Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Wall Street this week

For the last week there have been protests on Wall Street, though one would have been hard-pressed to know it if you followed our nation’s “mainstream” press.   There was virtually nary a word, and if so, buried far in the back.  And this time it wasn’t a bunch of geriatric cases reliving their wild 1960′s youth, or at least those were not predominant at all.  Instead it was young people of today – the one’s who are really getting screwed by the actions of Wall Street, their future deleted by big business’ lunge for maximum profit via off-shoring, down-sizing and shelling out zillions in bonuses to themselves for their cleverness.

So the guys in the offices (actually, for the same profit-motive reasons, a lot of Wall Street offices are no longer located there as it is cheaper in New Haven, places across the river in New Jersey so they shipped them there) now have not only jitters about the American market, the collapse of the European markets and all that financial stuff, but also about getting out the door to catch a limo home.

For updates on Wall Street see                 https://occupywallst.org/

The thin blue line protects Wall Street

Of course, while our press hasn’t deigned to cover this story lurking right under their noses (because those on Wall Street own America’s press), the UK Guardian and Al Jazeera, apparently not under the yoke of big money, have.  The New York Times, finally, had an article today which in its manner covers the story, in a rather dismissive manner.  Earlier they’d had a few blog posts, one stating that the protestors “believe the financial system it weighted to the advantage of the rich.”  It was phrased as if this were a dubious proposition.

Of other sources of information, see this:

Of course the police are using their new tactics – caging and kettling, hemming in protesting groups, arbitrary arrests, and all the other practices of  a soft police-state.   Our media is now a form of Pravda, printing mostly trivia to distract the public, suppressing all signs of dissent, and grinding out propaganda 24/7.



Meantime while at least some people in the US shake off the lethargy of the last decades – during which our masters were very busy building the tools for a somewhat extensive police-state – on Wall Street it’s really been rough, though last Friday there was a tiny glimmer of hope as the day ended “positive” after a week of tumbling down the charts.  In the arcane language of the market, in the past few weeks several trillions of dollars in “value” has been lost.  Pity the poor traders and investors.

On behalf of Wall Street America sent Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to Europe to lecture them on the need to get their debt problems sorted out.  It is a bit absurd that he should do so, since he was instrumental in setting up the American collapse of 2008.  His real concern is not really Europe, but that using the trillions of dollars (16 of them, trillions) which the US pumped into the financial system back then, our wonderful banks, epigones of rectitude that they are, loaned with nice interest rates attached, mucho dinaro to those self-same banks now wobbling in France and Germany (because they loaned the money to Greece and Portugal and…. for even bigger interest: sound like some kinda ponzi scheme?) and should those banks go under then America’s banks would themselves take a nasty hit.  Again.  And doubtless Timmy would feel the need to nudge the Fed to print up some more trillions to bail them out.  Except, perhaps the demonstrators down on the street might suddenly find themselves joined by millions of others, and as recently shown in some of our good ally governments, like Egypt, even a really nasty police-state apparatus can’t cope when a majority rises against them.  Or even a significant minority.   So Mr Geithner’s trip is really a mix of political pressuring to try to make sure a European swoon doesn’t take America with it.  Which it would.

Tim Geithner shoring up the Eurocrats

And lastly, a little belated mention, now relevant to those young people out getting harassed and busted by New York’s Finest down on Wall Street, of Carl Oglesby, a founder of the long ago SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), of the once-upon-a-time New Left.  He died a week and a few days ago, aged 76.   It was SDS and its off-shoots, which were in a large part the organizational center of all that stuff you have heard about the 60′s, in case you are not of my age and aren’t familiar.  It wasn’t all just the Beatles and Stones and Dylan and hippies.  I was never in SDS, being too much an anarchist to join pretty much anything, but I was close to it for a while (my girlfriend of the time was in it and deeply engaged, and she’s still hotly involved in politics).   Oglesby was an exception in SDS – older, a former straight-laced business guy whose head got turned sharply.  For a while he was the SDS’s best spokesperson, though like many, he got chewed up in the usual splintering factionalism which political hot-heads usually devolve into.

Carl Oglesby, 1968

I print below a speech he gave in 1965.  I was in prison at the time, doing my 27 months for refusing the order to comply with Uncle Sam’s wishes.   Reading it now, one can have a handful of responses.  One might be to wax nostalgic, but I am unable to do so, that being an emotional state I rather abhor.  Another would be to see how seemingly dated some things are – names, places – all the usual detritus of history which zips by faster than you can imagine, though when immersed in it each of these little details seems gargantuan.  And another is to see how it suggests that the New Left lost, and lost badly.  Because what Oglesby says in these words, if we can brush away the cobwebs of time, some of the dated language and such, and read for the real content, is as pertinent today as it was when he spoke them.   Not much as really changed, or in truth it has changed for the worse:  the corporate control of America (and elsewhere in the world) is far stronger than it was then.   Today, as noted, the “mainstream press” can’t be bothered to report a little ruckus on Wall Street.  It was like that back then, but not in such a monolithic manner.  And today, like then, cops crack heads, make illegal busts, and in the lingo of the 60′s, “serve The Man.”  They still do.

On November 27, 1965, the new president of SDS, Carl Oglesby, spoke at another March on Washington. Responding to Paul Potter’s call to “name the system,” Carl went to the heart of contradiction between America’s revolutionary birth and its present foreign policy. 

Seven months ago at the April March on Washington, Paul Potter, then President of Students for a Democratic Society, stood in approximately this spot and said that we must name the system that creates and sustains the war in Vietnam – name it, describe it, analyze it, understand it, and change it.

Today I will try to name it – to suggest an analysis which, to be quite frank, may disturb some of you — and to suggest what changing it may require of us.

We are here again to protest a growing war. Since it is a very bad war, we acquire the habit of thinking it must be caused by very bad men. But we only conceal reality, I think, to denounce on such grounds the menacing coalition of industrial and military power, or the brutality of the blitzkrieg we are waging against Vietnam, or the ominous signs around us that heresy may soon no longer be permitted. We must simply observe, and quite plainly say, that this coalition, this blitzkrieg, and this demand for acquiescence are creatures, all of them, of a Government that since 1932 has considered itself to he fundamentally liberal.

The original commitment in Vietnam was made by President Truman, a mainstream liberal. It was seconded by President Eisenhower, a moderate liberal. It was intensified by the late President Kennedy, a flaming liberal. Think of the men who now engineer that war — those who study the maps, give the commands, push the buttons, and tally the dead: Bundy, McNamara, Rusk, Lodge, Goldberg, the President himself. They are not moral monsters. They are all honorable men. They are all liberals.

But so, I’m sure, are many of us who are here today in protest. To understand the war, then, it seems necessary to take a closer look at this American liberalism. Maybe we are in for some surprises. Maybe we have here two quite different liberalisms: one authentically humanist; the other not so human at all.

Not long ago I considered myself a liberal and if, someone had asked me what I meant by that, I’d perhaps have quoted Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, who first made plain our nation’s unprovisional commitment to human rights. But what do you think would happen if these two heroes could sit down now for a chat with President Johnson and McGeorge Bundy?

They would surely talk of the Vietnam war. Our dead revolutionaries would soon wonder why their country was fighting against what appeared to be a revolution. The living liberals would hotly deny that it is one: there are troops coming in from outside, the rebels get arms from other countries, most of the people are not on their side, and they practice terror against their own. Therefore: not a revolution.

What would our dead revolutionaries answer? They might say: “What fools and bandits, sirs, you make then of us. Outside help? Do you remember Lafayette? Or the three thousand British freighters the French navy sunk for our side? Or the arms and men, we got from France and Spain? And what’s this about terror? Did you never hear what we did to our own Loyalists? Or about the thousands of rich American Tories who fled for their lives to Canada? And as for popular support, do you not know that we had less than one-third of our people with us? That, in fact, the colony of New York recruited more troops for the British than for the revolution? Should we give it all back?”

Revolutions do not take place in velvet boxes. They never have. It is only the poets who make them lovely. What the National Liberation Front is fighting in Vietnam is a complex and vicious war. This war is also a revolution, as honest a revolution as you can find anywhere in history. And this is a fact which all our intricate official denials will never change.

But it doesn’t make any difference to our leaders anyway. Their aim in Vietnam is really much simpler than this implies. It is to safeguard what they take to be American interests around the world against revolution or revolutionary change, which they always call Communism – as if that were that. In the case of Vietnam, this interest is, first, the principle that revolution shall not be tolerated anywhere, and second, that South Vietnam shall never sell its rice to China – or even to North Vietnam.

There is simply no such thing now, for us, as a just revolution – never mind that for two?thirds of the world’s people the Twentieth Century might as well be the Stone Age; never mind the melting poverty and hopelessness that are the basic facts of life for most modern men; and never mind that for these millions there is now an increasingly perceptible relationship between their sorrow and our contentment.

Can we understand why the Negroes of Watts rebelled? Then why do we need a devil theory to explain the rebellion of the South Vietnamese? Can we understand the oppression in Mississippi, or the anguish that our Northern ghettoes makes epidemic? Then why can’t we see that our proper human struggle is not with Communism or revolutionaries, but with the social desperation that drives good men to violence, both here and abroad?

To be sure, we have been most generous with our aid, and in Western Europe, a mature industrial society, that aid worked. But there are always political and financial strings. And we have never shown ourselves capable of allowing others to make those traumatic institutional changes that are often the prerequisites of progress in colonial societies. For all our official feeling for the millions who are enslaved to what we so self?righteously call the yoke of Communist tyranny, we make no real effort at all to crack through the much more vicious right?wing tyrannies that our businessmen traffic with and our nation profits from every day. And for all our cries about the international Red conspiracy to take over the world, we take only pride in the fact of our six thousand military bases on foreign soil.

We gave Rhodesia a grave look just now – but we keep on buying her chromium, which is cheap because black slave labor mines it.

We deplore the racism of Verwoert’s fascist South Africa – but our banks make big loans to that country and our private technology makes it a nuclear power.

We are saddened and puzzled by random backpage stories of revolt in this or that Latin American state – but are convinced by a few pretty photos in the Sunday supplement that things are getting better, that the world is coming our way, that change from disorder can be orderly, that our benevolence will pacify the distressed, that our might will intimidate the angry.

Optimists, may I suggest that these are quite unlikely fantasies? They are fantasies because we have lost that mysterious social desire for human equity that from time to time has given us genuine moral drive. We have become a nation of young, bright-eyed, hard-hearted, slim-waisted, bullet-headed make-out artists. A nation – may I say it? – of beardless liberals.

You say I am being hard? Only think.

This country, with its thirty-some years of liberalism can send 200,000 young men to Vietnam to kill and die in the most dubious of wars, but it cannot get 100 voter registrars to go into Mississippi.

What do you make of it?

The financial burden of the war obliges us to cut millions from an already pathetic War on Poverty budget. But in almost the same breath, Congress appropriates one hundred forty million dollars for the Lockheed and Boeing companies to compete with each other on the supersonic transport project?that Disneyland creation that will cost us all about two billion dollars before it’s done.

What do you make of it?

Many of us have been earnestly resisting for some years now the idea of putting atomic weapons into West German hands, an action that would perpetuate the division of Europe and thus the Cold War. Now just this week we find out that, with the meagerest of security systems, West Germany has had nuclear weapons in her hands for the past six years.

What do you make of it?

Some will make of it that I overdraw the matter. Many will ask: What about the other side? To be sure, there is the bitter ugliness of Czechoslovakia, Poland, those infamous Russian tanks in the streets of Budapest. But my anger only rises to hear some say that sorrow cancels sorrow, or that this one’s shame deposits in that one’s account the right to shamefulness.

And others will make of it that I sound mighty anti-American. To these, I say: Don’t blame me for that! Blame those who mouthed my liberal values and broke my American heart.

Just who might they be, by the way? Let’s take a brief factual inventory of the latter-day Cold War.

In 1953 our Central Intelligence Agency managed to overthrow Mossadegh in Iran, the complaint being his neutralism in the Cold War and his plans to nationalize the country’s oil resources to improve his people’s lives. Most evil aims, most evil man. In his place we put in General Zahedi, a World War II Nazi collaborator. New arrangements on Iran’s oil gave twenty-five year leases on forty per cent of it to three U.S. firms, one of which was Gulf Oil. The C.I.A.’s leader for this coup was Kermit Roosevelt. In 1960, Kermit Roosevelt became a vice president of Gulf Oil.

In 1954, the democratically elected Arbenz of Guatemala wanted to nationalize a portion of United Fruit Company’s plantations in his country, land he needed badly for a modest program of agrarian reform. His government was overthrown in a C.I.A.-supported rightwing coup. The following year, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, director of the C.I.A. when the Guatemala venture was being planned, joined the board of directors of the United Fruit Company.

Comes 1960 and Castro cries we are about to invade Cuba. The Administration sneers, “poppycock,” and we Americans believe it. Comes 1961 and the invasion. Comes with it the awful realization that the United States Government had lied.

Comes 1962 and the missile crisis, and our Administration stands prepared to fight global atomic war on the curious principle that another state does not have the right to its own foreign policy.

Comes 1963 and British Guiana where Cheddi Jagan wants independence from England and a labor law modeled on the Wagner Act. And Jay Lovestone, the AFL-CIO foreign policy chief, acting, as always, quite independently of labor’s rank and file, arranges with our Government to finance an eleven-week dock strike that brings Jagan down, ensuring that the state will remain British Guiana, and that any workingman who wants a wage better than fifty cents a day is a dupe of Communism.

Comes 1964. Two weeks after Undersecretary Thomas Mann announces that we have abandoned the Alianza’s principle of no aid to tyrants, Brazil’s Goulart is overthrown by the vicious right?winger, Ademar Barros, supported by a show of American gunboats at Rio de Janeiro. Within twenty four hours, the new head of state, Mazzilli, receives a congratulatory wire from our President.

Comes 1965. The Dominican Republic. Rebellion in the streets. We scurry to the spot with twenty thousand neutral Marines and our neutral peacemakers – like Ellsworth Bunker Jr., Ambassador to the Organization of American States. Most of us know that our neutral Marines fought openly on the side of the junta, a fact that the Administration still denies. But how many also know that what was at stake was our new Caribbean Sugar Bowl? That this same neutral peacemaking Bunker is a board member and stock owner of the National Sugar Refining Company, a firm his father founded in the good old days, and one which has a major interest in maintaining the status quo in the Dominican Republic? Or that the President’s close personal friend and advisor, our new Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, has sat for the past 19 years on the board of the Sucrest Company, which imports blackstrap molasses from the Dominican Republic? Or that the rhetorician of corporate liberalism and the late President Kennedy’s close friend Adolf Berle, was chairman of that same board? Or that our roving ambassador Averill Harriman’s brother Roland is on the board of National Sugar? Or that our former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Joseph Farland, is a board member of the South Puerto Rico Sugar Co., which owns two hundred and seventy?five thousand acres of rich land in the Dominican Republic and is the largest employer on the island – at about one dollar a day?

Neutralists! God save the hungry people of the world from such neutralists!

We do not say these men are evil. We say, rather, that good men can be divided from their compassion by the institutional system that inherits us all. Generation in and out, we are put to use. People become instruments. Generals do not hear the screams of the bombed; sugar executives do not see the misery of the cane cutters: for to do so is to be that much less the general, that much less the executive.

The foregoing facts of recent history describe one main aspect of the estate of Western liberalism. Where is our American humanism here? What went wrong?

Let’s stare our situation coldly in the face. All of us are born to the colossus of history, our American corporate system – in many ways an awesome organism. There is one fact that describes it: With about five per cent of the world’s people, we consume about half the world’s goods. We take a richness that is in good part not our own, and we put it in our pockets, our garages, our split-levels, our bellies, and our futures.

On the face of it, it is a crime that so few should have so much at the expense of so many. Where is the moral imagination so abused as to call this just? Perhaps many of us feel a bit uneasy in our sleep. We are not, after all, a cruel people. And perhaps we don’t really need this super-dominance that deforms others. But what can we do? The investments are made. The financial ties are established. The plants abroad are built. Our system exists. One is swept up into it. How intolerable – to be born moral, but addicted to a stolen and maybe surplus luxury. Our goodness threatens to become counterfeit before our eyes – unless we change. But change threatens us with uncertainty – at least.

Our problem, then, is to justify this system and give its theft another name – to make kind and moral what is neither, to perform some alchemy with language that will make this injustice seem a most magnanimous gift.

A hard problem. But the Western democracies, in the heyday of their colonial expansionism, produced a hero worthy of the task.

Its name was free enterprise, and its partner was an illiberal liberalism that said to the poor and the dispossessed: What we acquire of your resources we repay in civilization: the white man’s burden. But this was too poetic. So a much more hardheaded theory was produced. This theory said that colonial status is in fact a boon to the colonized. We give them technology and bring them into modem times.

But this deceived no one but ourselves. We were delighted with this new theory. The poor saw in it merely an admission that their claims were irrefutable. They stood up to us, without gratitude. We were shocked – but also confused, for the poor seemed again to be right. How long is it going to be the case, we wondered, that the poor will be right and the rich will be wrong?

Liberalism faced a crisis. In the face of the collapse of the European empires, how could it continue, to hold together, our twin need for richness and righteousness? How can we continue to sack the ports of Asia and still dream of Jesus?

The challenge was met with a most ingenious solution: the ideology of anti-Communism. This was the bind: we cannot call revolution bad, because we started that way ourselves, and because it is all too easy to see why the dispossessed should rebel. So we will call revolution Communism. And we will reserve for ourselves the right to say what Communism means. We take note of revolution’s enormities, wrenching them where necessary from their historical context and often exaggerating them, and say: Behold, Communism is a bloodbath. We take note of those reactionaries who stole the revolution, and say: Behold, Communism is a betrayal of the people. We take note of the revolution’s need to consolidate itself, and say: Behold, Communism is a tyranny.

It has been all these things, and it will be these things again, and we will never be at a loss for those tales of atrocity that comfort us so in our self-righteousness. Nuns will be raped and bureaucrats will be disembowelled. Indeed, revolution is a fury. For it is a letting loose of outrages pent up sometimes over centuries. But the more brutal and longer-lasting the suppression of this energy, all the more ferocious will be its explosive release.

Far from helping Americans deal with this truth, the anti?Communist ideology merely tries to disguise it so that things may stay the way they are. Thus, it depicts our presence in other lands not as a coercion, but a protection. It allows us even to say that the napalm in Vietnam is only another aspect of our humanitarian love – like those exorcisms in the Middle Ages that so often killed the patient. So we say to the Vietnamese peasant, the Cuban intellectual, the Peruvian worker: “You are better dead than Red. If it hurts or if you don’t understand why – sorry about that.”

This is the action of corporate liberalism. It performs for the corporate state a function quite like what the Church once performed for the feudal state. It seeks to justify its burdens and protect it from change. As the Church exaggerated this office in the Inquisition, so with liberalism in the McCarthy time – which, if it was a reactionary phenomenon, was still made possible by our anti-communist corporate liberalism.

Let me then speak directly to humanist liberals. If my facts are wrong, I will soon be corrected. But if they are right, then you may face a crisis of conscience. Corporatism or humanism: which? For it has come to that. Will you let your dreams be used? Will you be a grudging apologist for the corporate state? Or will you help try to change it – not in the name of this or that blueprint or ism, but in the name of simple human decency and democracy and the vision that wise and brave men saw in the time of our own Revolution?

And if your commitment to human values is unconditional, then disabuse yourselves of the notion that statements will bring change, if only the right statements can be written, or that interviews with the mighty will bring change if only the mighty can be reached, or that marches will bring change if only we can make them massive enough, or that policy proposals will bring change if only we can make them responsible enough.

We are dealing now with a colossus that does not want to be changed. It will not change itself. It will not cooperate with those who want to change it. Those allies of ours in the Government – are they really our allies? If they are, then they don’t need advice, they need constituencies; they don’t need study groups, they need a movement. And it they are not, then all the more reason for building that movement with the most relentless conviction.

There are people in this country today who are trying to build that movement, who aim at nothing less than a humanist reformation. And the humanist liberals must understand that it is this movement with which their own best hopes are most in tune. We radicals know the same history that you liberals know, and we can understand your occasional cynicism, exasperation, and even distrust. But we ask you to put these aside and help us risk a leap. Help us find enough time for the enormous work that needs doing here. Help us build. Help us shape the future in the name of plain human hope.

Perhaps, what is different today is that the internet exists, and it has not yet been brought under the control of our corporations and governments.  And in turn counters this cynical corporation which exists to spew out lies in support of our oligarchy, and manipulate the public to act against its own interests.

Knock-out

While usually it is Brooks or Douthat which buries my comments at #312 or so, or simply (without using their deleted notice) doesn’t bother to print one, yesterday it was Krugman’s op-ed comments which did so.  I was early (as the early numbers on the other two things I responded to indicated – and I did his first) but was not printed.  Here’s what I wrote:

The bleeding is a purposeful and deliberate policy of the oligarchy which now governs us. Its function is to whip the vast majority into fearful compliance, to render those who work into serfs, and to leave those who cannot find work helpless, stripped of the social safety systems built in the wake of the Great Depression. It is not stupidity or ignorance, but deliberate policy we are seeing: those who advocate austerity wish to take full control of society, and put “in their place” all those who are under them. They commenced by obtaining free trade agreements, manipulating with the IMF, the World Bank and other mechanisms so that they can relocate their profit making businesses to places with the lowest labor costs, least regulations, absence of environmental protections. Having stripped the US of most manufacturing (except weapons and food), they now have a subservient populace willing to work for 3rd world level pay and no benefits.

It is, as the Republicans have yelped, class war-fare, but as Warren Buffet says, it is being done by the wealthy against the middle-class and poor. And they are, as he says, winning.

I don’t know who does the editing in the op-ed section, but it seems some things can’t be said in America.  I guess the above is one of them.

Meantime in the parlance of the day, Obama appears to have come out swinging, as the Republican chorus says, waging “class warfare.”   His proposed package for cutting 3 trillion from the deficit in 10 years actually suggests taxing the richest, and this, in the current Tea Party climate is virtually treasonous, hence the hysteria on the right. (See Mr Brooks today.)

Once upon a time in America

Of course, in Obama fashion, this sop to the left just happens to include many a sop to the right.  As we have grown accustomed to, Obama’s crab-like movement is always from some quasi-centrist position to the right.  However, needing to placate his ostensible left base, which has grown volubly noisier and unhappier with each passing move, Obama needs to posture as a populist.  So out of the bag comes the tough talk about taxing the rich, whose worst prospect is that the Bush give-away will lapse.  Poor devils.

UPDATE:  I spoke too soon.  On Sept 20, responding to a David Brooks column, the censors got out the scissors, right on cue – here’s what I wrote:

Mr Brooks, I concur with you – you are a sap. This likely explains your sappy thinking, and your sappy use of statistics. For example:

\”In reality, the top 10 percent of earners pay nearly 70 percent of all income taxes, according to the I.R.S. \”

But you neglect to say that that same top 10% makes more than (and owns more than) 70% of the wealth of the USA. You then claim (against other evidence) that wealthy people pay 31% in taxes while middling lower income people pay 14. Other statistics, cited in this paper of record, indicate the wealthy pay 17% and the normal $50K a year earner pays 20%.

In this column you drop your sometimes liberal seeming pose and show your fangs for the rich. Not that anyone reading between the lines didn’t see that like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, they usually show in that curious smile of yours. You are a shill for wealth, and nothing more. And that is what makes you a sap.

David Brooks, sap and shill

More Censorship, Sept 22, reply to general editorial comment on execution of Troy Davis:

Justice in America. Racist, classist, a tool to suppress blacks, hispanics, and those with lower incomes. The statistics on the death penalty tilts heavily towards those who are dark skinned, have low incomes. A little of this may be a reflection of the divide of money; the larger part is a reflection of the class conscious/racist administration of justice. Money buys one out of court; poverty puts you in. The nation’s biggest, most devastating criminals wear costly suits and work in finance – but we don’t see them in the courts.

Written by an “ex-con”, 1965-67 for the heinous crime of refusing to fill out form SS 1000 and hence to serve in the governments authorized killing organization.

Troy Davis is scheduled to be yet another victim of another branch of our socially sanctioned killing bureaucracy. In the name of  “justice.”

And, reply to the ever idiotic Thomas Friedman:

“They would understand, as President Eisenhower did….” that our military-industrial complex, eating up 50-70% of each year’s Federal “discretionary spending” was a threat to the nation. He warned of it in his Farewell Speech. Read it. And he warned of all the rest to.

Mr Friedman does not address the bloated military-industrial establishment and how it has severely warped the country – financially, morally, politically. [How could he, one of its ardent cheer-leaders not so long ago as we invade Iraq with Thomas and his pom-poms there on the safe side-lines?] He does not address the toxic language of the right – the same one he cheered for many years; he does not address the corporate “flat world” of which he was a champion, which sent American jobs abroad to places of low-cost labor, no unions, no workplace regulations, no environmental protection laws, and which in turn produced the unemployment in America while making for massive profits in the boardrooms of those same corporations.

Instead Mr Friedman sits back dismayed at the squabbling incurred by the very practices he championed. And then he pretends to be a wise man passing out instructions for the betterment of our future. He should retire.

Two members of the aging avant-garde/underground/experimental film world bit the dust in the last week.  Coming from somewhat polar opposite sides of the spectrum, each was celebrated back in the days when such things perhaps mattered.  Neither made commercially oriented work and hence made little money.  Nor, I suspect, did they care.  Today they had passed into the special oblivion which culture constructs for those who haven’t shifted with the sands of fashion.   The fashion of the last decades has been money – it’s making, spending, and the whole consumerist ethos which overtook the world at the prompting of our corporate overlords.  In these times, if something doesn’t make a mountain of money, it is deemed unimportant.  If it does, it is celebrated, no matter how socially damaging it is.  Times will change, again.

George Kuchar

George Kuchar, and his brother Mike, arrived in the early 60′s though they’d been making films from the early 50′s.  The time of the men in the gray flannel suits wasn’t ready for them then, and only in the rollicking 60′s did they burst through.  Hailing from the Bronx, they made campy, weird films, which staked out one sector of what was then called “underground cinema.”  Their corner was the outrageous, the sexually diverse and perverse – at the time taboo breaking.  It was a section shared with Warhol, Jack Smith and many others ready and willing to let Mr. Jones know what was really going on.  The aesthetic drew from Hollywood B-movies of the past, with lurid lighting and costumes to match the lurid content.  It was all done with a large tongue-in-cheek (or perhaps elsewhere.)  And despite the seeming vulgarity and a certain kind of crudeness, with considerable craft and art.  George moved to San Francisco in the 70′s, taking up teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute.  Mike stayed in New York.  I met George a handful of times out West, as I lived there and the artistic film community is small.   Mike I’ve seen any number of times where he works, when passing through New York and doing screenings at Howard Guttenplan’s Millennium Film Workshop on the lower East Side.

Back when there were dinosaurs and Hi-8 came out, George got one, and like myself, realized that it made it possible to make a film all in-camera.  These machines had a rough time-code and a button where you could set it to cut, cleanly, in, and then out, on the number you programmed – within a frame or two of accuracy.  Previous video cameras had not had that.   I liked the aesthetic of Hi-8 quite a lot – a bit grainy, high-contrast, gritty.  And I liked the idea of shooting a film in-camera, since anything really cheap appealed to me.  I plotted, and made some half-hearted attempts, but never did anything (my thoughts involved story-boards and such, anathema to me in film.)  But George jumped in and actually did it, in a manner much smarter and more creative than my ideas:  he’d lay down a kind of bass track, fill the whole cassette with a shot.  Then he’d go into that shot, drop in another, and by accretion build up a whole film.  His Weather Diary #1 shows what he did: pure genius, though I don’t like that word or concept.   This is a 90 minute film, and wonderful, in which he dropped a Hi-8 cassette into the camera, and when he pulled it out it was a finished, fascinating and anything but boring work.  When he wanted music for a scene, he played a boombox when doing the shot; the camera let you dub in sound and where he wanted voice-over, he did that.  One really smart, creative soul at work.

For some commentary and such on George, see this and this and this.   George was 69 when he died.

“Makin’ movies, see, sometimes you see a very beautiful person. And the first thing that comes to my mind is, I want to make a movie of that person. ’Cause I like puttin’ gauzes — ah, cheap, black cloth on the lens with a rubber band — and creating these, what look like 1940s movies, or movies of a beautiful Hollywood style, and blowing these people up bigger than life and making them into gods and goddesses. And I think in the movies that’s a wonderful way of pushing them on the public, and infusing the public with great objects of desire, and dreams, and things of great beauty.”

He added, after a long pause, “Living human beings of beauty.”   
George Kuchar

George KucharGeorge looks a heaven, 2009.  I am sure he’d appreciate the humor of the name of these clouds.

While I sincerely doubt that George believed in anything like a god, and was as firm an atheist in his manner as I am in mine, I am sure he’d enjoy the irony of my saying, “God bless you, George.”  (And you too, Mike.)

Pictures from Center for Visual Music’s Belson research pages, http://www.centerforvisualmusic.org/Belson

Working in altogether another realm, another San Francisco filmmaker, of another generation, Jordan Belson, also died this week, at 85 spins around the sun.

I never met Jordan, I suppose owing to that little generational jump.  His work, begun in the 1950′s presaged what became known as psychedelia.  It was – back in the days of 16mm, and his work was done painstakingly in a form of animation and using an optical bench.  The results were cosmic, spiritual.   I suppose he did believe in some kind of god, or spiritual something that extended beyond our brief little earthly transit of consciousness.   Curiously, though I myself firmly believe otherwise, in the last years my own tendencies in work have been toward something that vaguely is akin to his work.  While not at all like his work in both the method of making or in many ways in the actual aesthetic involved, the tilt toward pure abstraction is there.   So, with no irony intended, ” May the atoms bless you, Jordan.”

Swimming in Nebraska

Pictures from Center for Visual Music’s Belson research pages, http://www.centerforvisualmusic.org/Belson


As if it were not plain for all to see, America is mired in a deep recession, which our economists and politicians and bobble-head commentators now suggest will turn into a double-dip recession.  This is their manner of eliding a grimmer likelihood that we are in the early edges of an economic depression that will last a long time.   As is its habit, the government lies about unemployment figures, diddling here and there with the qualifying factors to make things look ever cheerier than they really are.  For example, if one is not looking actively for a job – say because you spent 6 months doing so and tired of torturing yourself looking for what doesn’t exist – you are magically not unemployed.  Or if owing to social circumstances beyond your control, you never qualified for unemployment benefits, because there were no jobs to be had since you were 17 (say, because you lived in a black ghetto), so you never had one, therefor you are not eligible for unemployment benefits and… ha ha, you are not counted among the unemployed.   The official authorities claim unemployment is around 9.1%.    The thumb in the wind, feet on the ground estimate runs a little in excess of 20%, and then of those duly employed, a fat percentage are under employed either in that they have a part-time job, or they are employed far under their experience or educational level – and are being paid similarly.

David Tepper

“earned” 2.5 billion in 2010 from his hedge fund

As we have been informed, some narrow little slice of America’s population owns and controls most of it.  That same narrow grouping has taken care to own and control the mass media, the representatives of government, the judicial system, and the executive branch and its various oversight and regulatory offices.  As became obvious in the last decade or two, this control has evolved such that great crimes may be committed but they will not be investigated or prosecuted.  Economic crimes, international war crimes, environmental crimes – I use crimes advisedly, in the strict term of there being explicit laws, passed by our own Congress and approved and signed by our own President.  Not metaphorical crimes, but legal ones, written in law.  And those laws are not enforced.  Of course if you are poor there are many laws which apply to you, and they will be enforced.  The United States, leading the world in absolute numbers, houses 2.4 million people in prison, more than any other country, and proportionally far more than any other country.

As if to conspire to hide the bad news, a careful look at the public record – as in newspapers – shows that every day or so a company like, oh, Bank of America, announces it is laying off 5,000 or 10,000 employees.  Likewise do city, county and state governments.  500 here, 5,000 there.  Of late is word that the US Post Office is going bankrupt, but we’ll guess it is in some way “too big to fail” and it’ll be propped with some newly minted billions.  To say, in a cascading effect, our economic system is closing down, a domino at a time.   Whether for the moment the story is in Greece, or Italy, or the US, or Korea – (recent news is that Korea’s biggest construction companies are about to go bankrupt for the same reasons as the USA bubble – speculative building) – it is all a distraction from the underlying basic reality:  most advanced industrialized countries have been on a personal, institutional and governmental spending binge, encouraged upon them by our friends the bankers.  So, dutifully, the citizenry went out with their plastic cards, institutions did the same, and governments did likewise, promising pie-in-the-sky for pensions and the like, and now the cruel reality that one can’t, as did the USA, build an economy predicated on consumption and debt.  In America’s case, consumption was 70+% of the economy, the GNP.  We produce debt!  It should not take an economic genius to sense how this doesn’t quite work out.

While this was occurring, the masters of the system, having bought the political and cultural mechanisms (government and mass media), pulled a fast one: globalization.  In the name of “free trade” they rigged the systems to let them go make whatever they wanted, however they wanted (environmental degradation), and at the lowest possible labor cost.  Along the way they upset more apple carts than you can imagine.  From destroying the local economies of thousands of beautiful places around the world as they built luxury 2nd and 3rd homes in some distant Valhalla, so that the people who lived there could no longer afford a little plot of land.  Globalization brought them instead a job – as a servant, cook, gardener – in a place they could no longer afford to live in.   From uprooting local farmers as giant corporations first bought the local government and then with the government’s consent, bought the farmland to use for industrialized agriculture.  And kick the locals out.  Basically “globalization” gave wealth a license to buy without restrictions whatever it wants to buy – a bucolic island, a vast chunk of agricultural land, mineral deposits, forests.  Or people and governments. It is a “legal” system to permit a rapacious monster which seeks only wealth, and will do anything to secure it, regardless of the damages it inflicts socially, economically and ecologically, to do as it wishes.

Ross Perot

Remember this guy – Ross Perot.  Twice a Presidential candidate, who was firmly against NAFTA and other “globalization” treaties.  He said once they were signed there would be a great sucking sound as jobs and money flowed out of the country.  How right he was!  He was also in other respects very Right – a Texas racist.   But he was correct about that great swooshing sound, and indeed once the ink dried “our” corporations ran out the door to the cheapest labor markets, the least restricted regulatory environments and, well, while they destroyed many a place, they “cleaned up” for themselves: the top 20% of Americans own more than 82% of the wealth of America.  Within that 20% the concentration is similarly tilted with the top 2% owning 11%.   And the figures are getting more and more skewed in the same direction.

Consider where I live and work: greater Chicago. Forty-five percent of mortgaged single-family homes are underwater, meaning people owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Foreclosure epicenters like the Austin and West Englewood communities are checkerboarded with abandoned and decaying properties, many stripped bare by vandals for scrap. Joblessness among African-Americans exceeds 20 percent — almost 50 percent among black youths.

Thomas Jefferson

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.’  

                                                                                                                                                              Thomas Jefferson

Abraham Lincoln

“The money powers prey upon the nation in times of peace and conspire against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than a monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, and more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes…. corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money powers of the country will endeavor to prolong it’s reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

  Abraham Lincoln

Well, we can’t say we haven’t been warned.  I am seriously doubtful that any of our present candidates for the Presidency, Republican or Democrat, would utter this ominous truth.  After all, the banks and corporations own them.  Their role is to carry out a charade of strange haircuts, flag lapel pins, standing in front of the Stars and Stripes and uttering vacuous platitudes.

Nancy and her friends

Postscript:  It is Sept 11, 2011, and America is busy commemorating the day a decade ago that sent the nation into convulsions from which we have scarcely recovered.   Two wars paid for on credit, a collapsing infra-structure, and a whole 7 years in which Americans took their President’s patriotic advice to “shop til you drop,” gone on a spending binge to match the government’s, with pie-in-the-sky real estate promises and other elixirs offered by the snake-oil salesmen.

Then, like the WTC, it all went poof.  The bankers then shifted their tune to “the sky is falling” and the government shoveled some trillions of dollars to bail them out.  And now…

Bank of America retrenches, plans to cut 40,000 jobs

I suspect if BofA, naturally to maximize stockholder’s profits, is laying off this little army, many other financial institutions are likely to follow suit.   That should do wonders for the unemployment figures.

Paris

The Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid, which has an eclectic exhibition of films, videos, installation works and other things has extended their call for new work.  See this for information.  Their exhibition has been going on some time, and I’ve had a number of things shown with it.  It now occurs at the Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid as well at the Cinematheque Espanol, and in Berlin at the Haus der Kulteren Welt – all first rate settings.    The deadline is September 10th, and the exhibition in France begins in November.  In the past they have highlighted the likes of Pedro Costa, Straub, and many others.   If you have something you think suitable, do send a.s.a.p.

 

Berlin, old Kommie KitschMadrid

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,475 other followers