Cross of Gold (1896)

Bryan at the age of 36.

In 1895, the American government teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. The Panic of 1893 had put millions of people out of work. As European investors called in their loans, the federal treasury was hemorrhaging gold reserves at an alarming rate. By February of 1895, not only were gold reserves down to 9 million dollars, a single investor held a bond for 10 million. One phone call and it was all over. To his dismay, President Grover Cleveland, a right-wing Democrat who had revived the party after the disaster of the Civil War, realized he had only one option. He would finally agree to meet with J.P. Morgan, had who arrived in Washington armed with an obscure law signed by Abraham Lincoln that made it legal for the federal government to sell bonds to private investors. On February 25, 1895, Morgan agreed to float the federal government a loan of 60 million dollars in gold. Soon afterwards, the markets, confident that the Cleveland administration had the backing of J.P. Morgan, began to revive.

Grover Cleveland may have “saved the economy” but he also delivered the Democratic Party into the hands of the left. In 1895 most Americans were two things, small farmers and small capitalists. As a result of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Homestead Act of 1862, land ownership was remarkably widespread and democratic, but that was changing. By 1895 many farmers were heavily in debt and in danger of losing their property. The same debased currency that terrified bankers like J.P. Morgan would have actually worked in their favor. It would have meant inflation, and for all practical purposes debt relief. Grover Cleveland became the Barack Obama of his day, the right wing Democrat who sold his country out to Wall Street. In 1896, the left wing of the Democratic Party found their champion, the Bernie Sanders of the Gilded Age, William Jennings Bryan. That July, in Coliseum Park in Chicago, the 36-year-old Bryan would secure the Democratic nomination for President on the basis of one speech.

While the Cross of Gold speech is little read today, it’s surprisingly relevant to the Democratic Party of 2020. While the debate about “free silver” and “bimetallism” has long been settled for good or ill in favor of “fiat currency,” William Jennings Bryan is remarkably lucid about the idea of “democracy,” who favors it, who opposes it, who benefits from it, and how it’s different from the idea of “socialism.” The struggle inside the Democratic Party of 2020 is not a struggle between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg. It’s a struggle between two ideas, the idea of liberalism and the idea of democracy. Indeed, while democracy and liberalism are not necessarily opposed to each other, they’re not the same thing.

Grover Cleveland, J.P. Morgan, and William McKinley, the liberals of 1895, believed in pretty much the same things that Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Michael Bloomberg believe in 2020, procedural norms, the sanctity of the markets, and American exceptionalism. Above all, today’s liberals, who are perfectly willing to overthrow the majority vote if it doesn’t go their way,  believe in government by the best and brightest, not by the working class, who Republicans manipulate by narrow appeals to cultural conservatism and ruling class Democrats despise as being entirely white and entirely racist, as “deplorables.” As Anton J. Gunn, a former advisor  Barack Obama and South Carolina state representative, said to MSNBC‘s Craig Melvin. “The party decides its nominee. The public doesn’t really decide the nominee.” If Gunn’s remarks provoked bewildered outrage on the left wing of the Democratic Party, it’s largely because most Americas not only believe that the Democratic Party is actually “democratic,” they don’t completely understand the concept of “democracy” itself. Thus the endless, and tedious, debates about whether Bernie Sanders is a “democratic socialist” or a “social democratic.”

If you asked the typical American liberal what he means by “democracy,” he’ll probably tell you it means something like “the people choose their representatives.” Libertarians and conservatives, on the other hand, will tell you that “the United States is a republic, not a democracy.” It’s not that liberals and conservatives really disagree on who should run the United States — they both believe that an aristocracy of lawyers, capitalists and the “best and brightest” should rule over the ignorant masses –it’s that they see democracy in terms of process, not class. Neither would abolish the fundamentally undemocratic Supreme Court, electoral college, or Senate. Indeed, many libertarians see the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of United States Senators — before that they were chosen by State legislatures — as the beginning of the decline of “the republic.” Both, however, largely agree that “democracy “means” voting. For Aristotle, on the other hand, who defined most of the political terms that survive to this day, “democracy” doesn’t necessarily mean “voting.” It means “rule in favor of the poor.” Indeed, for Aristotle, those “populist” governments in South America both liberals and conservatives in the United States agree should be overthrown by the CIA, are almost the very definition of “democracy.”

For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all. Tyranny, as I was saying, is monarchy exercising the rule of a master over the political society; oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands; democracy, the opposite, when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”

In 1980, Ronald Reagan and the corporate media introduced us to “supply side economics,” an old idea they marketed as a new concept. According to “supply side economics” if you lowered taxes on the very rich, they would invest in the economy and that wealth would “trickle down” to the working class. I still remember going to a Bible Study as a freshman at Rutgers in 1983 — the only time cute girls talked to me back then was to invite me to Bible studies — where the group leader carefully explained to us that “if you give 10 bucks to a poor person he’ll spend it on booze but if you give a responsible investor 1,000,000 dollars he’ll build a factory and then 100 workers would each get a 20 dollar bonus on Friday and be able to buy two bottles of booze.” For William Jennings Bryan the very opposite was true. If you invested in the working class that wealth would “trickle up” to the rich.

There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.

For William Jennings Bryan, the class struggle centered on the debate between the Gold Standard and bimetallism. For Bernie Sanders, the key issue is “Medicare for All,” the idea that if we get rid of private insurance companies — the lawyers, bankers and lobbyists who stand between you and your doctor — that if we replace multi-millionaire insurance CEOs with middle-class government bureaucrats, health care would become cheaper and more widely available. Both liberals and conservatives look at the idea of “Medicare for All” with horror. Their kids, who attend “good” public schools before going onto the Ivy League, become those lawyers, bankers,and lobbyists who run private insurance. They don’t want to send their kids to Harvard only to see them make $150,000 dollars a year as a government employee. For profit, private health insurance is as important to the “meritocracy” as the gold standard was to J.P. Morgan.

While Bernie Sanders may at one time have been a socialist, these days he is, as his supporters argue, a “social democrat,” someone who believes in capitalism but capitalism with a strong federal government to limit the power of the corporations and advocate for the working class. The main difference between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who also favors stringent government regulation of big business, is that Sanders also favors mass popular involvement in government. Warren, by contrast, like the rest of the Democratic Party establishment, believes in rule by the “best and brightest,” Harvard Law professors like herself. Sanders supporters argue that the person going into the Democratic National Convention this Summer with the most votes should be the nominee. Warren is open to the idea of a “brokered convention” where the super delegates, elite Democratic Party politicians and lobbyists, make the decision on the second round of voting.

William Jennings Bryan, in turn, while a contemporary of Lenin and Frederick Engels, was a democrat, not a socialist or even a “democratic” socialist. Unlike Elizabeth Warren or even Bernie Sanders, Bryan was a principled anti-imperialist. He thought the United States should stay out of the affairs of other governments, resigning as Wilson’s Secretary of State in 1916 after it became obvious that Wilson intended to enter the war on the side of the British and French. He did not believe, however, in proletarian revolution. Rather, Bryan wanted to revive the old Republican, “Republican” with a large “R,” ideal of free soil and free labor, Lincoln’s belief that unlike old Europe, the United States was not bound by traditional class hierarchies. William Jennings Bryan and Abraham Lincoln both believed that every American had the chance to be a successful capitalist. Bryan didn’t think that capitalist were oppressing the workers. He thought that big capitalists were oppressing their fellow capitalists, that J.P. Morgan and Grover Cleveland had successfully mounted a coup that had destroyed the republic.

But we stand here representing people who are the equals before the law of the largest cities in the state of Massachusetts. When you come before us and tell us that we shall disturb your business interests, we reply that you have disturbed our business interests by your action. We say to you that you have made too limited in its application the definition of a businessman. The man who is employed for wages is as much a businessman as his employer. The attorney in a country town is as much a businessman as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis. The merchant at the crossroads store is as much a businessman as the merchant of New York. The farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, begins in the spring and toils all summer, and by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of this country creates wealth, is as much a businessman as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain. The miners who go 1,000 feet into the earth or climb 2,000 feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a backroom corner the money of the world. We come to speak for this broader class of businessmen.

William Jennings Bryan would go onto lose the election of 1896 to William McKinley largely because in spite of his constant protests that he had nothing against Massachusetts, New York or the east coast, he saw the class struggle in narrow terms. Get rid of the gold standard, base the currency on a mixture of silver and gold, and the small farmers of the Midwest would save their land, and as a result, save Jeffersonian democracy. The industrial proletariat of the northeast, however, had no economic interest in seeing more inflation and cast their lot with McKinley and the Republicans. Bryan would go onto lose the Presidency two more times before he finally ended up as a laughing stock arguing against the teaching of evolution in the Scopes Trial. Indeed, after the mass of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe entering the factories in the 1890s had cost him the election of 1896, Bryan progressively retreated into an ever more  narrow-minded Protestant fundamentalism and nostalgia for the America of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. gets rid of comments (finally)


As a fifth-generation New Jerseyan, I have always been aware of the bad reputation of my state. Pollution, corrupt, mob-dominated politics, the Rutgers football team, New Jersey doesn’t exactly have a good reputation in the rest of the country. In the 1990s, when I lived off and on in Seattle and Southeast Alaska, the biggest compliment people thought they could pay me went something like this. “You’re from New Jersey? Well, at least you don’t have that accent.” Actually, I do have “that accent.” I sound a lot like Ray Liotta, who’s from my mother’s hometown of Union, did in Goodfellas. You cannot grow up as a Polish American in the great state of New Jersey without acquiring a sense of humor. Cynicism is part of the local culture, and that’s a good thing. At times it’s even poetic. Almost every song Bruce Springsteen writes is more or less about one thing: Getting the fuck out of New Jersey.

For the most part, while it’s often hilariously funny,  the stereotype of the typical New Jerseyan as a loud, ignorant, right-wing knuckle dragger, doesn’t stand up to the test of reality. New Jersey is by far one of the best-educated, most liberal states in America. There’s a reason we don’t have mass shootings. We’re smart enough to have gun-control. New Jersey hasn’t voted for a Republican President since it went for George H.W. Bush in 1988. In 2016, Hillary Clinton got 55 percent of the vote to Donald Trump’s 41 percent. Most of the state’s big cities are “sanctuary cities” that forbid local police from cooperating with ICE. The Rutgers football team might be the worst team in the history of the Big 10 Conference, but Rutgers also has top 20 programs in English, history, and math, and top 10 programs in philosophy, women’s studies and library science.

Unfortunately, New Jersey also has a savage divide between its wealthy suburbs and its working class cities. If Donald Trump has no chance of winning the state in 2020 that’s about Newark and Elizabeth, not Westfield or Mountain Lakes. It’s probably more accurate to say that while blacks and Hispanics in New Jersey are liberal, white suburbanites are as reactionary as they are anyplace else in the country. The typical white man in New Jersey over 40 is a racist Republican who could probably pass for a Mississippi Klansman if it weren’t for “that accent.” What’s more, in spite of the fact that Barack Obama won the state easily in 2008, New Jersey also became an early center of “tea party” reaction. In 2009, Chris Christie became governor. In 2010, Koch Brothers funded goons regularly disrupted Congressional town hall meetings on Obamacare. And then there’s the comments section at

There’s a joke going around that “the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 51 racist hate groups in New Jersey, but it’s actually 52 if you count the comments section at” If anything it’s an understatement. Even before the Koch Brothers started pumping money into the local media — in 2010 you couldn’t read an article about the weather without running into 500 comments by global warming deniers — the comments section at was a place for middle-aged, white men from the suburbs and the rural areas to complain about the “liberal” cities. After awhile, even I had trouble keeping track of all the dog whistle, and I speak fluent, passive aggressive WASP. It went far beyond “those low income housing applicants are going to ruin our good schools” or “crime in the city of Newark is inevitable in such a diverse city.” It went far beyond changing the name of Bruce Springsteen, one of the most explicitly Catholic rock stars in American history, to Bruce Springstein, and attributing his support of Barack Obama to his Jewish ethnicity. At some point in the late 2010s, the racist comments at became almost indistinguishable from Stormfront. The comments from the global warming deniers were even worse, often degenerating into conspiracy theories about chem trails, and incomprehensible spam. Finally, the management at Advance Media, which owns, decided they couldn’t go on funneling traffic to what had essentially become a hate site.


I agree with Advance Media’s decision to pull the comments at, but I’m not naive enough to believe it was about any real objection to platforming racists. While the comments have gotten stupider and more incoherent, they’ve been viciously racist ever since the Bush years. I also vehemently disagree in the strongest possible terms with their decision to delete their archives. The white supremacist comments at are part of a historical document that should be studied by future generations of social media analysts. How exactly did the users’ forum at a mainstream media outlet in a “blue” state get taken over by white supremacists and neo-Nazis? Why couldn’t Advance Media simply hire moderators like the New York Times. The first amendment applies to government, not private business, but a private media company is certainly not obligated to choose from two bad extremes, unmoderated comments overrun by white supremacists, or no comments at all. How much exactly would it cost to hire a few interns to make sure the comments stayed on topic, avoided open expressions of racism, antisemitism, and homophobia, and at least made some kind of logical argument? The truth is Advance Media has nothing against racism. They’re just fucking cheap. They also want to destroy the evidence of just how complicit they’ve been in poisoning political discourse in the great state of New Jersey. My guess is the Koch Brothers money just ran out.


On the 40th anniversary of their shocking victory over the Soviet Union in one of the greatest upsets in sports history, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team was back in the spotlight this weekend — but in the eyes of some observers, it was more for political than patriotic reasons.

Members of the gold medal-winning “Miracle on Ice” squad, including team captain Mike Eruzione, appeared on stage at a Las Vegas rally Friday night for President Donald Trump wearing red hats emblazoned with Trump’s “Keep America Great” slogan.

The first time I ever heard the moronic “USA USA USA” chant was in 1980.

All through the 1970s, the American media had presented the Soviet Olympic hockey team as an unbeatable team of supermen, a gang of Ivan Dragos on ice. What’s more, very few of the best NHL players back then were Americans. Most were Canadians. I used to be a big fan of New York Rangers center Phil Esposito. The fact that he had a name that sounded like any New Jersey Italian only added to the appeal. We didn’t have the Internet back then. You couldn’t just Google. So when my uncle remarked that Esposito wasn’t from New Jersey and that he wasn’t even an American I refused to believe it. “No way Uncle Charlie. I go to school with 5 or 6 guys named Esposito. He’s got to be from New Jersey.” Later, in the small bookstore they used to have at the Two Guys department store on Route 22 in Union, when I looked up Esposito’s name in The Encyclopedia of Hockey, I realized the horrible truth. He was Canadian, born in some place I couldn’t even pronounce, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

You can imagine my joy, therefore, When I turned 15, and the American hockey team made its run for the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Neal Broten, Ken Morrow, Mike Ramsey, Dave Christian, Mark Pavelich, none of them were Russians or dirty Canadians. Each and every one of them was a one hundred percent, red, white and blue American from the Midwest, a place I had never been to but was convinced was more truly American than New Jersey. When they beat the Russians, it felt like we had won the Cold War. While the “USA USA USA” chant had been ubiquitous in the media, I had refrained from joining in myself, but when NHL great Ken Dryden — alas another Canadian — started his famous count down in the last few seconds of the final game, I couldn’t help myself. “USA USA USA,” I shouted, “USA USA USA.” My father, who was zonked out on the couch in the next room, was having none of it, former United States Marine though he was. “Shut the hell up,” he shouted. “I’m trying to sleep.”

I even brought my patriotic fervor to school. To understand what that meant, you have to understand that I went to an urban high school just outside of Newark, New Jersey where being a leftist was not only socially acceptable. Thirteen years after the Newark Riot and five years after the last American helicopter took off from that roof in Saigon, it was almost socially required. Millennials, you cannot imagine what the world was like before 9/11. In spite of the fact that Ronald Reagan had just been elected President, most people hated the United States military. In fact, Reagan was never quite as popular as the corporate media would have you believe. He won mostly because of the incompetence of the increasingly neoliberal Democrats. Remember when Walter Mondale promised to raise taxes during his run for the Presidency? You don’t but I do. In any event, I sometimes have trouble understanding all of the outrage over Colin Kaepernick. In my high school, nobody was required to say the Pledge of Allegiance. They simply read it over the loudspeaker during homeroom and you could stand if you wanted. Nobody did. In fact, standing for the Flag Salute was considered the mark of an asskissing stooge, and doing it put you at the risk of having your ass kicked in the parking lot. But that February I didn’t care. I not only stood for the flag salute, when it was all over I kept standing.

“USA USA USA,” I chanted. “USA USA USA.”

“Oh sit the fuck down you dumb Polack,” one of my classmates said. “You’re being a fucking retard.”

“Fuck you,” I shouted back. “USA USA USA. And nuke the fucking Iranians.”

At that moment, our homeroom teacher — I forget his name but I do remember he was friends with the guy who wrote the novel The Exorcist — told us both to take our seats.

“Mr. Holmes,” he said to my antagonist. “Ethnic slurs and profanity will not be tolerated in my homeroom. And Mr. Rogouski,” he added, “neither will calls for genocide.”

“Genocide” I said. “What’s that?”

I sometimes wonder what I would have been like if Carter had won in 1980 and the United States had not gone down such a right wing path. I wasn’t really a super patriot back then. In fact, the next year I became an atheist after I finally saw Life of Brian by Monty Python on cable TV. I had been too young to see it in the theater. The ticket clerks, mostly older high school kids, had insisted on seeing my driver’s license to prove I was 18 and old enough to go unaccompanied into an R rated movie. They wouldn’t give me a break. Monty Python, not Karl Marx, turned me into a leftist. In any event, I wasn’t a genuine super patriot when I was 15. I had simply gotten it into my head that everybody else in the world was a dirty Vietcong worshipping hippie who hated their country and didn’t care that the Iranians were humiliating us each and every day. Being a super patriot was a way to be a rebel. Being a pot smoking leftist who listened to too much heavy metal would have meant being a miserable conformist. The American Olympic Hockey team of 1980 wasn’t the “dream team” that dominated the basketball court 12 years later. They were underdogs who seemingly had no chance of winning.

Now it’s the opposite. In spite of the rise of Bernie Sanders, we still have a racist, right-wing President and every white man in New Jersey over the age of 40 seems like some sort of Republican or “libertarian.” At best, they’re “economically conservative and socially liberal.” And the American hockey team of 1980? To nobody’s surprise they’re attending Trump rallies. Too bad they’re not Canadians. At least they’d have better healthcare.

A spectre is haunting the Democratic Party — the spectre of democracy.

All the powers of the Democratic Party estabilishment have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Warren and Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Biden, elite white feminists and liberal media pundits.

Where is any working class political activist that has not been decried as a bro or a Russian troll by Wall Street, neoliberal Democrats? Where is the billionaire donor class that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against even the old isolationist right, as well as any proposal to revive the social democratic ideals of the New Deal?

Two things result from this fact:

1.) Seemingly struck down by the hand of neoliberal capitalism, the idea of democracy is acknowledged by Wall Street and its lackeys to be making a comeback.

2.) It is high time that we the believers in traditional American democracy  should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish our views, our aims, our tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of democracy with a manifesto of the ideals on which this country was founded.

To this end, you might want to read this. And maybe this. Oh yeah, this too.

Michael Bloomberg is Didius Julianus

n 193 AD, after the death of Commodus, a wealthy oligarch named Didius Julianus bought the throne of the Roman Empire.

With Sulpicianus on the inside and Didius Julianus without the two men began to make offers to the soldiers for their support. Monetary offers were waged against one another until ultimately Didius Julianus purchased the throne for 25,000 sesterces per Praetorian, according to contemporary historian and senator Dio Cassius. (With 10 double strength praetorian cohorts of approx. 800 men, the total payment may have been as much as 200 million sesterces or 50 million denarii). The Historia Augusta suggests that Didius Julianus actually ended up paying some 30,000 sesterces but another contemporary (Herodian, though a child at the time) disputes this entirely, suggesting that the funds simply weren’t available to make good on the promised payments.

Richard Jewell (2019)


If the liberal elite has a bogeyman, he probably looks a bit like Richard Jewell. A 33-year-old wannabe police officer, Jewell lives with his mother in Atlanta Georgia. Obese, not particularly bright, and probably a virgin, his patriotism and respect for law enforcement border on parody. In another timeline, he might have been George Zimmerman, a racist gun nut so carried by a mania for fighting “the bad guys” that he might have killed an innocent kid just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. On July 27, 1996, Jewell was working as a temporary security guard at Centennial Olympic Park. After hassling a group of teenage boys for underage drinking, he noticed a suspicious backpack someone had left underneath a bench. He saw something, and he said something, immediately alerting the police, and trying to clear as many people away from the area as he could. After a massive pipe bomb exploded, killing one person and severely injuring dozens more, it was immediately clear that the fat, ridiculous mamma’s boy had saved hundreds of lives. Richard Jewell was a legitimate hero.

If Donald Trump gets one thing right, it’s that the corporate media is the enemy of the American people. Listen up deplorables. Stop hating on communism. Under a dictatorship of the proletariat led by me, Stanley Rogouski, Chris Matthews’s worst nightmares would come true. Anybody currently employed by the corporate media, with the exception of maybe Phil Donahue and Amy Goodman, and oh yeah, Raymond Bonner, would immediately be marched out into the middle of Central Park, and guillotined. As Clint Eastwood makes clear, the same corporate media that put the incompetent Rudy Giuliani and the future war criminal George W. Bush up on a pedestal after 9/11, basically lynched Richard Jewell after the Olympic Park bombing in 1996. Initially hailed by the media as the hero he was, Jewell came under investigation by the FBI after his “profile” checked off one too many boxes, and they began to suspect that he had planted the bomb himself. Kathy Scruggs, an Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporter, who’s played by Olivia Wilde as an ambitious, unscrupulous cunt who will do anything for a story, including seducing a lead out of Tom Shaw, an incompetent, pompous FBI special agent played by Madman’s Jon Hamm, “breaks the story” that the Olympic Park Bomber is none other than the Richard Jewell, the strange man currently basking in public adulation and mouthing platitudes like “well no ma’am, no sir, I wasn’t a hero. I was just doing my job.”

If Jewell annoys the ever living hell out of me it’s because Eastwood realizes that most American liberals and leftists like me are not too far removed from deplorables ourselves. Yeah, we may graduate from college and move to New York, San Francisco, LA, Seattle or Boston, but we’ll never really hide the fact that we’re originally “from” dull suburbs in New Jersey or on Long Island, burned out towns in the rust belt, or, God forbid, somewhere in the south.  When Jewell, played by Kobra Kai’s Paul Walter Hauser and his mother Barbara, played by Kathy Bates, first realize that he’s not only the prime suspect, but on the cover of every newspaper in America as the new Timothy McVeigh, they act like two deer caught in the headlights. Neither of them have enough cynicism about the corporate media or the federal government to understand what’s happening, that Tom Shaw, who was responsible for the security at Centennial Park, is covering his ass, and that Kathy Scruggs is trying to ride the media lynching of an unsophisticated working class man to fame and fortune. Indeed, as Watson Bryant, Jewell’s lawyer played by the excellent Sam Rockwell, quickly realizes, unless he can somehow break the spell that the American conservative worship of the police has cast over him, Richard Jewell is probably going to the electric chair. “How could Tom Brokaw say that about you,” his mother exclaims in disbelief when she sees the news anchor she had previously gushed over as “too handsome” is demonizing her son on national TV. Jewell himself repeatedly gets into trouble by his still lingering urge to help the police, a weakness Tom Shaw picks up on and plays for everything it’s worth.

It’s probably not entirely accurate to say that Richard Jewell “got lucky.” There was no case, or even the slightest shred of evidence that he had planted the bomb. Similar to the Central Park 5 affair seven years earlier in New York City,  where Donald Trump jump started his political career by calling for the execution of 5 innocent black teenagers, the media and the FBI had temporarily gone mad, building a house of cards around an easily demonized child man, and then simply dropping the investigation after they came to their senses. Like the Central Park 5, Richard Jewell never recovered from being tried in the court of public opinion. As Eastwood effectively dramatizes in the film’s penultimate scene, Jewell does overcome his inability to criticize the police, and would eventually bring defamation lawsuits against most of the people responsible for the false accusations, but in 2007 he would die at the age of 44 from complications brought on by diabetes and obesity, and indirectly from the emotional suffering brought on by what had happened in the Summer of 1996. Jewell was in fact, the last casualty of the Olympic Park Bombings, outliving Kathy Scruggs, who died of a drug overdose in 2001 by six years.

Whatever your politics, if you’re like me, a generation or two from being a “deplorable,” a naive, unsophisticated middle-American at heart, the kind of person who will recognize him or herself in Richard and Kathy Jewell, you will love this movie. On the other hand, if you’re  a woke intersectional identitarian with an Ivy League degree and a loft in downtown Brooklyn or Tribeca, the kind of person who tacks “bro” onto the ending of any word to make up a new insult, you will utterly loath Richard Jewell, both the man and movie, and pray that Clint Eastwood follow Jewell and Kathy Scruggs to the grave as soon as possible. You will stomp your feet and exclaim “oh boo hoo, one white man gets railroaded by the police and he gets his own movie.” Of course, Eastwood’s portrayal of Kathy Scruggs has, and probably accurately, been accused of being as defamatory as Scrugg’s portrayal of Jewell himself. Worse, unlike Jewell, she’s no longer alive to fight against the damage to her reputation. All I have to say to that is “oh boo hoo. So one corporate hack journalist gets her reputation posthumously destroyed. Cry me a river. Let’s talk about all the innocent people the corporate media destroys every day.”

Richard Jewell is a polarizing movie, and it’s meant to be.

Final Note: In another dig at elite liberals, the real hero of Richard Jewell just might be Nadya, Watson Bryant’s Russian girlfriend, whose as cynical about the police and the media as the Jewells are trusting and naive.

My ranking of the Best Picture Nominees

1.) Parasite: The best picture actually won Best Picture. And it was not only a foreign language film with subtitles, it was a Marxist analysis of class. How did this happen?

2.) Ford v Ferrari: Great cinema. No CGI. Seriously this film is better than it has a right to be.

3.) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Also great cinema. No CGI. Effectively addresses the anxiety middle-aged white men have about being has beens and never weres. The scene where Brad Pitt throws Bruce Lee into a car was great. Get over it. Makes me wonder how much better Pulp Fiction would have been if Tarantino had cast Pitt as Butch instead of that irritating 1980s cliche Bruce Willis.

4.) Little Women: Not as good as Gerwig’s earlier film Ladybird. Shies away from class. Greta Gerwig actually has a take on class similar to Bong Joon-ho but she always loses her nerve at the last minute and tacks on a phony happy ending.

5.) 1917: The British Saving Private Ryan. Lots of jingoism wrapped up in a lot of blood and gore.

6.) Joker: Had some good moments. But in general boring and overrated.

7.) The Irishman: Dull, depressing, cliched. Do we really need a 4 hour long Sopranos episode with CGI de-aging?

8.) Marriage Story: Didn’t see. I liked Baumbach’s earlier films The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha so I’ll probably see it eventually. But I don’t really see him capable of making a truly great movie. The trials and tribulations of Brooklyn WASPs can only be so interesting.

9.) Jojo Rabbit: didn’t see.

Wormwood (2017)


Early in the morning on November 28, 1953, an American war criminal named Frank Olson went flying out of a 10th floor window of the Statler Hotel in New York City to his death on the sidewalk below. Olson, a bacteriologist who had developed biological weapons used in the Korean war, had become too much of a risk. Like Edward Snowden, he had threatened to “blow the whistle” on government secrets. Unlike Edward Snowden, who knew better than to trust his colleagues in the CIA, he confessed to his superiors that he was feeling remorse over the deadly germs he had helped develop. What’s more, in the early 1950s, the CIA had developed a “truth serum,” LSD, a drug that would eventually play a deceptive role in the investigation into Frank Olson’s death. Whether he had taken LSD voluntarily or if it had been slipped into his drink behind his back, by the time his superiors set him up for the kill, Olson was far too delusional and paranoid to defend himself.

When I first found out that Errol Morris, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker, had made a six part, partly fictionalized documentary for Netflix about Frank Olson, I was skeptical. After all, it was 2017. Barack Obama had become heavily involved with Netflix, and after the election of Donald Trump as President, the CIA had “come out of the shadows,” and had gotten directly involved in electoral politics. In the 1970s, most people on the left saw the CIA a secretive, vaguely sinister, unelected government institution that was probably up to no good. In 2017, Democratic Party loyalists had elevated the CIA to the status of the heroic savior that would deliver us from the evil that is Donald Trump. So how much could a mainstream documentary really tell us? Surely Wormwood would be a “limited hangout,” an account that would effectively obscure more about the Olson murder than it revealed. But it turns out that Wormwood is not in fact a “limited hangout, but a meditation on the concept of the “limited hangout.”

According to  former CIA operative Victor Marchetti a “limited hangout” is defined as “spy jargon for a favorite and frequently used gimmick of the clandestine professionals. When their veil of secrecy is shredded and they can no longer rely on a phony cover story to misinform the public, they resort to admitting—sometimes even volunteering—some of the truth while still managing to withhold the key and damaging facts in the case. The public, however, is usually so intrigued by the new information that it never thinks to pursue the matter further.” In 1975, when the Church Committee hearings and the Rockefeller Commission opened up investigations into Cointelpro and CIA covert action, Frank Olson’s son Eric, now a graduate student at Harvard, had an opportunity to discover what really happened to his father at the Statler Hotel in 1953. For decades, his family had been in such denial that when journalist Seymour Hirsch contacted them for an interview, the man who broke the story of the My Lai Massacre immediately expressed his disgust. “You people must be the most incurious family on earth.”

The Ford Administration, however, especially national security advisors Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, knew that if Eric Olson pressed his case the CIA would be in trouble. The Olson family had already filed suit, and the discovery process would mean that their lawyers would get to demand evidence that the agency simply wasn’t prepared to give. So the President himself invited Eric, his mother, his brother and sister into the White House. It was only later that the younger Olson realized that it had all been a trap, that in one moment he had not only given up the opportunity to find out what had really happened to his father, but had essentially ruined his life. After throwing on the charm, Gerald Ford laid his offer on the table.  If the Olson family agreed to drop the lawsuit, and sign a non-disclosure agreement, they would get a court settlement in the amount of 1.2 million dollars and an official apology from the President of the United States. The Olson family accepted the offer and that was that. Eric Olson would spend the rest of his life regretting his decision. The Olson family had had the Ford Administration over a barrel. They let them escape.

Along with the Ford Administration’s apology, the CIA agreed to release an official explanation of among other things what had happened to Frank Olson, the “limited’ hangout that would reveal part of the truth, but obscure the fact that the CIA and the Army had been manufacturing biological weapons at Fort Detrick. Instead of admitting that the North Korean and Chinese governments had been right all along, that the United States had used biological weapons during the Korean War, the CIA misdirected the attention of the American people to “MK-Ultra,” a lurid series of experiments in mind control, hallucinogenic drugs, and torture that certainly did happen, but which also made for such compelling tabloid fodder that the war crimes committed against the Korean people were completely forgotten. Even today, if you listen to leftist radio programs like Democracy Now or even if you read some of the more extreme “conspiracy theory” sites on the Internet, very few people talk about Frank Olson as the victim of what had essentially been a mafia hit by the United States government. Having trained killers eliminate a potentially damaging witness is good cable TV episode about the WASP Sopranos in Langley, but compared to the idea that a paranoid, drugged up Frank Olson leapt through a plate glass window on his own volition twelve stories to his death, it’s boring. After all, MK-Ultra can be used to explain everything from the Kennedy Assassination to the Manson murders. It’s the gift to conspiracy theorists that keeps on giving.

If Wormwood managed to get distributed by Netflix in 2017, at the height of the CIA’s popularity among American liberals, then it’s partly because in the end it reads like a cautionary tale against asking too many questions for too long. Eric Olson had his chance in 1975. He blew it. He should have let it go. Instead, he continued, quite literally, to dig up more information about his father’s murder, exhuming Frank Olson’s body and having a medical examiner declare that the death was not a suicide but rather “of unknown causes.” He filed a second suit against the CIA, which was eventually dropped. He managed to push Seymour Hersch into another investigation, which eventually revealed that the US government has a “hit list” of political dissidents to eliminate in the event they become too dangerous, but couldn’t convince him to publish an article or burn his source. Eric Olson managed to build a compelling circumstantial case that his father was in fact murdered, one that would probably hold up in court, if any court were willing to take the case, and if the men responsible for Frank Olson’s murder were still alive.

While a fascinating docudrama, Wormwood is unlikely to convince any “resistance” liberals, let alone conservatives, that the CIA needs to be dismantled. Yes, they’ll argue, in the past, the CIA committed crimes, even against their own operatives, but that was in the past. You radicals, like Eric Olson should just “let it go” and get on with your lives. Needless to say, neither Frank Olson nor Errol Morris is particularly interested in what the Korean people have to say about a dead American war criminal. For them, Frank Olson seems to have been the only victim of the CIA’s biological warfare against North Korea. Another filmmaker might have portrayed Eric Olson the way they’d portray the son of a Nazi war criminal. Would anybody really care if Herman Goering threw Albert Speer out a window in Berlin? Morris, quite intentionally, doesn’t go there.  But Wormwood, to use that old cliche, does “make you think.” Can a documentary about a limited hangout also be a limited hangout? It’s the question Errol Morris forces us to ask.