“When nature takes over”
Street art in Thessaloniki, Greece,
by artist ARTEZ.
Photo by ARTEZ.
“When nature takes over”
Street art in Thessaloniki, Greece,
by artist ARTEZ.
Photo by ARTEZ.
With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump setting new lows in trustworthiness according to polls, it’s good to know you don’t have to settle for voting for the “lesser of two evils.”
HILLARY CLINTON and Donald Trump may be trying to seem as different from each other as possible, but they have one thing in common that they can’t escape: how unpopular they are.
Months before the November 8 election, opinion polls showed that Clinton and Trump might be the most disliked and distrusted pair of politicians ever to face each other in a U.S. presidential election.
After Trump’s one-after-another bungles and blunders over the summer, Clinton is favored to win–she holds a 10 percentage point advantage and more in some polls. But beneath those numbers lie an avoidable truth: People deserve a better choice.
And they know it–especially younger voters. According to two Washington Post-ABC News surveys in August, among voters under the age of 35, 72 percent said they have an unfavorable view of Trump, and 49 percent said the same of Clinton. When asked what they thought of the choice itself–Clinton versus Trump, 68 percent said they were dissatisfied.
The first half of Election 2016 was very different–mainly because of the campaign of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.
Though he was always the longest of long shots to actually win, Sanders brought issues that actually concern most voters, like inequality and corporate greed, into the political spotlight. He gave millions of people an opportunity to register their disgust with the two-party status quo.
Now, it’s back to the same-old, same-old for American presidential politics: evil versus evil, maybe different in degree, but still the same main ingredient.
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AFTER THE party conventions in July, the Clinton campaign couldn’t have been more confident.
It had it in the bag–endorsements from big business billionaires like Warren Buffett, former five-star generals and a significant number of disaffected Republicans. The already tested and proven status quo candidate was clearly on her way to the White House.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump seemed to be competing in his own personal Olympics that awarded gold medals for xenophobia and ignorance. Even when his own advisers claimed Trump would make a shift toward being more “presidential” and less, well, Trumpadential, Trump kept on spewing vile hate toward Muslims, immigrants and other targets.
After he criticized family members of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq who spoke at the Democratic convention, the outraged backlash should have convinced Trump to shut up. Instead, he doubled down on his Islamophobia and a couple weeks later plugged a plan for “extreme vetting” of Muslims wishing to emigrate to the U.S.
Among his proposals is an ideology test for new immigrants arriving in the U.S. “Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country,” Trump declared.
Good thing for Trump that he isn’t trying to get into the U.S. under a President Trump.
Faced with the choice between Clinton and Trump, some voters say that they may choose to sit this one out.
“I’m not going to vote. I’m just not,” Dustin McKindsey, a 26-year-old handyman in Madison, Wisconsin, told the Washington Post. “This is the first time I’ve felt that way…A choice between two stones that’ll sink.”
McKindsey is part of the generation where the discontent is concentrated. A GenForword poll, for example, found that 7 in 10 voters aged 18-30–including majorities of Blacks, Asians and Hispanics–say they are unsatisfied with the contest between Clinton and Trump, and want the option of a third-party candidate.
This is a sharp contrast to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, which generated excitement in large part because he appeared to come from outside the political establishment and offer the hope of change. He would become the first Black president in a country founded on slavery and still steeped in racism.
With her decades as a leading figure in the Democratic Party, a senator, a secretary of state–and her long record of helping to demolish welfare, pass draconian crime bills, defend imperialist wars, and green-light right-wing coups–Clinton is without a doubt a candidate of American capitalism’s status quo.
If she was running against anyone other than Trump, the Democrats would have a lot more to worry about.
Where Trump has won support, it’s because his campaign message acknowledges that living conditions and economic prospects have declined for all but a minority of people at the top of the income ladder. He focuses the blame on scapegoats like immigrants and Muslims, but the discontent he seeks to exploit is real.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has “more or less openly offer[ed] herself as the complacency candidate,” as left-wing author Thomas Frank wrote. When the “alternative” to Trump has nothing but platitudes about how America is already great to say in response, it allows Trumpism to metastasize and grow.
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DISSATISFACTION WITH Clinton and Trump is leading some voters to turn elsewhere. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, one-quarter of younger voters say they would support a third-party candidate.
Right now, the biggest share of the third-party vote is going to the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, a right-winger who is, as Travis Richard Sweatte put it in an article for Jacobin, the candidate of “America’s third capitalist party.”
On the left, however, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is galvanizing those who want to a choice beyond what the Democratic Party will allow. Her message against corporate greed, environmental destruction and endless war has won her a significant level of support for an independent left candidate.
For her running mate, Stein chose Ajamu Baraka, the founding executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, with decades of experience fighting for Black liberation and championing struggles against U.S. imperialism’s crimes in the Middle East, Central America, Africa and elsewhere.
SocialistWorker.org has been very critical of some positions taken by Stein and Baraka–in particular, Baraka’s open support for the brutal repression carried out by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria against a popular pro-democracy uprising now more than five years old. Baraka–and Stein to a lesser extent–promote a view disappointingly common on the left that must be confronted with clear anti-imperialist politics that reject all forms of authoritarian rule.
In general, the Stein campaign has stood out for its strong left-wing message and uncompromising commitment to creating a left alternative independent of the Democratic Party. She has set an example of how to withstand the accusation that voting for anyone but Clinton is helping the Republicans.
Asked by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week if she was afraid of she might “lose the election for Clinton,” Stein said, “Politicians do not have a new form of entitlement. They are not entitled to our vote. They have to earn our votes. And Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have not earned our vote.”
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IF YOU’VE been told that you have to hold your nose and vote for Hillary Clinton, no matter how much you hate everything she stands for, in order to stave off the Trump disaster, first, you aren’t alone; and second, you should definitely reconsider.
The Trump campaign is despicable. It has advanced anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hate into the national political debate and given an opening for those even further to the right to gain a hearing for their hate.
The truth, however, is that Hillary Clinton won’t do anything about Trump. She won’t challenge the Islamophobic and anti-immigrant bigotry of the Republican candidate, because she and the Democratic Party rely on their own versions of this scapegoating and scaremongering.
As on so many other issues, we need to organize a left-wing response to these attacks that doesn’t compromise by supporting a Democratic hawk over a Republican monster. Earlier this year, activists in Chicago showed how to set the racists back on their heels when they came together–immigrant, Latino, Arab, Muslim, Black, white–to protest Donald Trump, and sent his campaign packing.
For too long, people who support something left of the Democratic Party have felt pressured to put off their hopes and aspirations to settle for whatever the “party of the people” promises, and with no intention of delivering.
As so many people seem to have already included, we deserve better. You can take one step for building an independent left-wing alternative by voting for Jill Stein on November 8.
But there is a larger project of building resistance to austerity, war and oppression that needs to take place on November 9 and every other day of the year.
AUGUST 26, 2016
The Nader-baiting continues untrammeled and was even on display with the CNN Green Party Town Hall. I have previously written about this but would like to articulate an addendum that few have yet to discuss.
The basic fact is this, Al Gore threw the fight with George W. Bush over Florida’s bizarre electoral process. It had nothing to do with Nader and everything to do with the transformation of the Presidency by Clinton, our first post-Cold War president. Clinton’s reckless economic policies and utopian visions of neoliberal paradise made Gore behave like the Black Sox.
For confirmation of these points, I would advise readers consult economist Robert Pollin’s very useful book Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity, an analysis of the Clinton economy and the first two years of the Bush tenure. On page 78 is a key paragraph that should be etched in stone above any Green Party threshold:
Amid such talk of unending good times, it came as a jolt to most observers when the Republican Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney announced on a television talk show on December 3, 2000 that “we may well be on the front edge of a recession here. There is growing evidence that the economy is slowing down.” After Cheney’s statement, George Bush also began interjecting gloomy economic prognostications into his public statements. This was the time when Bush and Cheney, along with Gore and the Democrats, were still fighting over who actually won the election. It would be another week before the Supreme Court threw the victory to Bush. The timing is important: Bush had some obvious political motives for turning negative on the economy at this point, after having been almost entirely upbeat throughout the election.
Pollin’s book describes how the Clinton-Greenspan economy was nothing more than a series of bubbles that were generated in a ten year period, roughly 1992 to 2002, when the United States lived in a massive utopian delusion about the nature of capitalism as a system of political economy.
Clinton’s “new economy” was based in the neoclassical economic coordinates of a post-capitalist order and therefore the abnegation of class warfare, a fantasy that was reinforced by the end of the Cold War and our installation of a puppet regime in Russia. In simpler terms, the Soviet Union had collapsed, proving that Marxism was false (although Marx’s theories had almost nothing to do with Gorbachev’s shortcomings), and thus Western media began a decade-long mythological narrative of life in the post-Soviet states as fantastic (all while in reality Jeffrey Sachs and fellow members of the neoliberal cadre were turning Eastern Europe into a neo-feudal colony of Wall Street where the life expectancy of Russian men dropped by four years).
But by the end of 2000, the delusion stopped working and the Democrats were facing the prospect of responsibility for an economic downturn. Why bother with such a hassle when it would be much easier to blame it on the neocons and their village idiot puppet President? By throwing the contest in a fashion akin to a bribed prize fighter, right in the heat of battle when the American public was revved up by a media drama that made Days of Our Lives seem uneventful, it would make the Democratic Party come out looking like winners instead of losers, perhaps like the end of ROCKY where the Italian Stallion technically is beaten ends up a champ.
And what was responsible for this downturn? Or in fact who?
Pollin does not reach for this conclusion in his book, but it seems pretty likely to me that, given the role Goldman Sachs played in the Clinton Treasury, we can lay the responsibility at the feet of one policy pivot at a key moment, which in turn was caused by one woman, namely Monica Lewinsky.
Recall the masterful essay by Robin Blackburn, How Monica Lewinsky Saved Social Security.
Robert Rubin and Larry Summers are the neoliberal economic policy gurus who have defined the New Democrats and their fiscal conservatism for three decades now. Both men are longtime proponents of the privatization of Social Security, and given their Wall Street connections, it is logical to assume that the next bubble meant to follow the dot-com one was going to be inflated by the influx of Social Security’s capital.
But then along came the intern in the blue dress.
Clinton’s pivot to the left and advocacy of “saving” Social Security rather than privatizing it was a defensive posture taken up to consolidate support within the Democratic base as he faced the inquiry of Ken Starr. But prior to the development of the Lewinski scandal, he had begun to make moves towards privatization at a moment when the public perception of the “magic of the market” was hegemonic among the white middle class, a period when 60 Minutes was featuring stories about stay-at-home day traders who, using recently-premiered world wide web and a proliferation of consumer-grade stock broker websites, were fashioning themselves into a veritable cottage industry of people who were so crazy they thought they would become millionaires with mouse clicks! Things were looking so dire that Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot published an entire book, titled Social Security: The Phony Crisis, that began with this passage:
“We have a chance,” said President Clinton, to “fix the roof while the sun is still shining.” He was talking about dealing with Social Security immediately, while the economy is growing and the federal budget is balanced… The roof analogy is illuminating, but we can make it more accurate. Imagine that it’s not going to rain for more than 30 years. And the rain, when it does arrive (and it might not), will be pretty light. And imagine that the average household will have a lot more income for roof repair by the time that the rain approaches. Now add this: most of the people who say that they want to fix the roof actually want to knock holes in it.
But because of Bubba’s pivot, he was unable to provide the soap to inflate the next bubble. As a result, when the dot-com bubble began to collapse, there was nothing to replace it and a recession, caused by Democratic policies, would have been what a Gore presidency would have inherited. Why not quit while you are ahead?
Clinton’s behavior here, combined with how his staff went to absurd lengths to vandalize the White House offices as the Republicans moved in for revenge over the impeachment proceedings, has become the modus operandi of the post-Cold War presidencies, leaving the country in as bad shape (or perhaps worse) then when you found it. We have seen nearly a quarter century of White House tenures, in economic terms, looking like waves on the high seas, peaks and valleys that correspond with entrances and exits. There has been no ethic of leaving things better than when you found it. When Eisenhower took office, the country was in the midst of a Red Scare that destroyed a generation of activists while, in domestic transit terms, the postwar population was effectively still living in the nineteenth century. When he gave the country to John Kennedy, he had spent massive amounts on the construction of an interstate highway system that revolutionized how Americans moved around the country and creation of civic infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, that we still (rather embarrassingly) depend on daily and which is remembered as the golden era of American labor irregardless of the purging of the Communists.
So, with all this in mind, can we start blaming Gore for what he has done to America via his proxy George W. Bush? “Say it ain’t so Al!”
FRIDAY, AUG 26, 2016 04:59 AM PDT
Last week, Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, said we should ask “real questions” about whether Donald Trump “is just a puppet for the Kremlin.” By that time, Audible.com was already giving away free audiobooks of “The Manchurian Candidate,” Richard Condon’s 1959 book (transformed into a classic thriller starring Angela Lansbury and Frank Sinatra in 1962 and a worse remake with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep in 2004) about communists controlling an American presidential candidate.
Hmm. Trump’s advocacy of dismantling NATO over unpaid bills, his continuous and effusive praise of former KGB chief Vladimir Putin (amply reciprocated), his bizarre request of Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, his coming perilously close to supporting Russia’s annexing of Crimea, and his campaign’s redaction of the Republican platform plank in support of arming Ukraine against Russia can’t help but raise suspicions of a hard quid pro quo between the Trump campaign and Russian government. Donald Trump Jr. has said outright that Russians finance much of Trump’s empire, which is also hugely in debt to the Bank of China, while his father continues to hide what we might learn from his income tax returns.
Then there’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s lobbying for Russian oligarchs and the deposed Russian-allied Ukrainian president (all former big-time communists), while Trump foreign policy adviser Ret. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn takes money from — and appears on — RT, the English-language cable-news network that beams Russian propaganda around the world.
To be clear, I’m not a Trump-style conspiracy theorist. I’m not suggesting that Trump has somehow been secretly brainwashed by communists; he isn’t “programmed” to do anything but run his mouth and demagogue the election. Hair wash, yes. Brain wash, no. (Or as Eugene McCarthy said, after George Romney’s 1967 claim that the military “brainwashed” him in Vietnam, “a light rinse would have been sufficient.”)
But some “Manchurian Candidate” themes resonate powerfully in this year’s campaign. Condon exposed the cynicism behind right-wing politics for the Cold War Eisenhower years and chillingly his book’s narrative applies today. By articulating how “brainwashing” symbolizes the mass process of humiliation and repetition that the American working-class experiences at the hands of cynical right-wing leaders, the book and film anticipate a time when the radical right subverts American democracy.
Condon’s page-turner features the right-wing mastermind Eleanor Iselin, a red-baiting Republican senator’s wife who works hand in glove with the Kremlin. During the Korean War, Russian and Chinese scientists brainwash a group of American POWs so that they provide Eleanor with an assassin, her son Raymond Shaw, to unwittingly murder his mother’s enemies while in a hypnotic state and eventually turn the White House over to an alliance of right-wingers and communists.
Before Trump’s candidacy, President Ronald Reagan’s sale of arms to Iran and President Richard Nixon’s and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s idolization of Mao, the book called attention to a worldwide power elite that, regardless of surface ideology, work in cahoots. Like Trump today, members of this elite see ideology solely as a means of gaining power. It’s no accident that Trump has changed his political party at least six times.
“The Manchurian Candidate” uncannily anticipated the Trump-Putin bromance. Explaining the affinity between McCarthyite Republicans and Kremlin operatives, Condon, with his signature iconoclasm, wrote that red-baiters and reds alike share “the conviction that the Republic was a humbug, the electorate rabble, and anyone strong who knew how to maneuver could have all the power and glory that the richest and most naïve democracy in the world could bestow.” Six decades later Trump and Putin thrive by convincing resentful voters to embrace fact-free realities. “Paranoiacs make the great leaders,” Condon wrote. “Resenters make their best instruments.”
Fringe conservatives are more prone than impassioned liberals to becoming “Manchurian candidates” because liberals do not think the government of the republic is a “humbug.” The right, distrusting of government, does not see the dangers of toying with it. After all, McCarthyism ultimately undermined U.S. national security by forcing the most capable diplomats out of the State Department on trumped-up charges, leaving no one to check the folly of the Vietnam War.
Like the brainwashing of soldiers in “The Manchurian Candidate,” Trump and the right hold the media and electorate captive through verbal humiliation and repetition. It is not Trump who has been brainwashed. He is not the Manchurian candidate. The American people are.
The communists humiliate Raymond to such a degree that he can only find peace in totalitarian control. Similarly, Trump’s economically and culturally humiliated working-class heroes believe in a leader who believes in nothing.
As a former Hollywood Disney publicist who promoted “Dumbo,” “Fantasia” and many other golden-age Dream Factory products, Condon saw the dangers of Hollywood PR applied to politics. For instance, Eleanor picks 57 as the number of communists in the State Department because “Heinz 57” made that number resonate. The notion that someone could perform a total “brainwashing” as depicted by Condon has long been debunked by experts, but the phrase evokes the malign influence of mass PR first identified in the 1950s.
Despite its dystopian theme, Condon’s novel offered a resolution that the film versions left out: reprogramming the assassin.
In the 1959 book, Raymond is programmed to kill the 1960 Republican presidential nominee so that his stepfather, vice presidential nominee Senator Johnny Iselin, can blame the Soviets, be elected president and then rule together with the Soviets.
In the novel, Raymond’s comrade, Major Ben Marco (the Sinatra character), not only discovers his brainwashing and recovers his sanity. He believes his own memory loss reflects the crisis that America is in. To thwart the conspiracy, Marco reprograms Raymond to shoot his mother, stepfather and self.
Can we Americans reprogram ourselves to a better end?
Anthropoid deals with a historically important event—the assassination of the leading Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, in the Czech capital over which he presided as the “Butcher of Prague” during the German occupation of the country in the Second World War.
Heydrich, a main architect of the Holocaust, chaired the Wannsee Conference near Berlin, where the plans for the extermination of European Jewry were adopted. He helped organize the Kristallnacht pogrom throughout Germany in November 1938, before moving on to his post in Prague.
The assassination of Heydrich was followed by the infamous Nazi reprisal attacks and mass executions in the Czech villages of Lidice and Lekazy, totally destroying them and resulting in the deaths of at least 15,000 people.
The new film, directed by Sean Ellis, is a straightforward account of the operation, organized by the Czech government-in-exile in London, that ended with the attack on Heydrich on May 27, 1942. He died a week later from his wounds. Unfortunately, the movie uses suspense and violence not as part of a serious examination of the events, but more as a substitute for such an effort.
After brief titles recounting the Munich Agreement of September 1938, which allowed German annexation of part of Czechoslovakia and was followed by partition of the country and its occupation by the Nazi regime, the movie opens with the December 1941 parachuting into the country of the Czech resistance fighters who were to carry out the attack some five months later.
One of the paratroopers has been slightly injured, and the film follows the pair as they successfully avoid being turned over to the Germans and make their way to Prague. There they present themselves to the remaining leaders of the gravely weakened Czech resistance, and face the task of convincing these men that they are not spies and agents of the Nazis who have been sent to finish the job of wiping out organized opposition.
Finding shelter in a safe house run by a Mrs. Moravecs, the men sent from London then engage in discussion and debate within the resistance over the merits and tactical advisability of “Operation Anthropoid,” the assassination plot that has been hatched abroad.
Some of these early scenes are effective. The Czech capital provides an evocative backdrop, and an atmosphere of dread and suspense is conveyed by the spare dialogue, as the plans are discussed under the noses of the Nazi occupiers. The two paratroopers, Czech Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Slovak Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy), do a credible enough job with the material they have been given, and Toby Jones as the local resistance leader is strong in his impassive depiction of a man who has already seen too much barbarism but has no choice but to fight on.
This only goes so far, however. There is little characterization of the partisans beyond their patriotic dedication. A romantic angle is introduced, in the form of the two young women (Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerova) who meet the partisans and wind up playing a supporting role in the plans, but this fairly conventional plot device does not lead any deeper.
Hand-held cameras serve the purpose of communicating terror and dislocation, but this is no substitute for broader context and an examination of both the occupation and the resistance.
The last 30 minutes of Anthropoid are designed to deliver a final jolt of excitement, but they end up instead providing the most graphic demonstration of the weakness of the film. The closing titles explain that the resistance fighters, holed up in an Orthodox cathedral in the capital, successfully held out for 30 minutes against a ruthless German assault involving many times their number and far more powerful weaponry. The filmmakers have concluded that the best way to communicate this is to depict a 30-minute firefight on screen. Once again, and most crudely in this case, this literal representation only demonstrates the relative paucity of history and thought in this project.
Anthropoid is not the first film to depict the assassination of Heydrich. In fact, two films, by very well-known German refugee directors, were rushed into production within months of the operation. Douglas Sirk’s Hitler’s Madman and the better known Hangmen Also Die!, by Fritz Lang, were both released in 1943, in the middle of the war.
The Fritz Lang film, from a story by Bertolt Brecht and with music by the famous Hanns Eisler, is one of the famous German-born filmmaker’s weaker efforts. It is an unabashed propaganda piece, in which everything is portrayed in terms of the “good” Czechs and “evil” Germans. The movie also meshed with the Stalinist efforts to portray the war in terms of a Popular Front alliance between the Soviet Union and the capitalist democracies against fascism. Brecht and Eisler, both then in Hollywood as refugees from the Nazis, were later forced to leave the US during the McCarthyite witch-hunt.
Hangmen Also Die! is indeed crude and, having been made even before all the details of the assassination were revealed, is not a faithful depiction of the events. It does contain ideas, however, and has little need for the violence thatAnthropoid delivers in great quantity.
The paucity of ideas is related to conventional and complacent assumptions about the war itself: that is was that between “good” and “evil,” between the Western democracies and fascism. The problem with this explanation is that it evades the issue of where fascism came from, that it was the foul product of the decay of capitalism itself. There is no mention in Anthropoid, for instance, of the role played by the Czech Communist Party during this period, when it withstood far more effectively than others the attempts of the Nazis to infiltrate and destroy the resistance movements.
No doubt in line with the attention drawn by the new film to the events of 74 years ago, a call has emerged in the Czech Republic to accord the assassins of Heydrich the respect they deserve. According to a report in the Guardian, campaigners have called for the remains of Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik to be exhumed from unmarked graves and reinterred with a proper burial.
By itself this would do little to explain the Holocaust and the struggle against Nazi barbarism. In fact, the crimes of Stalinism in Czechoslovakia are being used to obscure the significance of this history. A proposal to make a Prague cemetery a national memorial to “victims of Nazism and communism” avoids the necessary accounting with the source of Hitler and of the Second World War.
Anthropoid is also timely for reasons perhaps not intended by the filmmakers. Today Europe, and not only Europe, is once again the scene of the rise of ultra-nationalist and fascistic movements, testimony to the fact that the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich did not resolve the contradictions of capitalism out of which it emerged. There are also contemporary occupations, not identical to those of the Nazis, but evoking parallels. Today it is the United States that is the occupying power in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, facing the rage of the population and with the blood of millions on its hands.
Street art in Cali, Colombia,
by artist SHAGÜ.
Photo by SHAGÜ.