstered the hardest-right bigots of the Republicans, in what they called the ‘Pied Piper Strategy’ to pull the party right, leaving the Democrats that mythicized center ground. To repeat: the Democrats cynically and deliberately enabled racist, nativist, misogynist, homophobic thuggery out of political calculation.

For the collapsing of the order of the center – the order that birthed Trump, the system of which he is not pathology but symptom, we shed no tears. But our worst enemies are building in its rubble faster and more effectively than we are. In 2017, we can expect major fascist advances – a Le Pen presidency in France for example. This is an epochal shift, and threat.

The American Supreme Court is lost to liberals, and Roe versus Wade is likely to be overturned. Some of Trump’s policies he will not, cannot enact: he can’t make Mexico pay for any wall he might build, and he can’t ban Muslims from entering the US. But this is cold comfort: unconstrained, with Republican majorities in both houses (and even the Republican ‘moderates’ who thought he had no chance now feeling permitted or obligated to follow his alt-right direction), he can approximate and jury-rig similar measures, and usher in a program of delirious, murderous reaction. Which is to say nothing of the concomitant cultural shift, the emboldening of resentment, spite, and social sadism. And, of course, the promised bonuses for newly privileged sectors of capital, above all energy, construction, and those associated with the military-industrial complex.

Yet Trump’s victory is fragile. He won because Clinton lost. He won with fewer votes than Romney. And he lost the popular vote by a slight margin. The form of politics he represents has been on a long-term slide, and his presidency is a one-off chance to halt it. While the Democratic establishment now predictably lays down its arms, urging us to give the new president ‘a chance,’ we support the protests of the justly disgusted and frightened. The platitudes about uniting, to which the political class are addicted, aren’t likely to be heeded by those against whom such uniting is taking place, and shouldn’t be by us.

The Left must remain hard not only in its aggressive, militant solidarity with migrants, and with the black activists insisting that the police be held to account, against whom an onslaught is to be expected. We must work vigorously in united fronts without succumbing to the forthcoming wave of sentimentality about Obama – the mechanisms of drone death, whistleblower-attack, and trenchant state surveillance now in the hands of a bloviating monster are Obama’s. In response to the liberals with whom we will march, who insist that ‘love trumps hate,’ we must argue instead for more hate in the right direction.

More than one commentator, and not only of the far Left or right, has discerned in this moment a slide toward a new civil war. This is only half-correct. One of the few positive things one can say about Trump’s victory that it clarifies the fact that the war was here already.”