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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Movie Review: “The Dressmaker,” Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse, 2 hours

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Since I saw her in “The Reader,” maybe even before that, I have been going around saying that Kate Winslet is our best living movie star. Some people might say it’s Judy Davis, but we wouldn’t have to argue about “The Dressmaker” since both talented actresses, playing mother and daughter, are in almost every scene.

The movie is more enjoyable if we think of it as a fable rather than a true-to-life drama. A wronged woman returns to her backward and tiny hometown to clear up any misunderstandings and settle all scores.

Texas Women Need Fairness or Maybe Revenge!

We’ve seen the idea several times before. What makes it doubly pertinent to me now is that I live in Texas, where new records for maternal deaths are being set and where battered children can’t even get a visit from state authorities. Like the rest of the nation, we also suffer from the wage disparity that Economic Policy Institute is covering so thoroughly today. Did I mention, too, that the state politicians are in court to tighten restrictions on women’s reproductive rights? Oh yeah, the Governor of Texas is planning even more state-sponsored misogyny in the next legislature!

Then there’s the woman-basher planning to become President of the United States. If it isn’t time for women to get some fairness, maybe it actually is time for them to savor some revenge! At least, we can enjoy a movie about it, can’t we? It’s surely time for that!

The Story and the Problem

In the faraway outback Down Under, an overdressed fashion designer returns to her hick town where she has been considered to be a murderess since the age of 10. Her mother, the town crackpot, is just as happy to accuse her as the rest of the eccentrics there. That’s the beginning and it’s very promising. The ending is fine, too. Kind of spectacular.

It’s the middle of the movie where the problems lie. It was the same with the recent civil rights film about Nat Turner’s rebellion, “Birth of a Nation.” Great beginning, fine ending, saggy middle. I like to think the problem is with the movie money-men, not with the artists involved. They just can’t make a film without attaching a romantic love story in it somewhere, even if it has nothing to do with anything else. In both movies, the sex and groping slathered on to the middle of the story is a distraction.

I liked “The Dressmaker.” The real critics in Dallas gave it a “D.” But Kate Winslet never made a “D” in her movie career. Go see it. When you get to the middle part and the virile characters start making goo-go0 eyes at each other, that’s a good time to go get your popcorn.

–Gene Lantz

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“The Handmaiden,” Director: Park Chan-wook, 2 hours 47 minutes.

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In Korea in the 1930s, Japanese occupiers clash with Korean occupied, bourgeoisie clash with lower classes, morals clash with dissipation, men clash with women, men clash with men, and women clash with women in this wonderful Eastern version of “The Sting.” While the viewer may be amazed at the character development or the amazing settings or the wonderfully stylized presentations, it’s the story itself that transfixes us. Like most good stories, it takes its own leisurely time in the telling. It involves the long con and several short cons. Its point of view completely changes more than once.

We’re talking about a complicated movie here, but one unraveled for us by outstanding storytelling.

If erotic sex scenes worry you, don’t take your kids to see this one. Some will call it a dirty movie, but it’s less pornography than about pornography. A dissolute, cruel and dirty old rich man sits at the center of the story. He dedicates himself to rich pretensions, dirty books and corruption. Everybody else is straining to overcome him and each other. The characters we sympathize with most are the two young women who are presented at the beginning of the story as an unscrupulous con artist pretending to be a handmaiden and a her rich and naive mistress. Moviegoers will be pulling for them, or at least one or the other of them, to find love and victory over cruelty, shame, men in general, and the old sleazeball. But will love ever find a way?

 

I can’t kid you, there’s a lot to worry about. To begin with, I’m worried that Mrs Clinton might stumble and fall before November 8. A Trump presidency would be a disaster for working people! But I’m also worried about what both major candidates are going to do after November 8.

Voting for More War?

Mrs Clinton’s saber rattling toward Russia during the debates reminds me that she’s a hawk and  has always been a hawk on foreign affairs. She keeps asserting that Russia is working against her election and threatening them with cyber war. She also wants to escalate the war in Syria with a “no-fly” zone. If she shot down a Russian plane in Syria, wouldn’t there be hell to pay? They have nukes! Those of us who would like to see fewer hostilities and less war are likely to be very uncomfortable during her presidency.

Voting for Unfair Trade Deals?

It’s good that Mrs Clinton says  she won’t push the Trans Pacific Partnership unfair trade deal. Mr Trump doesn’t believe she will stick to opposing it, and I don’t believe either one of them would. I can still remember when candidate Obama was going to fix NAFTA and oppose other unfair trade, now all of us have to worry that President Obama will try an end-run during the lame duck Congress. He’s already working on it!

Unfair trade deals are essential to the big money guys, and few politicians would even try to resist them. Obama doesn’t, and he has a lot more of my respect than either Mrs Clinton or Mr Trump!

Voting for an Openly Fascist Movement in America?

The pundits and newspersons seem to think Mr Trump is stupid. They think he is throwing away his political chances by bashing immigrants, encouraging violence at his meetings, skipping over facts to appeal to emotions, catering to the  crudest kind of people, claiming the entire electoral process is “rigged,”  and, especially, refusing to abide by the decision of the voters after the election (unless he wins).

I’m hoping that stupidity explains his political actions, but I don’t honestly think we can count on it. Like most analysts, Mr Trump already knows he isn’t likely to win over the Electoral College. I think he’s going to try to start an openly fascist movement, the first one since the 1930s in America.

Trump is already a skillful media person, far more skillful than the hate radio manipulators like Rush Limbaugh that have already gained considerable following. He’s already floated the rumor that he may be starting his own television network. We have to assume it would be even less truthful and more sensationalist than Fox News!

A billionaire with his own television network and millions of followers from among the most volatile and least sensible ranks of people could create an anti-worker movement that would dwarf the fascists now operating in Europe. And don’t give me “It can’t happen here” because it can and has before.

So let’s get worried together, and start figuring out what we’re going to do about it!

–Gene Lantz

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Unions are doing so many things right nowadays that one hesitates to make any suggestions. I enjoyed a recent posting by the International President of the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal) union. He outlines some of the positive changes they have made.

I’d go so far as to say that the main labor federation, AFL-CIO, has made great strides since the “palace coup” changed the leadership in 1995. I love working with them.

Unions are inherently revolutionary, even though they do everything in their power to not be. They can’t help but oppose capitalism, even though they are solely defensive organizations, because capitalists can’t stop attacking them. Unions will never take power anywhere, but they can’t help trying.

But Unions Face Tremendous Problems

In my opinion, America’s unions could go a long way toward solving their problems if they’d just start with an historical analysis. As long as they continue to ignore the great mistakes they made between 1947 and 1995, they’ll find it harder to go forward. That’s one important thing.

Another one is that unions need to free themselves from being chained to the worst part of their members. Any union official can tell you that they spend most of their time handling petty grievances. The best union members rarely file a grievance, because they are not only the best union members but also the best workers. The worst workers, the ones who can’t show up half the time, the ones who are drunk on the job, the ones who abuse one another — those are the ones that file most of the grievances and , consequently, take up most of the union officers’ time.

In fact the biggest time consumer of all is the termination grievance. Somebody gets fired and the union feels obligated to try to get their job back. Management is not likely to take them back before all options are exhausted — and there are a lot of options in labor/management relations. The best union members, the best workers, rarely get fired.

That’s just the way the job works and nobody is actually complaining. If you don’t take care of the worst workers, you can’t take care of all the workers. If management can get away with abusing some workers, they’ll try to abuse all. So it’s not a waste of time, just a big consumer of time, to deal with grievances.

Union officers would like to spend time organizing, educating, and strengthening the union movement — but they usually don’t because they don’t have time.

There Are Tremendous Solutions

I believe that progressive union leaders are finding and applying solutions to these problems. I heard once that the Service Employees have some kind of centralized national grievance-handling process where grievances are called in by phone. I have no idea if this is true, nor do I know how it works.

But I imagine a big round table with grievance experts sitting at computers all around. Each of them has a headset. Each computer has access to labor law and, more importantly, every pertinent union contract. Members from all over the country call in their grievances. The expert types up a proper report and offers immediate advice. Then they contact management and begin to “handle” the grievance. They use three-way calling when appropriate.

When contracts expire, a complete digital record of the old contract and all grievance settlements is available to the negotiators. One of the experts from the round table I described might even sit in on negotiations to make sure everything is done properly and legally.

 What Is Needed?

Unions need cooperation. The utopian grievance handling proposal I outlined above could be used by the AFL-CIO to handle ALL grievances, not just those of a single union. Or maybe we could have one “grievance center” for public workerfs and one for private workrers. Maybe another one for private workers under the Railway Labor Law, as opposed to the National Labor Relations Law.

Unions are cooperating now more than anytime since 1947. They are not only cooperating with one another, they are even merging with one another. That’s good, but it could go a whole lot further. They could, for example, centralize their organizing departments, their education departments, and maybe some other departments.

Unions need organizers. The best organizers nowadays work with entire communities. The union man standing in front of a plant handing out leaflets, they say, has already lost. People get organized from their homes and communities. I’d go further to say that the best union members are going to be organized through a series of meaningful activities like the “Fight for Fifteen” effort to raise the minimum wage.

The internet, and, especially, social media need to be harnessed in labor’s campaign. We can organize that way and we can educate that way. Unions need educators.

Unions need activists. Every time a union man or woman assists in a community problem, they advertise the importance of joining the union.

None of these ideas is exactly new, except insofar as new technology is applied. My own union, the Autoworkers, wasn’t organized in the plants. It was organized during the frequent periods of plant shut downs in the auto industry. It was organized by the great Unemployed Councils, by marches, rallies, and protests.

And that seems like a good place to stop because it brings me back to my original point: unions need to assess our own history and learn from it!

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Movie review: “Birth of a Nation,” Directed by Nate Parker, Written by Nate Parker, Starring Nate Parker. 2 hours

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Everybody in America needs to know about slavery. If right were right, we’d probably be required to attend a showing of Nate Parker’s new movie. Unfortunately, that may be the only way it would get a wide viewing. We don’t necessarily WANT to know what we NEED to know.

Nat Turner was a preacher who led an important slave rebellion in 1831. It led to a panic in the Old South. When white people panic, black people die. The title “Birth of a Nation” is famous in America because a silent movie long ago laid the emotional foundation for a re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan. If a person knew why Parker chose this title, one might also understand why audiences may not like his movie.

I don’t think anybody will complain about the technical aspects. Audiences feel right there with the slaves when they are shot, raped, tortured, humiliated and confined. They won’t complain that the actor wrote and directed himself, because the movie doesn’t fall victim to the self-indulgence of so many artists. But I don’t think people are going to come out of the theater feeling uplifted or enlightened the way they do when they come out of a really great art experience.

I think people will feel that they’ve been through an ordeal. It might be good for us, but so is going to the dentist. I’m not sure why the movie doesn’t make the connection it needs to make. The Pulitzer winning book by William Styron did. It’s possibly because it seems that the filmmaker took the Hollywood route of made-up romances, personal entanglements, and emotions that aren’t likely part of the record.  Maybe viewers couldn’t connect because they felt manipulated?

There were only 6 of us in the theater when we saw a matinee performance. I saw 4 go in for the next showing. I hope it does a lot better than that.

–Gene Lantz

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The 2016 elections confuse and dumbfound me.

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I think I may have predicted the wrong winner in every presidential election since Goldwater in 1964. I was pretty sure Dukakis would beat Reagan because “people just aren’t that dumb,” as I used to say.

A year ago, I’d have bet money that the 2016 race would be between Hillary and Jeb Bush, so certain was I that we live in a plutocracy. Jimmy Carter said we live in a plutocracy, so it made sense that the plutocrats would be picking both candidates.

Today, I don’t think that corporate America picked Donald Trump. I don’t even think that the Koch brothers right-wing fascist trend of the Republican party picked Trump. When I was certain it would be Jeb Bush,  I underestimated the extent of America’s limited democracy.

Two days ago, when the newspaper ran side-by-side articles with scandals against Clinton and Trump, I thought that Clinton’s close association with Wall Street billionaires would weigh more heavily against her than Trump’s dumbass sexism would hurt him, but I’m apparently wrong about that, too. I don’t think anybody even remembers, two days later, that Clinton made all those cozy statements to the bankers, but the news is full of Trump’s groping women.

Today, while high-profile Republicans are abandoning Trump everywhere, the polls and pundits all say that Hillary Clinton will be our next president. I’m afraid to agree with them for fear I might put a hex on labor’s candidate. It’s been demonstrated over and over that I am usually wrong. Don’t listen to me, friends!

I Actually Do Know One Thing

I know which side I’m on.

Even though I may not be so smart, I am at least persistent. I’ve been on the side of working people all my life and quite consciously for almost 50 years. Reagan may have beat the workers black and blue, but some of us constantly worked against him. Right now I’m working for labor’s candidates and causes, win or lose.

Sooner or later, all of us will have a choice to make. We will either lapse into fascism and court the destruction of the planet or we will give up superstition and idealism and form a rational society for ourselves and our children. Average people, maybe some but not a lot smarter than me, will choose the same side I chose.

–Gene Lantz

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A caller on my radio show on KNON.org at 9AM this Saturday morning paid us a great compliment.

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Bonnie Mathias and I are on knon.org, 89.3FM, every Saturday at 9AM Central Time

He said that we were passing on worthwhile knowledge, just a little drop at a time. He compared the “drip drip drip” of our contribution to water eroding away a big hard rock of ignorance.

The “Workers Beat” program has been on KNON since it started in Dallas 30 or so years ago as a part of the ACORN community organizing group. When it had to go independent, and even after the government cut all funding for community talk radio, KNON managed to keep “Workers Beat” on the air.

It is one of three pro-labor radio shows in the entire southern half of the United States! As I put on the KNON web site, “Almost everything you see and hear comes from the bosses, or was approved by them. Employees don’t control the movies, the book publishers, TV, or the radio stations. Bosses do. The outlook and opinions of the bosses are expressed, everywhere and all the time. The outlook and opinions of workers get almost no expression. KNON “Workers Beat” talk show is an exception.”

Should We be Proud?

I guess that Bonnie Mathias and I can be proud that we prepare for the program and show up every Saturday without getting paid, but we can’t take credit for the wisdom in today’s caller’s compliment. The truth is that we don’t say a lot. KNON wants us to run an open mike talk show, not spout off our own opinions.

Even though today’s topic was the way that the City of Dallas is joining in the international game of sacrificing the right to retire, and even though I have very strong feelings about our losing the right to retire, I didn’t actually say “Vote NO on Proposition One on the Dallas ballot.” I just outlined what Proposition One would do and asked the radio audience for their opinions.

Callers were against Proposition One, by the way.

But the point is that the wisdom that working people get from the “Workers Beat” radio program isn’t coming from the hosts. It’s coming from the workers themselves! KNON just provides the forum, and working people call in, each with their own wise observations. Their observations are the “drip drip drip” of knowledge that is eroding away the rock of mass ignorance.

We’re just proud we could help!

–Gene Lantz

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