Campaigning for Democracy And Socialism.
Comrades and Friends

We hope our new format will be more readable, since nearly half of you get our newsletter on your smartphone. This is designed to work on nearly anything. We expect some glitches at first, but bear with us.

Be sure to share the newsletter with friends, everyone interested in the views of the left and wider circles of progressives. We see the immediate problem of defeating Trump, the centrality of a path forward focused on taking down white supremacy, along with all other forms of oppression and exploitation.

We are partisans of the working class--here and in all countries. We explore all the new challenges of shaping and fighting for a democracy and socialism for the 21st Century. We want to build organizations to win elections, strikes and other campaigns, and put our people in the seats of power as well. As such we seek unity on the left and an effort to shape and unite a progressive majority. Lend a hand by contributing articles and sharing us widely.
Latest News
Trump Is Reduced to Bizarre Conspiracies,
Combined with Calls for Violence. Remove
Him to Stop More Harm
Trump is playing a deranged superman to adoring 'superspreader' crowds. Several articles will explore the implications.
Trump Brags About Killing, 'No Arrest Needed'
Trump Appears to Admit Extrajudicial Killing of Michael Reinoehl Was Planned

By Chris Walker 

Oct 15, 2020 - President Donald Trump made alarming remarks on Thursday regarding the police-perpetrated killing of Michael Forest Reinoehl in early September, suggesting to a crowd of supporters that his death was premeditated.

“We sent in the U.S. Marshals, took 15 minutes and it was over,” Trump said at a campaign event in Greenville, North Carolina, in a reference to Reinoehl, an activist who had had an arrest warrant for shooting and killing a far right supporter of the president during a protest in Portland, Oregon, in August. “They got him. They knew who he was, they didn’t want to arrest him and 15 minutes that ended.”

Trump’s remarks appear to admit that Reinoehl’s death at the hands of law enforcement was an extrajudicial murder, and was not preceded by any attempts to arrest Reinoehl.

In discussing his shooting of Aaron Danielson in August, Reinoehl said his actions were done in self-defense, alleging that Danielson, who was part of a caravan in support of Trump, was about to murder someone.

“I had no choice,” Reinoehl said in early September. “I mean, I, I had a choice. I could have sat there and watched them kill a friend of mine of color. But I wasn’t going to do that.”

A few days after making those remarks, Reinoehl was shot and killed in Lacey, Washington, by federal officials, who claimed he had drawn a weapon during an attempt to arrest him. However, according to a witness to the shooting, Reinoehl was not holding a weapon, but was talking on a cellphone and eating gummy worms.

The witness further alleged that “officers opened fire without first announcing themselves or trying to arrest him.”

In total, 21 out of 22 witnesses to Reinoehl’s death have said they did not see law enforcement announce themselves before killing him in a hailstorm of over 30 bullets.

On Tuesday, during a campaign rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the president made similar remarks about the extrajudicial killing of Reinoehl.

“Two days went by. Three days went by. I said, ‘Why the hell haven’t they arrested him?'” Trump said. “And they knew who he was. And we sent in the U.S. Marshals. And in 15 minutes it was all over. That was the end of it. That was the end of it.”

Trump’s initial remarks on Reinoehl’s killing were issued in mid-September during an interview with Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro in which the president appeared to justify the extrajudicial police-perpetrated killing.

“This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him. And I’ll tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution,” Trump said.

The president struck a much different tone when it came to Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Illinois who killed two Black Lives Matter demonstrators with an assault rifle at a protest against the police-perpetrated shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“He [Rittenhouse] was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like,” he said. “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed.”

Rittenhouse is an adamant supporter of Trump, and attended one of the president’s rallies in January of this year.. Read More
US Militias Forge Alliances With
Conspiracy Theorists Ahead of Election 
Anti-government and anti-science advocates joined by founder of militia group at Red Pill Expo in Georgia

An armed protester wearing a mask stands at the Michigan capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, on 30 April. Photograph: Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg/Getty Images

By Ed Pilkington
The Guardian

Oct 14, 2020 - Armed militia groups are forging alliances in the final stages of the US presidential election with conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers who claim the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax, intensifying concerns that trouble could be brewing ahead of election day.

Leading advocates of anti-government and anti-science propaganda came together at the weekend, joined by the founder of one of the largest militia groups. The rare connection occurred at the Red Pill Expo, a conference convened on Jekyll Island, Georgia – a symbolic location as it is the birthplace of the US Federal Reserve, a popular bogey figure for conspiracy theorists.

The summit, staged indoors in front of a packed and maskless audience of about 350, was headlined by Stewart Rhodes, president of the Oath Keepers. The militia, which turned up menacingly at several Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests over the summer and has acted as a vigilante squad at numerous Donald Trump campaign rallies, has links to 25,000 current or past members, mostly military or police veterans.

Rhodes aroused the crowd of “Red Pillers”, as they called themselves, with incendiary language. He denounced BLM as a “communist front” and encouraged attendees to seek training in firearms and militia activity as the election approaches.

“You are your own self-defense,” he said. “You must organize yourselves in the next 30 days in your towns and counties. We have members in every state in the union and we are standing them up right now.”

Rhodes said the turbulence around “radical left” protests had brought “a flood of special warfare operatives into the Oath Keepers”. He cited former navy Seals and special force personnel from Fort Bragg, the US army garrison in North Carolina.

A number of groups monitoring far rightwing paramilitary activity have warned in recent weeks that militia groups and individuals online are increasingly focusing their attentions on the presidential election. The chatter has been fueled by Trump’s provocative remarks casting doubt on the integrity of the voting process and calling on his supporters to turn up at polling places on election day.

Anxiety is also growing around the activities of white supremacist domestic terrorist groups, which federal agencies now recognize as an especially dangerous threat. Last week six people were charged in a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer.

At the Red Pill gathering, the Oath Keeper president set his sights openly on election day. He said that on 3 November “we will have our men deployed outside the polling stations to make sure you are protected, especially in swing states”... Read More
Ohio's Quarter-Mile Early-Voting Lines?
That's What Voter Suppression Looks Like 
The long lines are happening not by accident but design. Voters must stand up to defend our system of government

Residents of Lucas County, Ohio wait in line to cast their vote during early voting in the US state of Ohio on October 6,2020 in Toledo, Ohio. (Photo by SETH HERALD / AFP) (Photo by SETH HERALD/AFP via Getty Images)

By David Litt
The Guardian

Oct 15, 2020 - In-person early voting started in Ohio this week, and in the state’s largest cities, it was a total mess. In Columbus, the line stretched for a quarter of a mile. In Cuyahoga county, the hours-long wait began before polls even opened.

All of this was entirely predictable. Thanks to an Ohio state law passed in 2006 by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by a Republican governor, the number of in-person early voting sites is limited to just one per county. That means Vinton County, a Republican stronghold in the state’s southeast that’s home to just 13,500 Ohioans, has approximately 97 times more polling-places-per-voter than Franklin County, the deep-blue bastion with a population of more than 1.3 million.

The office of Frank LaRose, Ohio’s chief elections official, recently tweeted that “lines are due to enthusiasm”. But blaming voters for the long lines they endure ignores the massive, intentional disparity in resources between the more and less populous parts of the state. Ohio’s politicians have made voting far easier for Republicans and far more difficult for Democrats. But what makes the needlessly long lines that have appeared throughout Ohio’s cities particularly notable is that they are not merely the result of election mismanagement or an ad hoc act of voter suppression. Instead, they reflect a view of democracy that prioritizes the imaginary preferences of land over the very real preferences of people, and in so doing, undermines the principle of “One Person, One Vote”.

To understand exactly what makes the actions of Ohio’s Republican politicians so insidious, and so antithetical to modern democracy, it’s important to understand the history of One Person, One Vote – a concept that sounds timeless, but in fact is younger than George Clooney. At the turn of the 20th century, as Americans began migrating from the countryside to cities, rural politicians came up with ways to retain power without having to retain population. The simplest way to do this was to avoid redrawing legislative district boundaries every year. The population of cities boomed – but the number of representatives allocated to them did not.

By 1960, American representation, or lack thereof, had become almost farcical. Maricopa county, Arizona, which contained the city of Phoenix and more than half the state’s population, elected just one-third of the state’s representatives to Congress. “One state senator represented Los Angeles county, which had a population of more than 6 million people,” write authors Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel, “while another represented three northern California rural counties with a total population of 14,294.” Author Anthony Lewis provides an example from Connecticut: “177,000 citizens of Hartford elected two members of the state house of representatives; so did the town of Colebrook, population 592.” (The most egregious example of what political scientists call “malapportionment” was surely in New Hampshire, where one district’s assemblyman represented a constituency of three.)

Another strategy politicians used to maintain control despite dwindling popular support was to distribute power by county rather than by population. The most infamous of these was Georgia’s “county unit system”. Created in 1917, the system gave each county a set number of votes in Democratic primaries: urban counties received six votes, towns received four, and rural counties received two. Atlanta’s Fulton county had a population 80 times larger than that of three least-populous counties combined, yet they received an identical six votes. Because Democrats dominated Georgia, the winner of the party primary was the de facto winner of the general election – which made the county unit system a powerful tool for disenfranchising urban voters in general, and Black voters (who were more likely to live in cities) in particular.

These kinds of representation-skewing schemes were immoral. But for most of the 20th century, they weren’t illegal. For decades, the supreme court held that district populations were a political question the judiciary had no business deciding. But in 1962, the justices concluded that malapportionment couldn’t be corrected through the normal electoral process. It left voters powerless to reclaim their power. In Baker v Carr Justice William Brennan declared that malapportionment – if sufficiently egregious – violated the constitution.

It’s hard to overstate the impact of the Baker decision. In the months that followed, district maps were struck down in a dozen states. The county unit system was overturned. In 1964, the court ruled that congressional districts, not just state legislative ones, were required to have roughly equal populations. As Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, notes in The Fight to Vote, 93 of 99 state legislative maps were redrawn in just four years.

Chief Justice Earl Warren later called Baker v Carr the most important decision issued by his court. He also summarized the principle behind that decision perfectly. “Legislators represent people,” he wrote. “Not trees or acres.” That principle – that power belongs to the people rather than the land – is what we now call one person, one vote.

Sixty years after Baker, the urban-rural divide in our politics is starker than ever. Democrats have become the parties of cities and the denser suburbs, Republicans the party of exurbs and rural areas. Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections. But while the Republican party has lagged among America’s people, it represents the vast majority of America’s acres and trees.

 If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the people have shown themselves willing to fight for representative democracy

Which brings us back to Columbus and Cleveland, where brutally long voting lines have turned casting a ballot into a feat of endurance. It’s no longer possible to directly allocate votes by county (although that’s likely to be tested if Amy Coney Barrett joins the existing conservative majority on the court). But it is still possible to allocate voting resources by county, in an effort to make voting exponentially more difficult for urban voters than for rural ones. The goal of LaRose’s one-polling-place-per-county order is no different than that of the politicians who devised Georgia’s county unit system more than 100 years ago: diminish the political power of the cities at the expense of the countryside.

Distressingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, it’s not just Ohio where one person, one vote is under attack. In Georgia’s 2018 election, Atlanta received far fewer voting machines per voter than rural, redder counties elsewhere in the state. States like Wisconsin have been gerrymandered to pack urban voters into a relative handful of districts while giving rural voters as many representatives as possible. Earlier this month in Texas, the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, limited the number of drop boxes for mail-in ballots to just one per county, even though the state’s most populous county has – and this is not a typo – 2,780,000% more residents than the least populous. No wonder that in Houston, long lines of cars are snaking outside Harris county’s single drop-off site... Read More
How to Stop a Coup
As election results start coming in, the message needs to come through loud and clear: Count all the votes and honor the result.

By Daniel Hunter
Yes! Magazine

We have a president who has openly said he might not respect the outcome of our election. We have to be ready if he claims victory before votes are counted, tries to stop counting, or refuses to accept a loss.

Some days I feel confident it will happen. A poll showed over 75% of Democrats think this is possible—and a shocking 30% of Republicans do too!

Other days I feel confident this is tough talk from a president not good at planning ahead. Still, he is good at the kind of misdirection that can keep us complacent and reactionary—which could lead us to stop doing the important groundwork of getting out the vote, protecting the post office, and fighting voter suppression.

So what I’m offering isn’t asking us to stop what we’re doing now. Instead I’m part of an effort called Choose Democracy, which is prepping people for the possibility of a coup while keeping people focused on a strong, robust election process. After all, the best way to stop a coup is to not have one.

These guidelines are drawn from the wide body of experience and evidence from the many countries that have experienced a coup since World War II. You can read some fuller case studies from Choose Democracy or a longer evidence-based handbook for this moment from “Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy.”

1. Don’t expect results election night.

Election season 2020 is shaping up to be unusual. Many mail-in ballots may not be counted until days or weeks after Election Day. Because Democrats are expected to use them more frequently than Republicans, voter tallies are expected to swing towards Democrats post-election night (they call it a “blue shift”). As a result, a wave of confusion may unfold starting election night.

The strange Electoral College creates multiple intervention points. After election night (Nov. 3), trumped up claims of fraudulent ballots may cause a wayward attorney general or other government officials to try halting counts or excluding ballots.

As election results start coming in the message needs to come through loud and clear: Count all the votes and honor the result.

On Dec. 14, the delegates of the Electoral College meet and vote for the state’s outcome. This is typically done without fanfare, but in contested states we might see governors and state legislatures sending in different results—one reflecting the results from voters, the other claiming “it’s a fraud” and “we know best.” This is worrying in swing states like Pennsylvania, where the governor and state legislature are of different parties.

All these issues then get resolved on Jan. 6 by the new Congress. And if the House and Senate don’t agree about the result, then a convoluted process unfolds where the newly seated House—via one state, one-vote—determines the president. Meanwhile, the Senate (by majority) votes for the new vice president. (#ShutDownDC provides a visual breakdown of these steps.)

During this time, expect false flags and outlandish claims. Be cautious with news. Don’t simply pass on whatever seems like dramatic examples of wrongdoing—but take the time to check whether it has been verified, already debunked, or from a source you don’t trust. Encourage people in your community to prepare for some uncertain weeks. As election results start coming in, the message needs to come through loud and clear: Count all the votes and honor the result.

2. Do call it a coup.

One reason to use the language of a coup is that people know it’s wrong and a violation of Democratic norms—even if they’re not familiar with the exact definition of a coup.

Language like “election tampering” or “voter suppression” signal deterioration of the democratic process. But if we get ourselves into a coup situation—like where Trump just won’t go—we need to help people help our country move into a psychic break.

We know it’s a coup if the government:

• Stops counting votes;
• Declares someone a winner who didn’t get the most votes; or
• Allows someone to stay in power who didn’t win the election.

These are sensible red lines that people can grasp right away (and that the majority of Americans continue to believe in).

People who do power grabs always claim they’re doing it to save democracy or claim they know the “real” election results. So this doesn’t have to look like a military coup with one leader ordering the opposition to be arrested.

If any of those three principles are violated, we have to declare loudly and strongly: This is a coup.

3. Know that coups have been stopped by regular folks.

Coup attempts have happened all over the world, and more than half have failed. That’s because coups are hard to orchestrate. They are a violation of norms that require quick seizure of multiple levels of institutions with a claim that they are the rightful heir.

Coups tend to fail when government institutions (such as elections) are trusted, there is an active citizenry, and other nations are ready to become involved...Read More
In Michigan, homegrown terrorists
offer a taste of civil war in America

By Roberto Zanini
Il Manifesto / Italy

Oct 12, 2020 - “Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ Governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over.”

These were the words of Adam Fox, a white militiaman at the head of a group with a ridiculous name, the Wolverine Watchmen, who had been planning a very serious project for months: to kidnap the Democratic Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer.

They planned to kidnap her, subject her to a mock trial and probably kill her, while an allied group would storm the state parliament and take hostages, starting a civil revolt. This was planned to take place three weeks before the elections. Fox was recorded by an FBI infiltrator, and on Thursday a raid took place: 13 arrests, six militiamen and the rest accomplices, a complicated plan to blow up a bridge and distract the police, a taser to stun the governor with electric shocks, an underground lair hidden under a carpet as a meeting room and place to keep the hostage, drills, inspections, weapons and explosives. In short, the accoutrements of terrorism.

They believed Governor Whitmer was guilty of implementing a partial anti-Covid lockdown in April: a crime against liberty, according to the many “patriots” armed to the teeth making up the base of Trumpism, and whom Donald Trump is giving political cover with bursts of tweets.

Some have been fearing civil war if the president refuses to accept his looming defeat (although it can never be taken for granted) and tries to snatch victory from a friendly court like the Supreme Court. Is this alarmism? There was a foretaste of it in Michigan. It was empirical proof of how serious the situation is, and how violent it is. One could call it the “AR-15 index.”

This is not the name of an economic parameter, but of an assault rifle. The semi-automatic copy of the M-16 supplied to the U.S. Armed Forces (while the kit to turn a single-shot rifle into a machine gun is sold in all the best gun stores).

In 1994, the federal automatic rifle ban came into effect, and the number of AR-15s dropped to 70,000. In 2003, the prohibition ended, and the number of AR-15 was 380,000. In 2008, at the time of Obama’s election, there were 633,000.

At the end of Obama’s presidency, the number of rifles jumped to a peak and never dropped again: 2.3 million AR-15s per year is the last estimate from 2016, at the take-off of Trumpism.

This was the assault rifle in the hands of the 17-year-old boy who killed two people during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in August. A 17-year-old assassin with a machine gun, in the company of militia men, complimented by the police (“we appreciate you guys, we really do”) before shooting people and then running away.

Kyle Rittenhouse is only 17 years old. For every single day of his life, his country has been at war—against terror, drugs and all the other products of generous American warfare. The police around him have been militarized more and more every day, and authorized to break in, shoot and kill. And ever since Kyle finished middle school as a boy, the president of his country has been praising the “patriots” of the white militias.

A confused ultra-right-wing of blue collars with an arsenal in their garage and barricaded mountain huts where the explosives are stashed next to the still.

A lurid ultra-right that is a close neighbor of the ultra-right of turbo-capitalist jackets and ties and fanatically religious white families. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Trump tweeted in April, when thousands of protesters besieged the state parliament in protest against Governor Whitmer’s anti-virus lockdown. Many were armed—with AR-15s.

This year, those born at the beginning of the war on terror are voting for the first time.

A few hours after the raid, Trump was already accusing Ms. Whitmer of being “horrible” because she accused him of sympathy for white supremacists while Joe Biden supposedly doesn’t say a word against Antifa, anarchists and looters.

This is the intrinsic fascism of Trumpism: the calculated confusion between disorder and injustice and the persecution of the former while they themselves render the latter more cruel. Put in the hands of the militia men, this ideological structure produces violence against every enemy: blacks, gays, Islamists, every progressive, even meek ones like Governor Whitmer... Read More
Why these lifelong Florida Republicans
are proudly voting for Vice-President Biden
4.35 minutes
As COVID-19 Hit Georgia Meatpacking Counties,
Officials and Industry Shifted Blame
Georgia's first large outbreaks, took place in its rural southwest counties, mainly affected Black people, who are the majority of poultry workers in that region. Trump's executive order declared processing plants 'critical infrastructure.'

A team from Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health conducted a COVID-19 testing event for poultry workers in their families in Hall County, Georgia this summer, Photo by Jack Krause, Emory University // Facing South

By Sandy Smith-Nonini and Olivia Paschal  
Facing South via Portside

Oct 1, 2020 - Hall County in north central Georgia is home to Gainesville, a town of about 43,000 where a large chicken-topped monument in its center declares it the "Poultry Capital of the World." There are more than a dozen meat processing plants in Hall County, and several others in surrounding counties.

But Hall County is also home to one of the most concentrated COVID-19 outbreaks in Georgia. Since March, there have been over 7,000 cases in the county — an infection rate of 3,521 per 100,000 residents, roughly 40% higher than rates for the five counties that make up the Atlanta metropolitan area. This is remarkable, since more dense urban areas typically have the highest infection rates. Hall County's experience is an extreme example of a nationwide pattern of high rates of COVID-19 in many counties with meatpacking plants.

"We have seen a lot of deaths in our community," said Vanesa Sarazua, the founder of Gainesville's Hispanic Alliance, in a recent phone interview. "Every week we see, of the people we come into contact with, three to five people that have died because of COVID or [whose deaths] are COVID-related somehow." Since the pandemic began, Sarazua has partnered with other community groups to distribute masks, conduct food drives, and provide essential information to Hall County's large Spanish-speaking community, many of whom came to the area to work in the plants.

Dr. Jodie Guest, an Emory University epidemiologist who led a team doing COVID-19 testing in Hall County, found that Latinx people were testing positive at more than twice the rate of white people. Statewide, Latinx people account for one-third of Georgia's positive cases for which ethnicity is recorded, but represent only 9% of the state population. The poultry industry, which employs many Spanish speakers in the area, is the common factor: Guest confirmed in an email that the team found that one-quarter of the 450 meatpacking workers it tested for the virus in Hall County were positive as of late June. In April, when the team held its first testing events, up to one-half were positive.

That was when Fieldale Farms, which has two processing plants in Hall County, started seeing COVID-19 outbreaks in its facilities. In total, 200 workers tested positive out of the company's 5,000 employees, who are spread across six north Georgia counties, a company executive told the Associated Press in May.

Georgia's first large outbreaks, in early April, took place in its rural southwest counties. The outbreaks mainly affected Black people, who are the majority of poultry workers in that region.

In late April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring meat processing plants "critical infrastructure," prohibiting state and local officials from ordering them closed over health concerns. A month earlier, Tyson Foods had sent a proposal signed by food industry groups to Trump seeking this critical status, which the Georgia Poultry Federation forwarded to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on March 20, according to documents obtained by the Documenting COVID-19 project at Columbia University's Brown Institute for Media Innovation via public records request.

Nationwide, there have been outbreaks at nearly 500 meat processing plants, with more than 41,000 workers infected, according to numbers compiled by the Food and Environmental Reporting Network (FERN). At least 200 workers have died.

Yet Georgia, the top poultry producing state in the country, has only rarely released data on COVID-19 cases in the state's meat processing plants. Although the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) was a partner in the Emory testing events, their spokespeople have echoed government officials in praising the industry for undertaking safety measures, and pointing to community transmission as the main cause of spread.

But if the numbers the Emory team found in Hall County — a quarter of tested workers sick as of early July — are indicative of the rate in other meatpacking counties, it suggests that safety measures adopted by the plants such as temperature checks, mandatory masks, and separated work stations have fallen short. To fill in the gaps on the role of meat processing in spreading the virus, we analyzed COVID-19 infection rates in Georgia counties where meatpacking is a predominant industry.

Tracking COVID-19's spread

Our analysis looks at clusters of high infection rates associated with meat processing plants over the course of the pandemic. Georgia's early reopening and high case load complicates attempts to track the virus's spread in workplaces after mid-June, especially in population-dense areas. For that reason, our analysis focuses heavily on rural counties with at least one meatpacking plant employing 100 or more workers. We also include Dougherty County, which has no plant within its borders but is home to thousands of meatpacking workers who commute across county lines to work, and Hall County — which, though not classified as rural, has 13 plants employing 6,780 workers...Read More
Our Amazing Resource for Radical Education
There are hundreds of video courses here, along with study guides, downloadable books and links to hundreds of other resources for study groups or individuals.

Nearly 10,000 people have signed on to the OUL for daily update, and more than 150,000 have visited us at least once.

Karl Marx's ideas are a common touchstone for many people working for change. His historical materialism, his many contributions to political economy and class analysis, all continue to serve his core values--the self-emancipation of the working class and a vision of a classless society. There are naturally many trends in Marxism that have developed over the years, and new ones are on the rise today. All of them and others who want to see this project succeed are welcome here.

Culture Wars: The Working-Class Cinematic Legacy of Film Noir
In the stiflingly reactionary cultural atmosphere of postwar America, most filmmakers didn’t talk much about class. But there was one significant exception: film noir was the most class-conscious genre of motion picture America has ever produced.
Dennis O’Keefe as Joe Sullivan in Raw Deal (1948).

By Leonard Pierce
Jacobin via Portside

What do you know about anything? You probably had your bread buttered on both sides since the day you were born.

–Joe Sullivan, Raw Deal.

Oct 15, 2020 - If you want to start an argument among film critics — and who wouldn’t? — ask any three of them to define film noir. You won’t get three answers; you’ll get nine or ten, punctuated by a great deal of exception-making, special pleading, and brow-furrowing.

The very term is what Jean-François Lyotard referred to as a “phrase in dispute”: the people who made films noir did not call them that, preferring the prosaically descriptive term “crime drama.” “Film noir” was coined, decades after such films had stopped being made, by clever French critics like Lyotard, who seemed to understand American culture more than their American counterparts, and when the term became commonplace, arguments about what qualities such films must possess were immediate and vociferous. Many argued that noir was not even truly a style, but a period.

But one thing is certain, and it is what makes this genre, despite having largely vanished sixty years ago, so important and electrifying today: film noir was the most class-conscious genre of motion picture America has ever produced.

Noir arose in the postwar period, with its classical period generally defined as lasting from 1945 to 1960. These years are often thought of, from the distance of the twenty-first century, as the golden years of empire at its peak, of the neon-washed tint of suburban nostalgia, of conformity and anti-communist hysteria and the ascendance of the American dream. This is the image of the country that has persisted in the cultural presentation of the era, from Happy Days to Mad Men.

But the reality was far darker. Many were left out of the postwar narrative of an America of endless possibility. Certainly, the realities of queer lives, women’s lives, and the lives of people of color were not present in most films of the period, and it is part of the genius of noir that it managed to subvert and avoid the strictures of the Motion Picture Production Code that kept these realities from being discussed. But class, the bedrock of socialism’s material analysis and the inescapable fact of life under capitalism, could be portrayed.

But it rarely was — except in noir, in which class was not only an essential quality of storytelling but was also crucial to understanding everything: its writers and directors, its origins, and the fatalistic desperation and fierce clawing for a piece of the action that drove its characters and plotlines.

Aware of Where They Stood

Noir’s greatest directors often found themselves on the outside looking in, pushed and pulled by the vagaries of finance, the economy, and political reaction: Fritz Lang fled Germany after the Nazis took over the film industry; Orson Welles found himself at the mercy of studio bosses who found him too extreme and extravagant; Jules Dassin reversed Lang’s exile by leaving America for France after facing persecution for his membership in the Communist Party.

Its literary origins lay in the pulp magazines of the prewar era: cheap, hastily assembled rags meant for mass consumption and printed on the cheap paper that gave them their name, written by low-paid and often disreputable writers who would sometimes adapt their own work for the big screen.

Even the stars of films noir were actors plagued with scandal, known for being too independent or uncooperative, or simply seen as possessing insufficient star power to carry a big-budget picture on their own. These were men and women who were keenly aware of where they stood on the steel-walled class divide of the motion picture industry: the wrong side.

Not all film noir heroes were outlaws; the genre labored as much as any labored under the constraints of the Hays Code, which, animated by religious moralism and a distrust of the susceptible minds of the working class, forbid the portrayal of criminals as justified, sympathetic, or able to escape punishment. But the status of noir films as B- and C-pictures, often cheaply made by low-rent “Poverty Row” studios and attached as a package to more reputable mainstream films often gave them the ability to duck under the notice of the censors.

Still, criminals were often the central characters, and their motivations were almost always the same: they were poor. They were society’s losers, castoffs, and hard-luck cases, and they were out to make a score that would give them a break for once in their miserable lives.

But it would be another great mistake to believe that these films delivered the message that money was salvation. In the doom-struck world of noir, no one ever gets lucky, and money is a fleeting dream. Those who have it are compromised, corrupted, or enslaved by it, and those without it never end up with it.

Dirty Money

In the stark class struggles of crime dramas, the thugs and hoodlums and heist men might be villains, but the truly contemptible figures are the bankers, the moneymen. The people doing the stealing are at least comprehensible to us. We can relate to them. But the rich, whether from the straight world or the crooked ones, are monsters, soulless things, icons of cruelty who will double-cross and dirty deal to protect the wealth they already possess in abundance. Even in a rigged game, they refuse to play fair.

This dynamic plays out memorably in John Huston’s 1950 noir The Asphalt Jungle; when banker Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) sells out a gang of thieves, revealing that he hasn’t got the money he promised them in exchange for the take of a jewel heist. Gunman Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) sneers at him with contempt: “What’s inside of you? What’s keeping you alive?” Dix is a thug and a brute, but he immediately recognizes in Emmerich something every working person understands: the two-faced boss who demands the lion’s share of the profit while assuming none of the risk he pawns off on his hirelings...Read More
Qiao Collective

Based on a handful of think tank reports and witness testimonies, Western governments have levied false allegations of genocide and slavery in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

A closer look makes clear that the politicization of China’s anti-terrorism policies in Xinjiang is another front of the U.S.-led hybrid war on China.

This resource compilation provides a starting point for critical inquiry into the historical context and international response to China’s policies in Xinjiang, providing a counter-perspective to misinformation that abounds in mainstream coverage of the autonomous region. Click graphic to access
Resurgence of Child Labor Amid Global Pandemic
Offered as Proof That 'Capitalism Is Monstrous'
'Good time to remember that a number of free market economists defend child labor as being a good thing.'

By Kenny Stancil
Common Dreams

A twelve year-old works in a silver cooking pot factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh during the coronavirus crisis, which has led to a resurgence of child labor amid worsening economic deprivation and educational precarity. (Photo: Md Manik/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As the Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding economic upheaval threaten to push up to 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, in-depth reporting Thursday from the Associated Press showed that the coronavirus crisis is also undermining two decades of gains against child labor in the developing world, where an entire generation of impoverished children lacking access to safe education opportunities are being driven by economic necessity to work alongside their parents or in place of unemployed caretakers.

Progressive author and commentator Nathan Robinson said Thursday on social media that the dire situation demonstrates the depravity of the global economic system and its inability to guarantee the well-being of all the world's inhabitants despite there being more than enough resources to do so. "Capitalism is monstrous," he said. 

Robinson also noted that it's a "good time to remember that a number of free market economists defend child labor as being a good thing because it's 'freely chosen' and work is good, so prohibiting it would be 'coercive.'"

In a Twitter thread, Robinson cited multiple examples of economists defending the alleged virtues of child labor, which Jeffrey Tucker of the right-wing think tank American Institute for Economic Research for instance described as an "opportunity [taken] away from kids" by compulsory schooling. 

Tucker's euphemizing of child labor, which he imagines to be "exciting," is diametrically opposed to the AP's horrifying account of the resurgence of young people—coerced by worsening poverty and disrupted learning routines amid the coronavirus crisis—taking on often dangerous work to help keep their families from going hungry or becoming homeless. 

"With classrooms shuttered and parents losing their jobs, children are trading their ABC's for the D of drudgery," wrote María Verza, Carlos Valdez, and William Costa in AP. "Reading, writing, and times tables are giving way to sweat, blisters, and fading hopes for a better life."

The journalists provide numerous examples of what potentially millions of children around the globe are doing now instead of going to school: "Children in Kenya are grinding rocks in quarries. Tens of thousands of children in India have poured into farm fields and factories. Across Latin America, kids are making bricks, building furniture, and clearing brush."

In addition to several harrowing photographs, AP shared the following video depicting the haunting "sounds of child labor":

"These children and adolescents," AP noted, "are earning pennies or at best a few dollars a day to help put food on the table"—putting in long hours at jobs that used to be after-school activities but have in recent months been transformed into full-time work. 

Astrid Hollander, UNICEF's head of education in Mexico explained that "child labor becomes a survival mechanism for many families."

"We have seen new children and adolescents selling in the street," Patricia Velasco, manager of a city program for at-risk people in La Paz, Bolivia, told AP. "They've been pushed to generate income."

Child workers interviewed by AP told reporters that they missed school but understood the need to assist their families, and their parents expressed dismay at the implications of interrupted schooling. 

Despite resource constraints, caretakers explained that they are doing their best to prevent their children from falling behind. 

"Under their mother's watchful eye, the children work through schoolbooks they were given in February at the start of the school year," wrote Verza, Valdez, and Costa in AP. "Each morning in the workshop, she has them take time to study."

According to the news agency, governments are still trying to figure out exactly how many students have dropped out of their school systems, but with 1.5 billion schoolchildren affected by school closures at the height of national lockdowns, UNICEF has estimated that the worldwide numbers are likely in the millions.

Moreover, for at least 463 million children whose schools closed due to Covid-19, remote learning is not a possibility, prompting UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore in August to declare the widespread disruptions in learning a "global education emergency."

Experts explained to AP that "in the past, most students who have missed class because of crises like the Ebola epidemic returned when schools reopened."

"But the longer the crisis drags on," they said, "the less likely [children and adolescents] will be to go back."

According to Fore, "the repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come," which is why UNICEF's Reimagine campaign calls for "urgent investment to bridge the digital divide, reach every child with remote learning, and, most critically, prioritize the safe reopening of schools."...Read More
Our Foreign Correspondent

Rightwing Populism Will Make You Sick—Really

The world’s worst outbreaks are occurring in five nations with authoritarian leaders, like Trump.

October 9, 2020

Book Review: Michael Ian Black: Trump's Anachronistic
Sense of Masculinity . . . Is Literally Killing People'
The actor appeared on 'Salon Talks' to discuss his book "A Better Man" & exploring masculinity in our society

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

OCT 7, 2020 - Masculinity isn't inherently "toxic." Yet within the current necessary cultural reckoning about inequality and abuses of power, the complicated issues around what it means to be male right now have been harder to define and discuss. So when Michael Ian Black's son was preparing to leave for college, the actor, director and author decided to write him a message. The result is new book called "A Better Man: A Mostly Serious Letter to My Son."

You may know Black more for his roles in the "Wet Hot American Summer" series, "Burning Love," "Reno 911!" or maybe just his Twitter feed than his gender studies, but it's his experience as a dad that lends to his credentials.

Black recently appeared on "Salon Talks" to discuss the tragedy that inspired the book, feminism and being "a guy often known for talking about Cabbage Patch Dolls on VH1." Watch my episode with Black here, or read a Q&A of the conversation below.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You've written about your family and your experiences with fatherhood before. Now, as your son was turning 18, what made you say, "This is a moment where I want to tell a particular story right now"?

There were a lot of events leading up to it. He was in his senior year of high school. He was going to graduate. He was going to leave home. Like any dad, I was feeling somewhat sad about that, and hopeful about that. Then in the winter of that year, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting happened in Florida.

I'd been paying a lot of attention to gun violence over the last many years since Sandy Hook, which happened when my kids were in elementary school and happened about 10 miles from my house. When Marjory Stoneman Douglas happened, I just started asking the obvious question, which had never really occurred to me before: Why is it boys who are doing this? Not just these big, horrible shootings, but the day-to-day violence that we see so often in our lives. It's almost always boys. Why?

You say that in the book, it's always someone's son, because it's always a boy. That's a very humanizing and empathetic way to come into this conversation.

It was hard to look at the faces of all these boys and young men who were committing these crimes, and not see the obvious parallel that I have a son who looks a lot like them. Most of these crimes, the big shootings like that, they're almost always white. Why? What is going on? I've wrestled for years with losing my own dad when I was 12. I never had conversations about manhood with him. I wanted to just give my son something that might be useful for him as he heads out into the world...Read More
TV Review: 'Driving While Black:
Race, Space and Mobility in America'
Ric Burns and Gretchen Sorin's PBS documentary offers context on the Black travel guides featured in 'Lovecraft Country' and 'Green Book.'

By Daniel Fienberg
Hollywood Reporter

Oct 13, 2020 - From the context behind the Jim Crow-era guides to safe Black travel featured in Green Book and Lovecraft Country to a clear, timely argument that the history of American policing is inextricably linked to a history of restricting Black movement, PBS' new feature-length documentary Driving While Black offers several things of interest to a mainstream audience.

Still, I can't dispute that the title of Ric Burns and historian Dr. Gretchen Sorin's doc, Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America, makes it sound like a dissertation or at least a grad school essay. It's somehow even more rigorous-sounding than the full title of Sorin's new book on the topic, Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights. That's a tough way to lure that aforementioned wide audience.

The best I can do is note that Driving While Black is very good and does what a good dissertation or grad school essay should do: take some information you probably know and some details you probably didn't know, and reframe them within an argument that starts small but grows to encompass the entire history of the country.

That reframing and expansion starts with the very title, which refers to a colloquial expression, popularized in the '90s but pre-existing that time, referring to a police traffic stop enforced for no evident reason beyond the driver's race. Yes, the last chapter of the documentary looks — from Rodney King to Jacob Blake — at the way tragic police stops, sometimes tied to alleged vehicular infractions and sometimes not, have been pushed into wide consciousness in large part by increasingly available video technology. That technology has forced white people to acknowledge something people of color have been saying for decades. The doc also examines related rites of passage like "The Talk," in which Black parents communicate to their children strategies (only sometimes effective) to prevent police interactions from escalating.

But the "mobility" of the title goes beyond driving, from the abduction and forced transportation of Africans through the Middle Passage to the way much of early American law was based on restricting Black movement — a project that continued through slavery and Reconstruction and into the Jim Crow segregation that led to the birth of Green Book and other guides for Black motorists.

The "mobility" covered in the doc includes trains and public transportation, the filmmakers exploring the idea that any traversing of the country was implicitly linked with matters of race and privilege. The film examines the economy of the auto industry — how Henry Ford's relatively enlightened approach to Black employment (without ignoring his anti-Semitism) helped inspire and facilitate one wave of Black migration from the Deep South. We also learn about the infrastructure of the auto boom, how minority neighborhoods were disproportionately impacted by construction of the freeway system.

Some of the connections Burns and Sorin make are obvious and clear and some need more defending. But the documentary is driven almost exclusively by talking heads who are historians and authors, mostly Black, laying out their cases in terms both academic and personal. The intercutting of interviewees and archival footage, enhanced once we reach the '40s and '50s by home movies, is straightforward and clear. Talking head standouts include Sorin, Fath Ruffins, Allyson Hobbs, Alvin Hall, who deconstructs how the myth of the freedom of the American road was built around whiteness, and Herb Boyd, who summarizes the entire doc with the observation, "It entails so much more than the actual driving while black. It's living while black, sleeping while black, eating while black, moving while black. So when we start talking about the restrictions in black movement in this country, boy that's a long history. It goes all the way back to day one."

If you're a regular PBS viewer, you'll probably feel like Driving While Black is a synthesis of at least a half dozen feature and series docs that have aired in recent years, such as 2019's excellent Reconstruction: America After the Civil War and 2017's emotional The Talk — Race in America. There's a feeling that Driving While Black is, in hip-hop terms, sampling some familiar beats, but the originality is in the synthesis.

The 20+ minute segment on the Black driving guides is the part of the documentary that feels like it deserves its own two-hour treatment. Here, Driving While Black strikes a fascinating balance between never losing track of the racism of Jim Crow and celebrating some of the Black entrepreneurship it inspired. The documentary notes that 80 percent of the businesses featured in the Green Book no longer exist at all and only three percent are currently operational. There are figures featured here who remember some of those places, like the Drew Drop Inn and Marsalis Motel in New Orleans or the town of Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard; their stories aren't going to be available forever. Several of the talking heads, like creole-cooking legend Leah Chase, have died since contributing to this doc.

More than anything, I came away from Driving While Black wanting an expansion of that side of the story — the story that Lovecraft Country honors as a plot point and that Green Book whitewashed beyond recognition. This documentary, though, is a good starting point. Read More
522 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
415 863-6637