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Movie Review: “Parasite,” Directed by Bong Joon-ho, 132 minutes

People who don’t appreciate important movies, who only go for the entertainment and distraction, may not like this one. Or at least they might not like this one if they don’t have time or just aren’t in the mood to look at something that matters. It’s long and in Korean with subtitles. For the rest of us, though, this one’s a keeper.

If you saw his “Snowpiercer” a few years ago, you already know that this writer/director is not afraid to take on important social issues in the most graphic way. In that one, the great unwashed poor were in a life-or-death struggle to get to the front of the train, where the rich people rode.

Arguably, the biggest social issue in the world today, Korea or anywhere else, is inequality.

It’s a story of two families, maybe two-and-a-half families, of great difference in income and wealth. One of them has a fancy house surrounded by thick trees to block out all view of anything but comfort. The other family is crammed into a sub-basement, mostly underground, where the only window looks up into a dismal alley where drunks come to piss and puke.

The plot unwinds meticulously as the families come together. The first half could be compared to one of Shakespeare’s comedies, where everybody thinks everybody is somebody else. But it’s hard to tell the story of shameful inequality in a comedy, isn’t it?

In a comfortable, easy-to-watch movie, good and bad are well delineated. There’s always somebody to like and, nearly always, somebody to hate. The ending is comfortable and pleasant with a musical fanfare and, if you’re fortunate, an extra little joke in the middle of the credits. “Parasite” isn’t one of those.

Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM central time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

It’s a peculiar thing for an activist to deliver such bad news, but there really aren’t any solutions for working people within our nation. Here’s why: If we won decent treatment for American working families , the cost of labor in the United States would go up. That’s exactly what the bosses keep telling us, but it’s true.

If the cost of labor went up in the United States, then the nation would suffer competitively with other nations. Eventually, the other nations would take over whatever goods and services we now offer to the world.

It’s a little bit easier to see in microcosm. Take, for example, the American auto industry. During the General Motors strike just concluded, management argued all the way through that they couldn’t afford to be less competitive with the transnational companies, like Nissan and Volkswagen, that are producing good cars in the United States for the United States market cheaper than General Motors. They claimed, I think, that they pay $10-$13 more per hour in unit labor costs.

Nobody really disputes that. It’s the handwriting on the wall. Eventually, those companies with the lower labor costs could drive General Motors out of business, unless we do something.

So it is in international affairs. The nations with the lowest labor costs tend to take over from those with higher costs. A lot of us would like to think that the Chinese economy has grown because of socialist planning, and maybe good planning had something to do with it, but I imagine that their unit labor costs deserve a lot of the credit. The same is true of the other rising Asian star, Vietnam.

As long as workers live in separate nations and compete with one another, then there will be pressure to drive down unit labor costs. That’s us, you and me, unit labor costs.

So there is no solution within the United States or within any of the competing nations.

That’s the bad news.

Want the Good News?

The good news is that our present idea of nation-states can be overcome with internationalism. Capitalist nation-states are fairly new in human history, and they can be overcome. The good news is that internationalism is making progress. Unionists allied with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) recently held a big conference in Nepal. They went over the same kinds of problems that we might have discussed at an American trade union conference, but their solutions are different. Their solutions are internationalist.

More and more, we are seeing the AFL-CIO unite the progressive forces in the United States. They are also doing some good outreach in other countries. President Richard Trumka recently honored the leading Brazilian leader, Lula da Silva, even though he’s in prison. Tomorrow, American trade unionists are meeting with Mexicans in El Paso to discuss problems concerning immigration. Those are marvelous developments. They point the way forward. It’s what we need. It’s what we must have.

How Do We Get There?

Working families struggle at every level. Contract fights, elections, legislative battles, and whatever else comes up. Working families have a big stake in everything that happens, and they have to fight to get anything at all. More and more, we are seeing people fight for one another. It’s called solidarity, and it’s growing nicely.

The fights will continue and so will the solidarity. It will grow into international solidarity, too. Keep going, everybody, you’re doing great!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. They podcast it on knon.org. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “The Laundromat,” directed by Steven Soderbergh, 96 minutes

Some stories are too big, too complicated, and too world shaking to be covered in a single movie. The scope of the crimes revealed by an unknown whistleblower in the Panama Papers is more than one can comprehend in a single sitting.

Eleven million documents from the law firm of Mossack Fonseca showed how filthy and how rich some of the filthy rich are, and a little bit of how they hang on to their riches and filthiness without paying taxes. I would suggest two long-running TV shows: a drama about how it works and a series of legal proceedings to bring the thousands (millions?) of filthy culprits to justice.

But Director Soderbergh, bolstered by terrific film actors Meryl Streep, Gary Oldham, and Antonio Banderas, did what he could in one film. Faced with tragedy of this amazing extent, the only way to tell it in brief was with a comedy. Oldham and Banderas play the two lawyers, Streep plays one of their many victims.

“The Laundromat” calls attention to a great problem in our world of skyrocketing inequality, but it’s not really a good movie. That is, it’s not entertaining. It’s more of a moral sermonette. What happened, what is happening, is too big and too awful to be a good movie.

You can see it in theaters and on Netflix.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Yesterday, I met with a futurist researcher named Mike Courtney. He wanted to interview me, he said, for a paper he’s writing on “unions and automation.”

I gave Courtney fair warning. I told him that my views don’t represent anybody but me, but I have AN AWFUL LOT of opinions.


This futurist said that some automation is apparently “good,” but some of it is also “bad.” He wanted to try to find the line distinguishing “good” from “bad” automation. He figured a union man’s opinion would assist.

I told him that unions usually oppose automation, but we’re wrong when we do. As far as I can tell, unions either do nothing about automation or they try to negotiate with corporations to ease the pain when automation is inevitable. Good examples, I told him, were probably the Mine Workers and the Dock Workers on the Pacific Coast. I understand that both of them were decimated by automation, but not until after they had negotiated as good a deal as they thought possible. In my own local union, our Negotiating Committee Chairman once set up a “New Technology Committee” to try to advise negotiators what to do about automation. I consider that just about as good as any union does nowadays. At least they tried.

I could have told him that the machines I started running in 1978 replaced 16 conventional machines and, thus, 15 jobs. The machines that eventually replaced mine, as I retired, each replaced six of the ones I ran. Five more jobs lost to automation.

I did tell him what I did as an accountant. This was back before IBM introduced their 360 mainframe to take over jobs. I started a process of bill-paying that was all computerized. The machine compared what we thought we should pay with what the vendor was requesting. If they agreed, the bill was paid as soon as it was due. If they didn’t agree, then the accountant had to reconcile them and stick reconciliation data, positive or negative numbers, back into the machine. The machine just compared two sets of data and kicked out the ones needing reconciliation. I guess I would have seen the Accounting Department decimated if I hadn’t gotten bored and quit.

I think that Futurist Courtney was a little bit surprised when I insisted that unions were wrong to oppose automation. After all, I said, automation does what capitalism does best — lowering the unit price of the products we need or want.

The only problem with automation is how its benefit is allocated. Right now, all the benefit accrues to the capitalist in charge. Workers get nothing but layoff notices or, if they are lucky, they get to stay at work and do something even more mindless and boring than what they had before.

The automation genius of today is Jeff Bezos of Amazon. He has tens of thousands of employees worldwide. They do pitifully repetitious tasks and get paid very little. Besos, last I heard, makes $215,000,000 a day!

The solution to the problems that automation causes is not to oppose it. The solution is to grab some of the benefit. The way to do that is to shorten the working day every time productivity goes up. It’s the amount of wealth that an average worker produces in an average hour. Productivity is a statistic that the Bureau of Statistics gives out, I think, every quarter. It’s often around 2%.

Productivity aggregates, like a saving account aggregates. If you put the quarterly increases into a spreadsheet, you would see that an American worker today makes more than 4 times as much wealth in an hour than he/she did at the end of World War II. If the unions had known what they were doing, they would have demanded cuts in the working day so that they wouldn’t have lost 70% of their members, as they did.

The worst part about it, I told the futurist, is that union leaders figured this out long ago. From 1937 to 1947, the heyday of the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO) they demanded “30 for 40 with no cut in pay” every time they negotiated a contract. It meant that workers should work only 30 hours a week but continue to get paid the same that they made in 40 hours.

My own CIO union, the Auto Workers, had resolutions for “30 for 40” in every convention up to 1957. Then it disappeared. If you asked union leaders today about cutting working hours, I don’t think they would know what you are talking about.

My friend Tom Berry knows. He does a forum in North Dallas every Saturday evening. And every Saturday evening he gets up and says that Americans should demand a 6-hour day. It works out mathematically, you see: instead of 3 8-hour shifts we would have 4 6-hour shifts. Unions would be bigger and periodic unemployment would be less of a problem.

There are other advantages, too. Some researchers think that shortening the working day, completely by itself and for no other reason, would increase hourly productivity. People would just do their jobs better.

Another advantage might be that people with more leisure time might create even better ways to improve our quality of life.

Historically, the fight for shorter hours defined our worldwide labor movement. Getting the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1935 was the best thing we ever did. It said that employers had to pay their blue-collar workers overtime if they worked us more than 40 hours in a week. That’s all it said, but it was great.

But shortening the working hours has passed completely out of our collective consciousness. Most of the workers in my union don’t even want shorter hours. They grab up all the overtime they can get, just to pay their bills. A major social change like shorter working hours just doesn’t seem real to them, and that’s the union’s fault. Automation is killing American labor, and we have no program to deal with it.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON Radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. The podcast it on knon.org. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

Every year around Labor Day, Tom Berry asks me to speak at his weekly free speech forum, “College of Complexes.” This year, I said I would explain the world crisis and put forward the remedy. After I told him that, I had about two weeks to ask people what I should say.

From everybody I asked, and with a few factoids from the Dallas newspaper, this is what I told them on the evening of August 24:

A global crisis exists. It is economic, democratic, environmental, and a threat to world peace. The entire long video is at https://youtu.be/LSyxzN5-OW8, but I cut it into smaller pieces.

Economic Crisis

A short video of this part is at https://youtu.be/YNA90eP1eIc

The national Debt tops $22T for first time in history. This year’s projected budget deficit approaches $1T and will exceed $1T in 2020. “Some analysts note that between the deficit soaring and interest rates low, neither Congress nor the Fed would be able to do that much in a recession. ‘Both sides are out of bullets,’ said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank.”

Growth rates are falling internationally. Some countries, including Germany, already near recession.

Inequality is rampant. CEOs rake in 940% more than 40 years ago, while average workers earn 12% more. A September 2017 study by the Federal Reserve reported that the top 1% owned 38.5% of the country’ s wealth in 2016. “At the global level, wealth is highly concentrated: the top 10% owns more than 70% of the total wealth in China, Europe, and the United States combined; the bottom 50% owns less than 2%; and the middle 40% owns less than 30%,” Alice Walton has $46B. The CEO of American Airlines makes $6000/hour.

Outlook for workers worsens as the gig economy grows. The gulf between CEO pay and median worker pay has widened. Publicly traded companies are increasingly plowing cash into stock buybacks and shareholder dividends. … U.S. corporations in the S&P 500 spent a record $806 billion on stock buybacks in 2018.

A recession is pending. One of the most significant developments in this week’s turmoil was the emergence of an inverted yield curve in bond markets. This refers to a situation in which the return on long term government debt falls below that on shorter term bonds. This phenomenon is regarded as one of the most accurate indicators of recession as investors seek a “safe haven” in longer term bonds, pushing up their price and lowering their yield. The price of gold is rising as investors seek safe havens.

Peace & Justice

A short video is at https://youtu.be/xGcaPOknI5A

Discord is rising in the G-7 meeting. Trump has been at odds with traditional allies on climate, Iran, and trade. Volatility is occurring as Trump largely dismisses international alliances and cooperation in favor of his America First policies, creating a vacuum in global leadership. https://youtu.be/xGcaPOknI5A A short video is at Discord is rising in the G-7 meeting. Trump has been at odds with traditional allies on climate, Iran, and trade. Volatility is occurring as Trump largely dismisses international alliances and cooperation in favor of his America First policies, creating a vacuum in global leadership.

“The whole idea of world order is something that these other countries think a lot about, are quite preoccupied with. And they’re worried about how to sustain it without American leadership for world order,” said Jon Alterman, a global security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank.

“In principle, especially with the Chinese getting more powerful and the Russians in decline, the G-7 should be the guys that really get [along], and they just don’t,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a global risk-assessment firm in New York. “It’s a very dysfunctional group. They can’t agree on climate, trade, technology — these advanced economies should have common cause, and it’s not just because of Trump that they don’t. A lot of these countries are increasingly divided.”

Other “me first” governments include Brazil, Italy, Great Britain, and Austria.

Saudia Arabia is destroying Yemen. The U.S. is still occupying Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, Pakistan and India are at each other’s throats. There are very real threats of war over who will dominate the newly-unfrozen territories inside the Arctic Circle. That is the reason Trump wants to buy Greenland. It’s not a joke.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said that the world is at a “turning point in history” and governments must choose policies of peace and human rights over war and human suffering.

Democratic

Short video at https://youtu.be/YNA90eP1eIc

Big money is unleashed on our elections. Gerrymandering now has the legal seal of approval. Almost constant schemes to remove voting rights. Almost constant schemes for voter suppression.

Noam Chomsky has argued the Republican Party is the most “dangerous organisation in human history” and the world has never seen an organisation more profoundly committed to destroying planet earth.

Union busting is a common activity for this government.

Environmental

Short video at https://youtu.be/xWp9FTgLX30

Michael Moore says Donald Trump just began the ‘extinction of human life   on Earth’   

Brazilian rainforest, “lungs of the Earth” is burning.

The Dallas paper on 8/23 ran a letter from Ed Soph of Denton:

Ice melt portends disaster

….Economically, 3.7 degree Fahrenheit warming will produce $551 trillion in damages. (Total worldwide wealth today is $280 trillion.) If we continue our current ice-melting mining, transport and combustion of fossil fuels the planet will warm over 4 degrees. Flood damage will increase 160% to 240% with 2.7 degrees of warming; 3.6 degrees will guarantee that flooding deaths will be 50% higher than today.

…This will be the end of the planet, of a secure and safe and civilized life for our children, grandchildren and beyond. The future death, destruction, suffering and unthinkable global chaos ensured by our current suicidal fossil fuel economy massively outweigh the temporary inconveniences of a timely transition to a life-affirming, renewable energy future.”

In Western history, there were three periods of relative quiet:

Pax Romana  27 BC – 180 AD

Pax Brittania 1815 – 1914

Pax Americana 1945 – present?

The final one had the distinction of holding off the end of the world. But that period is ending.

Who’s to blame?

Sunspots?

Moral decay?

Low Church attendance?

Mr Donald Trump?

A few bad apples?

A long time ago, it was theorized that crisis is the result of sunspots. You often hear that our downfall is the result of moral decay or low church attendance. Mostly, lately, one hears that it’s all Mr Trump’s fault. But the source of our crisis is none of those things or people.

The crisis is the direct consequence of the greed of the people who have the most. They have done this since civilization began and they would do it to the end of civilization because they cannot act otherwise.

The peace crisis comes because the wealthy control incredible military powers, but only in their own nation. To gain advantage, they ultimately have to use that military power against weaker powers. They always have and they always would because they cannot act otherwise.

The environmental crisis is the direct result of wealthy people, acting within their own military units, to accrue more riches at the expense of life on the planet.

THE REMEDY

A short video is at https://youtu.be/9MgLUjFA1XE

The remedy is democracy. Instead of being ruled by a wealthy few, we must make it possible to rule ourselves. The wealthy few are not going to allow that willingly. They have to be overcome. The people being oppressed by this system must organize and rise up against the ones doing the oppressing.

This is not a call to arms. You couldn’t possibly overcome the military might of this nation’s wealthy. There are only two ways that ordinary people can overcome their rulers and only one of them has the potential to work.

It is also not a call to somehow vanquish the opposition. Some think that Trump supporters are not capable of learning and should somehow be written off. But you cannot afford to write anybody off. What are you going to do? Kill them?

Push the envelope on voting as far as it will go, however, “Never be fooled,” said Lucy Parsons, “Into believing that the wealthy are going to allow you to vote them out of power.” Elections are tremendously important, but not for the fundamental kind of change we need.

A general strike, on the other hand, can work. In fact, it just worked in Puerto Rico last month. To a lesser extent, it worked in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona for teachers last year. The only real strength that working people have is to collectively stop working.

It’s a wonderful word, “Organize.” Also “Solidarity.”

But those are abstractions. I told you I would tell you what you could do, in material, not abstract terms. Here it is:

In your interactions with people and organizations, try to move them leftward toward greater understanding and upward toward more activity.

Right now in America, the AFL-CIO is as progressive, as single of purpose, and as powerful as any organization in the nation. Join us.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM central Time every Saturday. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

Congress is raising a hullabaloo about what they are now calling “Big Tech” – by which they mean Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google. They are threatening to break out the old anti-trust laws and scatter each company into smaller ones. Their argument is that it would be more democratic to have smaller, less powerful, tech companies.

Here are my arguments against it.

Us old people saw this before when they broke up Bell Telephone. Does anybody remember their phone bills going down and their phone service improving? Nope. Nobody remembers it because it never happened. If anything, phone service costs went up and landline phone service became, well, what it is today.

Consider China

While American legislators are trying to tear successful enterprises apart, the Chinese are trying to build theirs up. One ought to think about the reasons for this difference, especially because the Chinese have clearly been operating the most successful economy in the world. Do you remember the phrase, “A Chinaman’s chance?” It used to mean no chance at all. In my lifetime, they’ve come from the least respected to the most feared economic machine.

I think that the Chinese want the obvious efficiency of giant enterprises, as almost anybody would. Apparently, the government over there thinks they can control them. Our government over here likes to pretend that they don’t interfere much in the economy. They say “let the market take care of itself,” unless, of course, their wealthy backers want another handout such as the giant tax break they just ripped off.

The pretense that the American economy can get back to some kind of individualistic entrepreneurial spirit is just that, a pretense. A capitalist economy develops the way it does because of its fundamental nature. The big ones eat the small ones. There’s no going back, and there’s actually no reason to go back anyway.

The Chinese government and the American government, both of them, can regulate big business. In fact, they can regulate big business better than they can regulate multiple smaller businesses for the simple reason that there are fewer people to watch and fewer books to audit.

Innovation?

Who can do research and development better than the government? Look at the pharmaceutical industry, for example. The problem with big pharma is not that they don’t take advantage of government research. The problem is that government doesn’t regulate them. Their cadres of lobbyists practically run the government instead of the other way around!

Consider the Postal Service

I’m afraid that the same people who want to break up Google are the same ones who want to break up the Post Office. We used to have the best postal service in the world, and it provided some of the best jobs we could get. Now, the good jobs are mostly gone and “privatization” is in every other paragraph. The same thing is true of what used to be the best school system in the world.

What Kind of Future?

We may daydream about a future that looks like our past. Young entrepreneurs wearing buckskins building up cattle empires on Native-Americans lands? Is that the model? Not likely. In my own sci-fi speculations about the future, revolutionaries try to build on the great accomplishments of capitalism, not tear them down. That’s for hippies.

The American government could regulate giant corporations on behalf of the people. They just don’t.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON”s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. 89.3FM in Dallas and podcast on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

None of the candidates in the 2020 presidential race are going to put things right. Not even Bernie.

My idea is not original. I got it from Bernie Sanders. In every speech and message, Sanders tells us that fundamental change will only come from a great united movement. Not from any candidate.

A good example was Mr Obama. He was elected on a slogan of “change,” and I think he sincerely meant it. As president, I think he did about as well as could be done. Working people certainly benefited.

But my old friend George Meyers was completely correct when he taught me that every victory for working people has to be won over and over as long as the employers are in charge. No matter what we win, they can, and will, always take it away.

So none of the candidates, not even Bernie, can fix what’s wrong.

Learn from history

I think that voters knew that in 2016. I think that some of Bernie’s voters crossed over to Trump in their desperation for anything other than business as usual. If the Democrats nominate another humdrum establishment politician, Trump is likely to win again.

A vote for Trump in 2020 is a vote for fascism, but don’t forget that Hitler was also elected by a population that was desperate for something different.

What needs fixing?

There are two major problems underlying our crisis: 1) America’s waning economic power and 2) Unrestricted capitalism which, by necessity, piles up the wealth for a diminishing few while exploiting the many. In order to continue unrestricted capitalism under these circumstances, the employers find it necessary to erode and, eventually, destroy democracy.

Mr Trump is certainly not going to fix either one of these problems. In fact, by exploiting them for personal power, he’s making them much worse. It may be true that “anybody but Trump” is the right election choice for 2020, but elections are only one part of power politics.

How do we fix them?

Major social changes are not and never have been made by well intentioned individuals or small groups. It takes a united mass movement. That’s what Mr Bernie Sanders is working toward. His presidential campaigns are only a part of building that movement. Even if he loses again in 2020, support for him and his movement is still the right course. In fact, it’s the only positive course.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site