Movie Review: “The Public” written, directed, and starring Emilio Estevez. 122 minutes
Estevez Does a Solid for Libraries and for homeless men
On a freezing cold night, a large group of homeless men organize a sit-in at the Cincinnati Public Library. The librarian who deals with them every day faces a quandary because he knows they may freeze to death if he helps throw them out. The police and the mayoral candidate don’t want to be seen as the bad guys.
My movie buddy and I thought the plot was a little bit unlikely, not because people don’t freeze to death every winter and not because keeping a library open might save them for at least one night; but because we don’t believe anybody today could organize that many homeless men. If the homeless were organized, they could get what they want and they wouldn’t be homeless. But we’re moviegoers, suspending credibility is our specialty!
We really liked the movie. We thought that libraries and libraries came out looking really good. We thought John Steinbeck, one of our favorite authors, and “Grapes of Wrath,” one of our favorite books, came out looking really good. I particularly liked the set design that included a big library sign with a picture of Poet Percy Shelley and one of my all-time favorite quotes:
“Rise like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/Which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many/they are few”
If you’re in favor of investigating the far-reaching problem of homelessness in America, you have to root for this movie. If you’re searching for a solution, maybe you won’t find it here, but at least you’ll be searching, and that’s a whole lot better than ignoring this gigantic American problem.
I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
Stage West Theater in Fort Worth Texas sold all their tickets for the last matinee performance of “Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been…” by Carlyle Brown. It’s about one of poet Langston Hughes’ testimonies to the McCarthy anticommunist committee in 1953.
“Are You Now…” in Ft Worth
People who attended because they wanted to get more insight into the great poet and his poetry, or people who just like to see a well-done one-man performance, were probably quite pleased.
Those of us who wanted to see an uplifting portrayal of America’s fight against fascism, or at least wanted to gather insight into what happened during the McCarthy period so we can avoid it now, were severely disappointed.
There were two acts. Djore’ Nance performed alone and made an effort to give an insight into Langston Hughes, his times, and his work. In other words, it was essentially a lecture. It was a very good lecture and well performed, but still a lecture.
In the second act, Christopher Dontrell Piper played Hughes’ lawyer and sat beside him while off-site questions came from, supposedly, Senator Dirksen, anti-communist spokesperson David Schine, top anti-communist prosecutor Roy Cohn, and the infamous McCarthy himself. Piper had about two lines, so the second act was about like the first, all Nance. The responses to the investigators were, apparently, mostly taken from the actual testimony in 1953.
Hughes did not stand up to Mc Carthism. He avoided any kind of confrontation. He didn’t defend his rights or anybody’s. He ended his testimony with a loving endorsement of the entire process. Yes, he probably had to. Dozens of otherwise good people caved in to McCarthyism and hardly anybody opposed it. But why make a play about it?
Why not, instead, make a play about Paul Robeson or Dashiell Hammett, or one of the others who fought back as well as they could and suffered the consequences?
The audience rose to their feet and applauded as the play closed, but they also headed for the door. I could hardly wait to get out of there. There was far more information, and more meaningful content, in the playbill than there was in the play. YouTube has dozens of more worthwhile works.
I sat in on a very nice conversation about immigration the
other day. All five of us didn’t like the way things are nor the direction they
seem to be heading. At the same time, I don’t think we had very clear ideas
about what we’d like to see.
One guy actually had some valuable historical information. He
said that the United States hardly had an immigration policy before 1920 when
immigration quotas were legally made proportional to the ethnic groups counted
in the 1920 census. In other words, if 9% of Eastern Europeans currently live
in the United States, then 9% of new immigrants in 1921 are supposed to be
Eastern Europeans. That’s the quota system.
One exception, he said, was China. In the 1880’s, they
passed the “Chinese Exclusion Act” specifically to keep companies from
continuing to bring in Chinese.
He went on to say that the quota system no longer exists.
They have some more complicated way of saying who gets in and who doesn’t. He
also said that a great many of the undocumented workers in this country today
first arrived here legally. Then, instead of going home when their visa was up,
they just stayed.
While we were talking history, one participant brought up
the fact that the entire Southwestern United States, where all the controversy
is, was stolen from Mexico.
As the conversation went on, it became more and more
apparent that the immigration “crisis” as described by President Trump and
capable of being remedied only by a giant wall is pretty much all nonsense. A
wall won’t stop drugs, it won’t stop crime, and it won’t even stop immigrants.
But, I asked everybody, “What do you want?”
Everybody didn’t answer, but one woman said that she wanted
immigration matters to be handled more humanely and respectfully. I responded
that any attempt to make immigration less unpleasant will result in more
immigration. In other words, if things were nicer at the border, there would be
more people trying to get in.
She went on to say that United States policies create a lot
of problems in other countries. We cause our own immigration problems, she
said, and nicer foreign policy would cause people to stay home and not trek to the
And that leads me to the crux of the matter.
Capitalism Creates The Problem
Of course capitalist countries exploit other countries. That’s
how it works. Each capitalist nation is a gang’s turf, defended by the gang’s “muscle.”
In other words, the very wealthy people of the United States operate within a
certain territory that is guarded by their military and police forces. Their “muscle”
protects their riches. They foray into other countries, into some other gang’s
turf, for purposes of exploitation.
The people suffering the exploitation, rather than starve,
tend to pick up and leave. They go where the money is. Right now, the gangs of
the United States have the most successful turf the world has ever known, and
the exploited peoples of other turfs often want to come here.
Capitalist nations are set up and run by capitalists. The
entire idea of a modern nation comes from capitalism.
If we had open borders, which is the only long-term solution to the immigration “problem,” we couldn’t have capitalism. That’s the answer to “What do we want?” No immigration problem. No capitalism.
I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
Movie Review: “On the Basis of Sex,” Directed by Mimi Leder, 2 hours
My movie buddy and I enjoyed the biopic about Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s early days in the fight for gender equality, even though it was formulaic and predictable from the beginning to the powerful ending where the real Ginsberg mounted the Supreme Court steps.
The movie is very timely as it hit theaters just as Ginsberg was missing her very first sessions while battling lung cancer. The last report I saw said that she had beaten cancer once more and was back on the job. The documentary, “RBG,” about her had just closed a week or so before this dramatization was available. Another reason that the movie is so timely is that the Supreme Court has been making headlines for years as it cleared legalities out of the way for the ongoing power-grab of the plutocracy.
Only Ginsberg’s early legal efforts, and especially her first big trial before the Supreme Court, are covered. But the inference is that she went on to win more and more gains for women. We were pleased that the movie didn’t try to give all the credit to the legal system, but made the point that people change things before laws recognize it.
In discussions after the movie, we talked about the Equal Rights Amendment, which both of us fought for in the 1970s. It passed in Congress but, like any constitutional amendment, it had to be ratified in the states. We came close but we didn’t win, or rather we haven’t won yet.
The ERA would have overturned all the many statutes and case precedents justifying gender discrimination in America. Ginsberg’s approach, in the movie, was to tackle them one-by-one, and that’s what she and others have been doing. The movie implies that we’ve been winning all this time and will continue winning until gender equality is fully achieved.
But, so far, it hasn’t happened.
Women live longer and consequently outnumber men in America and on the planet. If they could get together, even vote together on women’s issues, they would win. But the truth is that they don’t.
Texas has had two outstanding women candidates for governor in the last two elections. Both were outstanding for their stands on women’s equality. Neither one of them won, and neither one of them got all of the women votes. I think that both of them, like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and maybe even like Hillary Clinton, made some progress; but so far no victory cigar!
Frederick Engels, in the 19th century, wrote that women were the first oppressed class, mostly because their oppression coincided with the birth of written history. Both written history and women’s oppression came about because surplus wealth was beginning to be produced. Men took that wealth and developed writing to account for it. They developed women’s oppression in order to make sure that their heirs were biologically theirs.
Engels said that women’s oppression would end in future society because women would be in the workforce and fully as productive as men. I think that’s been the case so far. The laws didn’t change first. What happened first was that women established their power and their rights in the workforce.
Union Women Are Far Ahead
Most American workers aren’t organized into unions, but the ones that are practice women’s equality rather thoroughly. As our working people attain more power, women’s equality will at long last attain its final goal.
Meantime, let’s keep marching!
I’m on KNON’s Workers Beat program 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site
Today I posted a prologue and Chapter One of “Commissioner Torres and the New Government” on http://lilleskole.us, my personal web site. It’s actually my 4th book-length effort. One of them is autobiographical and covers just about everything I’ve learned so far.
The other three are speculative fiction about a guy named Leo Torres who gets involved with revolutionaries just when the old order of things has fallen apart. Leo gets in on the revolution from the ground floor.
You may wonder why I write and post these things. Obviously, I’m not going to make any money. They aren’t even copyrighted. It’s not because of the silly old shibboleth “Writers write because they have to.”
I’m one of many people who would like to see a better world, but I’m one of the very few who have tried to describe it. For decades I’ve dodged the question the same way almost every activist does by saying, “I don’t know what the world I’m fighting for would look like, because it’s up to those people living in that world to decide for themselves.” It may be true, but it’s still a dodge.
If we’re fighting for a better world, we ought to be able to describe it. Or at least we ought to try.
I decided on speculative fiction as my way of initiating a discussion on what might happen and what we might do about it. After all, does anybody think that we’ll just wake up one day in a better world?
Nearly all of our sci-fi is dystopian. Just about the only exception is the Star Trek series. They didn’t even have a revolution to get into their wonderful world. They just listened to the Vulcans. In one episode, Mister Spock hints that the Vulcans had to go through some very trying times before they became so civil, but he doesn’t tell us much about it. So we actually have no pattern to follow.
For a long time, American activists tried to copy the Russian revolution. When it imploded, a lot of them were disgusted and demoralized. Some others have tried to follow Chairman Mao. Some followed Nkrumah, Ho Chi Minh, and some followed Castro. I think we could learn from all of them, but we couldn’t learn enough. We have to do a lot of our own thinking.
So, we speculate.
The World I Made
Looking toward the future, especially in the Donald Trump era, one can see disaster ahead. It’s not a matter of whether or not the planet will become inhabitable and wealth inequality will make economic life impossible. It’s only a matter of when.
But I have great faith in myself and other people. Sooner or later we will give up on the people who are destroying the economy and the ecology. We will embrace new leaders and new ways of running things. In the world I create in my sci-fi novels, people have just recently done that. Following the advice of revolutionaries, civilized people have disbanded their armies and their police. They formed local militias to keep order while respected and capable leaders are elected to make economic and social decisions.
The revolutionaries at the center help coordinate activities and continue to advise the localities. As you might imagine, there is very little continuity between one locality and another. There are a tremendous number of problems to be resolved. What will people eat? How will they get it? How will trade continue? How will people get from one place to the next?
Because the air and water are almost undrinkable and unbreathable, something drastic has to be done about the burning of fossil fuels. Because all systems are down, there is no electricity. Without electricity and transportation, there is no long-distance communication. Without transportation, people will not be able to get the goods and services they need to stay alive. What would you do about those things?
The first two novels take the easy way out. They only deal with some of the smaller questions.
My first novel deals with whether or not revolution is possible and worthwhile. It’s common to hear it said that humanity isn’t worth saving, that people will never learn to live without war, that people are essentially greedy and incapable of cooperation, and that every revolution has failed because people are basically just no damned good!
My second novel is more specific. It tries to deal with the fact that certain sectors of the population will not cooperate in building a better world. Hardened drug addicts, for example, are unlikely to cooperate in civil society. What would you do with them?
The third novel is by far the most ambitious. It recognizes that government is necessary and begins to discuss the ins and outs of setting up and running such a government. Is democracy the answer? If so, what would be the machinery of democracy? Here’s a really thorny question, “How could a society avoid the tyranny of the majority?”
I don’t know if you can answer these questions, but I know that I can’t. But I’m inviting you to join me in trying to find out.
I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM every Saturday. Call in 972-647-1893 with your ideas. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site at http://lilleskole.us
Texans are forever taking their children to see the Alamo, and a lot of them go to the San Jacinto Battlefield. But if they really care about Texas history, they should make a pilgrimage to Crystal City, where ordinary working people made a lot of history.
Crystal City was the site of the biggest concentration camp of World War II. Japanese families were there from 1943 through the end of the war. A few Italians and Germans were also sent there from other parts of the U.S. and Latin America. The United States traded them for our own prisoners of war.
Crystal is also a great civil rights site. The Chicano movement that terrified Anglos in the 1970s began in Crystal City. The struggles of some of the most desperate working families in America took place in Crystal City. For a while there, they won!
I think it was in 1963 that five very courageous Latinos took city government power from the dominant Anglos. With only 10% of the population, Anglos had always dominated everything. Then in 1969, Juan Campeon and Jose Angel Gutierrez convened La Raza Unida Party at Salon Campestre just outside the city limits and on the banks of the Nueces River.
La Raza Unida soon took over government in all of Zavala County and in surrounding counties. Inspired by La Raza, other Chicanos throughout America began to form their own fighting civil rights organizations.
Today, only the cement steps of the old Salon Campestre remain. There are no historical markers for La Raza Unida. They hold no government offices, but Mexican American Democrats and other organizations owe their initial inspiration to the courageous workers of Crystal City. There’s a great play about it. It’s named “Crystal.”
About 8,000 people, nearly all Mexican Americans, live in Crystal. A branch of the historic Nueces river runs (when there is enough water) just outside the city limits. There are no unions in existence, even though the CIO tried in the 1940s and the Teamsters tried in the 1960s to organize the cannery workers.
There are no museums in Crystal City. The library is closed. There are several statues of Popeye the Sailor Man and some claims to be the Spinach Capital of the World, but the great contributions and sacrifices of working families are noted only in the minds of certain Chicanos and a handful of amateur historians like us, who care about real history.
I need somebody to explain the machinery of democracy to me, because I’m writing a sci-fi novel about a better world.
A lot of people are now claiming to be revolutionaries. An even larger number would at least say that they want a better world than the one we live in. I think they’d agree that we want to maximize democracy.
What do you want? How would you get it?
But does anybody know how?
Even if all the present election reformers got their way, even if the current House Resolution # 1 should pass on January 3rd, we would still an imperfect democracy, because we have no way to overcome the “tyranny of the majority.” No matter what Utopian election machinery we may advocate, minorities would still be at the mercy of the majority of voters.
In a better democracy, one’s vote should be directly proportional to their personal consequences from that vote. If a proposal affects you more than somebody else, why should your votes have equal weight? I didn’t think this up, I got it from Ivan Illich in 1972. He said everyone’s vote should be proportional to the effect that it would have on them. He didn’t explain how that could be done.
Obviously, one way is to have a bunch of small local governments. They could regulate things at the local level. A larger government, however, would have to have larger control over what they do, because whatever people do in society will have at least some effect on others.
What About This?
Here’s the best I’ve come up with so far:
Legislative proposals are encouraged from the lowest levels. Proposals should not only substantiate what they intend to do, but should also designate the relative weights of different voters.
The proposal would have to be passed by majority vote, but it wouldn’t be implemented at that point.
If the legislation passed the majority vote, then the majority would also have agreed to the relative weight of different voters.
Thus, before implementation, the vote would have to be re-weighed with some voters getting more weight than others. That result would be the one implemented.
Here’s an example. Suppose somebody proposed that free abortion on demand become the law everywhere. The original proposal might allocate extra votes for women, as women would be affected more than men. If everybody thought that was fair, then the proposal would pass by majority vote. Then the votes would be recounted on the second round, with extra weight for each female vote. If the proposal still passed, it would become law.
Another example: Suppose we had a proposal to provide funding for medical care for coal miners suffering from silicosis (lots of them are). Coal miners would obviously get a bigger percentage of the total potential vote.
Give Me Criticisms & Suggestions
There are very few examples of a better future in American sci-fi. Nearly every speculation is dystopian. The exception is Star Trek, where humanity does indeed achieve a better, more fair, world. But Star Trek never explains how it happened or how it works. All we know is that they learned it from the Vulcans.