AT&T, Time Warner and the Death of Privacy


OCTOBER 27, 2016

By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan

It has been 140 years since Alexander Graham Bell uttered the first words through his experimental telephone, to his lab assistant: “Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you.” His invention transformed human communication, and the world. The company he started grew into a massive monopoly, AT&T. The federal government eventually deemed it too powerful, and broke up the telecom giant in 1982. Well, AT&T is back and some would say on track to become bigger and more powerful than before, announcing plans to acquire Time Warner, the media company, to create one of the largest entertainment and communications conglomerates on the planet. Beyond the threat to competition, the proposed merger—which still must pass regulatory scrutiny—poses significant threats to privacy and the basic freedom to communicate.

AT&T is currently No. 10 on the Forbes 500 list of the U.S.‘s highest-grossing companies. If it is allowed to buy Time Warner, No. 99 on the list, it will form an enormous, “vertically integrated” company that controls a vast pool of content and how people access that content.

Free Press, the national media policy and activism group, is mobilizing the public to oppose the deal. “This merger would create a media powerhouse unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. AT&T would control mobile and wired internet access, cable channels, movie franchises, a film studio and more,” Candace Clement of Free Press wrote. “That means AT&T would control internet access for hundreds of millions of people and the content they view, enabling it to prioritize its own offerings and use sneaky tricks to undermine net neutrality.”

Net neutrality is that essential quality of the internet that makes it so powerful. Columbia University law professor Tim Wu coined the term “net neutrality.” After the Federal Communications Commission approved strong net neutrality rules last year, Wu told us on the Democracy Now! News hour, “There need to be basic rules of the road for the internet, and we’re not going to trust cable and telephone companies to respect freedom of speech or respect new innovators, because of their poor track record.”

Millions of citizens weighed in with public comments to the FCC in support of net neutrality, along with groups like Free Press and The Electronic Frontier Foundation. They were joined by titans of the internet like Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Arrayed against this coalition were the telecom and cable companies, the oligopoly of internet service providers that sell internet access to hundreds of millions of Americans. It remains to be seen if AT&T doesn’t in practice break net neutrality rules and create a fast lane for its content and slow down content from its competitors, including the noncommercial sector.

Another problem that AT&T presents, that would only be exacerbated by the merger, is the potential to invade the privacy of its millions of customers. In 2006, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein revealed that the company was secretly sharing all of its customers’ metadata with the National Security Agency. Klein, who installed the fiber-splitting hardware in a secret room at the main AT&T facility in San Francisco, had his whistleblowing allegations confirmed several years later by Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. While that dragnet surveillance program was supposedly shut down in 2011, a similar surveillance program still exists. It’s called “Project Hemisphere.” It was exposed by The New York Times in 2013, with substantiating documents just revealed this week in The Daily Beast.

In “Project Hemisphere,” AT&T sells metadata to law enforcement, under the aegis of the so-called war on drugs. A police agency sends in a request for all the data related to a particular person or telephone number, and, for a major fee and without a subpoena, AT&T delivers a sophisticated data set, that can, according to The Daily Beast, “determine where a target is located, with whom he speaks, and potentially why.”

Where you go, what you watch, text and share, with whom you speak, all your internet searches and preferences, all gathered and “vertically integrated,” sold to police and perhaps, in the future, to any number of AT&T’s corporate customers. We can’t know if Alexander Graham Bell envisioned this brave new digital world when he invented the telephone. But this is the future that is fast approaching, unless people rise up and stop this merger.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Michael Moore in TrumpLand grovels in praise of Hillary Clinton

By Fred Mazelis
27 October 2016

Michael Moore in TrumpLand is a bare-bones documentary, essentially the recording of a one-man show presented by the American filmmaker in Wilmington, Ohio earlier this month and released just days later, three weeks before the presidential election.

Moore, who previously backed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and then became a reluctant supporter of Hillary Clinton after she won the Democratic presidential nomination, has now gone all-out to portray the former First Lady and Secretary of State as “our Pope Francis,” a positive standard bearer for the “left.” The man who occasionally used satire and a comic flair to scandalize the corporate and political establishment (Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine) has come forward as the defender of the favored candidate of that establishment.

Michael Moore in TrumpLand

With the message that Hillary Clinton will be the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Moore has made a movie whose laugh lines fall flat and whose peroration in praise of the voice of Wall Street and the Pentagon is both politically appalling and pathetic.

The premise of TrumpLand is that Mr. Moore, the fearless stand-up comic, has ventured into the lion’s den. Wilmington, a town of some 12,500 in southwestern Ohio, is typical of cities and towns throughout the US where the fascistic candidate of the Republican Party has won support by appealing to the anger and frustration of working class voters who have seen their jobs and living standards decimated in the years since the 2008 financial crash and the decades of deindustrialization leading up to it.

Showing somewhat more flexibility than Clinton exhibited with her notorious comment about Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables,” Moore welcomes both Trump and Clinton supporters, as well as those planning to vote for third-party candidates, to Wilmington’s Murphy Theater. After some lame and reactionary gibes at Trump partisans—referring to “angry white guys” whose “days are numbered”—Moore declares his sympathy with the “legitimate concerns” of the Trump backers.

He warns, however, that while a vote for Trump will be a “human Molotov cocktail,” “the biggest ‘Fuck you!’ ever recorded in human history,” it will “only feel good for possibly a month.” Comparing the US election to the Brexit vote in Britain, he warns that “using the ballot as an anger management tool” will leave working people even worse off than before.

“Can’t we start saying something nice about her?” says Moore. He proceeds to poke fun at right-wing critics on such issues as the 2012 Benghazi attack in Libya, but says nothing about Clinton’s actual record as US Senator and Secretary of State: her notorious gloating about the murder of Muammar Gaddafi, the WikiLeaks revelations of her Wall Street speeches, her appeals for the prosecution of Edward Snowden, and her calls for aggressive military preparations or actual escalation of US intervention in Iran, Syria, China and Russia.

Advocating a vote for Clinton, Moore goes much further in TrumpLand than the bankrupt lesser-evil argument advanced in some quarters. He rhapsodizes about a first 100 days of a Hillary Clinton administration, filled with executive orders that will usher in a new era of social reform. Clinton will stop the deportation of immigrants, rescue the residents of lead-poisoned Flint, release all non-violent offenders from prison and prosecute all police who shoot unarmed black men. Clinton will supposedly “kick ass in Congress”—never mind her constant appeals for Republican support and promises to seek “compromise.”

Michael Moore in TrumpLand

Qualifying his praise slightly, Moore goes on to explain that his dream of Clinton as a reformer isn’t going to happen “without a revolution behind her.” Repeating the argument of Sanders, who shifted quickly from denouncing Clinton as the candidate of Wall Street to boosting her as a progressive champion, Moore calls for mobilizing support to “get behind” Clinton and “hold her” to the promises of the Democratic Party platform.

“If for some reason” Clinton does not deliver, Moore promises, tongue planted firmly in cheek, to run for president himself in 2020.

Moore goes beyond attempting, à la Sanders, to sell Clinton as a progressive alternative. The climax of the filmmaker’s plea on behalf of Clinton in TrumpLand is entirely within the deplorable framework of identity politics.

Running through Moore’s 70-minute show is the theme of Clinton as the first woman US president, and the supposedly earthshaking significance of gender. “Hillary is genuinely the first feminist of the modern era,” he proclaims, after screening a clip of her graduation speech from Wellesley College. Like the current Pope, Moore says, Clinton has “bided her time.” She endured all the attacks as First Lady, the failure of her attempts, supposedly, to secure universal healthcare. Now, however, “the majority gender has the chance to run this world.”

There are millions of young women and men, of course, firmly committed to equal rights, but unimpressed with Clinton or the claims that a woman president will reverse inequality or change the nature of the capitalist system.

Moore does not mention Margaret Thatcher, one of the most significant figures in the social counterrevolution that has been waged by global capitalism for the past 40 years. Nor does he allude to the current or recent female prime ministers or heads of state in Britain, Germany, Finland, Norway, Brazil, Chile, Australia, Argentina and elsewhere.

It is not an accident that the prominence of female leaders coincides with this period of reaction. The politics of identity, based on gender, race and sexual orientation, has been used to cultivate an upper middle class constituency that directly benefits from austerity and inequality, while the vast majority of the population, of all races and genders, suffers the consequences.

Moore is now the proud spokesperson for this brand of politics. His right-wing trajectory is one that has been followed by many others. There is some continuity, however, between his current love affair with Clinton and his earlier middle class radical posture. Even at his best, Moore depicted the working class as victims. Today his assigned task is to convince angry millennial voters who are justifiably disgusted with the two-party system to give Clinton a mandate, not for social reform, but for austerity and war.


AT&T-Time Warner merger to expand corporate, state control of media


By Barry Grey
24 October 2016

AT&T, the telecommunications and cable TV colossus, announced Saturday that it has struck a deal to acquire the pay TV and entertainment giant Time Warner. The merger, if approved by the Justice Department and US regulatory agencies under the next administration, will create a corporate entity with unprecedented control over both the distribution and content of news and entertainment. It will also mark an even more direct integration of the media and the telecomm industry with the state.

AT&T, the largest US telecom group by market value, already controls huge segments of the telephone, pay-TV and wireless markets. Its $48.5 billion purchase of the satellite provider DirecTV last year made it the biggest pay-TV provider in the country, ahead of Comcast. It is the second-largest wireless provider, behind Verizon.

Time Warner is the parent company of such cable TV staples as HBO, Cinemax, CNN and the other Turner System channels: TBS, TNT and Turner Sports. It also owns the Warner Brothers film and TV studio.

The Washington Post on Sunday characterized the deal as a “seismic shift” in the “media and technology world,” one that “could turn the legacy carrier [AT&T] into a media titan the likes of which the United States has never seen.” The newspaper cited Craig Moffett, an industry analyst at Moffett-Nathanson, as saying there was no precedent for a telecom company the size of AT&T seeking to acquire a content company such as Time Warner.

“A [telecom company] owning content is something that was expressly prohibited for a century” by the government, Moffett told the Post.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in keeping with his anti-establishment pose, said Saturday that the merger would lead to “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” and that, if elected, he would block it.

The Clinton campaign declined to comment on Saturday. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, speaking on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” on Sunday, said he had “concerns” about the merger, but he declined to take a clear position, saying he had not seen the details.

AT&T, like the other major telecom and Internet companies, has collaborated with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its blanket, illegal surveillance of telephone and electronic communications. NSA documents released last year by Edward Snowden show that AT&T has played a particularly reactionary role.

As the New York Times put it in an August 15, 2015 article reporting the Snowden leaks: “The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.”

The article went on to cite an NSA document describing the relationship between AT&T and the spy agency as “highly collaborative,” and quoted other documents praising the company’s “extreme willingness to help” and calling their mutual dealings “a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”

The Times noted that AT&T installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs based in the US, provided technical assistance enabling the NSA to wiretap all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a client of AT&T, and gave the NSA access to billions of emails.

If the merger goes through, this quasi-state entity will be in a position to directly control the content of much of the news and entertainment accessed by the public via television, the movies and smart phones. The announcement of the merger agreement is itself an intensification of a process of telecom and media convergence and consolidation that has been underway for years, and has accelerated under the Obama administration.

In 2009, the cable provider Comcast announced its acquisition for $30 billion of the entertainment conglomerate NBCUniversal, which owns both the National Broadcasting Company network and Universal Studios. The Obama Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission ultimately approved the merger.

Other recent mergers involving telecoms and content producers include, in addition to AT&T’s 2015 purchase of DirecTV: Verizon Communications’ acquisition of the Huffington Post, Yahoo and AOL; Lionsgate’s deal to buy the pay-TV channel Starz; Verizon’s agreement announced in the spring to buy DreamWorks Animation; and Charter Communications’ acquisition of the cable provider Time Warner Cable, approved this year.

The AT&T-Time Warner announcement will itself trigger a further restructuring and consolidation of the industry, as rival corporate giants scramble to compete within a changing environment that has seen the growth of digital and streaming companies such as Netflix and Hulu at the expense of the traditional cable and satellite providers.

The Financial Times wrote on Saturday that “the mooted deal could fire the starting gun on a round of media and technology consolidation.” Referring to a new series of mergers and acquisitions, the Wall Street Journal on Sunday quoted a “top media executive” as saying that an AT&T-Time Warner deal would “certainly kick off the dance.”

The scale of the buyout agreed unanimously by the boards of both companies is massive. AT&T is to pay Time Warner a reported $85.4 billion in cash and stocks, at a price of $107.50 per Time Warner share. This is significantly higher than the current market price of Time Warner shares, which rose 8 percent to more than $89 Friday on rumors of the merger deal.

In addition, AT&T is to take on Time Warner’s debt, pushing the actual cost of the deal to more than $107 billion. The merged company would have a total debt of $150 billion, making inevitable a campaign of cost-cutting and job reduction.

The unprecedented degree of monopolization of the telecom and media industries is the outcome of the policy of deregulation, launched in the late 1970s by the Democratic Carter administration and intensified by every administration, Republican or Democratic, since then. In 1982, the original AT&T, colloquially known as “Ma Bell,” was broken up into seven separate and competing regional “Baby Bell” companies.

This was sold to the public as a means of ending the tightly regulated AT&T monopoly over telephone service and unleashing the “competitive forces” of the market, where increased competition would supposedly lower consumer prices and improve service. What ensued was a protracted process of mergers and disinvestments involving the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs, which drove up stock prices at the expense of both employees and the consuming public.

Dallas-based Southwestern Bell was among the most aggressive of the “Baby Bells” in expanding by means of acquisitions and ruthless cost-cutting, eventually evolving into the new AT&T. Now, the outcome of deregulation has revealed itself to be a degree of monopolization and concentrated economic power beyond anything previously seen.

The 50th Anniversary of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ and the Film’s Impact on the Black Radical Imagination

An excerpt from an important new book on the film.

Photo Credit: YouTube screenshot

The 1966 film The Battle of Algiers is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its release, opening in more theaters across the country. As the Movement for Black Lives continues to disrupt and challenge the status quo, it also worth noting that 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Black Panther Party. This edited excerpt from Sohail Daulatzai’s new book on the legacy of the film reveal only part of the influence The Battle of Algiers had on the Black radical imagination. The excerpt is followed by William Klein’s 1971 documentary on former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the largest antiwar protest in history took place throughout the world. But to no avail. President Bush dismissed the protestors as “a focus group,” unleashing the bombing campaign that was known as “Shock and Awe.” Soon after the invasion, in late 2003, the Pentagon invited the military brass to a screening of The Battle of Algiers, and the teaser read: ”How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film.”

Well before the Pentagon screening, both U.S. Army intelligence operatives and the F.B.I. also screened the film in 1970 to try to silence domestic and global threats to U.S. power. The film was used as a training tool by the U.S. military as part of “Operation Phoenix,” and its larger strategy for the “pacification of Vietnam,” while the FBI screened it at the height of its vicious Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), which included the destabilization of leftist groups in the United States through the use of targeted assassination, disinformation campaigns, false arrests and the imprisonment of Black Panther Party members, in particular.

While security states were screening the film throughout the world, The Battle of Algiers was also embraced by a range of different leftist groups including the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army and the Tamil Tigers. In the United States, it was a favorite among the Weather Underground, Arab students organizing in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and later in the 1990s as Chicano activists in Los Angeles mobilized around the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico. In the 1960s and ’70s, the film was required viewing for the Black Panther Party, whose liberationist politics were linked to the anticolonial Third Worldism of Vietnam, Palestine, Cuba, and elsewhere.

This embrace of the film by the Panthers was part of a longer history of Black radical solidarity with internationalist struggles in general, and Algeria in particular. As Stokely Carmichael said, “Black Power means that we see ourselves as part of the Third World; that we see our struggle as closely related to liberation struggle around the world.” And he was far from the exception. Black Panther Party member Kathleen Cleaver said, “From its inception, the Black Panther Party saw the condition of Blacks in an international context, recognizing that the same racist imperialism that people in Africa, Asia, Latin America were fighting against was victimizing Blacks in the United States.”

Writers and activists from Hoyt Fuller to Martin Luther King had expressed admiration and solidarity with the Algerian struggle, viewing Black struggles in the U.S. in the context of anti-colonial rebellion taking place worldwide. James Baldwin also commented on Algeria and France’s brutal colonial war. He made many trips to Paris, and he often made reference to the violent mistreatment of Algerians in Paris, including the infamous Papon Massacre in October 1961 in Paris. Baldwin would write, “Algeria was French only insofar as French power had decreed it to be French. It existed on the European map only insofar as European power had placed it there. It is power, not justice, which keeps rearranging the map, and the Algerians were not fighting the French for justice but for the power to determine their own destinies.”

Malcolm X would also weigh in when discussing policing of Black people in Harlem, “Algeria was a police state. Any occupied territory is a police state, and that is what Harlem is. Harlem is a police state, the police in Harlem, their presence is like occupation forces, like an occupying army. … The same conditions that prevailed in Algeria that forced the people, the noble people of Algeria, to resort to terrorist-type tactics that were necessary to get the monkey off their backs, those same conditions prevail today in America in every Negro community.”

Theaters of War

The Battle of Algiers would screen at the New York Film Festival in September 1967, just after massive riots in Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit had rocked the country. As the winds of Black Power began to gust, fanning the flames of urban unrest, Newsweek magazine reported, “Many young Negroes cheered or laughed knowingly at each terrorist attack on the French, as if The Battle of Algiers were a textbook and prophecy of urban guerrilla warfare to come.” Three years later, at a screening of the film at the Thalia on the Upper West Side, the New York Times reported that there was “laughter and applause when bombs planted by Algerian women destroyed restaurants frequented by the French,” and “at one point a cry of ‘the United States is next’ rang through the small movie house.”

The film would also be screened in 1969 at Amiri Baraka’s Spirit House in Newark, New Jersey, which was the unofficial mecca of the Black Arts Movement. Formed the day after the assassination of Malcolm X, and hoping to extend the legacy of his revolutionary spirit, Amiri Baraka and others saw the Black Arts Movement as a vehicle in which poetry, literature, theater, music, and film were central to Black liberation. The Battle of Algiers was part of a series of films and performances that also included the 1964 film The Dutchman (based on Baraka’s play) and the 1968 documentary on the Spirit House called The New-Ark, a triple feature of radical films that reflected the global sensibilities of the era.

Emory Douglas, who was minister of culture for the Black Panther Party, and whose graphic artwork was the basis of the official newspaper The Black Panther, traveled to Algeria in 1969 and was there when Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver emerged in Algiers for the first annual Pan-African Cultural Festival. In my conversation with Douglas, he said that, at the time, The Battle of Algierswas the most influential film in his life, helping to shape his artistic and political vision “because it did what I was trying to do with the Panthers—create a culture of resistance through art.” Not surprisingly, the Panthers would use Algiers as the site to open the first International Section of the Black Panther Party due to their admiration of Frantz Fanon and the Algerian struggle of which he was a part, while in 1970, Francee Covington would write an essay titled “Are the Revolutionary Techniques Employed in The Battle of Algiers Applicable in Harlem?” in the seminal anthology The Black Woman.

The film would also emerge as part of a much covered and controversial 1971 trial in New York City of what was known as the Panther 21, one of whom was Afeni Shakur, mother of hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, with whom she was pregnant at the time. Charged—and acquitted—of conspiring to explode bombs at department stores, police stations, and other locations throughout the city, the Panthers had reportedly drawn their inspiration for this plot from the film. During the trial, the prosecutor, in an attempt to sway the jury toward a conviction, showed the film to the jurors. Twice during the courtroom screening, when the French offered an Algerian rebel a fair trial, several Panthers laughed at what could only be assumed was the deep irony and parallel nature of their respective predicaments. For some of the jurors, the responses were equally striking. For juror Joe Rainato, this would be his fourth viewing. Another juror, Ben Giles, said the showing “saved me $3.50 because I was going to see it after the trial anyway,” and juror Ed Kennebeck, who was now seeing the film for a third time, said, “The film did more to help me see things from the defense point of view than the D.A. suspected.”

Many Black activists saw in Ali La Pointe a mirror of Malcolm X—both were street hustler who were radicalized in prison and went on to become revolutionary heroes. Lerone Bennett, who was a vocal critic of Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song for what he saw as the film’s troubling and confusing political impulses, said “some will say: ‘you are criticizing the man (Van Peebles) for not filming The Battle of Algiers. How could he film The Battle of Algiers when there had been no battle of Algiers in America?” But that is precisely the point. There has been a Battle of Watts in America, and a Battle of Newark, and a Battle of Detroit. A Malcolm lived in Harlem, a King in Atlanta, and Angela Davis is in a California prison. And it is impossible to make a revolutionary black film in America without taking these realities into consideration.”

This brief alternative history to the film is vital if we are to grasp any lessons from it for today. The screening of the film at the Pentagon in 2003 and the racial logic of the “War on Terror” have sought to control the memory of The Battle of Algiers and, at the same time, have negated the central questions and concerns that decolonization, Black Power and the Third World Project sought to address: structural global inequality, racial capitalism resulting in wealth and resource exploitation of the non-white world; the policing and containment of Black life, continued military interventions into and destabilization of the Third World; and deeply entrenched asymmetries in diplomatic, political, and economic power between the West and the Global South. It is these structural violences that now sit at the heart of the “War on Terror,” and it is their systematic silencing of which The Battle of Algiers continues to be a haunting reminder.

Excerpt reprinted by permission from the University of Minnesota Press from Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue by Sohail Daulatzai (Forerunners: Ideas First series). Copyright 2016 by Sohail Daulatzai.

Sohail Daulatzai is the author of four books including Fifty Years of “The Battle of Algiers”: Past as Prologue and Return of the Mecca: The Art of Islam and Hip-Hop. More of his work can be found at Follow him @SohailDaulatzai.


Die-Hard Donald Trump Supporters Want to Be Trump

Posted on Oct 10, 2016

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Back in the 1960s when the James Bond craze hit the US and even President Jack Kennedy revealed that he liked Ian Fleming’s thrillers, I remember reading an interesting essay on the reason for the character’s popularity.

After all, James Bond is not in fact very likeable.  The books are horribly misogynist.  Bond is a grim bureaucrat who has no life apart from his grisly work.  Even his occasional forays into glamour or trips abroad are actually work.  He is a licensed serial killer.  In the films, he has had 52 lovers, 2/3rds of whom tried to kill him.

Why in the world, the essayist wondered, would people want to spend time reading about this character or watching him on screen.

The perspicacious conclusion was that people (probably meaning men for the most part; it was the ’60s) did not want to be friends with James Bond.  They wanted to be James Bond.

And after all that is often the role of a celebrity, to create a persona for others to imitate (i.e. to engage in cosplay).

Donald Trump is no James Bond, lacking the latter’s courage or patriotism; and although Bond was horrible to women he wasn’t as bad or as vulgar as Trump.

But I nevertheless think that the men who back Trump no matter what are doing so because the celebrity real estate speculator and name-licenser provides them with an opportunity for ego inflation.  By backing Trump , they are participating vicariously in the wealthy businessman’s persona.  They can imagine themselves in the stretch limousine, they can imagine themselves putting China’s Xi Jinping in his place, they imagine never again paying taxes, they can imagine themselves having cocktails with models in the penthouse, perhaps the most despicable of them wish they could assault women with impunity.

Although among general voters nearly as many want Trump to withdraw as want him to stay in the race.  But among the Republican rank and file, 77% say they want him to stay in the race.

They can’t possibly want to go for a beer with Trump.  They can’t possibly find him likeable.  They are engaged in cosplay.  They want to *be* Trump.  The men, especially, aren’t bothered by the video in which Trump speaks vulgarly of women and talks about kissing and fondling them without their permission.  In a very dangerous way, Trump is modeling for them what white male privilege means to him.

Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold: Reveries of The Connected World

Exploring the origins and impact of the Internet

By Kevin Reed
8 October 2016

German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s new documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of The Connected World was released in August at select theatres across the US and for home viewing from various on-demand services. The movie—which examines the origins and implications of the Internet and related technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things and space travel—has received generally favorable reviews following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in late January.

Lo and Behold

The work is divided into ten segments with titles like “The Early Days,” “The Glory of the Net” and “The Future,” with Herzog serving as narrator. Through a series of interviews, the director stitches his disparate topics together to explain something about how the Internet and World Wide Web were created and then to paint a troubling picture of the globally interconnected landscape.

The movie begins with a visit to the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the birthplace—along with the Stanford Research Institute—of the Internet. The first interviewee is Leonard Kleinrock, one of the research scientists responsible for the development of the precursor of the Internet called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network of the US Defense Department). At age 82, Kleinrock is obviously thrilled at the opportunity to describe how the first-ever electronic message was transmitted between two points on the network.

As he opens a cabinet of early Internet hardware called a “packet switch,” Kleinrock describes in detail the events of October 29, 1969 at 10:30 pm. As the UCLA sender began typing the word “login”—and checking by telephone with his counterpart at Stanford University—only the first two characters of the message were successfully transmitted before his computer crashed. Despite this seemingly failed communication attempt, Kleinrock explains that “Lo” was an entirely appropriate word for the accomplishment. “It was from here,” he says, “that a revolution began.”

With Herzog occasionally interjecting off-camera during the interviews, the director’s goal seems clear enough. He wants the audience to share his sense of wonder and amazement at the transformative impact of the Internet. This is reinforced by equally intriguing interviews with several others who participated in the birth of the Net. The enthusiasm—and clarity on complex topics—expressed by these pioneers leaves one with a desire to hear more of their stories of discovery and progress.

As the film goes on, however, it emerges that Herzog has another plan; he abandons any historically logical accounting of the Internet and begins eclectically focusing on its various byproducts and offshoots, limitations and negative consequences. Herzog’s interview with Ted Nelson—a philosopher and sociologist credited with theoretically anticipating the World Wide Web and coining the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia”—becomes the starting point for these wanderings.

Werner Herzog in 2007 (Photo: Erinc Salor)

As a student at Harvard University, Ted Nelson began working in 1960 on a computer system called Project Xanadu that he conceived of as “a digital repository scheme for world-wide electronic publishing.” Nelson also wrote an important book in 1974 entitled Computer Lib/Dream Machines, a kind of manifesto for hobbyists on the social and revolutionary implications of the personal computer.

Although it is left unexplained in the film, the Internet is the technical infrastructure upon which the World Wide Web was developed beginning in 1989. Ever since the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web, Nelson has been a public critic of its structure and implementation, especially HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). He has called HTML a gross oversimplification of his pioneering ideas and said that it “trivializes our original hypertext model with one-way, ever-breaking links and no management of version or contents.”

Why is it that HTML and the World Wide Web emerged as the dominant graphical layer of the Internet as opposed to a competing set of ideas? Is it possible that a solution more comprehensive, expressing more completely the potential of the technology and more effective and useful could have been adopted instead?

One aspect of the rapid global adoption of the World Wide Web—originally created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 at CERN in Switzerland—was the open access policy of its inventor. As Berners-Lee, who is also interviewed in the film, has explained, “Had the technology been proprietary, and in my total control, it would probably not have taken off. You can’t propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it.” However, while the non-proprietary nature of Berners-Lee’s creation was a significant factor in its success, it does not automatically follow that the core technology of the World Wide Web represented an advance over the ideas represented by others such as Ted Nelson.

These are important and complex questions that have been repeated again and again in the evolution of the information revolution of the past half-century, the further exploration of which would point to fundamental problems of modern technology, i.e. the contradiction between “what is possible” versus “what is required” within the economic and political framework of global capitalist society.

Showing little interest in exploring these matters more deeply, Lo and Behold goes on to present Nelson—a gifted but socially awkward man—as something of a high-tech Don Quixote. Herzog concludes the interview with the quip, “To us you appear to be the only one around who is clinically sane.”

Lo and Behold

Having made nearly forty documentaries in his five-decade career, Herzog is accomplished at gaining access to people with compelling stories to tell. The interview with Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, raises important points. A consistently outspoken opponent of artificial intelligence, Musk makes the following warning: “[I]f you were running a hedge fund or private equity fund and all I want my AI to do is maximize the value of my portfolio, then AI could decide to short consumer stocks, go long on defense stocks, and start a war. Ah, and that obviously would be quite bad.”

This possible scenario under capitalism is not explored any further. While the US military is never specifically mentioned, it is remarkable that the only reference to war in the course of a 98-minute critical look at modern technology comes from a billionaire entrepreneur. Above all, Musk’s comments show that the new technologies by themselves bring no fundamental change to the class relations within capitalist society; indeed the Internet and artificial intelligence in the hands of the ruling elite enable a further and accelerated integration of financial parasitism and imperialist war.

Given that Lo and Behold is sponsored by Netscout Systems, a major corporate supplier of networking hardware and software, it is possible that such topics were off limits. However, the lack of a broader or coherent critical perspective is not something new for Werner Herzog.

While he made some interesting and disturbing fiction films in the 1970s (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Stroszek in particular), the end of the period of radicalization had an impact on Herzog, as it did on other New German Cinema directors like R. W. Fassbinder, Wim Wenders and Volker Schlöndorff. There was always an overwrought element in Herzog’s work and an emphasis on physical or spiritual excess, without much reference to the content of the action.

In media interviews about his latest film, Herzog has been careful to explain that he does not blame technology itself for the aberrations depicted. “The Internet is not good or evil, dark or light hearted,” he says, “it is human beings” that are the problem. Following the advice of experts, Herzog suggests that people need some kind of “filter” to help them use the technology appropriately.

Leaving things so very much at the level of the individual does not begin to get at the source of the contradiction between the positive and destructive potential of modern technology. This contradiction, so clearly demonstrated during World War II with nuclear technology, is itself an expression of the alternatives facing mankind of socialism versus barbarism.

Lack of an understanding about—or refusal to acknowledge—the deeper social and class interests embedded in the forms of human technology leads to only two possible conclusions: (1) the utopian idea that technology develops automatically without wars and crisis toward the improvement of mankind, or (2) the dystopian belief that technological advancement always develops without any hope of revolutionary transformation of society in the direction of an existential threat to humanity. While Herzog and his producers believe they have provided a balanced perspective between these two, in the end, Lo and Behold comes down on the latter side.


Loving, The Birth of a Nation: Distinct approaches to historical events

By Joanne Laurier
1 October 2016

This is the third in a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto International Film Festival (September 8-18). Part 1 was posted September 27 and Part 2 on September 20.


A number of films offered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year dramatized significant historical or political episodes. The distinct and even opposed approaches to the events reveal something about contemporary social reality and also something about the social layer making films, and its contradictory evolution.

A portion of the artists are being propelled by the current crisis to consider more carefully the questions that really matter, while another group is ever more consumed by identity politics and the pursuit of personal celebrity and wealth.

One of the best films in the category of “historical dramatizations,” if not in the festival as a whole, was Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, 2011;Mud, 2012; Midnight Special, 2016).

The landmark Mildred and Richard Loving case in Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s ultimately led to the striking down of state laws banning interracial marriage in the US. Politically and legally momentous, the Loving story is also a testament to the profoundly humane potential of the American working class and its deep feeling for fairness.

In the present political and ideological context, the determined struggle of the Lovings—Mildred was black and Native American and Richard white—for their basic rights cuts across and threatens to shatter the racialist narrative that is being so widely and noxiously promoted. One can anticipate that Nichols’ movie will be attacked as “color-blind,” one of the gravest insults in some circles today, by the identity politics crowd. Arguments for separating the races are increasingly the norm within the “left.”

Loving refutes the view that race is the fundamental dividing line in society. It fulfills this task with sensitivity and inspired performances.

The courtship of Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), an 18-year-old black woman, nicknamed “String Bean,” and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a 23-year-old white construction worker sporting a crew-cut, is an intense affair. They live in rural Caroline Country in Virginia, a state that bars interracial marriages. When Mildred becomes pregnant, the “loving” couple drives to Washington, D.C. to get married. The year is 1958.


A few weeks later, local Sheriff Garnett Brooks (Marton Csokas) and his deputies break into the Lovings’ bedroom in the middle of the night. Mildred calmly but anxiously explains to the hate-filled cop that “I’m his wife.” Richard points to the marriage license hanging on the wall. The sheriff growls that the couple was born in the wrong place. (“God made a sparrow a sparrow and a robin a robin.”) Richard and Mildred are thrown into jail—he for one night, she for several days.

The Lovings are brought before local Judge Bazile (David Jensen) who rules, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Mildred and Richard are convicted of the felony crime of “miscegenation.” To avoid spending a year in jail, they plead guilty and are given a 25-year suspended sentence on condition they leave the state.

Separated from their families in Virginia, Mildred and Richard move to a working class neighborhood in D.C. Mildred is miserable and misses the open country and the feel of grass and soil under her feet. As her family grows—the couple now has three children—so does her discontent. After she sees scenes of the mammoth August 1963 “March on Washington” on television, Mildred, counseled by her cousin, writes to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who forwards the letter to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Lovings are contacted by ACLU lawyer Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll), and eventually his colleague Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass).

For Mildred, the final straw is her son being struck and injured by a car on a crowded city street. The Loving family moves back to Caroline County (northeast of Richmond), despite the risk of imprisonment. Cohen and Hirschkop file a motion on behalf of the Lovings in the Virginia trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the grounds that the violated statutes run counter to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (which addresses citizenship rights and equal protection under the law). The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals subsequently upholds the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation laws. Mildred states quietly but firmly: “It’s a principle. It’s a law. If we win we will help a lot of people.” And further on: “We may lose the small battles but win the big war.”

The Lovings, supported by the ACLU, appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court in 1967. Despite the urging of their lawyers, Mildred and Richard do not attend the oral arguments in Washington. Richard is fed up. After nearly 10 years of dealing with the legal system, he simple wants the justices to know that “I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” His simple declaration creates one of the film’s most tender and devastating moments.

Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967

The high court rules unanimously in favor of the Lovings, striking down Virginia’s law, and ending the ban on interracial marriages nationwide. Chief Justice Earl Warren, in his opinion for the unanimous court, observed, “Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival … The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.”

Loving ’s postscript notes sadly that Richard was killed in 1975 by a drunk driver. Mildred lost her eye in the collision. She died in 2008.

Nichols’ film is an understated and restrained but powerful dramatization of a case that vanquished the anti-miscegenation statutes. Those represented, as the Lovings’ lawyers argued before the Supreme Court, perhaps the last vestiges of “slavery laws” in the US. Virginia’s law was adopted in 1662, remaining in force for more than 300 years. The outcome of the 1967 case was a byproduct of the mass struggles of the period. Loving retells the case as social upheaval is once again on the horizon.

The Birth of a Nation

Writer/director Nate Parker’s film The Birth of a Nation treats the immensely important 1831 slave rebellion, also in Virginia, led by Nat Turner. Parker borrows the title of his movie from the D.W. Griffith 1915 epic that propagandized for racism and the Ku Klux Klan.

Parker claims that his directorial debut amounts to the reclamation of a critical episode in American history. Unfortunately, Parker has accomplished no such thing. He has simply put a plus sign where Griffith placed a minus, and a minus where Griffith placed a plus. While the 1915 film depicted blacks as savage and semi-human, the new work makes the whites into monsters in a thoroughly ahistorical and untruthful manner. Of course, a film that sides with the victims of slavery is a decided step forward, but crudity and stereotypes are no use to anyone. In Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, black saints and white devils fight it out with God on the side of the angels.

Nat Turner (Parker himself) is born into slavery in Southampton County in southeastern Virginia in 1800. The movie’s opening sequence shows Turner’s African ancestors ritualistically anointing him a prophet and mythic warrior. He is the property of the Turner family, and as a boy is taught to read by Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller), whose son Samuel (Armie Hammer) takes over the plantation when his father dies.

Nat is given a Bible and eventually becomes a preacher known for his fiery oratory. Attending a slave auction with his master Samuel, he slyly convinces the latter to purchase Cherry (Aja Naomi King), whom he will wed.

The Birth of a Nation

Hoping to overcome financial difficulties, Samuel rents out Nat to preach compliance to slaves on other plantations. As Nat witnesses their cruel treatment and the rape of women slaves, his hatred builds up and boils over into rebellion in the year 1831. The slave-rebels kill some 60 white men, women and children before they are bloodily suppressed. In fact, some 200 blacks, many of whom had nothing to do with the revolt, were killed in the reprisals.

Parker’s film is simplistic and emotive. Above all, it does not emerge out of broad historical or social understanding or sentiment. The filmmakers do not see the Turner uprising in the continuum of the struggle for human liberation against all forms of oppression, against class society, but in purely racialist and parochial terms, in line with the outlook of identity politics. If one were to takeThe Birth of a Nation at face value, the brutality of chattel slavery arose out of the personal sadism and psychopathology of the white race, or at least the Southern white population. This is misleading and dangerous.

As we have previously explained, Marxists identify the existence of slavery in the US as bound up with the global development of capitalism. Is Parker an opponent of the American profit system? On the contrary, he seems quite satisfied with the system on the whole. Therefore, at best, his opposition to slavery has a very limited character. It means he is against oppression of certain types, where he feels a personal stake, but not other types. This lack of depth and commitment makes itself felt in the drama.

Moreover, the depiction of whites as mere brutes raises numerous questions. When did whites in America stop being brutes, or did they ever? Films like this are intended to deliver a definite message: the American people are incapable of humanity and solidarity, their entire history is simply a dark and bloody one. Therefore, to speak of a united, revolutionary struggle against the existing system, when the mass of the people are hopeless racists or accomplices of racism, is simply grotesque.

Only the most pessimistic conclusions can be drawn on the basis of this sort of outlook. Or, more to the point, the answer from the point of view of Parker and many like him clearly lies in African Americans uniting across class lines and using whatever moral and political force they have to extract concessions from the barbaric majority.

But the entire perspective is false. Slavery was not, as Parker and others would have it, America’s “original sin.” Karl Marx elaborated on slavery’s place in history in Capital: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” These “idyllic proceedings,” he explained, were key moments in the primitive accumulation of capital. Cotton was one of the critical commodities in the industrialization of England.

It is a fact that Turner’s uprising inspired both black and white abolitionists. The rebellion contributed to the coming three decades later of the second American Revolution, the Civil War.

Only months before Turner’s rebellion, William Lloyd Garrison had started publishing his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, in Boston. Frederick Douglass later termed the black Union soldier the spiritual descendant of Nat Turner—a patriot who “struck the first blow for freedom.”

In The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory, author Scot French writes: “In an 1881 speech at Harpers Ferry, Frederick Douglass recalled that John Brown made reference to Turner in their first meeting: ‘He held that there was need of something startling; that slavery had come near to being abolished in Virginia by the Nat Turner insurrection, and he thought his method would speedily put an end to it, both in Maryland and Virginia.’”

French further observes: “That Lincoln knew about the Southampton insurrection is documented in his campaign speech of 1860; that he had Nat Turner in mind as he drafted the preliminary [Emancipation] proclamation in 1862 is documented by his biographers: ‘George Bancroft, the historian, at the White House found the President ‘turning in his thoughts the question of a slave insurrection.’”

The uprising also inspired the famed fictionalized account, The Confessions of Nat Turner, by William Styron, which was an immense success upon its publication in 1967.

While Parker and company have little or no class consciousness, Turner had an instinctive. elemental understanding of social class. An article in American Heritage tellingly points out that Turner and his rebels “even spared a few homesteads, one because Turner believed the poor white inhabitants ‘thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes.’”

In short, Parker’s film foregoes an honest historical account of a crucial episode, in favor of an ahistorical, quasi-religious “black savior” narrative. Without doubt his The Birth of a Nation will satisfy the racialist cravings of the #OscarSoWhite crowd. But what it unfortunately will not do is shed much useful light on the Nat Turner rebellion.