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Monthly Archives: February 2018

Book review: Glenn Frankel, “High Noon. The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.” Bloomsbury, New York

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There aren’t any actual good guys that I know of in the story about the American film blacklist. There are just bad guys, to one degree or another, and victims. The main character in this book is Carl Foreman, who wrote “High Noon” and saw it through. According to the book, Foreman’s views were shaped by the anti-communist witch hunt going on at the time (1952). Foreman was one of the victims.

The plot of the movie, as you know, concerns a lawman under pressure from a gang of killers. He can’t find anyone to back him up, but he can’t figure any way out of it either. So he has to face almost certain death alone. He survives (it’s still a Hollywood movie) and is embittered about the law (the system?) and about the people he had considered his friends. He dumps his tin star and rides away. The town becomes a ghost town, just as it deserved.

The town in High Noon is a metaphor for Hollywood. I’m old enough to remember when the movie came out, and I’m also old enough to remember the schlock that passed for American films afterward. Rock Hudson flirted with Doris Day in every other movie for the next ten years!

I’ve read several books about the witch hunt that is sometimes called the “McCarthy period.” I liked this one because it names a lot of names of the name namers. It doesn’t equivocate as to who was profiting by turning in their friends, who was lying to begin with, and who found some way around it. Foreman was one of those last ones. He was a victim to be sure, but he came out of it better than many former Reds. He managed to avoid naming any names, too, according to the book.

A lot of fuss is made over film star John Wayne, who was one of the biggest red-baiters in Hollywood. This may have been because many of the people he was victimizing had served honorably in World War II, while Wayne ducked it and made his fortune playing war heroes. Wayne hated “High Noon” and Carl Foreman. There’s an interesting interview on YouTube in which Wayne tries to cover his venom with a patriotic veil.

I also liked the film analysis in the book. Several artists did what has to be their best, or way up there nearly best, work in this movie under difficult circumstances. I can’t think of a better performance by Katy Jurado or Lloyd Bridges. Lon Chaney Jr, who ruined his image by playing The Wolfman over and over, was especially outstanding. Gary Cooper played Gary Cooper for the 1000th time, but it’s hard to think of a better version! If you’re curious about Cooper’s role in the witch hunt, you’ll get your answer in this book.

The book offers a lot of answers about this terrible period in American history. The questions continue to overshadow the answers, especially “Will it happen again?”

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 fm in Dallas every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

 

 

The NextDoor social media service could be the core of a new democratic society.

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I’ve written before about how important I think science fiction can be for clarifying the present and guessing the future. I write sci-fi novellas. Both the first one and the second one are posted online and free. I’m thinking up a third.

The Problem with Utopia

Almost all American sci-fi is dystopian, because those are the ugly trends we see. Star Trek is the major exception. All the problems on Earth are solved in Star Trek and they have to go running around outer space to find anything to fix. I like that version of the future and I think that some of today’s trends support it. I particularly like the trend toward more and better information. My sci-fi world tends toward the positive.

But what are the details of a utopian world? That’s what I have to confront in my new novel. The setting is “just after the revolution.” In the first novella, Commissioner Joe Torres gets a minor assignment in a backwoods area. In the second one, he gets a larger assignment, but still not one that is critical. I could go on writing those forever — letting Joe solve the little problems of a new society — but I decided to go toward the heart of the matter.

In the third novel, I intend to have the Commissioner get involved in setting up an ongoing government. The horrible emergencies are in a temporary lull. The family of war, want, and pollution have been traced to their Mama — capitalism — and halted. The oceans aren’t receding, but they’re not overflowing the beaches anymore. An ongoing structure for the new world society still needs to be created. I intend to have Joe Torres get drafted to play a small part in that giant project.

That’s where I ran into all the problems. If Joe has a say-so in building a positive structure that would benefit people and the planet long term, how would he go about it? What structure would he want?

Part of the Answer

I’ve been worrying about this for about a month. Yesterday morning, part of the answer hit me: NextDoor! It’s a social media service organized by neighborhoods. Most of the posts are about lost dogs and lawnmowers for sale. But what a potential it has!

If everybody were computer literate and had a good computer, they could join NextDoor. If the service were run by the people, it could be the basic element of a democratic society. Immediate problems in your neighborhood would be solved on-line. Representatives from your neighborhood would be elected to higher bodies who work on problems affecting larger geographic areas. Specialty committees and interests groups could be created and meet, like the core elements, on-line.

There wouldn’t be a Congress. There would just be a NextDoor group of representatives from all over the world. None of the higher bodies would be able to enact legislation. Their job would be to process problems and propose solutions. The solutions would then be voted on by the people affected.

The fundamental right of initiative, referendum, and recall would operate at every level.

It’s Not Exactly a New Idea!

Except for the computer part, this isn’t exactly new. The Cubans and Venezuelans tried to set up “revolutionary circles” that were to be the fundamental element of their governmental structure. The Russians in 1917 tried to govern through grass roots committees. The Russian word for “committee” is “soviet.” I think computers and social media make success for total democracy more likely.

Up until the time I’m creating with Commissioner Joe Torres, a state has always conformed to the ancient definition: “a body of armed men.” That is, whoever controls the army and the police control just about everything. In Joe Torres’ world, the army and the police are already disbanded.

We can surely do better in our future than we’re doing now!

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my shaggy looking personal web site

Republicans are driving the national debt to unprecedented heights. Are they really “deficit hawks” as they always claim?

mitbuyinggovt72The whole idea that politicians have some kind of guiding principles or ideology is nonsense. What they actually have is material incentives to do what they do, vote the way they vote.

If the very wealthy people who direct most politicians want more spending on the military, or on tax cuts for themselves, that’s what they get. There isn’t some principle or ideology involved.

One thing that really upset Republicans during the Obama Administration was what they called “sequestration.” Under it, they had limits on what they could spend. Republicans wanted it, but only as long as it applied to spending to benefit the people. What galled them was that it also applied to the military. They’ve now broken that restriction and they are once again free to spend the money they want to spend to dominate the world.

When it comes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, health care — anything that benefits working people and has to be partially paid for by taxation from the wealthy — they will still claim to be deficit hawks. It would be a funny joke if it weren’t so horrible.

How Long Can They Borrow?

The American government can go on borrowing — selling bonds — as long as they can find someone to buy them.  They sold a lot of them since the 2008 crisis, and there was nothing to back them. We didn’t have any more gold, or any more treasure of any kind. America just sold bonds, and people, especially people in other nations, bought them.

Theoretically, that could go on forever. When another nation, say China, invests in United States Treasury Bills, as they often do, they are committing to a continuation of world economic stability based on the U.S. Dollar and United States economic domination. Otherwise, they wouldn’t get their bond money back.

It would be interesting to examine the cost of debt servicing now that the American debt is shooting up over $20 trillion dollars. I found a number: $174,800,239,416.18 that is supposed to represent the service cost for the last year. That’s $175 billion.  https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/ir/ir_expense.htm

The amount goes up or down depending on the interest rates. But if people, especially people in other nations, become more reluctant to buy bonds, and if America keeps selling them, as they must, then the interest rates will necessarily go up. The cost of servicing the debt will go up, too.

This brings me back to the question of military spending. If the United States can still destroy any other nation, then it isn’t likely that any of them will stop cooperating with the worldwide economic system as it is. So, how long can America borrow? As long as it can find lenders.

–Gene Lantz

I”m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

Movie Review: The Insult, Directed by Ziad Doueiri. 112 minutes

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It’s not just about two strangers quarreling over home repairs. OK, that’s how it starts. But this is one of those movies where a little personal incident illustrates universal pain.

We’ve been reading about the turmoil in the Middle East for a long, long time, but what’s it like for the people living in it? That would probably be very hard to explain.

You Gotta Love Movies

The wonderful thing about The Insult is that it doesn’t exactly explain it. It just takes you through that other world and lets you feel it.

If you have already chosen sides, or if you think you have chosen sides, you may have to re-evaluate. You may find out there are more than just a few sides. I kind of like to think that the protagonists in this movie, even though they are at war with each other, both represent a side of their own — decency.

Neither of them really wants to become symbols of deep seated anguish and national hostility. The characters really grow on the viewer, no matter what kind of baggage we brought into the theater.

Unless you really can’t stand movies in multiple foreign languages, or if you hate courtroom drams, I think you’d like this one.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site.

 

 

I received a mailing to help me promote “School Choice Week” on the air.

At KNON radio studios, I receive  a lot of right-wing mail. I think it’s because my program is called “Workers Beat” and conservatives can’t conceive of a radio show that is actually for workers. When one says “workers” they assume you mean management, I guess, because all the other radio programs are either written by the bosses or approved by them. I throw away a lot of free books about how to get more work out of workers.

The School Choice mailing came from a post office box in some town in California. It says that there are 32,240 American events to promote “school choice” during January 21-27.  It says that 6.7 million students and supporters will be participating. It says there are 54 events in my town. It says I should promote them on KNON radio and it offers me materials to broadcast.

I assume they sent this to every radio station in America at considerable cost. It’s part of a national effort to destroy the public schools. If you aren’t worried, you should be.

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A Little History on Schooling

America, more than most countries, advanced free public education. It’s one of the reasons that America shot ahead of the rest of the world in the 20th century. But there was always resistance. It took a Civil War to offer free public education to African American children, for example, and even then their public schooling was inferior to that offered to the Master Race of American Anglos. It still is.

The Brown Vs Topeka Supreme Court case in 1954 signaled a renewed fight for fair education. Whites were encouraged to fight against fairness in a number of interesting ways. One way was to move to white suburbs. One way was to create “magnet schools.” These “magnets” drew off the most outspoken activist parents and gave them what they wanted — decent education for their own kids — while leaving the rest of the kids, largely those with parents who had to work, behind.

They loosened the restraints on home schooling for the parents who didn’t have to work. Another way was to push for school vouchers so that tax money could be used for private schools. Yet another way was to push for “charter schools” to use tax money in ways that were out of the control of the people.

It’s the same fight that we were having during the Civil War and Reconstruction, but in different forms.

Who Wants to Destroy Public Education?

The people with the most money want to stop paying taxes. A lot of federal money, and the largest part of any state budget, goes to education. That’s tax money that rich people would rather not pay. After all, their kids don’t even need the public schools. They have always had better schools, before the Civil War and after.

In this regard, wealthy people’s desire to stop paying taxes, the effort to undermine public schooling fits into the larger explanation of what’s wrong in American politics today. In order to maintain their profits and beat their international competitors, wealthy Americans are trying to contain their costs. We are their costs. Public school children are their costs, in their view.

Public schools retain all their traditional enemies, too. Religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular head the list. They think they can get public money to promote their superstitions. In the short run, they can, because the very wealthy welcome any help they can get to destroy public education. Look at poor Louisiana!

In the long run, the very wealthy don’t want to pay for Catholic schools, either, so their little cabal won’t endure very far beyond the collapse of public education. The Catholics will be left at the altar once their usefulness is over.

Just to be Clear

State legislatures have been cutting public education funding for some time. It is especially true in states where right-wing Republicans have seized control. First they drain away all the resources, then they impose crazy unreasonable rules, then they piously claim that the schools are “failing.” Then they cut some more and pass some more rules.

One doesn’t have to be smart to figure out that they intend to rob American children of their right to a decent education.

Public education

Fight Back

The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the main unions, are forming coalitions with community groups to clarify the issues and direct the fightback. I’m proud that the main labor federation, AFL-CIO, backs them.

As usual, our enemies have many ways to divide us. They say that they are magnanimously seeking ways to overcome school “failures.” They say they are promoting “innovation,” and “school choice.” They are spending a lot of money to buy politicians and do direct advertising.

That’s why I got the stupid mailing about “school choice week.”

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9AM central time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

 

 

 

World stock markets nosedived for a fourth day running on Tuesday, having seen $4 trillion wiped off from what just eight days ago had been record high values.

–NBC News

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Just the week before, Oxfam America announced their analysis of all the world’s wealth created in 2017. Eighty-seven percent of it went to the upper 1%!

I’m wondering if that same wealthy 1% took 87% of the $4 trillion loss? 

Probably not. The investors that took a bath this week aren’t the pros. They aren’t the ones with computers and experts doing their trading for them. They wouldn’t even know how to “sell short” like the big-time investors who are making fortunes from the downturn.

Once, before the implosion, I visited Moscow. They had a lot of fine museums made from the palatial buildings created in tsarist days. One of them had been the stock market. The Soviets, I was told, were running their economy without a stock market.

The Chinese, I understand, do have a stock market. It’s careening downward as this is written, just as other markets are around the world. The purpose of a stock market is to facilitate the flow of capital. Unfortunately, it also provides a giant gambling den where professional sharks swallow their competitors.

I’ve listened to several experts talk about the present downturn, and they are unanimous in saying that it’s just a correction and does not really reflect the basic world economy, which is sound. It seems to me that they nearly always say that during sharp downturns, because they don’t want investor panic to add to the problem, and they are nearly always right. But not always.

The experts go on to say that the selloff began when statistics were revealed showing that workers were beginning to get paid a tiny bit more. Wages, they said, were rising at the 3% rate. That’s a little bit more than inflation so, though tiny, it’s on the positive side for workers.

Why is good news for workers such bad news for capitalists?

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site

I talk to the young folks, they don’t understand,

‘A thing this old man has to say…”

–from the song “I Wish I Was 18 Again” as sung by Jerry Lee Lewis

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I would tell young people that they are going to have to win their rights all over again. I would also tell them not to settle for what their parents had. I would tell them to figure out what needs to be done to get things right, even if it takes some time and experimentation, and then to do it!

False Roads Are Almost the Only Roads

I suppose that everyone is entitled to their own mistakes. In my 50 years of activism, Almost everything I ever did turned out to be mistaken, so I certainly have no right to expect young people to do any better than my own sorry example. Nevertheless, I have to try to warn you.

You Will End Up Working for the Man

Almost all of us want to choose a career that will actually make things better than they are. That’s why there are so many college students in the arts and in social studies. They want to do something meaningful while earning their living. It sounds reasonable but it’s nonsense.

In this system, we work for the people who have money and power. We perform the duties laid out by the people who sign our paychecks. The people with money and power are not the people who want change, no matter how they may sugar-coat it. If we want to make a living, we have to please them. So don’t waste your time trying to find a job as a progressive change agent, you will, sooner or later, be disappointed. A better career choice is one where you can make as much money as possible with as little of your time as possible. Look for a job with a union or one that can be organized into a union.

When In Doubt, Choose Democracy

When you are confronted with a decision about how to best employ your resources in the struggle for a better world, democracy makes a good guideline. In general, the political system democracy is in opposition to the economic system capitalism. Democracy pushes for equality. Capitalism has to have inequality.

Study Our History

Their history tells us that George Washington overcame British autocracy, that Lincoln freed the slaves, and that Martin Luther King Jr ended discrimination. Without taking anything away from these outstanding people, we need to acknowledge the masses of people who did the work before them.

Take, for example, the civil rights movement. It didn’t start in Montgomery in 1954. It was well underway before slaveholder George Washington’s time. There were great people who made great sacrifices to win the degree of racial equality that we have presently attained. Some of them were preachers, teachers and wonderful orators, but, in the final analysis, Black people in America freed themselves!

The union movement is responsible for bringing economic and social advancement for workers. There were some wonderful leaders that we know of. But the union movement, by its very nature, consists of and relies on the rank and file members. Workers in America, to the extent that we are free, freed ourselves!

The War Continues

We sometimes win a battle against our bosses; we sometimes lose one. But the war will continue as long as they are in charge. Every advance that we make will have to be won again, sooner or later.

So, my young friends, you will have to win everything that was won before. I’m hoping you’ll go further.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site