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politics

Book Review:

Mallaby, Sebastian, “MORE MONEY THAN GOD. Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite.” Illustrated. 482 pp. A Council on Foreign Relations Book/The Penguin Press, 2010. Downloadable from the Dallas Library

Financiers, and especially financial speculators, are among the darkest and most hated figures of today’s capitalism. This is a good book even for the great majority of Americans for whom “hedge fund manager” and “Satan” are perceived as close. It could be argued that Mitt Romney lost the presidency in 2012 mostly because he was associated with hedge funds.

The first question we may ask is, “Does anybody like them?” The answer is yes. Other obscenely rich people like them.

Journalist Sebastian Mallaby likes them, too. He provides a really good historical review of “hedged funds” from the 1940s to the great recession. There are lots of insights into the best-known figures of financial history and insights into how they operate(d). They piled up billions of dollars at one time or another, but several of them also went broke. Instead of being disgusting parasites, though, Mallaby sees hedge fund managers as beneficial.

One reason that they are so good for society is that they are not greatly regulated. They answer to no elected oversight group. That’s what makes them agile and strong, and it’s what makes them good at providing money liquidity in extreme situations. Regulation, Mallaby says, would be destructive to the world financial system.

Hedge fund managers are not the major players in high finance. That would be investment bankers. Mallaby shows that they’re the ones who caused the Great Recession, not hedge fund managers.

What Are They?

As I understand it, hedge fund speculators are characterized by the way they hedge their bets. In general, they buy and sell similar things at the same time. They may go “long” on a stock, a bond, a currency, an option, a derivative, etc while at the same time selling “short” on something similar. Their success depends on picking something profitable to buy and something risky to sell. Once they decide on their “long” and “short” positions, then they borrow a lot of money to do both. The borrowed money is called “leverage.”

If a hedge fund manager is really good at choosing, they make a little or a lot on each transaction. Either way, it quickly adds up. In case after case explained in this book, hedge fund managers started with a few million dollars and soon started managing billions. As the word of their success got around, thousands of new hedge funds were created, some by inspired entrepreneurs and some within the larger banks and financial institutions.

How Do They Do It?

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t tell us how to make a billion dollars overnight. It only tells us how others did it in the past. Some of them started out as stock or bond traders. Some of them were economists who could analyze long and short-term trends. More recently, some of them were simply mathematicians who could safely ignore markets and economics while simply looking for mathematical changes that, using advanced computer technology, could pay off a little or a lot.

What Does It Mean?

The book goes from one successful gambler to the next. Some of them made their biggest piles of money during market downturns; consequently, the historical context is not immediately evident. But for me, the historical context is the most important part because understanding what happened is the basis for figuring out what may happen next.

The entire period covered by the hedge fund phenomenon was one of United States domination of world finance. The entire period was one in which increasingly the most astounding wealth went to people who didn’t manufacture anything and provided no service that anyone could immediately request or even understand.

We live in a world of financialization.  The magnates of industry no longer control the governments of the world; their bankers do.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program 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: “Peterloo,” Written and Directed by Mike Leigh, 2 hours 23 minutes




How strikes were ended

The new British historical epic was released in Dallas on April 19. I imagine they would like to hope it would run until August 16, the 200th anniversary of the slaughter of hopeful worker activists around Manchester. The run time will almost certainly be disappointing, because movies with a solid political message seldom last longer than one week in our town.

My movie buddy and I went to see it because we knew that the writer/director was capable of saying very good things about working families. Nearly all movies are about the affluent or the artistic. We were certainly not disappointed with “Peterloo!”

Another great thing about Leigh is his ability to develop women characters. Even though history only names the men who organized the effort and the men who did the murdering, women must have been very important in the struggle for British reforms. They show up well in “Peterloo.”

Moviegoers who have no interest in improving the condition of humanity are probably going to think that this film is a tad too long, covers too many characters, and includes too many speeches. Those of us who want to learn from history in order to make a better future, a large group that almost certainly includes Mike Leigh, think it was too short.

In 1819, a reform movement was sweeping through the miserable lives of British manufacturing workers. The heroes in this story are the weavers, men and women, in Manchester. The setting alone is fascinating, because Frederich Engels, lifelong collaborator of Karl Marx, wrote his important literary work, “The Condition of the Working Class in England,” about these very Manchester families.

Leigh did not stint on spending for this film. Every frame rings with authenticity. The one or two short scenes of the great mechanical looms in the textile mill must have cost a small fortune. Every set, every costume, every sallow-complexioned worker, convinces us that we are actually watching what happened in that great historical worker upheaval.

Know your constituency

As a lesson in strategies, Peterloo is superb! Leigh establishes exactly what the workers must have been thinking in 1819, and he goes over every painful question they had to answer as they prepared to go on strike and carry out a massive demonstration involving over 60,000 people.

Every moviegoer already knows how successful they are going to be, as history doesn’t say “Peterloo” without saying “massacre.” Discerning activists will be watching to see what might have been done differently so that the workers might have found success. We also watch to see how we can refine our efforts today.

As the lower tactical level, it would be hard to fault the weavers. They did a wonderful job of convincing tens of thousands of exploited people to come together.

Know your enemies

But at the higher strategic level, they made a tragic mistake that all of us must learn and apply to today’s thinking: they were so caught up in their efforts to organize and unify themselves that they did not give proper consideration to their enemy. Class struggle isn’t one sided. There is another class on the other side, fighting against us, and they cannot be ignored. Most important, they cannot be underestimated.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’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

Netflix has an 8-part Russian-language mini-series purporting to portray the life of Leon Trotsky. Wikipedia has a short description at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trotsky_(TV_series). They say that it won a bunch of awards: “The Association of Film and Television Producers in Russia awarded the series in the categories Best Sound, Best Editing Best Makeup, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Special Effects, Best Actress (Olga Sutulova), Best Actor (Konstantin Khabensky), Best TV series.” It was released on the anniversary of the Russian revolution and, understandably, drew a lot of watchers. I don’t think that Russians, even old Russians from the Soviet days, have ever heard much about the man, so they’re bound to be curious.





Leon Trotsky had, and still has, a worldwide revolutionary following

I’m no expert, but I’ve studied Trotsky’s works, and some histories of the Soviet Union, so I know that the mini-series plays very loose with the truth. The people who actually know something about the Russian revolution and about Leon Trotsky are furious. Check out the World Socialist Web Site commentary at https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/12/19/tele-n25.html.

Here’s the short version of what actually happened. Trotsky was a leading figure in the unsuccessful 1905 revolution that took place when the Russian Empire suffered an ignominious defeat by the Japanese. He was well known, especially as an agitator. In the late summer of 1917, Trotsky joined Lenin’s Bolsheviks and was taken into their central leadership just a few months before they took power. He was entrusted with negotiating a peace settlement with the Germans. The leadership then put him in charge of the Red Army in the extremely important civil war that quickly followed. Lenin died in 1924 and Trotsky was exiled in 1928. Trotsky then started organizing his worldwide following into a new anti-Stalin “Fourth International.” He was murdered in Mexico in 1940, but his followers continue to this day.

TV Trotsky is portrayed as an oversexed megalomaniac who spends his days killing people, screwing around, and scheming. Stalin’s sex life is left out. He just robs people and schemes. Lenin is kind of a weak buffoon that the evil Trotsky manipulates. In this version, Lenin didn’t even lead the Russian Revolution: Trotsky carried it out as a putsch, then manipulated the feeble-minded Lenin into taking credit.

I ought to mention that there’s a tremendous amount of anti-semitism in this new Russian version. Women are just sex machines drooling over the power-mad title role. Actually, it would be really hard to find anything good about any of the characters in this version of the Russian revolution and its aftermath.

One may conclude then, that the misleading series is not a good way to understand the Russian revolution or its aftermath. But the TV mockumentary has value for trying to understand the current mindset in Russia. I think they want to be seen as open minded, because they talked about someone whose name and reputation were repressed in the Soviet days. I also think they want to discredit the revolutionaries and what they built.

The effect on the few Americans who find everything else in their world so boring that they are willing to sit through this repetitious collections of scraps, is that it may make them want to learn some real history from somewhere else. We Americans, like the people who made this TV series, don’t know much about Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and the Soviets, either.

Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’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

Book Review:

Taylor,F. Jay, “The United States and the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939,” Introduction by Claude G Bowers, United Printing Services, New Haven, Connecticut, 1956.



Fascist General Franco had a lot of help from his friends

The parents of monsters are not usually examined. Thus it is with the progenitors of World War II, who were in Spain. But if the fascist monster persists, and threatens world havoc again, such an examination is in order. I set out then, to read about the Spanish Republic, Mussolini, and Hitler in the few years leading up to the fascist holocaust.

Historians like to present unassailable facts and feign objectivity. Thus, this author reports only that the Spanish Republic attempted to assert democracy after centuries of monarchy and dictatorship. They were set upon by General Franco and his Moorish troops from Morocco while the “great powers” sat on their hands.





The Abraham Lincoln Brigade is still celebrated with their U.S. magazine

A few thousand untrained internationalists, as many as 3,000 from the United States, joined the fight for democracy. Fascist Italy and Germany supplied tens of thousands of trained soldiers along with modern tanks and aircraft to defeat them. England, France, and the United States went to great lengths to pretend neutrality. Thus, fascism found its military and psychological advantage in its first great step toward taking over all of Europe. The great war became inevitable.

Author F. Jay Taylor cannot completely avoid the same conclusion. On page 189, he says: “In any event, although Roosevelt had some misgivings concerning American Spanish policy, he refused to act and so must share responsibility with Britain and France in contributing to the advent of the Second World War by appeasing Fascist aggressors in Spain.”

The books’ introduction is by the American Ambassador during the period.

Claude G. Bowers is more generous with conclusions. He says that the purpose of the Spanish Republic was “aimed at wiping out the lingering feudalism in the land and the raising of the status of the workers to that of human dignity.” He also says, ““It is a sad commentary on human weakness that while the totalitarians made no secret of their purpose, we democrats did our best to cover it up.”

Having read the book 70 years after its publication, and having read other important sources about the fascist invasion of Spain, I am explicit in my conclusion: The great capitalist powers, including the United States, nurtured European fascism in its infancy because the fascists offered to destroy the socialist bogeyman for them.

They embraced fascism over democracy then and have done it since. Examples include Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Congo, Their current target is Venezuela.

Can one conclude anything else?

-Gene Lantz

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

I don’t tend to believe the mainstream media about Venezuela because the only people they quote are Trump Administration and a few former state department employees. I also received a few statements with a totally different take on what’s going on.

Today’s newspaper says the usual: “people in Venezuela are in revolt because their failed socialist system has wrecked the economy and, as of now, destroyed their power grid. The United States is for democracy.”

I tend to believe the interview in “Democracy Now,” which says that people on Trump’s side actually burned trucks full of humanitarian aid so they could blame it on the Venezuelan government. Here’s a quote from Pulitzer-Prize winner Glenn Greenwald: “Every time the U.S. wants to start a new war, it does it the same way, which is, it invents some really inflammatory, emotionally wrenching lie that gets people to hate the government they want to topple so much that they set their rationality aside and support the war. So, they claimed North Korea—or, North Vietnam attacked U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, which was a lie to start the Vietnam War. They claimed that Saddam had been ripping babies out of incubators in Kuwait, to start the Gulf War, which was a lie. They claimed weapons of mass destruction, which was a lie, to start the Iraq War.”

I like the anti-interventionist statement of the Dallas Peace and Justice Center. https://www.dpjc.org/our-messages/178-position-statement-no-u-s-intervention-in-venezuela

Veterans for Peace says, “Veterans For Peace is outraged at the unfolding coup d’etat in Venezuela, which is clearly being orchestrated by the U.S. government.”

Code Pink writes, “The U.S. is orchestrating a coup in Venezuela that is likely to lead to bloodshed — even civil war and U.S. liberal media are willing participants in the “humanitarian aid” PR stunt to make it happen.”

Seventy scholars and experts agreed on a statement calling for negotiations instead of intervention.

The Cuban government made a strong statement about the Venezuelan power failure. “The Revolutionary Government strongly condemns the sabotage perpetrated against the power supply system in Venezuela, which is a terrorist action intended to harm the defenseless population of an entire nation and turn it into a hostage of the non-conventional war launched by the government of the United States…” I wish it didn’t, but it makes sense to me.

As an American trade unionist, I’m most impressed by the long resolution that came from the Chicago Teachers Union. These are the brave and smart people who started today’s round of great labor successes for school workers. They point to the U.S. involvement, specifically Elliott Abrams, President Trump’s current Special Envoy to Venezuela, in the 2002 coup attempt. They continue: “WHEREAS, the U.S. has recently attempted to provoke a border incident with the Maduro government by moving $20 million worth of “aid” to Venezuela after it has frozen the foreign assets of that country, discouraged other countries from doing business with Venezuela, and imposed sanctions that increase the poverty and misery of the general population by costing the Venezuelan government billions  ever year; and

‘WHEREAS, the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and other international relief organizations refused to work with the U.S. on delivering this “aid” to Venezuela, which they say is politically motivated; and the Venezuelan government considers a Trojan Horse for an eventual military invasion’; and

‘WHEREAS, U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolden, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have all explicitly stated that U.S. corporations should control the oil resources in Venezuela, which implies that this will be a war for oil; and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the elected Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro’s “days in office are numbered”; and

‘WHEREAS, the world is still reeling from the war for oil in Iraq, which has left that country in shambles and continues to destabilize the middle east to this day; therefore, be it

‘RESOLVED, that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) publicly states its opposition to any military invasion of the sovereign state of Venezuela, and insists on dialogue, diplomacy, and negotiation as the means to resolve this crisis; and

‘RESOLVED, that the CTU advocate for the suspension of the current sanctions against Venezuela, and for the U.S. to cease all threats, military mobilization, and interference in the economic and internal politics and affairs of the Venezuelan people; and respect the right of self-determination of this sovereign nation in accordance with U.S. stated commitment to the rule of law; and be it finally

‘RESOLVED, the CTU stands in solidarity with the Venezuelan labor organizations Sindicato Nacional Fuerza Magisterial (SINAFUM)i , Colectivo Clasista de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Educación.ii “Carmen Conzoño” y al Frente Nacional de Lucha de la Clase Trabajadora (FNLCT)iii , and other organizations that oppose the interference in Venezuela’s sovereign affairs and the consequent threat of military intervention.”

Will Democracy Result?

If and when the U.S. takeover is completed, does anybody really expect democracy? Did the Chileans get democracy when the U.S. overthrew their government? Did the Iranians get democracy when the CIA installed the Shah? If the present government of Venezuela is overthrown, you can expect a bloodbath. The way it’s looking right now, it may be a bloodbath either way. Unless we do something!

Take a Stand Before It’s Too Late

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you want to know 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.

–Gene Lantz

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

It is getting harder to find a Democrat who is not running for president. I have found a few, but they were running for Mayor of Dallas.

So many candidates, so few choices!

I guess they think 2020 will be their electable year, because anybody could beat the presumptive Republican candidate, Donald Trump. But for the rest of us, the giant list of Trump-defeaters is a source of frustration. With so many candidates in the primaries, they are going to expend a large part of the resources and energy they would need to actually win in the general election.

So why are they all running?

One would like to think that each of the candidates running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination is doing it in order to defeat Trump and restore democracy. Or at least they could be running just because they think the Democrats are better than the Republicans.

But we know that’s not really it. If it were true, they’d be looking for the strongest candidate and trying to help him or her over the finish line, not cutting each other’s throats in the primary race.

The sad truth is that nearly all candidates for public office are doing it for opportunistic reasons of their own. In other words, they are advancing their own careers no matter how many times they say they are doing it for us.

The political term “opportunism” generally means sacrificing higher principles for personal gain. It sounds so awful that one would like to think that it’s rare, or at least not customary.

Followers of Bernie Sanders in 2016 are especially angry, and rightfully so, at all the candidates coming forward with most or part of Bernie’s trailblazing 2016 program. If they’re really for Bernie’s program, why aren’t they supporting Bernie?

Opportunism exists in many forms, not just in electoral politics. When a good union representative gets promoted into management, especially into the human relations department, that’s opportunism. It happens a lot. Stool pigeons in the progressive movement are opportunists, and so are so-called progressive leaders who sell out for personal gain.

It’s like polio, AIDS, or malaria, it’s awful and it’s everywhere.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3FM in Dallas at 9 AM central time every Saturday. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site