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Monthly Archives: November 2008

Preparing for the Greatest Depression

As the bad economic signs keep tumbling in, and the managers of “the system” keep printing up billions and trillions of paper bucks backed only by the totally-no-longer-existent credibility of the US government, JQ Public is wisely preparing for the worst, as in see the above.  Elsewhere manic shopaholics killed a Wal-Mart “Associate Greeter” in their crazed need for another final fix.   On the other hand the system managers lamented an expectedly very lackluster Black Friday, when predictions were correct and this shop-til-you-drop bit of American lore did not push retailers from red into the black (ink) but rather only confirmed imminent foreclosures at the local mall, GM, Mainstreet, Citicorp and other fabled brands of America’s consumer culture.  Or…

Which happens when an economy in which 70% of the GNP is “consumption” reaches the brick wall towards which it was structurally headed from the outset, and that place, which presumably “produces” 30% but gobbles up 70%, reaches its own asshole.  In the colloquial, “eat shit!”

Sadly, as the new managers prepare to move into the White House, the mantra we are hearing is exactly the same one which Our Great Leader (TM) offered in the days after 9/11 (InsideJob): go shopping !!! In the case of the new Obama team this mantra is prefixed with the proposal that the government print up as much money as needed in order to stuff the JQ Public pockets with enough paper so that they can go shopping.  But, bottom-line (and in a Market Economy System such as ours, that being the single and only viable world-historical model for organizing a culture, it is the bottom-line which is the be all and end all of our existence), it is Shop ’til You Drop, an order issued from the Commissars on high in our, uh, Centralized Economy.  That these commissars wear a corporate mantle makes little difference: they are the Central Organizing Committee, and no matter how little economic, ecological, social or moral sense it makes, they have issued the marching orders and it is your job to go fucking shop.  Dammit.   Pretty please…

Otherwise the faults of the system might become a little too evident.  So the guy above, having charged his card, will glue his face to the upcoming Bowl games and then the Super Bowl, and whatever circuses will distract him from the fact he ain’t making no bread no more.  The system’s solution to our problems, is, as ever, more debt, which is somehow supposed to be more palatable when it is issued by Uncle Sam.

Timothy Geithner, the next Sec of the Treasury, and his boss.  Geithner has been up to his neck in bailouts of Wall Street biggies Lehman Bros, AIG, etc. and in the new administration his charge will be to rescue the system.


“God protects fools, drunks, and the United States of America” – Otto Von Bismarck

I write essays these days, I have stopped writing poetry and stories, Its difficult to write one, to write something one needs to understand the essence of the times we live in. (I was never a art for art’s sake freak, anyway) Nevertheless the fact remains, that what has happened in the past one week, is the sign of what is coming to other global city’s. It is the very shaping and fashioning of the city that calls it into existence. So I have been wondering as to what is the essence of our times, to understand the present conflagrations of signs and omens -and I am not even a sorcerer.

“You have a very strange logic, I don’t understand your words” my friend harked back. “and I never did” he continued; “so! what you are saying is that this attack on India could not have happened without Cia’s approval, and that ISI and CIA work in manners that the official world of Pakistan and USA cannot ever fathom in the subtlest of subtle dreams. (not to mention that American and Pakistani counterparts have daily tea and biscuit on Afghanistan borders and that Pakistan is excused of all offences right from the outset and if history is to be believed and learned, they do seem to share a common interest and would in any do and die situation unite as they have always done in the past.” (What I really said was that their paths are too intermingled to untangle simply on a whim of Indian politicians and Press-intellectuals, no matter what they want us to believe regarding the growing Indian and American closeness). But my reply seems to have confused my friend, never-the-less truth is like a mist, you can never know her..for sure. But in times like this one has to learn to think otherwise.

But there is some truth in my friends interpretation of my rant. Historically India and Russia have been target of Global Islamic Jihadi frontal attack and both have been friends and have stood besides each-other in need, apart from the fact that both share the same defense structure, establishment and the financial network that make their Army and Military tick. But today both are being Americanized at a feverish pace, and today this fever turns into a delirium.

What has happened in last 15 years is nothing less than a schizophrenic splitting of India’s social and psychological body. A complete clouding has occurred at the very heart and minds of ordinary Indian to the extent that we today only seem to think, feel and experience life as Americans do; While externally we deck ourselves as Hindus, in spirit we have already ‘amricans’. The only thing that stand between full Americanism and our East Indian feet is the nostalgia of heritage. America has none. In fact come to think, America is not even a Nation, not even a State, there is no conception or for that matter a feeling of being-ness. Their Land does not belong to them, It does not seed their being and thus they lack any sort of understanding about deep cultures and their commitments to it. And as they lack the history of referential wholes, their moral laws and rights reflect this amnesia.

Now drop the Heritage and we discover that our literature and classic films as well as progressive insights and Govt-planning all are marked and stamped by the Russian and French intellectual minds. We are already in some sense like Stalins, Sartre, Camus, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gorky and others. Its not about whether we have got our Gorky’s wrong (we never had one to boot actually and all our Gorkys were Sartrean clones or Gorkian persona’s, that is someone whose intelligence regarding life, being and the way forward were progressively informed by their European counterparts and fared best when our themes matches theirs). So its not that we have got our Gorky’s wrong, but, the body splitting that has been occurring at unprecedented scale through the past 15 years is nothing other than the completion of the process that began and was deliberately carried out by both our own reformist leaders as well as foreign rulers since 1857. And today something else is emerging through our hands. It must have been there all the while and all it needed was of us to pass through the European mirrors before it could germinates in us as our most desirable future. Today everything is American, and all efforts are under way to transform everything into a virtual colony that serves just one interest. (thanks to Manmohan and party) All values today are reduced to their economic chimer.  And we willingly will it.

Our world today is animated by a strange logic, it lingers in a Self Will to Will the only Will which happens to be not even our own. Today all alternatives are judged, weighted and executed from this initial position and thus all other alternatives today look and smell meaningless, tasteless and at best any engagement other then what it intends of us as a waste of time. Anything that does not ploy the beaten path that this virtual vision has chalked out for us seems hilariously out of place. But what we don’t see in all our seeing and looking is the underlying fore-structures that today govern all our thinking and feeling.

So is there a way out..probably not; Time is like spirit/wine that soaks our body and provides us with our most intimate experiential structures. The fact that all thinking today arises from this initial wetness, it fore-seals any other experience other than what is thinking and feeling through us.

The two Jihads (Gandhi and Islam)

The Islamic Jihadi madness that we today experience raging in Mumbai is one response, the other and the only other response was/is that of Gandhi. But Gandhi died, not one, two, but three times. Both in Mind Body and Soul. Physically he was killed by Hindu fanatics, Mentally he was killed by intellectuals of progressive vad and Nehru and congress disposed off his soul by charting India’s destiny towards the final completion (of a schizophrenic splitting) that was initiated by the former rulers of our body. It is now clear that the only Swaraj that we ever got was a transfer of Power, (and this explains our attitude to power and a mindless fascination of it). Swaraj that we have inherited is from its very outset locked in a diabolic condition that nothing changes on the ground level and every thing remains functioning as the Raj had willed and it best serves us to be nothing less and nothing more than what our former rulers had hammered and shaped us into, that is – virtual and hybrid clones.

Today there is only one vision and one track and all alternatives have disappeared. And hence the only alternative (seem that of the Jihadis) which ironically is bringing to completion the final state whose ground were laid in the industrial bunkers of Manchester in the 17th century.

As time flows, more and more power will be snatched from the hands of the public and transferred into the hands of corrupt politicians and all this will be done in the name Swaraj and the people of India.

What we will end up with is a recreation of the Raj in its most insidious form that will I am sure make all the former viceroy’s of the Raj turn in their graves.

While all that happens, we are left with the hollow in our stomach as felt by the Nawab of Oudh in Munshi Premchand/Satyajit Ray’sShatranj Ke Khilari‘, but on the other hand we are both Mirza Sajjad Ali and Wajid Ali Shah as freedom is pulled from our hands and all done for our own good. But there is a difference between us and .Mirza, though we are as impotent and insolent as he is, there is a fundamental difference…Or may be we are not and thus all resistance is futile.


Ploy: To form a column from a line of troops on some designated subdivision; — the opposite of deploy.

“Nehru and congress disposed off his soul by charting India’s destiny” In reference to Nehru’s speech on the eve (midnight) of India independence.


In the last year, the government has assumed about $7.8 trillion in direct and indirect financial obligations. That is equal to about half the size of the nation’s entire economy and far eclipses the $700 billion that Congress authorized for the Treasury’s financial rescue plan.

Treasury Sec and former Sachs Goldman CEO Henry Paulson

Yesterday I guesstimated that the sum spent thus far on “bailing out” the economy was in the trillions range.  Then today I read that while the government claims the Iraq war bill is in the vicinity of 500 billion bucks it is really more like 3 trillion…   It is interesting that Our Great Leader, whose mantra is “cut taxes” has contrived to foist off the biggest tax hike, by far, in the history of the United States.  It’s just he’s taxing the next generations, or, ooops, it’s already started.

Well, the first post-election appointment was for Chief of Staff, which is a crucial appointment; determines a large part of the president’s agenda. That was Rahm Emanuel, one of the strongest supporters of the war in Iraq in the House. In fact, he was the only member of the Illinois delegation who voted for Bush’s effective declaration of war. And, again, a longtime Washington insider. Also, one of the leading recipients in congress of funding from the financial institutions hedge funds and so on. He himself was an investment banker. That’s his background. So, that’s the Chief of Staff.

The next group of appointments were the main problem, the primary issue that the governments’ going to have to face is what to do about the financial crisis. Obama’s choices to more or less run this were Robert Rubin and Larry Summers from the Clinton–Secretaries of Treasury under Clinton. They are among the people who are substantially responsible for the crisis. One leading economist, one of the few economists who has been right all along in predicting what’s happening, Dean Baker, pointed out that selecting them is like selecting Osama Bin Laden to run the war on terror.

Naom Chomsky

Now regarding Our Next Great Leader, so far his appointments have been, well, um, rather centrist, as in Washington establishment insiders, none of whom is going to ruffle a feather by doing what this country needs to have done.  So we look to be in for a mess of by-the-book corrective actions, to say flailing about inside a defunct “system” trying to find the way to make work what is not workable.  Enjoy yourself Barack Gorbabama.  And for the rest of us, prepare for the knight on horseback, riding in – from the Right? – to rescue us all with a stiff dose of authoritarianism, and then everything can really fall apart….

Admittedly these are grim thoughts, but so far Obama’s Rodney King * sentiments fail to rise to the occasion: putting into positions to determine policy precisely those people who produced the present crisis is not exactly the medicine any reasonable doctor would prescribe.  What we will get is more inside “the system” thinking, as the present run-the-mint-presses policy shows, and no solution.

But then this is par for the course for systems and those inside them (including most likely, you): an inability to see outside the envelope of one’s background and education, even if the most blatant of new experience contradicts it.   Most likely we’re in the midst of a major paradigm shift, in which all the given “normals” are flipped, and most people simply cannot follow it and accept that the assumptions of their lives are essentially wrong and no longer apply.   So – enjoy your Social Security, your medical insurance, your pension.  Now.  Because they won’t be there tomorrow.

* Rodney King, on being beat bloody by the LA cops for the evident crime of being black, later said “Why can’t we all just get along.”   Well, Rodney, I wish we could, but so far there’s little evidence that we will.

Consumer spending, traditionally the engine of American economic growth, fell 3.7 percent in the third quarter, even worse than the previously reported 3.1 percent decrease.

Trying to keep up with the fantastical numbers bandied about each day as the financial crisis romps on exponentially – AIG, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, GM, Chrysler, Bank of America – the list is basically that of the corporate giants of America, all long since fleeced and dismembered in the pursuit of the biggest bang for the short-term buck for the top echelons, and tough-shit for the rank and file, is too much to keep up counting.  It’s 700 billion here, 300 billion there, and wham bam the added up count by some estimate is already in the 3 trillion range.  Nevermind neither you or I have even the vaguest clue what the hell 3 trillion means.  However, for a vague sense of measurement, the so-called war in Iraq already in five years of extravagant waste, mismanagement and corruption allegedly cost 500 billion dollars.  Now a trillion is a million times a million.  Well, good luck on sorting all that out.

So our flim-flam artists at the big banks, including The Fed, which, contrary to its name is not the bank of the Federal government but rather a private bank which is, in effect, backed up by the Federal Government, to say by your tax dollars.  The Fed is presently printing up new money as fast as it can, since it doesn’t have these trillions of dollars to throw at, well to throw at all the “too big to fail” banks and insurance companies and mortgage backers and credit card issuers who caused this mess – along with the behavior of America’s deliberately dumbed-down and mal-educated “masses”  (all the better to con you, Grandma).

As Mr Bush and Mr Obama both say, they must “save the system” which, since it apparently needs “saving” (to the tune of trillions of imaginary dolars), obviously has FAILED.  No one seems to want to question “the system” or say that obviously something is inherently wrong with it, wrong on such a profound level that it can’t be fixed, least of all by throwing trillions of dollars at its very core and to the very people who emblematically are everything that is wrong with it – i.e., the bankers, the Wall Street traders, etc.  Nope, just like the old Soviet Union, we go whistling Dixie in the dark, and while he hasn’t even taken office I begin to think Obama will be our Gorbachev, hesistently muttering that perhaps the emperor wears no clothes as the totally dysfunctional and failed “system” crumbles around him, and events swiftly overtake this modest admission, and he gets the rap for having been at the vortex when the tropical storm turned into the nastiest hurricane ever.  Poor Barack.

So each day a new “too big to fail” entity goes, its capitalist tail tucked between its legs, and begs for a public handout in Congress or at the Fed, socialism for the rich.  Coming up shortly will be the consequence of a hundred million or more of individuals who having swallowed the bait bought far more on their credit cards and can no longer pay up, especially after they missed a payment or two the the interest was jacked to 22% or 30% so their (US average) 10K plastic debit has to be written off sending the banks presumed recoup + income from interest askew.  This will make the housing bubble look small.

So, as I’ve suggested here (in the new and old CE) for quite some time, we’re waltzing headlong into a depression, perhaps made all the worse by the relative opulence which a good chunk of the younger populace has taken as a permanent given all their lives.  Well, get ready to learn how to live on the street or other such exigencies.

On a practical level for myself, for the moment whatever savings I accrued here in my on-arrival well-paying professorial gig, they have diminished (if exchanged into all mighty greenbacks) by a mere 33%:  when I got here 98 won bought a buck; now it is 150.   I am checking to see which 3rd word realms have maintained a parity with the local currency.  So far it looks like Mexico and Argentina slipped equally, but not against the won.  Philippines look livable too.   However, things are so volatile that I won’t in the least be surprised if the buck totally collapses, though where this will drag the won,  who knows.   Locally the economy here has tightened up, noticeable in the anxious waiting-at-the-door solicitations at the many restaurants (papers say biz dropped off drastically) and an upsurge in the local beverage, soju, a cheap alcoholic rice wine.

Meantime Obama campaigned with the slogan “Change you can believe in!'” and while surely some right now, with the appointment of a slew of former Clinton people, the retaining of Gates, and the backing of the same old same old Wall Street guard, are feeling short-changed, the simple fact is that Obama’s slogan was truthful: the only “change” you can really believe in here in the good old US of A, is perpetuation of the same old two-party system between which the differences are marginal, and when nitty comes to gritty, the same policies will govern bedrock things like “the system” and making sure the Veterans of Foreign Wars halls across America continue to have reason for being.    Any real change is going to be the consequence of the complete collapse of the present system.  Which just may be in the works, coming to a mall near you.  [Note: as malls close down, there’ll be space for the homeless…]

For a little corrective on the “to save the system we must get folks shopping again so the money flows and things keep growing” mantra which is part of “the system” thinking:


Remember that guy who stood with his bullhorn in the pile of toxic wreckage in NYC, and later pretended to fly a jet for a fancy photo op production on an aircraft carrier, cod-piece bulging?  Or went to New Orleans post Katrina for another Hwd-style PR piece?   Remember the Texas swagger he affected?  Remember that guy?

So much for 100% certified, US Gov’t tested phonies…

He always had other guys doing his fighting for him….

Thanks to Joe Podlesnick for sending this to me, part of his campaign to torture my geek side.  Having just shelled out for an Sony ExCam 1 which despite having it now 2 months I have messed with no more than 30 minutes, Joe sends me the latest updates on the sexy (and very intelligently designed) Red Cam.

I confess that it looks ideal for a fantasized cross-country film I have a mind to make, for landscapes.  Dream on.  On the other hand the basic system doesn’t look so awfully expensive.  Check the Red Cam for a long enticing bit of info.

Here’s an item I ran into the other day that I think warrants a reprint and a chance to read.  An analysis of where we are.  Tocqueville suggested as much some time back:

America the Illiterate

Posted on Nov 10, 2008

By Chris Hedges

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.

The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge.

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless.  They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by clichés, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both.

The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.

The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. During the 2000 debates, George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates, Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level. This is why serious film and theater and other serious artistic expression, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of American society. Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse.

In our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible, there is a need for constant stimulus. News, political debate, theater, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain. Cultural products that force us to examine ourselves and our society are condemned as elitist and impenetrable. Hannah Arendt warned that the marketization of culture leads to its degradation, that this marketization creates a new celebrity class of intellectuals who, although well read and informed themselves, see their role in society as persuading the masses that “Hamlet” can be as entertaining as “The Lion King” and perhaps as educational. “Culture,” she wrote, “is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment.”

“There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect,” Arendt wrote, “but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.”

The change from a print-based to an image-based society has transformed our nation. Huge segments of our population, especially those who live in the embrace of the Christian right and the consumer culture, are completely unmoored from reality. They lack the capacity to search for truth and cope rationally with our mounting social and economic ills. They seek clarity, entertainment and order. They are willing to use force to impose this clarity on others, especially those who do not speak as they speak and think as they think. All the traditional tools of democracies, including dispassionate scientific and historical truth, facts, news and rational debate, are useless instruments in a world that lacks the capacity to use them.

As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers—our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues—who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.

The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying. Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.


In September alone, 284,000 jobs vanished, the Labor Department now says, revising its initial estimate of 159,000.

So reports the NY Times, buried at the back end of an article announcing that in October some 240,000 jobs were lost.  You don’t image that slippage of 130,000 in the September figure had anything to do with politics, do you?  And maybe the October figure will be adjust next month with a similar proportion, leaping to 400,000 or something.  Ah heck, it’s just numbers, like the Constitution is just a goddam piece of paper.

So the euphoria of Obama’s election settles down, he hits the road running two months before inauguration day, unfortunately surrounded with a mess of people who in fact had an awful lot to do with the mess we’re in.  Goldman Sachs was the biggest single fiscal supporter of Mr. Obama.  Mr Paulson used to be CEO thereof, and the smell emitting from this collusion is mighty bad in my humble viewpoint.  But as the old adage says, politics makes for funny bedfellows.  I’ll be tolerant for a while, and I concede the problems at hand don’t permit a great leap into the unknown.  But we do know Paulson and his ilk and up to their eyeballs in the shit that hit the fan recently.  That they should fathom the solution leaves lots of room for doubt.

Meantime one of the great corporate American empires is begging Uncle Sam for a handout (again).  Yep, fabled General Motors says its about to go under if the citizenry doesn’t prop it up.  Just can’t sell them damn SUV’s no more, and that’s all they’ve been making, raking in the dough.

“For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

So said Charles Wilson, who was more famously misquoted as having said “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.”

How the mighty have fallen.  Which fabled American enterprise is next in “going socialist” and asking to be bought out by the government?

Anyway see you at the foodstamp office or the unemployment line.

depression unemployment.JPG

And then here’s a little film world item.  In the past few weeks I’ve been having a happy little exchange with remnants of Newsreel.  For those not knowing, Newsreel was a 1967/68-birthed kind of socialist (oh my god!) collective which made, distributed and exhibited political/social films.  It was meant as an alternative to the mainstream media, and blah blah blah.  You get the drift.  In reality it sprang up rather spontaneously in a handful of places in the USA, as different clusters of filmmakers had much the same idea – to make films that addressed the Viet Nam war, racism, sexismn, and other topical ills of the moment.  To my awareness various people in Berkeley, Boulder, Ann Arbor, Chicago, and New York emerged, doing somewhat the same thing.  It manifested itself in Film Coops, like the one in New York, in Chicago, and Canyon Cinema in San Francisco – these were mainly for arty filmmakers to have a distribution system.  But as the political climate heated up political people, and/or political filmmakers thought to focus more directly on matters social/political and hence was born Newsreel.  On hearing of each other, these groups contacted, and under the name Newsreel, I think deriving from NYC group, everyone banded together (supposedly) and Newsreel, the national lefty organization was born.  I had helped start the Chicago version, with two friends, Kurt Heyl and Peter Kuttner (see following for more), a bit spinning out from setting up the Chicago Filmmaker’s Coop, for the artsy folks.  We went to NY and met the people there, as it were signed up, and voila we were part of Newsreel.  I participated from November-December 1967 in the Chicago version, and then until August 68 after we’d joined up.  The below tells a bit of the story.

Anyway Newsreel this year, still chugging along in San Francisco after a few name changes over the years, is celebrating its 40th birthday.  So Peter Kuttner wrote me about how the Chicago contingent had been, uh, deleted from the history, and at the same time I got – since somewhere along the line I got on their mailing list – a notice about their party.  In turn, I wrote a note to their list, and subsequently got some replies.

Here’s what I wrote:

On your list, but incognito I guess.  :

> definitely bring April 27
> we’ll figure something out

> thanks for updates
> now on
> dave torrance <>
> jon jost <>
> but who are these folks?
> do you know?

> At 12:57 AM 10/31/2008, you wrote:
> >In a message dated 10/27/08 6:11:00 PM, writes:
> >
> >>——– and these are unfamiliar to me
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >
> >IDs:
> > – jon jost (chicago then, seoul, korea now)
> > – dave torrance (chicago then, carbondale IL now)
> >
> >john-
> >i’m looking forward to seeing you and the rest. i’d be really happy
> >if you can find the 15min needed to screen April 27 the only chicago
> >newsreel film finished while nr existed. It’s about a “police riot”
> >in 1968 chicago before “the whole world [was] watching” in august
> >4 months later
> >-peter

A little discarded history:  in 1967, in my case about 9 months after I’d been released from a 27 month residence in Federal custody for refusal to serve in the US military, I and Peter Kuttner and Kurt Heyl formed in Chicago a politically oriented filmmaking coop.  That was sometime around Oct-Nov 1967.  In December we went to NYC and met up with Newsreel and “joined up” and became Chicago Newsreel.  In the next months we showed Newsreel films, plus some of ours – Peter, Kurt and myself all had films of political content which we screened where possible, though as it turned out they didn’t much fit the Newsreel style.  I worked out of the Mobe office, at the time living with SDSer Marilyn Katz (who remains a good friend and where I stayed on a recent quick US tour, having a nice breakfast at her home with Peter and another prison-met friend of mine in the brief slice of time available), and living Uptown with the police parked out front as we were “organizing” and hence, Red Squad bait.

In April there was a post-MLK assassination demonstration at the Federal Plaza which turned into a police-riot.  I wasn’t there, but Peter was, and there were some others who shot stills and some film.  We were asked, I forget by whom but know it was some comfortable suburban “communist” to make this into a film, which I organised, edited, did some voice over for (all, typically to my experience, unpaid for by the champions of the working classes…) using the material Peter and others had made.  As a “Newsreel” film it was perhaps a bit too sophisticated, not abiding by the lower east side anti-Hwd aesthetic that seemed the ideologically OK way to work coming out of the NY section.

In summer of 68 the New York contingent of Newsreel barged in, to make their Convention film.  I use “barged in” because it accurately describes the arrogant pushy manner in which they behaved, certainly regarding we Chicagoans as “second city” (or worse).  Kurt and I were the first busts of the convention, a few weeks before it even started.  He and I had gone down to the Stockyards to shoot the little White House portico they were building onto the convention building.  On returning to his little VW, 6 police cars swooped down on us, and arrested us.

We looked like raving hippies, long hair, beards, shabby summer shorts and t-shirts, with a Bolex and tripod.  We were interrogated by the precinct guys, the Red Squad, the FBI and the Secret Service (interest diminishing as we went up the totem pole of power and they understood we weren’t the would-be assassins of Mayor Daley’s finest’s imaginations).  I got released after 8 hours, and Kurt got out later that night sprung by his wife.  He’d been held over owing to some automotive infraction.  We reported this to the Mobe, which might have clued them, and all of us, into the impending events, but it was glided over.  I do recall talking with Tom Hayden, who noting my 2+ years in prison, said he didn’t think he could (or would) be able to do such.  It didn’t set well with me later on when a horde of Mobe folks went down the streets chanting “Free Tom Hayden” when he was busted and spent the night in the joint.  Quivering Tom.

Meantime the NY contingent basically walked over we Chicagoans, busy making their film, using and abusing.  This too didn’t set well, though it meshed with their performance before, and alas, ever since.  I believe some of the footage our group shot was incorporated into one or several NY Newsreel films, though to my recollection with no notice.  You know, all the “collective” stuff.

During the Convention I recall being in Grant Park, surrounded by National Guardsmen and police, while the masses of people who had materialized after the police had gone berserk were led with chants by the slumming big names who showed up to grab the spotlight: Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg, Jean Genet and others.  Those masses hadn’t shown up owing to the labors of the Mobe which had failed dismally to get the 100,000 they were looking for (about 10K showed up thanks to the Mobe’s efforts), but were first mostly local kids looking for some action, later joined by others from around the nation, all thanks to the over-reactions of Mayor Daley’s guys in blue.  Politically the Mobe had been a failure and was only rescued by the worst failure of the city managers.

At the end of the Convention Marilyn and I were riding out to some farmers place, west of the city, invited for a picnic to take a break after the mayhem of the week.  I was sitting beside Rennie Davis, who was wearing his head bandage, a little blood on it.  He looked at Marilyn and I, and lifting it off, said “I guess I don’t need this anymore.”  My sense of comradery shrank to nothing:  the “leaders” were just like the folks on the other side – manipulative people who would fake for advantage, who couldn’t do time.  The subsequent stories of Rennie and Tom (and Rubin) tells all too much of what it was really like.

And history makes clear that the entire “Movement” was a failure – America, conned by Nixon, lurched to the right, and basically kept on going there.  The Vietnam war dragged out with another 25,000 US dead, and a million or two Vietnamese (and Cambodians and Laotians) left dead as well.  The 60’s overall proved little more than a short-term fashion, the folks wearing bell-bottoms shifting easily from Yippie to Yuppie, like Rubin, ready to follow the Dylan line ironically another way “don’t need a weatherman….” and the wind was blowing from the Right, and money became fashionable, and here decades later $4 cups of fancy-ass coffee is the norm.

Of myself, after the convention Marilyn and I went to California, where she (censored censored) and I hung around the edges of political actions around Berkeley, the smell of tear gas and helicopters overhead echoing the Chicago events.  I checked in with Newsreel people there and checked out thanks to the doctrinaire leftism I found.  Marilyn returned to Chicago and full-time political work; I – like many others – went rural.  Oregon and Montana for 6 years.  During which time I made Speaking Directly, which tried to survey the wreckage of America in a large ambitious film, made over a year, 16mm color, for $3000, while living in a no electricity, no running water, no heat shack, naturally with no money, 30 miles from Canada near Kalispell.  Much to my amazement it went to festivals, and was bought and broadcast by the UK’s Channel Four a decade later.  They also funded its follow up, a 2 hour essay on America, PLAIN TALK & COMMON SENSE (1985) and showed it.  It has a line in it, which was true then, and remains true, something like:  “This is a film made by an American for Americans, which will never be shown in America.”  And it hasn’t been.

I kept in vague touch with Newsreel and the people around it for years, watching it mutate, change its name with the convoluted internal politics which had made me quickly leave it.  The same narrow doctrinaire behavior of most people involved in politics pushed out those of artistic inclination, those unwilling to swallow the latest turn on the day’s political correctness.  Thanks in part to this, Newsreel was a complete failure in real-world terms, though periodically it is romantically celebrated, as I suppose your current event will do.  I was at such a celebration at the Yamagata festival a handful of years back (because one of my films was showing there), where a few old Newsreelers were feted, and no one mentioned the word “failed” but rather waxed dreamily about the revolutionary good old days.

Unlike many of my friends, I do not look back on the 60’s or Chicago 68 with any nostalgia.  It was, bluntly, a failure.  We (all of us) were young and more or less stupid regarding the larger world.  Idealistic maybe, but ignorant and easily taken by romantic notions.  I recall my first introduction to Newsreel New York, going into an office where Robert Kramer played with his gun, and the girls were bossed around in the worst of sexist manners, but seemed themselves attracted by the macho Che posturing.  Robert left Newsreel too, or maybe he was kicked out, though his ICE – a preposterous piece of fantasy in which Robert played heroic revolutionary of NYU – is periodically trotted out as a sterling example of the fervor of the times.  Again, its infantile politics, (which Robert – whom I bumped into occasionally on the festival circuit before he died – continued to pursue to the end, always politically wrong, blinded with his phony Marxist BS, probably to counter his real world situation of being the son of a well-off doctor who never spent a day of real discomfort) were never mentioned, nor in the case of his other equally wrong-footed films.  The last time I saw Robert he was still playing his role, the rich-kid revolutionary.  But he was 60 and should have learned better.

Anyway time flies.  Most of us are soon headed to the grave.  In a few more days we’ll see if the long drift to the right in the USA takes a turn, bottom of the pendulum, and the long overdue corrective commences.  Rather late in the game, but unlike most of my left friends, who have for some time acted like whipped dogs, while acknowledging the grimness of the moment, I was optimistic that the shift would come, in terms most American and we can ride the gentle tide of history’s wavelength up a bit. Along the way it’s best to learn from one’s mistakes and look the judgment of one’s own history straight in the eyes.  Newsreel, along with the overall left, whatever name you care to affix to it, has largely been a failure.  We need only look around us to see it.

Last little note:  Kurt Heyl lives in Brooklyn NY and Cerillos NM, painting, playing free improvised music; Peter Kuttner lives just outside Chicago, works as a camera assistant in Hwd type films, and is a union organizer in said business.  Jon Jost obtained his first real job last year at 64 and went from college drop-out expellee (1962) to “Professor” in one rather long fell swoop.  Now living in Korea with my wife, Marcella (Italian).  I keep busy making films as an extremely bad habit, making them for a world in which, for some time, there has been absolutely no “market” for what I do, and frankly I don’t give a damn.  I think a bit after the political pendulum lumbers leftward, we’ll see a cultural shift as well, as the public pukes up the “entertainments” of the corporate world, and a little cell here and there looks for other things.  But, please, let’s not do anything like a re-run of the 60’s.

If interested in further information on yours truly, see the website and blog, (and also



The first response I got was this, from Roz Payne, who seems to be acting as coordinator/secretary for whatever remains of the original Newsreel group.

jon jost     wrote  " I recall my first introduction to Newsreel New
York, going into an office where Robert Kramer played with his gun,
and the girls were bossed around in the worst of sexist manners, but
seemed themselves attracted by the macho Che posturing.

EXCUSE ME,   The Che image  is  in you head.  Robert was always
Robert .    He was attractive as were most  of the men  and the women
in Newsreel , but none of them were Che.
     I was one of the "office girls"  I opened up the office every
morning and I was Not  BOSSED AROUND BY ROBERT,  none of us in the
office were ever bossed by Robert.      INFACT, IF THERE WAS ANY
clean films, take films to the PO, writing or NOT writing checks for
them to spend .
  I do not remember you .     Robert never played with a gun in our
office . that I ever saw.   Many of us had K55 cat knives ( girls and
boys )  and  we liked to sharpen them during meetings while we were
sitting and discussing issues, many of us would also  crochet so at
the  end of the meeting we would have a hat or scarf.    .   Do you
know the difference between props and real guns?   After  40 years ,
your memory must not be clear.  It sounds like you are jealous of
Robert  and a "male chauvinist to think we were "bossed by him"  I
could call Robert other names , but not a boss.

I was in Chicago 68 during and before the  Democratic
convention.    You do not remember me from that period or from
Chicago NR office.  I was there .    By the stories and names you
drop your eyes were only on the men Robert, Rennie, Tom, all friends
and big shots.  You drop names like my pear tree dropped pears this
year.        I also went to the farm  that you talked about after the
convention ended  and had a wonderful time with the farmer and his
family who opened their  home to us , fed us and brought us
blankets.  We   slept in the hay loft of the barn. We stayed a few
days and it was wonderful.      One day,  we went to the county fair
with them  where Jonathan Chernoble NR  ( now an Israeli settler ,
saving Israel from the palestinians)   gave out copies of The Rat
newspaper and almost got busted.   The reason I remember all this is
because I was always shooting stills of everything we did and have
photos of everything.  Rennie took off his bandage because his head
had stopped bleeding , no need for a bandage anymore, very
natural.    .       Newsreel was  a collective of
different  people.   it is clear by  what you wrote and your web
site  that you do not work collectively .

Newsreel produced so many films because we worked together . shared
equipment, film,production  $,  our  homes  and at times  our
lives.  It was a joy for me to be in Newsreel.   It was and continues
to  be a family to me. Sometimes it was hard , but
altogether  it  was one of  the best times of my life. I can not
think of any other place I would want to spend the sixties   Many of
the members are still my closest friends, we are aunts and uncles to
each others children .  I am so very happy to see  old Newsreel
members when we meet.    We have shared a time together for a number
of years and produced films that are now used in schools,
universities, libraries .  Most important political organizers today
are still using the films to  learn, to organize, to teach history ,
and to show "how it was"  The films Newsreel produced are valuable
and help to  tell the history of the Sixties and Seventies. NR
films  are  shown in schools, theaters, homes all over the
world.  Our diverse  films have helped to preserve  part of the the
history of that period.  And, diversity is one of the keys. so many
diverse NR folks made a diverse collection of films.
Because we were a collective we could make all sorts of films by
following our hearts and minds.    We have womens films, workers
films, student films, ecology films , hippie films   Vietnam War,
struggles in latin american countries and at home.     Our films were
made for us and other groups to use to help and make our  lives
better  Black Panthers, Young Lords,  &  La Raza .

Today, Newsreel films are part of the history of America.  The
history of diversity , our collectivity, we were part of The Movement
and the movement was  part of us.
  Newsreel was not for all , you, Jon Jost fell thru the cracks and
landed in the mud with your  bad  memories of us.  I am sorry

    Today , Newsreel films are part of the history of the USA and the
world.    Newsreel  helped to make the world better with our stories
and films.
Robert might say  to me bullshit.  , but that is ok, because I could
say bullshit back to him   .
" All power to the people and all power to Newsreel "
roz payne   <>

Following this I got a response from Allan Siegel, whom I believe
was one of the original NY group:

Subject: Re: newsreel & emails
Date: Sun, 2 Nov 2008 00:47:14 +0100

Gee Jon, these are some very profound words…

“And history makes clear that the entire “Movement” was a failure….
I do not look back on the 60’s or Chicago 68 with any nostalgia.  It was, bluntly, a failure.”

Jon Jost (edited for clarity)

FAILURE  seems to be the operative word here… AND while some people mellow with age, even acquiring a bit of wisdom, others turn sour and cranky… which seems to be the case with your little diatribe. Your vignettes actually provide some sense of that history but your self-righteousness and myopia belong in the rubbish bin.

To which I responded:

The “rubbish bin” conclusion rings of, uh, well, something like Stalinism American left style.  I believe Alan was of the NYC contingent and I guess was offended by my version (about which I have had some other responses concurring) of the history.   Some things, I guess, never change.

Roz then wrote another item, to which I responded as follows:

To which we note in this case my banishment to “the mud” which I am not sure is better or worse than Allan’s eviction “to the rubbish bin.” Having for some years lived on a little no nothing place in Montana, with a big garden, I don’t really regard mud as a bad thing, rather a useful one. Ditto rubbish bins, having in times in life been a “dumpster diver” and – and even still today – one who takes useful things from the garbage.

< Rennie took off his bandage because his head had stopped bleeding , no need for a bandage anymore, very natural. >

My recollection of things, clearly, is rather different. I do know  that I sat beside Mr Davis when he pulled off his theatrical head bandage,  like a cap. It was a propaganda prop. Roz was not in the car. Marilyn Katz and I were. Yes, Roz, I know the difference between props and the real thing. Be it guns or bandages. My memory of Robert and the gun fondling, and seeming sexism, was prompted by a reminder, during a breakfast a few weeks ago with Peter Kuttner, by Marilyn Katz, who was there in the Newsreel office back in early 1868 with me.

< ” All power to the people and all power to Newsreel “>

This kind of shallow and empty left rhetoric, which was certainly the Newsreel style once the artists had left, is one of the reasons I departed. That anyone holds onto it 40 years later suggests an ossification of life, or perhaps (kind of the same thing) a desperate nostalgia. The intolerance of these letters from Roz and Allan both provide ample indication of why I left Newsreel early on.

Out here in the rubbish bin, wallowing in the mud, in the last few years we’ve completed 3 new feature films (1 regarding a returned Iraq vet; 1 a parable about the Bush years; and the third a portrait of Stephen Lack, actor and painter.) Also managed a few half hour shorts, video installation, and have several others features on the editing line. I guess mud and rubbish are productive environments.

To which Allan responded:

Sent: Wed 11/05/08 3:19 AM
To: Jon Jost (

as I said before your self-righteous rhetoric is boring

but now I see you know as little about art as you do politics
(if you voted it must have been for McCain as he thought  the 60’s were a failure also)

To which I responded:

The following was received from Allan Siegel.  Yet another example of why I departed Newsreel those 4 decades ago.  Snide, puerile and, well, politically wrong in the simple-minded manner one found in Newsreel’s politics back then.  I thought the 60’s were a failure; McCain did; ergo I must have voted for him.  Pure and simple stupidity, Allan.  But rather reflective of much of what passed for political analysis in Newsreel.

<but now I see you know as little about art as you do politics>

I’m sure you’re expert in both fields and can make these judgments without a trace of doubt.

Here’s the note from one apparently rather unhappy Allan, whose ad hominum comments speak only too much for his state of mind and spirit:

as I said before your self-righteous rhetoric is boring

but now I see you know as little about art as you do politics  (if you voted it must have been for McCain as he thought  the 60’s were a failure also)

And Roz, then wrote:

From: Roz Payne (
Sent: Wed 11/05/08 10:05 AM
To: Jon Jost (
On Nov 4, 2008, at 8:07 PM, Jon Jost wrote:


no,  mud is good,  and so is compost,
as gardners we both know this   roz

I am sure they’ll have a wonderful the-old-gang’s-all-here get-together and talk about the good old days when they were revolutionaries, etc. Glad I won’t be there.

I did get a few other responses more or less concurring with my view.

All Power to the People and All Power to Newsreel.

You betcha….

Must be a blue state conspiracy going on here.

Speaking of which it appears the voting in Alaska is rather suspicious, with more votes than voters and little things like that.

[Ms Palin is back in Alaska, and is quoted, vis a vis dealing with the new de-Socialist State, courtesy of the drop of oil prices from $140 to $60 a barrel, being no longer able to hand out freebie checks to the citizenry to buy their support, as follows:

“Now we kick in that fiscal conservativeness that needs to be engaged, and we progress this state with $57-a-barrel oil,” Ms. Palin said. She said the state would have to “be prudent with public dollars and provide services more efficiently than have ever been provided in the state of Alaska before.”

Or, a lesson in how to mangle the English language.]

Winning Hearts and Minds

Winning Election

Following a snarling and ugly tenor in the campaign, John McCain on losing (badly), gave a good concession speech, even if his fervent followers seemed inclined to carry on with the nastiness.  The Senator came across far better as a good loser than he did as a failing candidate.  Palin shed tears, her prayers of the night before having failed, suggesting God was not exactly on her side, so the radical would-be Christian take-over of the US government is delayed.  Hopefully her credibility inside the Republican party will remain, so she can run in 2012, making for another rout.

A glance in the NY Times electoral map shows a basic schism in the US electorate: rural vs urban.  Out in the country-side, almost from coast to coast, the voting tilted approximately 60-40 for McCain; flip that around for urban areas.  The trick is that a lot more people live in urban areas, and so Obama won, by American standards, very handily.  Exceptions there were – dominantly rural Vermont went heavily for Obama.  Unfortunately if their behavior during the campaign is indicative, at least a sizable contingent of the losing side will likely carry on in destructive actions, doing what they can to gum up the works. As Bush is busy doing in his last days, ramming through agenda driven Executive Orders to tear up protections for the environment, loosen rules for mining, etc. etc.  I wonder if, during the inaugural ceremony, Bush will have the pleasure of hearing boos.

I can’t say I envy Obama his position of shit-cleaner-upper for the last 8 years (and more) of crap issued by a derelict government and a lax public.  It is an Everest of difficulty.  On the other hand, of figures on our political horizons, Barack is the only one who seems of temperament and intellect, plus political acumen and in-fighter smarts, to maybe be able to push things along.  Soon it will be time for him to pull up a chair and issue all the bad news in some calming Fireside Chats.  Prepare to tighten your belts.  Face the music for some decades of willful opulence unsupported by the fiscal means for it.  And so on.

I was happy see in the voting statistics that the youth vote went overwhelmingly for Obama.  It appears that this was the primary reason for his win.  My generation went 65% for McCain nationally.  Ugh.  No wonder I can’t talk to most of them outside of little cordialities.  Those younger 64-50 split 49-49.

Anyway I was happy to see my much-doubted-by-friends-and-readers for the last 3-4 years view that the wind had shifted, and Americans were in general fed up with Bush and all things associated.  I guess I feel vindicated.  Now the hard part for Obama and company begins – getting out of Iraq, doing the myriad things needed to correct the economic mess, etc. etc.  Nope, I don’t envy the man.  Just wish him the best.

And then, given the performance of the Democrat controlled Congress of the past two years, largely supine before the deflated swagger of BushCo, one wonders just what Obama might accomplish without a major change of the deck.  For example, the House leader will still be this lady, who perhaps explains just why it is I can’t talk much with my peers


She appears ready to give the pit-bull with lipstick a run for her money.  Madam Pelosi handily defeated Cindy Sheehan in oh so librul San Francisco district: money talks and… Yes, Mr Obama will have a mountain of work on his plate.