Author Archives: srogouski

The Elites Seem to Disagree

I have to admit that I had no idea where Mali was before I Googled it, so I’m hardly qualified to speak about the question of whether their government was overthrown by evil Russians or by good Americans in order to bring “freedom.”

But check back with me next week. I’m entirely sure I’ll have a very strong opinion on the issue and a good deal of confidence in my belief that whoever disagrees with me is the embodiment of evil.

RIP Linda Manz

Linda Manz, who is not well-known by the general public but who is a household name among cinephiles, has died at age 58.

Linda Manz, known for her performances in films like Days of Heaven and Out of the Blue has died. She was 58.

The actress died on Friday after a battle with lung cancer and pneumonia, her family said on a GoFundMe page established by her son Michael Guthrie.

I suppose she’s best known for her role in Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven but I’ll always associate her with Phillip Kaufman’s criminally neglected masterpiece The Wanderers, a movie I must have watched 100 times on HBO as a kid. She played “Pee Wee,” the President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Bronx gang The Fordham Baldies (a gang these days that would probably have me as a member).

I can watch this scene over and over again and never stop laughing or admiring the way Kaufman deftly films a chase scene that walks the razors edge between comedy and the childhood fear of being pursued by a gang of bullies. Manz only has a few lines but the arrogant way she delivers them just defines how it feels to have the toughest guy on the block as your insurance policy. “You better watch your mouth kid.”

Congratulations Kamala Harris

If you sincerely campaign for the UBI bill you introduced last month with Bernie and Senator Markey I’ll gladly vote for you.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Ed Markey (D-MA) on Friday introduced the Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act, legislation that provides a monthly $2,000 check to those struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. As rent comes due and bills continue to pile up, Americans desperately need assistance to financially survive this crisis.

The only way we’re going to bring Covid-19 under control is to make it possible for people to stay home and social distance. That means putting money in their pockets. I hope you follow up on your proposal when you actually have the power to make it happen.

NYPD Security Theater

Taking the lead from Trump’s federal officers in Portland, the NYPD targets an anti-police brutality march on 25th Street and Second Avenue. Without warning, six or seven plainclothes freaks on steroids grab an 18-year-old, homeless transwoman, throw her into an unmarked van, and drive off. The next day it goes viral on social media.

The police and the corporate media in NYC accuse the young woman of having spray painted the lenses of 6 police cameras. Is it true? I have no idea. But it’s clear what’s going on here.

This is NYPD security theater designed to make normal people (like me) afraid to go to a protest, any kind of protest. It’s designed to create the impression that anytime, anywhere, for any reason, a militarized big city police department (who have obviously been given tracking information on your cell phone by the big tech companies) can swoop out of the crowd and drag you off to a black hole somewhere in a gigantic city of 10 million people, where you might (after spending a few days in some Covid-19 infected cell) eventually get to see an NLG lawyer. They will then trump up some kind of bogus charge, which the media will dutifully repeat, and “conservatives” will believe without asking too many questions.

In short, the NYPD want you to see this. They’re flexing their muscles in public. They’re trying to show us who’s boss. “Fuck you civilians,” they’re saying. “You’re nothing. You have no rights. We can disappear you any time we want.” The astonishing thing about it is that it really isn’t working. In spite of the obvious collusion between Trump, big city police departments like the NYPD, and the corporate media, the protests go on. The American ruling class has been so delegitimized the propaganda is no longer working. Bill De Blasio, their front man in NYC, a 6’5″ moral and intellectual dwarf of a man, is an utter laughing stock. Even black propaganda designed to intimidate, not to convince, is starting to fall flat. A minority of far-right-wing Americans support Trump and the police. Most Americans are just standing by on the sidelines thinking “what the fuck is going on.” At some point, people are going to be so fed up with this rotten system, they’ll just kick down the door, and the whole thing will come crashing down.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

So here are some of Trump’s federal officers beating up a woman from the “Wall of Moms.”

In addition to my obvious shock and horror I’m also curious. Why are they carrying packs? Are they taking three days rations out into the field? They’re in downtown Portland, Oregon. They have Safeway and Whole Foods there. And what’s with the camouflage? Are they trying to disappear into the jungles of Vietnam while they train Ngo Dinh Diem’s army against the Vietcong?

Jackbooted Federal Goons in Portland?

So it’s come down to this. Trump has begun sending federal troops (or whatever they are) into Portland, and has threatened to do the same in Chicago and New York. The District Attorney of Philadelphia, in turn, has threatened to arrest any federal officer found to be violating his jurisdiction.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner promised to criminally charge any federal agents who “unlawfully assault” or “kidnap” Black Lives Matter protesters in the City of Brotherly Love.

People are quite understandably worried. I have a different view. Trump’s panicked overreaction to Black Lives matter is not something to be feared. The monster that has suddenly revealed itself in plain sight may be terrifying, but it’s far less dangerous than it was when it was lurking in the shadows. We are seeing the economic and cultural contradictions of a corrupt American ruling class play out in real time.

For decades the American right has billed itself as being anti-government, but it’s important to keep one thing in mind. Traditionally, when right wing libertarians criticize “government,” they have only referred to the federal government, not state and local government. As I wrote back in 2015, conservatives hate the federal government but love their local sheriff.

While the American ruling class may not be consciously fascist, they still seem to fear a revolutionary upsurge by the American people, and by black Americans in particular. Hitler had his Ernst Rohm and Heinrich Himmler, but the American ruling class doesn’t need storm troops with a centralized leadership, let alone a single fascist grandee. All they have to do is mobilize conservative, white resentment and fear of national decline behind the highly militarized, but decentralized network of big city police forces, the class armies they built up in the wake of 9/11. A more centralized command structure, in fact, is not only unnecessary. It’s not desired. The banks were able to crush Occupy Wall Street with a highly coordinated attack, even while arguing they had nothing to do with it, that it was just about city cops dealing with a public nuisance. The intermittent murders of black men and women by the police, in turn, don’t have to be planned, just allowed to happen. The police become, in effect, a distributed Gestapo, a rallying point behind which conservative whites, already heavily armed, can reaffirm their loyalty to the capitalist state, even while denying it. They hate the federal government. They support their local sheriff.

Back in 2011, Barack Obama smashed Occupy Wall Street, but he did it with a coordinated, but decentralized network of local police forces. That allowed Wall Street and the media to market the crackdown, not as political repression organized in the defense of wealth and privilege but as a “public safety issue” enforced by city cops. In 2020, in one overly hasty move, Trump has thrown away this plausible deniability and begun taking responsibility for a direct attack on the First Amendment. While middle-class, liberal Democratic women (most of whom support gun control) organized as the Wall of Moms, are taking on jackbooted federal goons in the streets of Portland, the usual right wing “libertarian” suspects in the NRA are nowhere to be seen. On the contrary, the hardcore, gun toting right, who loudly virtue signal that their guns are about opposing government tyranny, at this moment seem to support government tyranny. The “distributed gestapo” that I wrote about in 2015, the decentralized network of militarized police forces and local media that’s been so successful in keeping the American people compliant and politically passive, has suddenly found itself in need of a federal bailout.

But it goes even deeper.

This March, the liberal wing of the ruling class had to mobilize an older, conservative generation of black voters in South Carolina behind a senile reactionary old relic of the 1980s and 1990s in the form of Joe Biden in order to head off a real possibility that Bernie Sanders would win the Presidential nomination and push for Medicare for All. This meant that Democratic Party mayors of big cities like Seattle, Portland, and New York couldn’t bring down the hammer against protests the way they did against Occupy Wall Street in 2011 or Black Lives Matter in 2015 and 2016. In order to maintain their facade of anti-racism, they had to let the protests go on, which, in turn, terrified the more culturally conservative wing of the ruling class, perfectly and vividly summed up by the image of two middle-aged, right wing lawyers standing on their lawyers pointing guns at protesters in St. Louis Missouri a few weeks ago. Trump, recognizing the full blown panic in his white supremacist base, which no longer control the local police, decided to tap into the very federal bureaucracy he loudly claims to oppose, a federal bureaucracy that would just as soon see Joe Biden win this November. Biden, in turn, is so out of touch he might as well be living in a different decade, which of course he is.

The whole system, in other words, is weak. Suddenly the American people have begun to act like the French. The orange game show host in the White House has begun to talk like Napoleon and about how the the rabble in the streets need a good “whiff of grapeshot.” The liberal and conservative wings of the American ruling class, who usually pretend to battle it out in a pantomime so obviously fake it makes professional wrestling look like a real sport, are now tearing at each other’s throats in earnest. The “anti-government” far right has revealed itself to be what we’ve known them to be all along, boot licking racist thugs who worship established wealth and privilege. White middle-class soccer moms, who in normal times would wag their fingers and tell their kids not to talk about politics or religion, are now learning how to pick up tear gas canisters and hurl them back at riot police, almost as if they were students in Paris in 1968. Whether it will lead to the rebirth of American democracy or open, fascist totalitarianism, only time will tell, but I highly doubt anything’s going back to “normal.”

Nazi Monuments in Canada?

A few months ago I reviewed a Michael Powell film called the 49th Parallel, where he dramatized Canadians of German descent rejecting attempts by Hitler’s agents to recruit them into the Nazi Cause. Well it turns out to have been more complex than Powell’s great but admittedly propagandistic film. After the Second World War, the Canadian government went out of its way to recruit Ukrainian fascists, mostly, it seems, to break unions in the mining industry. Canada even has officially sanctioned monuments to the Waffen SS.

Graffiti spray-painted on a monument to Nazi soldiers in a small Canadian city is being investigated by police as a hate crime – a move that has prompted disbelief among human rights advocates.

Around 21 June, the words “Nazi war monument” were spray-painted on to a cenotaph commemorating soldiers in the 14th SS Division in an Ontario cemetery, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

It’s stuff like this that makes me so wary of Russiagate, and how much power the Ukraine Lobby has gotten over the Democratic Party in the United States. Sure, Russia is a corrupt, right-wing capitalist oligarchy (kind of like the United States), but every time I look at social media and see gangs of shrieking banshees calling for more sanctions on Russia it makes my bullshit detector go off. For the love of God let’s not replace the influence of the Israel Lobby (which itself replaced the right wing China Lobby) with the influence of the Ukraine or Saudi lobby.

It also seems that one of the most powerful politicians in Canada is the granddaughter of a Ukrainian collaborator.

When asked at a press conference on March 6 about the allegations that her maternal grandfather was a Nazi collaborator, Chrystia Freeland, newly appointed Foreign Minister of Canada, former journalist and a writer, a master of words, found only clumsy sentences to deliver what would have earned no more than a ‘C’ in a high school debate class.

“It’s no secret that Russians do not like you and banned you from the country,” began the question. “Recently, there has been a series of articles in pro-Russian websites about you and your maternal grandparents, making accusations that [your grandfather] was a Nazi collaborator. I’d like to get your view—is this a disinformation campaign by the Russians to try to smear you and discredit you, which they have a tendency to do?”

My long standing impression of Canada as the United States with healthcare and without the racism was naive.

Contrast that to how the Canadian government handled a related issue last year when the Russian Embassy in Ottawa tweeted out that, “There are monumets (sic) to Nazi collaborators in Canada and nobody is doing anything about it.”

A monument in Oakville commemorates those who served with the 14th SS Galizien Division. Another monument in Edmonton honors Roman Shukhevych, the leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

As my Postmedia colleague Marie-Danielle Smith discovered, the Russian tweet sent bureaucrats at Global Affairs Canada into overdrive as they tried to defend the SS unit and Ukrainian Nazi collaborators. Documents she received through the Access to Information law show government officials were under a lot of pressure from the “Centre” (the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office) to counter the news about the monuments to Nazi collaborators. The bureaucrats came up with a strategy. The would label the tweet as “disinformation” and they came up with a plan to spread the word to the news media as part of their efforts to defend Ukraine’s Nazi collaborators.

I guess this is the ideal, not the reality.

RIP John Lewis

John Lewis has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

His later support for the Clintons and the Democratic Party establishment was disappointing, but there’s no question that he was one of the most important leaders against the totalitarian one-party, segregationist state that existed in the South until 1964, the year before I was born.

Whenever you hear a “conservative” talk about the evils of “big government,” it’s important to keep in mind the most repressive social order in American history was implemented, not by the federal government, but by state and local governments in the Jim Crow South.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, “government” in the Southern states could tell you who you could marry, who you could socialize with, where you could go to the bathroom, where you could live, and where you could go to school. It was totalitarianism on a massive scale administered, not by SS Gauleiters or Soviet Commissars, but by uneducated hick politicians and pot-bellied local sheriffs. It lasted from the disputed election of 1876 almost into my lifetime. It was as bad as anything in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa, and John Lewis risked his life multiple times in an ultimately successful effort to bring it down. In many ways, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump, the evil spirit of segregation and white supremacy haunts us to this day.

Tik Tok Teens Have Managers?

I really doubt there’s much of a connection to this story but India has completely banned TikTok. Trump is considering doing the same. Not to promote any “conspiracy theories” but if you need proof that American social media is all about propaganda, political control and social manipulation this isn’t a bad place to start.

Either the American (and Indian) ruling class is projecting their own dark agenda onto China, or they simply don’t like the competition. Too bad I’m too old for TikTok. My contrarian impulses give me the urge to start making videos.

I wonder if this means American tech companies will decide to forgo the use of cheap Chinese labor and start making computers in Seattle and Austin again. Nah. That would be going a bit too far. Besides, there are cheaper places to make computers than China. Maybe I should start investing in Bangladeshi startups.

Writers Without Money

In addition to being unbelievably sad, there’s something quite revealing about the story of Siya Kakkar, a 16-year-old New Delhi girl who had over a million followers on the Chinese streaming media service. She not only committed suicide. She had a manager.

In the social media post, Viral wrote: “Arjun Sarin who just spoke to her last night for a song collaboration, and he says she was in a good mood and perfectly alright. Even he has no clue what went wrong that she had to go this way.”

I have no idea if Arjun Sarin is a big time entertainment executive or just a family friend, but it’s clear that Tik Tok, which has recently been declared the authentic voice of Generation Z, is also a marketing platform. Does a 16-year-old girl just become an overnight media sensation? Or is Tik Tok promoting children as viral stars…

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Steven Salaita on “Free Speech”

The pro-Palestinian college professor (now bus driver) who lost his academic career because he took the idea of “free speech” a little too seriously is probably better qualified to write about the issue than I am.

In short, free speech isn’t merely an ideal that allows everyone to have a say, commie and Nazi alike.  It is a politic, a sensibility, a custom, a rhetorical device outfitted to the reproduction of bourgeois common sense.  It elides the relationship of access with subservience.  It pretends to be a universal liberty while maintaining a slick ability to rationalize fine-tuned mechanisms of blacklisting and persecution.  It unconsciously facilitates the status quo.  The Nazi always comes out ahead in this arrangement.

p.s. Unlike Salaita, I like Ulysses Grant, Max Blumenthal and Matt Taibbi but the central argument of his essay is pretty sound. The idea of “free speech” is pretty meaningless outside of a political and economic context. So I guess we’ll just have to disagree on the 18th President of the United States.