May a word be spoken on behalf of Kevin Spacey?

By David Walsh
1 November 2017

American actor Kevin Spacey is one of the most gifted and significant performers of his generation. He has been nominated more than 80 times for awards for acting in film, television and theater. Spacey has won over 50 awards, including two Academy Awards, a Tony Award and a Golden Globe Award. He has also been nominated for a Grammy Award, as well as eleven Primetime Emmy Awards.

Kevin Spacey

Born in 1959 into a lower middle-class family in South Orange, New Jersey and having grown up in southern California, Spacey attended the Julliard School from 1979-81. His first professional acting work was with the New York Shakespeare Festival, in a small part in Henry VI, Part 1, in 1981. His initial Broadway appearance came in Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, featuring Liv Ullmann, in 1982. He made his film debut in Mike Nichols’ Heartburn in 1986.

In one of his first substantial acting efforts, Spacey performed in director Jonathan Miller’s version of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1986, which starred Jack Lemmon. Spacey was to appear with Lemmon, whom he considered a mentor and to whom he became close, on a number of occasions. They both featured in The Murder of Mary Phagan (1988), a television miniseries about the infamous 1913 Leo Frank case, and the film version of David Mamet’s caustic play about the real estate trade, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). In 1991, Spacey played famed lawyer and civil libertarian Clarence Darrow in a television movie (Darrow).

Spacey came to national and international prominence in the mid-1990s, in such films as Swimming with Sharks (1994), The Usual Suspects (1995) and Se7en (1995). By the time he received an Academy Award for Sam Mendes’s American Beauty (1999), the versatile Spacey had become one of the most recognizable American movie actors. He continued his film work into the new century, co-writing, co-producing, directing and starring in Beyond the Sea(2004), about singer Bobby Darin.

Spacey had meanwhile become involved in the theater in London. In 2003, he announced his plan to become the artistic director of the Old Vic, one of the city’s oldest theaters. He undertook to remain in the position for 10 years and to attract performers to the theater and appear in various productions.

True to his word, in 2005, for example, Spacey played the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard II, directed by Trevor Nunn. The following year he appeared at the Old Vic in O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. Other plays in which he performed there included Inherit the Wind (Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee), Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, Maria Goos’ Cloaca, Shakespeare’s Richard III and a single-character play by David Rintels, Clarence Darrow. A new artistic director took over from Spacey in 2015.

In recent years, Spacey has made a new name for himself as Frank Underwood, the conniving and conspiratorial South Carolina politician, in the Netflix series, House of Cards (2013-17). Whatever Spacey’s own political illusions (he considers himself a friend of former president Bill Clinton), the Underwood character has done a good deal to undermine illusions in the corrupt, murderous world of Washington politics.

Spacey brings considerable intelligence and depth, combined often with irony and slyness, to both classical and popular genres. Is there any question but that film, television and theater would have been tangibly poorer without his presence over the past quarter-century?

Now, at least for the time being, Spacey’s career lies in ruins. On Sunday, actor Anthony Rapp, for reasons best known to himself, accused Spacey in an interview of making sexual advances to him some thirty years ago when he was 14 and Spacey was 26.

The accusation comes in the midst of escalating charges of sexual harassment and abuse set off by the allegations by numerous women against Harvey Weinstein and various others, including writer-director James Toback.

In his statement, Spacey said, “I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”

He continued, “As those closest to me know, in my life, I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic relationships with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man.”

Not only is Spacey being denounced for his actions several decades ago, he is also being criticized for the decision to acknowledge his sexual orientation at the same time he apologized for the alleged offense.

With characteristic bravery, Netflix first announced that the sixth season of House of Cards, currently under production, would be its last, claiming that the cancellation had nothing to do with Spacey’s difficulties. On Tuesday Netflix and Media Rights Capital, the series’ production company, announced that filming on the sixth season itself had been suspended. Their press announcement explained that the suspension would last “until further notice” and that the two companies needed “time to review the current situation and to address any concerns of our cast and crew.” They are no longer pretending that the allegation about Spacey is not causing the series’ hold-up.

The International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced that it was withdrawing the special International Emmy Founders Award it was planning to bestow on Spacey at a ceremony November 20 “in light of recent events.” And more is undoubtedly to come.

The Old Vic was quick to throw Spacey to the wolves, issuing a statement indicating that “we are deeply dismayed to hear the allegations levied against Kevin Spacey… Inappropriate behaviour by anyone working at The Old Vic is completely unacceptable.”

The current public flogging of Spacey is as shameful as it is disgusting. The incident that allegedly occurred more than three decades ago should not have happened. Even if he is culpable of improper behavior, however, that in no way justifies the current vindictive, gleeful effort to rub him out, a campaign that a Frank Underwood might well have mapped out.

The universal piling on, sanctimonious commentary and hypocritical tweets (“Twitter slams Kevin Spacey,” according to Salon) are difficult to bear. In terms of the media, there is not much to choose from between fascistic Breitbart News, warming its hands over the allegations against gay or liberal and often Jewish Hollywood, and the New York Times, with its salacious and degenerate editors.

The Times writes approvingly of “those who might have supported him [but] were instead incensed by the implication that his sexuality was relevant to” Rapp’s accusations. “They saw his coming out story as an intentional distraction from the accusation and a damaging conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia.”

We live once again in an era of denunciations, which have the power to wreck lives overnight. And everyone is expected to chime in. Those who do not do so become suspect themselves and are liable to be denounced. Careers, status and wealth are on the line. The threat of being out of the limelight terrifies actors, directors and producers in the US perhaps more than anything.

In the official narrative, there is an almost complete absence of understanding and elementary sympathy. The accused is a criminal, a monster, who must be destroyed.

Hollywood is a competitive hothouse, where at the best of times a deeply subjective atmosphere prevails that is ripe for this sort of scandal. Now it’s payback time. Frankly, career disappointments, relationships that failed and a host of other frustrations and jealousies fuel the frenzy. Old scores of various sorts, including financial ones, are being settled, and new business arrangements formed in the midst of all this. The canny are sizing up how money is to be made under conditions of the “new morality.”

Sex scandals have invariably been the province of the far right. Nothing remotely progressive will come out of this. A revived Production Code, a clampdown on “licentiousness” in films and filmmaking (which is always accompanied by the suppression of oppositional views), more powers to the censors, appointed and self-appointed—this is what’s likely to emerge at the other end of this miserable process. The dominance of power and wealth, the source of the real abuses and crimes, goes untouched.

Once again it’s “scoundrel time.” The film world, it is clear now, has learned nothing from the McCarthyite period. The same essential modus operandi is at work: the naming of names, the guilt by association, witnesses who can’t be questioned, the right-wing forces who weigh in, the studios that instantly blacklist those accused.

This is already another shameful episode in Hollywood’s history. Later on, perhaps years from now, there will be expressions of regret (“Oh, yes, mistakes were made. There were unfortunate excesses”); Spacey may even be forgiven. Perhaps at a future Academy Awards ceremony he can come before an audience of the same people who drove him out, and exclaim through gritted teeth, like Charlie Chaplin at the 1972 Oscars, after his exile of twenty years, “You’re wonderful, sweet people.”

We argued when the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted that this was not simply about Weinstein, that something else was going on, that something else was moving through this affair. Weinstein’s piggishness and wrongdoing were merely a pretext for the flourishing of all sorts of unhealthy, reactionary issues and pressures. The assault on Spacey is confirmation of that view.

We don’t make any bones about our sympathy with Kevin Spacey and our contempt for those inciting denunciations and urging on the witch-hunting hysteria.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/11/01/spac-n01.html

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Season 4 of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman: Social and individual psychology

By Josh Varlin
25 October 2017

Netflix released season 4 of its original series BoJack Horseman onSeptember 8, continuing the sometimes comic, often tragic saga of eponymous character BoJack Horseman, a washed-up actor struggling with mental illness, the remnants of his receding fame and his self-destructive behavior.

BoJack Horseman takes place in an alternate version of Hollywood (“Hollywoo,” after BoJack stole the D in the sign in season 1), where about half of the characters are anthropomorphic animals. As in prior seasons, the ensemble cast and the voice acting are remarkable, with BoJack (Will Arnett) joined by his former agent and ex-girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his friend Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), his former friend Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul) and his friend and current candidate for governor of California, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins).

The show’s animation is colorful and attractive, in some ways contrasting with the often devastating content. The jokes are usually clever, and the numerous sight gags are one of the show’s subtle strengths.

Beatrice, Hollyhock and Bojack in Bojack Horseman

Season 4 picks up where season 3 left off: BoJack, having nearly committed suicide after finding out he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar and being involved in the overdose death of his friend/former co-star, leaves Los Angeles. His friends move on, with Mr. Peanutbutter roped into running for governor against the incumbent Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz (Andre Braugher) and Princess Carolyn in a surprisingly happy relationship with Ralph Stilton (Raúl Esparza), while Todd explores his realization that he is asexual.

Overall, the season is an advance in many ways over season 3. At the end of season 3 this reviewer was concerned that BoJack Horseman ran the risk of establishing a seasonal pattern of BoJack trying but failing to find happiness, his friends trying and failing to help him and then becoming alienated from him, and BoJack reaching new lows near the end of each season.

Season 4 breaks the mold in this regard. While the stories are more disjointed and there is unfortunately very little examination of Hollywoo(d), the emotional developments are much more interesting. (Readers who do not want to have major season 4 plot points spoiled for them are advised to stop here.)

The season begins with Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign for governor, which is stage-managed by his corporate-connected ex-wife and causes tensions with liberal-minded Diane, especially after he mistakenly comes out in favor of fracking and has to put his money where his mouth is by fracking underneath their house.

While there are some healthy criticisms of American politics and its domination by money and celebrity—Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign manager says, “[This election] is about hope and freedom, and powerful lobbyists who pay me to elect a governor I can control, so that we can get legislation passed that builds private prisons on what we now call protected wetlands”—ultimately the population tends to be blamed for the current situation.

This season’s BoJack-related story threads focus more on his family and family history, exploring how and why he is so self-destructive. BoJack is introduced to a teenager, Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), who claims to be his daughter and demands to see her grandmother. Beatrice Horseman (Wendie Malick, in an outstanding performance), who has developed severe dementia since BoJack last visited her in the nursing home, becomes a major fixture in his life again.

The most effective episodes of the season, including the traditionally heavy penultimate episode, focus on BoJack’s mother, Beatrice, who we know from previous seasons was in a loveless marriage with BoJack’s father and was emotionally neglectful of BoJack when he was a child. As a result, BoJack resents his mother: “Seeing my mom is like a Terence Malick movie. Every 10 years or so is bearable, but more than that and it starts to get annoying.”

Through flashbacks we see Beatrice’s childhood: her brother was killed in World War II, her mother was devastated by this loss and her wealthy father forced her mother to get a lobotomy. Her father, the owner of a major sugar company, tells Beatrice: “Stop making books your friends. Reading does nothing for young women but build their brains, taking valuable resources away from their breasts and hips.”

Skipping ahead, Beatrice is a Barnard College graduate concerned about the state of the world. The rebellious Butterscotch Horseman crashes her debutante ball, and says he’s moving to California for the Beat poets: “Ginsberg, Cassady, Squirrelinghetti [Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti].” Beatrice falls for him and ends up pregnant with Butterscotch’s child, and they elope to California.

Unable to succeed at writing and initially too proud to accept a well-paid job, Butterscotch blames “Squirrelinghetti and his horde of commie, liberal, Jew-loving rejects.” After working at the fish canning factory for six years, he finally declares: “Fine! I’ll take the corner office, with the company car, six-figure salary, and four weeks paid vacation, but if my novel becomes bad because I no longer remember what it’s like to be working class, we’ll know of whom to be blamed.”

Mr. Peanutbutter running for governor

The Horsemans’ transformation from somewhat liberal and socially concerned to right-wing and heartless—a transformation connected, but not in a mechanical way, to wealth—is one of the more interesting and thoughtful aspects of this season of BoJack Horseman, and makes it stand out in today’s media landscape.

Also of note this season, as in previous seasons, is the show’s treatment of mental illness. One episode in particular, “Stupid Piece of Sh*t,” gives an intense look into BoJack’s mental illness. This episode features his internal monologue, and the opening pre-credits sequence gives an idea of what is dragging BoJack down as he desperately struggles to be a good person.

Other episodes can be more confused, but manage to convey some observations on the entertainment industry. In “Thoughts and Prayers,” for example, movie executives try to find ways of profiting off mass shootings by turning them into a feminist issue—offering only their “thoughts and prayers” but secretly cheering on mass shootings committed by men—only to have it blow up in their face when a woman commits a mass shooting. Overall, however, this is BoJack Horseman’s strongest season yet.

In a few short episodes, BoJack Horseman manages to say a great deal about the way social relations and broader processes are refracted individually. All the backwardness, stupidity, wealth, pain, mental illness and oppression bearing down on society has a devastating and often tragic impact on individuals.

BoJack Horseman’s ability to alternate between the tragic and the comic continues to yield some of the best television on offer today. This season ends on an unusually optimistic note for BoJack, with his attempts to become a better person yielding fruit even as his friends’ relationships collapse. One hopes that season 5, which has already been announced, will continue to break new dramatic ground.

WSWS

Star Trek: Discovery—The latest incarnation of the popular science fiction series

By Tom Hall
18 October 2017

Star Trek: Discovery, the seventh series in the long-running Star Trek television and movie franchise, premiered September 24 on CBS.

Set in the far future, in the mid-23rd century, shortly before the events of the original series released in 1966, Discovery follows the exploits of Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a female Starfleet officer serving aboard first the USS Shenzhou and later the USS Discovery in the midst of a war between the United Federation of Planets and the nefarious Klingon Empire.

When we first meet commander Burnham she is on a humanitarian mission with her mentor, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), the captain of the Shenzhou. Burnham’s promising career, however, is nearly ruined in the course of an encounter between the Shenzhou and the Klingons, with whom Starfleet has had no significant contact for generations.

The Klingons turn out to be a group of religious fanatics dedicated to uniting their long-fragmented empire through a religious war against the Federation. Meanwhile, Burnham, who was raised on planet Vulcan by the diplomat Sarek (James Frain), becomes convinced after consulting her stepfather that the only way to gain the Klingons’ respect and avoid an all-out war is to fire unprovoked on the Klingon vessel. Burnham attempts unsuccessfully to take control of the ship and fire on the Klingons herself and is arrested as a mutineer.

Doug Jones and Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery

Several months later, with the Federation embroiled in an all-out war with the Klingons, Burnham is on board a prison transport that breaks down and gets rescued by Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) of the USS Discovery, which is conducting top-secret military research. Burnham is dragooned into working on the project, whose ultimate aim is kept hidden from her.

She eventually deduces that Lorca is developing a banned biological weapon to use against the Klingons. However, when Lorca explains its purposes, including significant civilian applications, Burnham overcomes her initial hesitations and joins the crew of Discovery. The rest of the series deals with her trials and tribulations while fighting the Klingons.

The writing, acting and directing on Star Trek: Discovery is, to put it bluntly, poor. None of the actions the characters take that set into motion the key events of the series make much sense. Why would the Klingons, for instance, who have been supposedly consumed by infighting for decades, decide suddenly to band together against the Federation after a five-minute conversation with a cult leader? How exactly is firing on the Klingons supposed to keep the peace, and why would Burnham or anyone else find this to be plausible?

The dialogue is stilted and clichéd. “I forgot who said statues are crystallized spirituality,” Burnham says to no one in particular after encountering decorative sculptures on the Klingon vessel. An anonymous crewman wanders into Shenzhou’s brig during the climactic battle and asks Burnham, unprompted, “Why are we fighting? We’re explorers.”

The tone of the show is relentlessly grim, from the darkly lit corridors on the various spaceships and the goblin-like Klingons who grunt their lines (delivered in “Klingon” and interpreted for the viewer by subtitles), to the gratuitous violence and furrowed brows and grimaces on everyone’s faces intended to demonstrate the seriousness of the proceedings. The unnaturally cheerful cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who would be irritating under ordinary circumstances, provides some welcome and desperately needed levity.

Star Trek: Discovery

The show’s premise amounts to a pro-war science fiction parable that parrots all the lies with which Washington has sought to justify numerous imperialist crimes over the past quarter century. The Klingons, a warrior society modeled by the writers of previous shows on feudal Japan, and who had gained a certain psychological complexity in their depiction by the premiere of Deep Space 9 in 1993, are here reduced to sub-human religious fanatics, portrayed in a similar fashion to Islamic terrorists in numerous Hollywood blockbusters.

Burnham’s actions in the first two episodes in particular are effectively an explicit endorsement of the doctrine of pre-emptive war, i.e., there is no use negotiating with our enemies, because violence is the only language they understand.

Since first premiering in 1966, Star Trek has become something of a mass phenomenon, with tens of millions of fans throughout the world. Appearances by the former stars of the various Star Trek shows at annual conventions continue to attract significant audiences.

The principal reason for this enduring popularity has been the franchise’s optimistic view of the future and its willingness to grapple with serious human problems. By the 23rd century, in the show’s future history, all of the basic problems of contemporary society, including war, poverty and racial and national divisions, have long since been overcome. The international cooperation among the crew members of the Enterprise suggested that the wars and conflicts of the 20th century, far from representing the essential rottenness of humanity, as has become almost an article of faith in certain artistic circles, would eventually be discarded in the further social and technological development of human civilization.

Originally produced in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, Star Trek also became the first TV show to cast a black woman, Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, in a leading role. Martin Luther King, according to Nichols, was a fan of the show and urged her to continue on the show when she was thinking about quitting.

Star Trek could always be wildly uneven, even campy, but at its best, the show was capable of fairly pointed social commentary, or of exploring difficult ethical or philosophical questions. The conceit of a number of episodes was that 20th century problems, because they were grappled with by culturally more developed 23rd and 24th century humans, could be dealt with at a higher and more clarified level than could be expected in the present.

None of this finds expression thus far in Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, at times that outlook seems more or less consciously repudiated as naive by the goings-on in the show. At one point, a Starfleet admiral declares his commitment to peace only moments before he is incinerated by the Klingons. “Starfleet doesn’t fire first,” Georgiou reminds Burnham, to which the latter replies, “We have to!”

Star Trek: Discovery

In a panel discussion at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, co-creator Alex Kurtzman explained that the “defining factor of [ Star Trek creator Gene] Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future. He envisioned a world where all species, all races came together to not only make our world better, but to make every world better.”

Kurtzman went on, “That being said … we live in very troubled times. … Star Trek has always been a mirror to the time it reflected and right now … the question is how do you preserve and protect what Starfleet is [“national security”!] in the weight of a challenge like war and the things that have to be done in war is a very interesting and dramatic problem. And it feels like a very topical one given the world where we live now.”

Star Trek: Discovery seems to have struck a chord among certain layers. They are particularly enthusiastic that the show’s bloody goings-on center around a black woman in a position of authority. It’s “beautiful,” Daily Beast reviewer Ira Madison III writes, “watching two women of color, black and Asian, navigate a realm that traditionally hasn’t included them.”

On one level, given the history of the Star Trek franchise, and indeed the science fiction genre in general, this is simply absurd. On another level, however, this expresses the essential social outlook of identity politics—an indifference to larger social issues, and support for war, together with a ferocious conflict over the spoils.

WSWS

Behind Trump’s attack on the NFL football players

26 September 2017

Donald Trump’s vulgar and threatening comments about NFL football players have shocked millions of people. However, a focus on the president’s personality traits cannot explain why he provoked a public conflict with these athletes over their involvement in protests against police violence and racism. The reasons must be found in the deepening political crisis of the Trump administration and of American capitalism as a whole. And it is an understanding of this crisis that must guide the actions of working people and youth.

Under conditions of mounting war threats against North Korea; the devastation of Puerto Rico, a US territory, by Hurricane Maria; and the near-collapse of the latest attempt by the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal Obamacare, the US president devoted 12 tweets in 30 hours to the observance of the national anthem at sporting events. No other event warranted such attention.

What took place last weekend arose from a deliberate decision by the president of the United States to weigh in against a long-running campaign of protest against police brutality and violence, especially against African-American youth. Trump sought to provoke as much outrage as possible, particularly among the black athletes, who comprise 75 percent of NFL teams, and in that way arouse his ultra-right and fascistic social base.

Trump does not care that his positions are massively unpopular, or that the players have widespread support. He is not seeking to assemble an electoral or parliamentary majority, but to whip up a lynch-mob atmosphere within a minority of the population, which can be directed towards the violent suppression of any public opposition to the policies of his government, and particularly against opposition to the actions of the police and military.

Trump’s last tweet on Monday morning was perhaps the most brazenly racist, as he hailed the performance of NASCAR race drivers, nearly all white, contrasting the absence of protests at Sunday’s race in New Hampshire to the actions of football players, who protested in large numbers at 15 game sites.

Football players of all races have been justifiably angered by Trump’s demand that NFL owners fire any “son of a bitch” who exercises his right of free speech. But the vulgar language is more than just insulting. It has ominous overtones. Trump is inviting and justifying in advance the use of violence against those who protest police killings, and by extension, anyone who protests against the policies of his administration.

The president used similar language while he was a candidate to encourage violence against those who sought to take a public stand against his ultra-right campaign. In several well-publicized incidents, his supporters took his suggestion and punched, beat or otherwise set upon anti-Trump protesters. In some cases, guns were drawn.

Trump is following a sinister example. Forty-seven years ago, President Richard Nixon used similar language to denounce protesters against the War in Vietnam, declaring that students opposing his decision to expand the war by sending US troops into Cambodia were “bums.” Three days after this remark, on May 4, 1970, National Guard troops opened fire on peaceful protesters at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four students.

It is not just a matter of distant historical precedent. One of Trump’s longstanding political cronies and advisers, Roger Stone, got his start in capitalist politics as a “dirty tricks” operative for Nixon. Trump’s first political mentor, attorney Roy Cohn, played a central role, alongside Nixon and Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s. Trump’s speechwriters have modeled many of his appeals on Nixon’s claims to represent a “silent majority,” while his political operation has reprised Nixon’s “southern strategy,” aiming to capitalize on the backward and reactionary traditions of the southern “Bible Belt.”

Liberal media critics have bemoaned Trump’s denunciation of the football players, as well as his war of words with top NBA basketball players Stephen Curry and LeBron James, calling his rhetoric “divisive.” But it is intentionally so. Trump is making a deliberate appeal to racial and other forms of bigotry, including misogyny and anti-gay bias, as well as prejudice against immigrants and refugees. He issued his stream of tweets against the athletes on the eve of his administration announcing a new travel ban, adding North Korea and Venezuela to the list of predominantly Muslim countries targeted in the initial executive order.

More fundamentally, Trump and those aides who have publicly defended his attacks on the athletes are demanding absolute public conformity in relation to the US military and police. As Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday, “This is about respect for the military, the first responders.” This is particularly imperative in relation to nationally televised sporting events like NFL games, which have long been venues for celebrations of militarism, with flyovers by fighter jets and ceremonies featuring color guards and gigantic flags.

Like Nixon during the Vietnam era, Trump is seeking to mobilize right-wing forces on the basis of chauvinism to suppress widespread popular opposition to war. At that time, Nixon’s efforts culminated in the Watergate scandal and his own forced resignation to avoid impeachment. Trump faces a different and even more unfavorable political landscape, with American society more deeply divided than ever, not along lines of race or gender, but along class lines: never has the gulf been greater between the super-rich and the vast majority of working people, of all races and ethnic origins.

Trump engages in more open appeals to racism than Nixon because his goal is not the winning of the next presidential election, but the building of an extra-parliamentary movement of the extreme right, based on the police and sections of the military, to establish authoritarian forms of rule.

There is no doubt that the reaction of the players, in uniting broadly to defend their democratic rights, and the widespread popular support for them, reflect the deep-seated allegiance to democratic principles among working people in the United States. Trump has encountered far more hostility than he expected, and on Monday the White House was clearly engaged in a political maneuver to defuse opposition and disguise its real aims.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders opened her press conference with a statement noting that September 25 is the 60th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, one of the seminal events of the civil rights struggles. She sought to fend off a barrage of hostile questions about Trump’s attack on the NFL players, claiming ludicrously that the president “was not against anyone.”

This is only political posturing, however. The real goals of the Trump administration remain as before: continued military buildup; provoking war crises, which threaten to break out into full-scale war, not only with North Korea but with China, Iran and Russia; attacking the democratic rights of the working class; and carrying through the destruction of domestic social programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

The response of the NFL players is a politically healthy sign. It has shocked both the Trump administration and its liberal “critics,” who share a common class allegiance to the interests of Wall Street.

But the defeat of this government requires more than instinctive and politically inchoate resistance. It requires the building of a political movement of the working class to break the grip of the corporate and financial oligarchy and champion its own social interests—for jobs, decent living standards, social benefits, democratic rights, peace—through a socialist program. Only the development of such a class program can counter the appeals of ultra-right and fascist demagogues to nationalism, racism and other forms of bigotry, and unify the entire working class—black, white, native born and immigrant—in a common struggle for social equality.

Patrick Martin

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/09/26/pers-s26.html

There Is No Rehabilitating the Vietnam War

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There is enormous pressure and a lot of money working to rehabilitate Vietnam, to put the guilt and the shame of it behind us. But it was precisely the guilt of the people, their shame at what was being done in their name, and their courage to denounce it that made it impossible for their government to carry out the savagery any longer.

The Vietnam War, writes Freeman, “must be remembered and condemned for the debacle it actually was.” (Image: vietnamfulldisclosure.org)

Since the day it ended, in 1975, there have been efforts to rehabilitate the Vietnam War, to make it acceptable, even honorable.  After all, there were so many sides to the story, weren’t there?  It was so complex, so nuancical.  There was real heroism among the troops.
Of course, all of this is true, but it’s true of every war so it doesn’t redeem any war.  The Vietnam War is beyond redemption and must be remembered and condemned for the calamity that it was.  The Vietnam War was “one of the greatest American foreign policy disasters of the twentieth century.”
Those are not the words of a leftist pundit or a scribbling anti-American.  They are the words of H.R. McMaster, the sitting National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.
Why must Vietnam be remembered and condemned for the debacle it actually was?
“It’s important to remember that neither Vietnam, nor Laos, nor Cambodia for that matter, ever attacked the United States.  They never wanted to attack.  They never tried to attack.  They never had the capacity to attack.  They had simply wanted their own way of life.”
 First, the U.S. betrayed its own ideals in the War. In 1946, Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh approached U.S. president Harry Truman asking for the U.S.’s help in evicting the French who had occupied Vietnam as a colony since the 1860s.  Hadn’t the U.S. itself once fought a war of independence to rid itself of European colonial domination?
Indeed, the opening words to the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence were borrowed in sacramental reverence from the American Declaration.  They echo to every patriotic American: “All men are created equal.  They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But Ho was a communist.  So, Truman turned him down and helped the French instead.  That was the “original sin” that made it impossible for the U.S. to ever “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people.  It is what ultimately doomed the War to failure.  But that wasn’t the only cardinal sin the U.S. committed against its own putative ideals.
Eisenhower violated the 1954 Geneva accords that had settled the war with the French and set up a puppet regime in the south.  Hence “South” Vietnam, which, not surprisingly, quickly disappeared once the Americans left.  He crammed a wealthy Catholic mandarin from New Jersey—Ngo Diem—on the people who were overwhelmingly poor, Buddhist, and peasants.
Diem, with Eisenhower’s blessing, then boycotted the elections for national unification that had been agreed to in the accords.  Eisenhower wrote later that the reason for the boycott was that “Our guys would have lost.”  When Diem could no longer suppress the swelling rebellion against his divisive, hyper-oppressive rule, Kennedy had him assassinated.
Second, the U.S. carried out apocalyptic violence on Vietnam, vastly beyond any conceivable moral standard of proportionality.  It dropped three times more tons of bombs on Vietnam than were used by all sides in all theaters in all of World War II combined.  Vietnam is about the size of New Mexico and at the time had a population greater than New York and California put together.
The U.S. lost 58,000 lives in the War.  But more than four million southeast Asians—Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians—were killed, most of them civilians.  That’s 69 southeast Asians killed for every 1 American.  That is not a war.  That is a massacre, and on a scale approaching the Holocaust.
The U.S. sprayed 21 million gallons of carcinogenic defoliants on Vietnam, including the notorious Agent Orange.  More than half of the nation’s forests were destroyed.  Vietnam was the greatest intentionally man-made environmental catastrophe in the history of the world.  Children are still being born with birth defects from the residual poisoning.
On neighboring Laos, which, in 1965 had a population of 2.4 million, the U.S. dropped 270 million cluster bombs.  That’s 113 cluster bombs for every man, woman, and child in the country.  More than 80 million of the bombs are still unexploded today.
It’s important to remember that neither Vietnam, nor Laos, nor Cambodia for that matter, ever attacked the United States.  They never wanted to attack.  They never tried to attack.  They never had the capacity to attack.  They had simply wanted their own way of life.
Finally, the War was founded on and prosecuted with relentless lying.  Your mother once taught you, as all good mothers do, that if you have to lie about something it’s wrong.
The “intelligence” agencies lied to us, unremittingly, about the threat from a nation of pre-Industrial Age farmers on the other side of the world who, after nearly a century of colonial domination, simply wanted to be left alone by western imperial powers.
Five successive presidents lied to the American people about the need for the War and its likely winnability.  None of them wanted to appear to be “soft on communism.”  None wanted to be “the first American president to lose a war.”
The Pentagon Papers revealed that the military was saturated with lies, from field level body counts to strategic reviews of progress.  Truth tellers were drummed out of the service, ensuring that only lies got passed up the chain.  The lies wouldn’t be discovered until it was too late.
In fact, it is precisely our lying about the Vietnam War, both then and now, and our knowledge of those lies, without ever having openly, unambiguously repudiated them, that continues to make the War seem dishonorable.

The dishonor, of course, belongs not to the millions of soldiers who served there but rather to the War itself. It belongs to the institutions—both public and private—that profited from the War and lied to justify it, and to the people whose silence and knowing acquiescence made them complicit in the lies.

It belongs to those who put our soldiers, our children, in the perverse situation not of doing honorable things honorably, but of having to try to do dishonorable things honorably. For, despite the loftiest motives we might invent for its beginnings, that is unquestionably what the War ultimately became.

In March 1965, before the insertion of American ground troops that would make the War irreversible, before the vast majority of the bombings and killings would be perpetrated, a Pentagon briefing for Johnson stated that the true goals in the War were, “…70% to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat; 20% to keep South Vietnam (and adjacent territories) from Chinese hands; and 10% to permit the people of Vietnam a better, freer way of life.”
That is what the psychotic savagery of Vietnam was all about.  It was not bumbling goodwill gone awry as the rehabilitationists would have us believe.  It was not to bring democracy; not to defend against communism; not to help the Vietnamese people.  It was “to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat.”  Those are the official, though at the time secret, words of the U.S. government.
We can summon an even greater authority than H.R. McMaster to confirm that the War was wrong.  Robert McNamara was the U.S. Secretary of Defense in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  He is the unquestioned architect and chief strategist of the War.
In his memoirs McNamara wrote, “We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation.  We made our decisions in light of those values.  Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong.  We owe it to future generations to explain why.”
There are no two more disparate authorities on the War than these two men.  They represent the old and the new, Democrat and Republican, civilian and soldier, actor and critic, introspective and retrospective.  Yet they reach the same, damning conclusion.
There is enormous pressure and a lot of money working to rehabilitate Vietnam, to put the guilt and the shame of it behind us.  But it was precisely the guilt of the people, their shame at what was being done in their name, and their courage to denounce it that made it impossible for their government to carry out the savagery any longer.  Would that we had that kind of guilt, shame, and courage among us today.
Remember: if we had to lie about it, it was wrong.  That is as true today as it was then, is it not? And wrong does not get made right by the louder or repeated repetition of original lies. Or, by the artful contrivance of newer, slicker, more personable ones.

Forgetting that lesson, or, worse, laundering it out of our memory so that we might go forward with cleansed consciences and fortified zeal for still more predation, would be a betrayal of itself that only the American people can resist.

Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman writes about economics and education. He is the author of The Best One-Hour History series which includes World War I, The Vietnam War, The Cold War, and other titles.

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/24/there-no-rehabilitating-vietnam-war

Trump’s “Mein Kampf” tirade at the United Nations

20 September 2017

The speech delivered Tuesday by Donald Trump to the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York was without precedent either for the UN or the American presidency.

Speaking before a world body ostensibly created to spare humanity the “scourge of war” and founded on the principles elaborated at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders, the American president openly embraced a policy of genocide, declaring that he was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people.

The fact that nobody in the assembly moved for Trump’s arrest as a war criminal, or even told the fascistic bully to sit down and shut up, is a measure of the bankruptcy of the UN itself.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump told the meeting. “Rocket Man [Trump’s imbecilic nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able…”

As with his every public utterance, Trump’s megalomaniacal remarks began with the supposed revival of America’s fortunes since his election last November, which has found expression, he argued, in the Wall Street stock market bubble and the passage of a $700 billion military budget.

At the core of Trump’s speech was the promotion of his “America First” ideology. The US president presented the promotion of nationalism as the solution to all the problems of the planet. “The nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he proclaimed in a speech in which the words “sovereign” or “sovereignty” were repeated 21 times.

While declaring his supposed support for the sovereignty of every nation, Trump made it clear that his administration is prepared to wage war against any nation that fails to bow to Washington’s diktat.

In addition to threatening to incinerate North Korea for testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, he threatened to abrogate the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, describing it as an “embarrassment.’’ He thereby placed the US on the path to war against Iran, whose government he described as a “corrupt dictatorship,” a “rogue state” and a “murderous regime.”

He also singled out Venezuela, declaring that its internal situation “is completely unacceptable, and we cannot stand by and watch.” He added: “The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable. We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded in a tweet, saying that “Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times—not the 21st century UN—unworthy of a reply.”

The foreign minister of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, charged Trump with seeking “regime change by force,” adding that he “wants to rule the world when he can’t even rule his own country.”

Trump made no attempt to explain the glaring contradiction between his invocation of universal national sovereignty and his assertion of US imperialism’s “right” to bomb, invade or carry out regime change against any nation it sees fit.

On the eve of the speech, a senior White House official told reporters that the American president had spent a great deal of time pondering the “deeply philosophical” character of his address.

What rubbish! The speech’s “philosophy,” such as it is, is drawn from the ideology of fascism. Indeed, no world leader has delivered the kind of threat uttered by Trump against the people of North Korea since Adolf Hitler took the podium at the Reichstag in 1939 and threatened the annihilation of Europe’s Jews.

The kind of nationalist doctrine put forward by Trump at the UN distinctly echoes the positions of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. As Leon Trotsky wrote in his 1934 article “Nationalism and Economic Life”:

“Italian fascism has proclaimed national ‘sacred egoism’ as the sole creative factor. After reducing the history of humanity to national history, German fascism proceeded to reduce nation to race and race to blood… The enduring value of the nation, discovered by Mussolini and Hitler, is now set off against the false values of the 19th century: democracy and socialism.”

The parallels are not accidental. The text of the speech bears the visible fingerprints of Trump’s fascistic senior policy advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller, who seems to work best with a volume of Hitler’s Mein Kampf close at hand.

Just as this promotion of reactionary nationalism in the 1930s was the ideological expression of world capitalism’s descent into world war, so it is today.

The threats against North Korea and Iran are bound up with far wider geostrategic aims of US imperialism, as Trump indicated in his oblique denunciation of China and Russia for trading with Pyongyang and his reference to the South China Sea and Ukraine. Moreover, the attacks on Iran and threats to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord are aimed not only against the government in Tehran, but also at Washington’s erstwhile allies in Western Europe, which are already seeking new sources of profit based on trade and investment deals with Iran.

The absence from the UN’s opening session of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was significant. No doubt they had a sense of what was coming and feared the domestic political consequences of being seen as giving legitimacy through their presence in the auditorium to Trump’s diatribe.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke shortly after Trump, delivered a right-wing speech promoting the “war on terrorism,” but was forced to directly oppose the US position on North Korea, warning against military escalation and calling for dialogue. In relation to Iran, he opposed any abrogation of the nuclear treaty. The French media compared the split to the tensions that arose during the Bush administration’s drive to war against Iraq.

The threats today, however, are far greater. Trump’s speech has made it unmistakably clear to the world that the government he heads is comprised of criminals. Having drawn multiple lines in the sand, threatening war on virtually every continent, Trump’s own demagogy leads almost inexorably to escalation and military action.

The speech included a passage warning the world that the American military is no longer subordinate to civilian control. “From now on,” Trump declared, “our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operations, not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians.”

In other words, the military will decide, not elected officials—the fundamental characteristic of a military dictatorship. That this “principle” is accepted by the US Congress, which approved the $700 billion Pentagon budget while voting down an amendment calling on the legislative body to reclaim its constitutional power to declare war, is a measure of the putrefaction of American democracy.

The consolidation of such a government, with the repulsive figure of Donald Trump at its head, is the culmination of a quarter-century of economic and political degeneration, combined with unending wars and military interventions waged with the aim of reversing the erosion of American capitalism’s global hegemony.

Contradicting the vision presented in Trump’s speech of a Hitlerian springtime for nationalism, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres preceded the American president with an address to the General Assembly describing “a world in pieces.”

“People are hurting and angry,” he warned. “They see insecurity rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and climate changing.” He added that “global anxieties about nuclear weapons are at the highest level since the end of the Cold War.”

This undeniable reality found indirect expression in Trump’s own address, with his attempt to exploit the crisis in Venezuela—a country where the dominance of finance capital is today greater than it was three decades ago—to denounce socialism.

“Wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure,” said Trump. “Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.”

A quarter-century after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the proclamation of the failure of Marxism and triumph of capitalism, the threat of socialism has become a central preoccupation of an American president delivering a reactionary and militarist diatribe before the United Nations.

Trump speaks for a US financial and corporate oligarchy that feels itself under siege. It fears growing popular anger. It has been shaken to the core by the revelation during the 2016 election that a broad social constituency within the working class and among the youth is intensely hostile to the profit system and sympathetic to socialism.

Ultimately, Trump’s belligerent threats of war and nuclear annihilation are the projection onto the world stage of the class policy pursued by the American ruling class at home, and the very advanced state of political and social tensions within the United States itself.

Bill Van Auken

WSWS

 

 

Bernie Sanders Answers Hillary’s Criticisms in Her New Memoir

NEWS & POLITICS
“I think the response is we have got to think going forward.”

YouTube Screengrab

America’s most popular politician, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., appeared on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” Thursday night where he was asked to respond to leaked excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s new book in which she blamed the senator for causing “lasting damage making it harder to unify progressives,” as well as accused him of joining the presidential race to “to disrupt the Democratic Party.”

Instead of firing back at Clinton, the longest reigning Independent senator in U.S. history, explained that he didn’t divide progressives at all. “Actually, the case is that the progressive movement today, and grassroots activism, is stronger than it has been in many, many years,” Sanders told Colbert.

“As a result of our campaign, millions of young people began to vote for the first time, became engaged in the political process . . . we have got to stand together against [President Donald] Trump’s efforts to divide us up, take on the billionaire class and make that political revolution so that we have a government that works for all of us, not just the one percent,” Sanders explained.

Colbert sarcastically pointed out that those were the exact attacks Clinton was talking about.

“But I understand,” Sanders continued. “Look, Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country and she lost and was upset about that and I understand that,” he said. “But our job now is really not to go backwards. It is to go forward. It is to create the kind of nation we know we can become. We have enormous problems facing us and I think it’s a little bit silly to keep talking about 2016.”

Colbert pointed out another common criticism from Clinton which was that Sanders had made “pony” promises, and wouldn’t be able to deliver on them when people expected him to.

“I said that in America, we should join every other industrialized country and guarantee health care to all people as a right, and there is now growing sentiment for that effort,” Sanders explained. “So that’s not a pipe dream.”

Sanders then pointed out his plan to raise the minimum wag to $15 an hour, because it’s currently a “starvation wage.” He added that he now has 31 co-sponsors in the Senate to enact that legislation.

Clinton will be a guest on the “Late Show” on Tuesday, September 19 to promote her new book. The late-night comedian asked Sanders what he thought he should ask her when she comes on.

“I think the response is we have got to think going forward,” Sanders replied. “And I would like her to join us in a fight for 15 [dollar minimum wage], in a Medicare-for-all single payer system, in taking on the fossil fuel industry so that we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and move to energy efficient and sustainable energy.”