Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 31, 2018

Donald Trump, “anchor babies”, and the Fourteenth Amendment

Filed under: immigration — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

Wong Kim Ark, the man who challenged 19th century nativism and won

One thing I’ll never get used to is the idea that Donald Trump is trying to impose a fascist state as if the USA was some kind of virginal republic being raped by a barbarian culture of white supremacy imported from abroad. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that Adolf Hitler plagiarized many of his sickest policies from American presidents.

Rudolf Hess once said that “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology.” Reading this, you might think that Donald Trump is smuggling in fascist ideology into our decent, liberty-loving democracy. In reality, it is just the other way around. As should be clear from a close examination of early 20th century history, the Nazis imitated the powerful eugenics movement in the USA, especially the writings of Harry Laughlin, the  Superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office from its start in 1910 until its closing in 1939. He pushed for enforced sterilization programs that would weed out those with inferior genes. The ERO was financed by the wife of railroad magnate E.H. Harriman and by John Henry Kellogg, the cornflake inventor. Later on, it received funding from the Carnegie Institution. Harriman, Kellogg, and Carnegie—bastions of our corporate democracy.

The Nazis passed the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring in 1933 according to Laughlin’s strictures. Up to 350,000 persons were sterilized. So indebted to Laughlin were the Nazis that the University of Heidelberg awarded him an honorary degree in 1936 for his work behalf of the “science of racial cleansing.”

Perhaps because of the openly racist character of the Trump administration, there has been a growing number of articles calling attention to how American democracy paved the way for genocide. Eugenics, a widely accepted practice in the USA, would evolve into genocide as Hitler became more and more rabid in his racial enmity.

In The New Yorker magazine, there’s an article titled “How American Racism Influenced Hitler” that addresses these questions. Author Alex Ross makes many canny observations such as this:

American eugenicists made no secret of their racist objectives, and their views were prevalent enough that F. Scott Fitzgerald featured them in “The Great Gatsby.” (The cloddish Tom Buchanan, having evidently read Lothrop Stoddard’s 1920 tract “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy,” says, “The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged.”) California’s sterilization program directly inspired the Nazi sterilization law of 1934. There are also sinister, if mostly coincidental, similarities between American and German technologies of death. In 1924, the first execution by gas chamber took place, in Nevada. In a history of the American gas chamber, Scott Christianson states that the fumigating agent Zyklon-B, which was licensed to American Cyanamid by the German company I. G. Farben, was considered as a lethal agent but found to be impractical. Zyklon-B was, however, used to disinfect immigrants as they crossed the border at El Paso—a practice that did not go unnoticed by Gerhard Peters, the chemist who supplied a modified version of Zyklon-B to Auschwitz. Later, American gas chambers were outfitted with a chute down which poison pellets were dropped. Earl Liston, the inventor of the device, explained, “Pulling a lever to kill a man is hard work. Pouring acid down a tube is easier on the nerves, more like watering flowers.” Much the same method was introduced at Auschwitz, to relieve stress on S.S. guards.

Karl May was a German novelist who wrote popular works set in the American Southwest that glorified the cowboy culture. Although the novels were universally beloved, even by Albert Einstein, they helped Hitler and other leading Nazis extrapolate policies that paralled the genocidal attacks on native peoples by Kit Carson, et al. In an article titled “The Cowboy Novels That Inspired Hitler”, Alan Gilbert writes:

As Fuehrer, Hitler kept the whole collection of May’s works in his bedroom, and they inspired his ideas about the frontier. To Hitler, Lebensraum meant settlement and bread: “For a man of the soil, the finest country is the one that yields the finest crops. In twenty years’ time, European emigration will no longer be directed towards America, but eastwards.”

Of Ukrainians, Hitler insisted, “There’s only one duty: to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans, and to look upon the natives as Redskins.”

Astonishingly, Hitler’s idea of settling the eastern European frontier even came decked out in the clichés of Western conquest: “We’ll supply the Ukranians with scarves, glass beads, and everything that colonial peoples like.”

To paraphrase H. Rap Brown, fascism is as American as apple pie.

This brings me to Trump’s latest outrage, the denial of Fourteenth Amendment rights to the children of undocumented immigrants born here. The Fourteenth Amendment stipulates: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” The amendment was passed in 1868 to put teeth into Reconstruction. Freed slaves could not be denied the rights given to other Americans.

For rightwing legal “scholars”, this amendment is a thorn in the side. It supposedly empowers “anchor babies”, a pejorative term used even by Chris Cuomo on CNN to describe pregnant women from deliberately coming to the USA to have a baby that will automatically gain citizenship. However, the rules surrounding this practice are so onerous that it is doubtful that it will allow anybody except the child to enjoy citizenship.

Citizen children cannot sponsor parents for entry until they are 21 years of age, and if the parent had ever been in the country without documents, they would have to show they had left and not returned for at least ten years. Most children born here to undocumented immigrants were born the same way other children were born. Their parents decided to raise a family, a natural human need.

To understand the universal applicability of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is necessary to see its emergence during a period of deep revolutionary momentum. Even though the Civil War was a “bourgeois revolution”, many of the people on the front lines ideologically as well as militarily saw their efforts as one of creating a more just country and a more just world. Radical Republicans faced down their adversaries as this Huffington Post article titled “Trump’s Anti-Citizenship Plan Is a Historic Loser” would indicate:

For example, early in the 1866 debates, an opponent of birthright citizenship — Senator Edgar Cowan, often cited by modern opponents of birthright citizenship — objected to the citizenship provision by asking whether “it will not have the effect of naturalizing the children of the Chinese and Gypsies born in this country.” Senator Lyman Trumbull, a key proponent of the citizenship clause, replied that it would, “undoubtedly,” and made clear in the face of Cowan’s xenophobic remarks that the child of such immigrants “is just as much a citizen as the child of a European.”

As the Republican Party abandoned Reconstruction, the rights of both Black Americans and immigrants eroded. For the Chinese, their rights were abrogated under a clearly unconstitutional law, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that banned Chinese women from immigrating to the USA and that excluded all Chinese people living in the USA from citizenship.

Notwithstanding the generally reactionary climate, worse in many ways than today, a landmark decision was made in 1898 that should serve as a firewall against Trump’s nativist agenda. Wong Kim Ark, who was born in San Francisco in 1873, left the USA for a visit to China but was banned re-entry at the time under provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act. When the case was argued by the Supreme Court, the majority decided that the Fourteenth Amendment granted U.S. citizenship to at least some children born of foreigners because they were born on American soil (a concept known as jus soli). In other words, the Supreme Court made a decision that upheld the universality of the Fourteenth Amendment even during a period of deep reaction.

On July 18th, Michael Anton, a former Trump administration official, wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post that once again tried to undermine the power of the 14th Amendment and the Wong Kim Ark case that should have settled the matter permanently:

Some will argue that the Supreme Court has already settled this issue, establishing birthright citizenship in United States v. Wong Kim Ark. But this is wrong. The court has ruled only that children of legal residents are citizens. That doesn’t change the status of children born to people living here illegally.

In an interview with the NY Times, Martha S. Jones, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and the author a new book “Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America”, offered her thoughts on Anton:

The argument focuses on a clause in the 14th Amendment that excludes from birthright citizenship persons not subject to “the jurisdiction of the United States.” Historically, that was intended to exclude the children of diplomats and other foreign dignitaries, and Native people, who were subject to their own sovereign nations. Anton is trying to say that children of undocumented immigrants are different from that of Wong Kim Ark, whose parents were authorized.

There is an unspoken, but I think plainly visible, racialized dimension to this argument, which I see as having developed in response to the predominance, in the 21st century, of Latino immigrants. It runs disturbingly counter to what the 14th amendment gave us, which was a route to citizenship that could not be denied by virtue of race, by virtue of descent, religion, political party, health, wealth.

To really come to terms with Donald Trump, the best way to approach him is as a throwback to the deeply regressive conditions of the post-Reconstruction period when the American Empire was taking shape, when American Indians were being herded into reservations when they were not being outright slaughtered, when the KKK was lynching Black people who dared to exercise their rights as American citizens and when Robber Barons held sway.

At the time, there were fitful efforts to challenge the duopoly that ruled Washington in the interests of big business. The Populist Party sprang from the grass roots of the agrarian resistance to big banks, monopolies and railroad extortionary fees. When it became co-opted by the Democratic Party, the Socialist Party jumped into the breach. History would judge these electoral struggles as exercises in futility but they remain as key to the survival of American civilization as they have ever been. With the November 6th election rapidly approaching, I would urge my readers to vote for Howie Hawkins and other Green candidates who embody the radical core of earlier third parties. As Debs said, it is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.

October 30, 2018

Did the PT in Brazil dig its own political ditch?

Filed under: Brazil,Ecology — louisproyect @ 2:23 pm

(Posted to Facebook by Rob Wallace. Rob has told me that a longer version is in the works destined for broader circulation. I will post a comment when that is available. For the kind of analysis deployed below, I recommend “Clear-Cutting Disease Control: Capital-Led Deforestation, Public Health Austerity, and Vector-Borne Infection“, a book that includes Rob as one of its co-authors.)

Brazil under the Partido dos Trabalhadores took the BRICS route on development. A recent visit showed the country indeed had parlayed a capitalism with Brazilian characteristics, simultaneously attracting foreign direct investment and raising standards of living across large sections of its population.

Whatever one makes of that choice, the PT may have effectively dug its own political ditch. The strategy, caught mid-stride, both empowered a bourgeoisie that held no loyalty to a workers’ party and left many millions behind. Along the way, PT functionaries took their cut. The soft coup by a rump of corrupt reactionaries that opened up the path to open fascist Jair Bolsonaro would have been laughed off if charges of PT corruption hadn’t held any water.

Now the neoliberal deforestation we described in our book Clear-Cutting Disease Control, driving the emergence of new outbreaks in Brazilian wildlife and human populations alike, will be let off its chain under Bolsonaro likely down to the last oxygen-producing tree.

We described some of the dynamics of what were PT-led changes in Brazilian land use. Here, (a) Ranked field size based on 1 km global IIASA-IFPRI cropland percentage map for baseline year 2005 (Geo-Wiki Cropland, Fritz et al. 2015). Huge plantations gouging the Amazon.

(b) Combinations of expansion and contraction for cropland and pasture in minimum comparable areas where both crop production and pasture production intensified, 1996–2006 (Barretto et al. 2013). Cropland and pasture growing in the Amazon even a decade ago.

(c) Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) farmland investments in Brazil (Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos et al. 2015). The pension fund, now called just TIAA, is investing hundreds of millions in US$ into Brazilian fund Radar Propriedades Agrícolas S/A co-created with giant sugar producer Cosan to acquire land for sugarcane and other commodity crops. Cosan manages the fund, retaining first rights to acquire parcels before Radar, through TIAA’s Brazilian subsidiary Mansilla Participacoes Ltda, and places them on the market. By 2012, Radar acquired 392 farms in Brazil of over 150,000 ha of an estimated value over US$1 billion. TIAA invests into Brazilian farmland by a second pathway: TIAA-CREF Global Agriculture LLC, a US$2 billion global farmland fund aimed at Australia, Brazil, and the USA. To circumvent Brazilian law against foreign acquisitions, TCGA invests indirectly through Tellus Brasil Participações Ltd., also managed by Cosan.

(d) Dynamic agriculture frontier in Brazilian Legal Amazon: cattle population by municipality and along road infrastructure (Pacheco and Poccard-Chapuis 2012).

(e) Urban areas as detected from nightlight glow, 1992 and 2010. Note the growing periurban infrastructure through ostensibly rural areas and deep forest (Lapola et al. 2014).

October 29, 2018

I run afoul of Facebook Community Standards

Filed under: Internet — louisproyect @ 8:48 pm

On October 22nd, out of the blue, I learned that my posting privileges to FB had been suspended for 24 hours as indicated below.

When I asked one of the FB censors what the problem was, he refused to reply that it was because I had included a picture of Adolf Hitler in a critique I had written of Mark Bray and other “anti-fascists”. In consulting the “Community Standards”, I could find no reference to Hitler photos being banned but surmised that this was the issue. I wondered if my violation rested in posting a hagiographic photo of Hitler. Perhaps if I had used one that showed him in his characteristically psychotic ranting pose as emulated by Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”, there might not have been a problem.

In any case, it certainly took them long enough to act on it, a full year and 3 days in fact. I’m surprised that they didn’t act sooner if the intention was to squelch a fascist takeover in the USA. You’d think that the photo might have become a magnet to attract all the disaffected 28-year-olds in New York with Richard Spencer hairdos and serious Tucker Carlson habits to come looking to me for guidance by this point.

As a programmer, I wonder what kind of artificial intelligence they used to nail me. It must have been advanced enough to weed out anything that showed Der Fuhrer meeting with British royalty. After all, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were two of his biggest fans. But how could you stigmatize the kind of people who are featured in PBS Masterpiece Theater? That would be an abuse of corporate control.

Frankly, I came away from this experience unscathed. 24 hours was not even a slap on the wrist. It was more like someone wagging a finger at me. But long before this “Community Standards” bullshit became codified, Zuckerberg, Inc. was messing with totally legitimate accounts on FB. Four years ago, the Atlantic reported that “The Syrian Opposition Is Disappearing From Facebook”. It seems that dozens of opposition pages, including the Kafranbel Media Center, had been shut down. The article surmises that organized Assadist networks flooded FB with complaints in order to suppress news about government atrocities.

Sometimes the censorship is just idiotic. For example, there’s an iconic photo of young Vietnamese girl fleeing a village that has just been bombed. She is naked and wears a look of utter terror on her face. Her nudity got the photo banned as if it were pornography.

For the millenarian left at WSWS.org and their friend Chris Hedges, this is represented as a totalitarian move against the left. When Google changed its algorithms a while back, it forced someone using Google for a search on “Marxism” to go 3 or 4 pages deep to find a WSWS.org article. Frankly, if I had worked on the software, I would have found a way to put it 30 or 40 pages down or maybe jiggered it to come up on the first page doing a search on “anti-Marxism”.

This August, they reported on FB malfeasance. Reading it with a grain of salt, you do get the picture that something is going on. Perhaps their citation of the Washington Post (they’d be lost without the ability to cite the WP and the NYT) helps lend the article credibility. Dated August 21, the WP states that it had begun to assign its users a reputation score, predicting their trustworthiness on a scale from zero to 1. The Post sizes up this measure:

The reputation assessments come as Silicon Valley, faced with Russian interference, fake news and ideological actors who abuse the company’s policies, is recalibrating its approach to risk — and is finding untested, algorithmically driven ways to understand who poses a threat. Twitter, for example, now factors in the behavior of other accounts in a person’s network as a risk factor in judging whether a person’s tweets should be spread.

I find this all rather laughable. If you step inside social media, it is a bit like that scene in “Trainspotting” when the junky jumps into the worst toilet in Scotland to retrieve a bag of heroin that had accidentally fell out of his pocket:

I try to steer clear of the diarrhea by carefully scrutinizing every FB friend request I get to make sure that there are no links to WSWS.org or Global Research in the requestor’s timeline. Of course, the enduring mystery is why any of these people would have ever taken the trouble to become my friend in the first place. Everybody knows that I am on George Soros’s payroll. In fact, next week I am getting together with George and Leon Botstein at Per Se in order to strategize how to make a color revolution in Saudi Arabia that might be the next Syria. All this furor over Jamal Khashoggi getting chopped up in the consulate? After all, he had it coming by asking Osama bin Laden softball questions 35 years ago.

For all of the dark warnings about FB cracking down on the left, most objective analysts would agree that if there is any bias, it is for liberal causes and against the Republicans. Being liberal does not necessarily mean, of course, that FB would not give me the boot if it saw that as being in the interest of national security.

But I think the most accurate assessment of its bias comes from NY Times opinion columnist Zeynep Tukfeci, who was a co-moderator of the Marxism list that spawned Marxmail years ago:

FACEBOOK is biased. That’s true. But not in the way conservative critics say it is.

The social network’s powerful newsfeed is programmed to be viral, clicky, upbeat or quarrelsome. That’s how its algorithm works, and how it determines what more than a billion people see every day.

The root of this bias is in algorithms, a much misunderstood but increasingly powerful method of decision making that is spreading to fields from news to health care to hiring and even to war.

If these algorithms are not scientifically computing answers to questions with objective right answers, what are they doing? Mostly, they “optimize” output to parameters the company chooses, crucially, under conditions also shaped by the company. On Facebook the goal is to maximize the amount of engagement you have with the site and keep the site ad-friendly. You can easily click on “like,” for example, but there is not yet a “this was a challenging but important story” button.

This setup, rather than the hidden personal beliefs of programmers, is where the thorny biases creep into algorithms, and that’s why it’s perfectly plausible for Facebook’s work force to be liberal, and yet for the site to be a powerful conduit for conservative ideas as well as conspiracy theories and hoaxes — along with upbeat stories and weighty debates. Indeed, on Facebook, Donald J. Trump fares better than any other candidate, and anti-vaccination theories like those peddled by Mr. Beck easily go viral.

The newsfeed algorithm also values comments and sharing. All this suits content designed to generate either a sense of oversize delight or righteous outrage and go viral, hoaxes and conspiracies as well as baby pictures, happy announcements (that can be liked) and important news and discussions. Facebook’s own research shows that the choices its algorithm makes can influence people’s mood and even affect elections by shaping turnout.

For example, in August 2014, my analysis found that Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm largely buried news of protests over the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., probably because the story was certainly not “like”-able and even hard to comment on. Without likes or comments, the algorithm showed Ferguson posts to fewer people, generating even fewer likes in a spiral of algorithmic silence. The story seemed to break through only after many people expressed outrage on the algorithmically unfiltered Twitter platform, finally forcing the news to national prominence.

From my perspective, relying on the “the algorithmically unfiltered Twitter platform” to serve as a detonator to breaking through FB’s algorithms indicates how fucked up things are. In some ways, despite my ubiquitous presence on the net, I mourn the loss of print media. When I was 6 or 7 years old, my parents read 3 newspapers a day. The rightwing NY Daily News and Daily Mirror in the morning and the liberal NY Post in the evening. They had subscriptions to these magazines and like more that I can’t remember: Look, Life, Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, Pageant, Readers Digest and Coronet. This was before we got a television. In the evening, the radio would be on with news shows like Edward R. Murrow and H.V. Kaltenborn reporting on the Korean War.

Things went downhill once we got a boob tube in 1955. When my father finished eating dinner, he’d lie down in his bed and watch TV until 9:30 or so—totally zoned out as if he were in an opium den. I never saw him pick up another magazine from that point on.

The Internet has the promise of lifting up the consciousness of society or dragging it down. Frankly (as Donald Trump puts it), I think it is dragging it down at a breakneck pace. I can even see it in the posts of my FB friends who arguably among the most politically advanced in the USA. They spot some nonsense somewhere about the Pittsburgh killings being linked to Israel’s policies and post a link to it without even considering the possibility that Netanyahu is an alliance with Trump and the Christian right or that it is Muslims who are mostly the target of the alt-right.

I’ll continue to use FB since for the most part it puts me in touch with people who are on the leading edge of social change, especially the hundreds of people living in Idlib who are the 21st Century’s Communards. Long live their struggle!


October 26, 2018

The Bread Factory; Monrovia, Indiana

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:14 pm

Under consideration are two distinctly uncommercial films that will appeal to those with unconventional tastes, i.e., the sort of people who read this blog on a regular basis.

“The Bread Factory” is a two-part narrative film that opened today at the Village East Cinema. This means that you are in for a four-hour drama about the struggle of a couple of elderly lesbians to keep a performance space specializing in classical fare such as Euripides’s “Hecuba” going in a fictional town called Checkford. For decades they have routinely received funding from the school board that viewed the Bread Factory (named after the factory that was converted into a warren of theaters and workshops) because it allowed schoolchildren to learn how to make films, act, write poetry, etc. in the evenings and weekends.

This year it is different. A new performance space to be run by a couple of Chinese performance artists named May and Ray has opened up in town that has convinced the school board to spend its money on something more in line with changing global tastes and priorities. Doesn’t everybody know that China is the future?

Director Patrick Wang is well-equipped to treat such a dramatic conflict because he is both a trained economist and playwright. Six years ago I reviewed his first film “In the Family” that depicted the custody battle of a gay man for the right to raise the son of his domestic partner who dies in an automobile crash. From my review:

The story behind the making of the movie is almost as dramatic as the movie itself. Patrick Wang graduated from MIT with a degree in Economics and a concentration in Music and Theatre Arts. According to the press notes, he started out professionally as an economist. In that capacity, he studied energy policy, game theory, and income inequality at the Federal Reserve Bank, the Harvard School for Public Health and other organizations.

Using money that he had saved from such an establishment job, he put a half-million dollars into the film and stubbornly tried to get a theatrical release even though distributors were not interested. Fortunately, the quality of the work sold itself and New Yorkers have a rare opportunity to see something that not only is top-notch film-making but an eloquent but carefully modulated statement about the essential humanity of same-sexers.

Stubbornly? That is exactly what characterizes the two women who run the Bread Factory as played by Tyne Daly, the former star of the hit TV series “Cagney and Lacey”, and Elisabeth Henry, who has never appeared in a film before. For the two, it is not just a question of livelihood. If the Bread Factory does not get funded, they become unemployed septuagenarians. But it is also a challenge to their deeply held beliefs about what constitutes art. Although May and Ray are obvious charlatans, it is just as obvious that such people command the kind of attention so prevalent in a cultural world anxious to exploit the latest trends.

When I began watching the film, I had a sense of déjà vu. There was something about the Bread Factory that seemed awfully familiar. Putting the film on pause, I took a look at the press notes and discovered how Wang got the idea for “The Bread Factory”:

When I was on tour with my first film, one of the places that invited me to come and speak was a theater in Hudson, New York. I had never been there before, but the moment I stepped inside, I knew the place. It was like all the small community theaters where I first learned to put on plays. The two women who ran the place reminded me that it was almost all women directors, writers, and designers who taught me in my early years. The film began with those very warm memories. They don’t provide the characters and plots, but they are the spirit behind it all.

I know that theater well. I spent a weekend in Hudson last year to see a screening of “Ketermaya” at Stageworks, a 40,000 square foot performance space just like the Bread Factory that had been a candle-making factory at one point. For me, it symbolizes the kind of grass-roots support for the arts that defies the prevailing cultural norms of a civilization in deep decline. Kudos to Patrick Wang for making a film that recognizes the importance of such flowers that bloom in the desert.

Now 88, Frederick Wiseman has just made his 47th film, a documentary titled “Monrovia, Indiana” that like every other is in his patented cinéma vérité style. Opening today at the Film Forum in New York, it is a profile of the people living in a small, farming town that would seem to fit the Red State profile. In 2008, Barack Obama spoke of such people: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Wiseman wisely chose not to turn this into the sort of film a Michael Moore would make that would be equivalent to shooting fish in a barrel. Instead, he allows the common folk to represent themselves in Mason Lodge meetings, church services, shopping in a gun shop, making small talk in restaurants, deliberating in town council meetings, etc. You become a fly on the wall learning about people who are as remote in their own way from the lives of most of my readers as would be the Yanomami in Brazil.

Ironically, I grew up in an area not that different from Monrovia, even though the lives of others still remained a secret to me. I am referring to the Christians who owned farms in Sullivan County and who hunted deer, went to church on Sunday and drank at roadhouses. For a Jew, my world was that of shopkeepers, synagogues and ski hills.

In the press notes, Wiseman explained why he decided to make the film:

I thought a film about a small farming community in the Midwest would be a good addition to the series I have been doing on contemporary American life. Monrovia, Indiana appealed to me because of its size (1,063 residents), location (I have never shot a film in the rural Midwest) and the shared cultural and religious interests within the community. During the nine weeks of filming the residents of Monrovia were helpful, friendly and welcoming and gave me access to all aspects of daily life. Life in big American cities on the east and west coasts is regularly reported on and I was interested in learning more about life in small town America and sharing my view.

That an 88-year old filmmaker would express the need for “learning more” about this distinctly odd society we are living in should be an inspiration just not for other filmmakers but those of us interested in changing it.

The Octopus

Filed under: Counterpunch,crime,television — louisproyect @ 2:26 pm


Recently I had the opportunity to watch season one and two of “The Octopus” (La Piovra, another term for the mafia, just like Cosa Nostra), an Italian TV series that ran from 1984 to 2001. All ten seasons of this outstanding drama about one cop’s determination to take on and destroy the Sicilian mafia can be seen on MHz Choice, a VOD website devoted to European film and television and mostly focused on what the French call policiers and well worth the $7.99 monthly subscription fee. If after having seen my CounterPunch article about Swedish, Marxist-oriented detective series on Netflix, and moreover have appreciated such fare, you’ll be motivated to subscribe to MHz Choice since it has a sizable offering of Scandinavian crime fiction. For my money, literally speaking, this is the only genre on Netflix that is worth my while in recent years and if your tastes are similar to mine, MHz Choice is well worth the price of a subscription.

Having seen at least a half-dozen Italian films about the Sicilian mafia over the years, both narrative and documentary, the main takeaway is that the Italians would never dream of making the sort of films that established the reputations of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. Scorsese tends to portray his characters as morally deficient but even with the worst of them, like Joe Pesci’s Tommy De Vito in “Goodfellas”, you are likely to find them demonstrating a raffish charm. As for “The Godfather”, it depicts the Corleone family as the good guys sustaining the “honor” of a virtual benevolent society against the bad gangsters, no matter that no such family ever existed. The “Sopranos” on HBO was obviously made in the same spirit and helped to convey the impression that with their malapropisms, Tony’s gang was just a modern version of Shakespeare’s clowns but with a violent streak.

Continue reading

October 24, 2018

Life and Nothing More

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 11:56 pm

Opening at the Film Forum today, “Life and Nothing More” shares the title of Abbas Kiarostami’s 1992 narrative film about the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake in Iran that cost the lives of 30,000 citizens. Antonio Méndez Esparaza’s film, while likely not an homage to Kiarostami’s masterpiece, shares its compassion for victims but on another fault line, that of the racial and class divide of contemporary Florida.

Using neorealist conventions heightened by a very gifted non-professional cast, the story is defined by the constraints imposed by capitalist society on a single mother working as a waitress, her troubled 14-year old son, and three year old daughter. Fifty years ago, when I was working as a welfare worker in Harlem, I sat by the side of a 28-year old mother of four in her hospital bed trying to convince her stay in bed since doctors warned that if she checked herself out, another heart attack would cost her life. Through her sobs, she kept asking why she had to suffer so much. Unlike Job, her suffering and the suffering of the single mom in Esparaza’s powerful film is not a test of their faith by God but the results of wage slavery magnified by racism.

When we first meet Regina, she is working as a waitress at the Red Onion restaurant somewhere in Florida when an African-American man named Robert tries to strike up a friendly conversation with her. Since her husband is doing time for aggravated assault, she is wary of all men. In a subsequent conversation with Robert, she puts him off by saying “fuck all men”. Not willing to take no for an answer, he approaches her again during her break on another day and breaks down her resistance. Since there are so few pleasures in her life, being taken out for dinner and shooting pool with him later is something that she looks forward to. That is the first step in cementing a relationship that finally ends up with him moving in with her and treating the three-year-old with tenderness.

The stumbling block is her son Andrew who is as hostile to adult men as his mother is initially but with less of an incentive to open up to a man he suspects of taking advantage of his mother’s yearning for company. An argument between his mother and Robert in the middle of the night leads to a confrontation in which Andrew pulls out a gravity knife with a warning to Robert to stand down. Fed up with lover and son alike, Regina throws both men out—at least for the evening.

All of these people are living on the knife’s edge. A loss of a job, an unplanned pregnancy or an arrest can push them into a bottomless crevice that is social in nature rather than geological as was the case in Iran in 1990. In a high school class on “Hedda Gabler”, my teacher Fred Madeo, a leftist who used to write letters to the Guardian Newsweekly, told us that when we see a pistol in the first act, a seed is planted in our minds to expect that pistol to be fired before the play has ended. The gravity knife in “Life and Nothing More” plays the same role.

The authenticity of “Life and Nothing More” is astonishing. It has a documentary-like matter of factness that serves the narrative arc. Given the flammable nature of the social relations in the world occupied by the characters, a spark can set off a conflagration at any minute. It is reminder that if the anger and frustration of Black America ever gets turned at its real enemies, the class struggle of the future will make the sixties look like child’s play.

Early in the film, Regina is out in the parking lot with two other waitresses, one white and the other Black, taking a cigarette break and discussing the 2016 elections. They agree with each other that whoever is elected, their lives won’t change.

Let me conclude with the director’s compelling statement in the press notes, worthy of citation in its totality:

Cesare Zavattini (Bicycle Thieves, Rome, Open City), the father of neorealism and perhaps its most important writer, expressed the following in his 1952 “Some Ideas on the Cinema” interview:

The most important characteristic of neorealism is to realize that the necessity of the ‘story’ was only an unconscious way of disguising a human defeat, and that the kind of imagination it involved was simply a technique of superimposing dead formulas over living social facts. It has now been accepted that reality is hugely rich, and that to be able to look directly at it is enough. The artist’s task is not to make people moved or indignant at metaphorical situations, but to make them reflect (and, if you like, to be moved and indignant too) on what they and others are doing, on the real things, exactly as they are.

In my film Life and Nothing More, with all major roles played by non-professional actors, we aimed to follow those principles and give a voice to those in desperate circumstances. It is a philosophy employed in my previous film, Aquí y Allá, and one I am again devoted to exploring. Their sole presence on screen is an act of political resistance. With each of their actions, or with all of their actions, they shout, whisper and cry: “We are here. This is our life and who we are.”

Likewise the script was inspired by extensive interviews and conversations with individuals, similar to those portrayed in the film. In addition, we established an ongoing dialogue with local judges, public defenders, educational and counseling professionals, as well as other key personnel involved in the legal system. While it is a fictional narrative, the film is as true to life as possible thanks to their collective stories.

The film has changed our lives and understanding of the world around us, and it has been a rewarding and touching journey; we hope it will change other people’s perspectives as well. I make films to understand realities unlike my own. I don’t start a film with self- reflection but, instead with curiosity, admiration and a sense of the political nature of film. I am a stranger here in the United States, and a stranger to the world of the film’s characters. I am the guest of my non-professional actors, and they will guide me. It is a privilege for me to be able to watch with the actors how the film will unfold.

October 22, 2018

The Unknown Citizen

Filed under: literature — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden is my favorite poet. Unfortunately, Poem Hunter only has one of his poems online, obviously dictated by copyright laws. The other major poetry database, Poetry Foundation, only has a handful. This motivated me to buy a used copy of the Collected Poems, a 915 page Vintage paperback for only $14.99. I turned through the pages a few minutes ago and picked out this quintessential 1939 poem that reflects his political sensibility–so far from the “proletarian” dictates of the Communist Party. There is no need to puzzle over its meaning. It speaks for itself.

When he was at Oxford, became part of the “Oxford Group” that was also called the “Auden Generation.” Stephen Spender, another favorite of mine, C. Day Lewis, and Louis MacNeice were also members. The Oxford Group was influenced by Marxism but as should be obvious from the poem below, with a distinctly Brechtian sardonic outlook.

The Unknown Citizen

(To JS/o7/M/378 This Marble Monument Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation,
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

October 21, 2018

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the leftist tilt toward Mohammad bin Salman

Filed under: conspiracism,Saudi Arabia — louisproyect @ 10:10 pm

Leon Trotsky wrote an article in 1938 titled “Learn To Think: A Friendly Suggestion to Certain Ultra-Leftists” that warned about basing your politics on putting a minus wherever your own ruling class puts a plus:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat.

For most leftists who are still connected to the planet Earth, the focus must be on the brutality of the Saudi state and the Trump mafioso that is finding ways to discredit Jamal Khashoggi. Typical was Glenn Beck who tweeted: “If the Saudis did what the world is now saying they did, perhaps we will see what we all already knew: we should not be in bed with SA! But let’s also remember, Khashoggi was with the Muslim Brotherhood and not a good guy either. Both sides are bad here.”

This is basically the same thing heard from the Angry Arab who was interviewed on the Real News Network. If anything, he was even more vitriolic than Beck: “For much of his life, for the whole of his life mind this last year, this man was a passionate, enthusiastic, unabashed advocate of Saudi despotism. He started his career by joining bin Laden and being a comrade of bin Laden. There are pictures of him with weapons. He fought alongside the fanatic mujahideen, who were supported by the United States in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan among others, against the communist, progressive side in that war. And he was unrelenting in his advocacy on their behalf, as well as for his praise for bin Laden.”

Do the beliefs Khashoggi held 40 years ago when bin Laden was leading jihadists against the Russian occupation really matter today? On that basis, I probably should be denounced by the Angry Arab for having been a member of the Young Americans for Freedom in high school.

It is consistent with the Real News editorial outlook to invite the Angry Arab. For as long as I have been aware, Paul Jay’s broadcasts have featured the kind of people diagnosed by Leon Trotsky in 1938, especially the Grayzone crew that got booted from Alternet. Among them is Ben Norton who got into the act by Tweeting:

So one has to wonder if Norton is taking the side of MBS. If the CIA is the greatest danger to humanity, why not defend someone who they are targeting? As it happens, there are signs that he has shared the analysis of the Saudi state press on important matters especially when it comes to dealing with al-Qaeda, a group that keeps Norton awake at night for fear that one of its agents might put a bomb under his bed.

In July 2017, he and Blumenthal wrote an article fingering one Bilal Abdul Kareem as an al-Qaeda member. Kareem had gotten on their wrong side by interviewing jihadists in Syria. But some of their indictment came from an unlike source—the Saudi press. Given their obsession with Saudi Arabia as the source of Wahhabist terror worldwide, it is odd that they would find its media reliable.

They article states: “In fact, the Saudi Arabian news outlet Al Arabiya reported on June 7 that Abdul Kareem officially joined al-Nusra in 2012.” It turns out that Al Arabia was full of crap. It reported that Kareem was guilty because the man who produced videos with him was also an al-Nusra member according to British authoritiesThis is the same state that is about to suffer economic hardship just so it can keep Muslims out and is also the same state that put down the red carpet for MBS just seven months ago. That doesn’t get in the way of Norton taking its allegations at face value.

As far as I know, the only other person who is warning about a CIA coup against the Saudi monarchy besides Norton is the Moon of Alabama blogger, a German only known as Gerhard, who wrote: “Recently Khashoggi started a number of projects that reek of preparations for a CIA controlled color-revolution in Saudi Arabia.”

What evidence do they offer, other than the fact that some people who formerly held top posts in the Obama national security apparatus go on MSNBC and CNN to denounce MBS? Isn’t it obvious that Donald Trump administration is so committed to that he likens the attack of out-of-power figures like John Brennan to the opposition to Kavanaugh? These conspiracy-mongers don’t really care very much if their predictions don’t bear out. Three years ago, I told WSWS.org cult leader David North that WWIII was not on the agenda just because Nicholas Kristof called for a stepped up defense of Kyiv. For this, I was labeled a NATO tool. When you are dealing with the likes of David North, Ben Norton, the Angry Arab et al, you are entering a fact-free zone unfortunately.

Some on the left (using the term in its most expansive manner) treated news of Khashoggi’s assassination as “fake news”. The Off-Guardian, an Assadist conspiracist website, was one example with an editor weighing in just three days ago: “Do we currently know the man is dead? Let alone who may have killed him? I don’t think we can make that claim. We have an allegedly vanished journalist. We have a number of unproven claims, of varying plausibility. None of this is evidence of anything.” Caitlin Johnstone, who sees the world in exactly the same way as the conspiracy-mongers at Off-Guardian, used the same argument on the same day, almost as if they had been in contact: “So stay skeptical. Just because the talking heads are telling you that Jamal Khashoggi has been brutally murdered and it’s very important that you care doesn’t mean you have to believe them. If this is a propaganda narrative to advance a new oligarchic agenda, there’s no reason to go helping them advance it. Eyes wide.”

Eyes wide? More like the title of Kubrick’s last movie: eyes wide shut.

October 20, 2018

Mercantile Capitalism

Filed under: transition debate — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

Jairus Banaji

Probably because British colonialism screwed their homeland so royally, Indian Marxists tend to be some of Political Marxism’s most vehement critics. Perhaps the best known of them is Jairus Banaji, who received the Deutscher Prize in 2011 for his “Theory As History: Essays on Modes of Production and Exploitation” that is available online. That year, Banaji’s book edged out Charles Post’s “The American Road to Capitalism”. I wish I could have listened in on the jury’s deliberations.

Since I tend to see Banaji and the writing team of Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nişancioğlu (A&N henceforth) as occupying the same place ideologically in this debate, I was surprised to see Banaji’s broadside against “How the West Came to Rule” in the latest HM. I found most of his article extremely useful but had some of the same qualms as expressed by Anievas and Nişancioğlu in a reply to their critics.

The nub of Banaji’s criticism of A&N is that they see Caribbean sugar plantations of the 17th century, for example, as combining both pre-capitalist and capitalist features in a “transitional” mode. For Banaji, there is nothing “pre-capitalist” in these plantations so if you look at these debates across a spectrum, the PM’ers were the direct opposites of Banaji with A&N toward the middle, leaning a bit in Banaji’s direction. Banaji makes his case thusly:

Without doubt the least fortunate pages in How the West Came to Rule are those dealing with the slave plantations. The plantations are characterised both as ‘ “transitional forms” of social relations combining complex amalgams of capitalist and non-capitalist relations’, as the ‘interlacing and systemic fusion of different relations of production’, and as productive units ‘geared specifically towards capitalistic [sic] production’ which ‘operat[ed] according to distinctly capitalist rules of reproduction’. Now both characterisations cannot simultaneously be retained, for if these enterprises really were ‘geared specifically towards capitalist production’, then they embodied capitalist relations of production even if exploitation in them was based on slave labour. No teleology prescribed that those slaves would eventually be transformed into wage workers employed by the same owners or by others.

I am afraid that Banaji undermines his own case by projecting capitalism backward in history to the point that it is difficult to distinguish between antiquity and modernity as might be obvious from this sweeping panorama:

The sheer historical variegation of capital, especially commercial capitalists, over the centuries is striking – from the Roman capitalists who had ‘vast sums invested in Asia’, according to Cicero, or the capitalists of Fars in southern Iran whom the geographer al-Iṣṭakhrî described in the tenth century as ‘passionate’ about ‘accumulating capital’, or the ‘large capitalists’ who drained the salt marshes east of Basra using slaves imported from East Africa, or the ‘northern Kiangsu industrialists’ who invested in a booming iron industry employing thousands of wage labourers, or the ‘merchant princes’ of late-Song/Yuan China who owned massive shipyards and were both shipowners and international merchants at the head of ‘great business firms’, or the Corner brothers of Venice who built substantial sugar interests in Cyprus on plantations that imported large copper boilers from Italy, to the Dutch Calvinist merchants who emerged from the great Flemish dispersion of the seventeenth century to become the ‘economic élite of Europe’ and ‘the heirs of medieval capitalism’; the big colonial merchants of London who would ‘accumulate sufficient capital to diversify investment around their core business into ship-owning, joint-stocks, insurance, wharf- leases, and industry’, when London expanded rapidly in the late seventeenth century; the East India Houses of the nineteenth century, old City firms with branch houses in India that speculated repeatedly in indigo, opium and sugar; the Beirut trading houses who exported raw silk to French commercial houses in Marseilles and Lyons in the early part of the twentieth century; or, finally, big international merchants of our own period, companies like UAC, CFAO, and Metallgesellschaft.

Does it make sense to refer to Roman capitalists in the time of Cicero, namely the first century before Christ? Perhaps this only makes sense if you collapse all of the various stages of world history into class societies and the primitive communist societies that preceded them. Is there a difference between Roman slavery and that of the Deep South? I tend to think so. In my view, there is something to be said for the PM emphasis on relative surplus value that depends on the introduction of machinery into the productive process when extending the working day and other forms of exploitation associated with absolute surplus value have run their course. When Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, he was trying to identify the dynamism of the capitalist system of his day, which surely could not have been mistaken for Cicero’s Rome.

Now that this is out of the way, I want to focus on Banaji’s discussion of mercantile capitalism that according to Charles Post does not exist.

At an HM conference in 2015, someone raised a question about merchant capital in a panel discussion that included Post. Post answered by saying that that such an interpretation was based on an understanding of “primitive accumulation” that belonged to Early Marx, before he became a full-fledged Marxist. It was the one that could be found in the German Ideology and Communist Manifesto and that was still in the shadow of Adam Smith—a Smithian Marxism so to speak. In other words, Post was saying basically the same thing as Spencer Dimmock who dismissed chapter 31 of Capital with its reference to slavery and colonialism as being written when Marx was still under Adam Smith’s influence. According to the PM’ers apparently, it was only when Marx had become fully mature by V. 3 of Capital that the real “primitive accumulation” emerged, one in which social property relations was the lynchpin rather than errant notions of buckets of booty from the colonies, slavery and all that other superfluous stuff that got mixed in. In this interpretation, it was the enclosure acts, etc. that define primitive accumulation rather than the overseas accumulation of silver, etc.

Toward the end of his article, Banaji defines merchant capital (or mercantile capitalism) as being very real and very much consistent with Marx’s mature analysis:

Yet Marx himself described mercantilism as the ‘first scientific theoretical treatment of the modern mode of production’. With the Mercantile System, he writes elsewhere, ‘it is no longer the transformation of commodity value into money that is decisive but instead the production of surplus-value’. And in another passage, this time from the Grundrisse, he describes the Mercantile System as an ‘epoch where industrial capital and hence wage labour arose in manufactures’; but here he adds the fascinating aside: ‘Industrial capital has value for them [the mercantilists], even the highest value, as a means … because it creates mercantile capital and the latter, via circulation, becomes money’.

If, as Marx believed, the manufacturing period involved an expansion of industrial capital, then of course these were industries largely controlled by merchants. We can always call this industrial capitalism, but today historians would doubtless prefer to see these early forms of industrial capital as simply one aspect of the wider system of merchant or commercial capitalism that expanded in the late-medieval/early-modern world. In his brilliant monograph on the Venetian silk industry, Luca Molà points out that in Vicenza by the end of the sixteenth century ‘the silk mills belonging to merchants alone were well over 100’. Merchant capitalists extended control over production in multiple ways. But they also dominated a host of major economic sectors such as foreign banking, wholesale trade, shipping, government finance, tax-farming, and so on. In any case, regardless of where they invested, we have to abandon the tautology which claims that ‘The independent and preponderant development of capital in the form of commercial capital is synonymous with the non- subjection of production to capita …’, an assertion which ignores Marx’s own remarks about the role of merchants in the luxury industries.

Volume 3 of Capital was not exactly written by Karl Marx, who died before it could be turned into a cohesive manuscript. It was completed by Engels, who based himself on Marx’s notes. But there is little doubt that it represents his mature thought. That being said, it is worth referring to chapter 20 titled “Historical Facts about Merchant’s Capital” that captures the contradictory nature of commodity production in the period either neglected by PM’ers or given short shrift by Ellen Meiksins Wood in her reference to the East India Company as “pre-capitalist”:

There is no doubt — and it is precisely this fact which has led to wholly erroneous conceptions — that in the 16th and 17th centuries the great revolutions, which took place in commerce with the geographical discoveries and speeded the development of merchant’s capital, constitute one of the principal elements in furthering the transition from feudal to capitalist mode of production. The sudden expansion of the world-market, the multiplication of circulating commodities, the competitive zeal of the European nations to possess themselves of the products of Asia and the treasures of America, and the colonial system — all contributed materially toward destroying the feudal fetters on production. However, in its first period — the manufacturing period — the modern mode of production developed only where the conditions for it had taken shape within the Middle Ages. Compare, for instance, Holland with Portugal.[5] And when in the 16th, and partially still in the 17th, century the sudden expansion of commerce and emergence of a new world-market overwhelmingly contributed to the fall of the old mode of production and the rise of capitalist production, this was accomplished conversely on the basis of the already existing capitalist mode of production. The world-market itself forms the basis for this mode of production. On the other hand, the immanent necessity of this mode of production to produce on an ever-enlarged scale tends to extend the world-market continually, so that it is not commerce in this case which revolutionises industry, but industry which constantly revolutionises commerce.

As it happens, the only PM’er who wrote a book focused on the merchants was Robert Brenner himself in his 1993 “Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict and London’s Overseas Traders 1550-1653”. As might be expected, the British colonists operating sugar plantations in Barbados were not capitalist in Brenner’s eyes. The only genuine capitalists in the 17th century were those who leased (or owned by this point) the vast agrarian estates that provided the oomph necessary to make the industrial revolution possible. Brenner’s book was reviewed that year in the London Review of Books by Perry Anderson who has never written about the “transition” debate except in this review, as far as I know. He lauds Brenner’s research but finds his landmark thesis lacking. You’ll note how close it is to what Marx wrote in chapter 20 of V. 3 of Capital:

For all the power of this case, there were always difficulties with its overall context. The idea of capitalism in one country, taken literally, is only a bit more plausible than that of socialism. For Marx the different moments of the modern biography of capital were distributed in a cumulative sequence, from the Italian cities to the towns of Flanders and Holland, to the empires of Portugal or Spain and the ports of France, before being ‘systematically combined in England at the end of the 17th century’. Historically, it makes better sense to view the emergence of capitalism as a value-added process gaining in complexity as it moved along a chain of inter-related sites. In this story, the role of cities was always central. English landowners could never have started their conversion to commercial agriculture without the market for wool in Flemish towns – just as Dutch farming was by Stuart times in advance of English, not least because it was conjoined to a richer urban society. Yet, even if the ‘bourgeois’ contribution to the economic genesis of capitalism is conceded, this does not mean that a political ‘revolution’ was necessary to smooth its path. That would have been one possible reading of Brenner’s case, with its emphasis on the immanent dynamism of competitive production for the market. Where does his new work leave the issue?



October 19, 2018

Lost Village; Fail State

Filed under: Academia,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm

Just by coincidence, two new documentaries drive a stake into the heart of very different forms of higher-educational chicanery. Opening today at the Cinema Village in New York, Roger Paradiso’s “Lost Village” is a no-holds-barred assault on NYU for its role in turning Greenwich Village into a wasteland of empty stores, CVS’s, banks, and fast food emporiums while simultaneously making its student body pay for its excesses, driving female students to turn to prostitution to keep their studies going. Also opening today in Los Angeles’s Laemmle theatre and at the Maysles theater in New York next Friday is “Fail State”, an investigative report on for-profit colleges. Of keen interest to CounterPunch readers, neither film leaves the Democratic Party unscathed. Despite his liberal pretensions, Mayor Di Blasio bestows his blessings on NYU’s scorched earth tactics in the Village while Democrats show little interest in putting the kibosh on for-profit colleges that both Obama and Trump sanctioned, the first commander-in-chief in typically triangulation mode and the second with the same kind of cynical boosterism that characterizes his criminal regime.

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