Black Lives: Struggle, Still Dreaming of Racial Justice in St Louis’ Black Neighborhoods
This RT documentary provides a brief glimpse into the lives of Ferguson residents since the murder of Michael Brown in 2015. It highlights the extreme poverty, homelessness, absence of services or jobs (in contrast to white St Louis) and the staggering number of abandoned homes. Reportedly St Louis has the highest proportion of abandoned homes of any US city.
The documentary also highlights a half dozen activists who are organizing to improve conditions in the African American community. Some have begun arming themselves in self-defense. In addition to harassment and arbitrary shootings by St Louis cops, a growing number of African American men (activists especially) are being targeted by the KKK and other white supremacist groups. Few of these homicides are investigated or prosecuted by police, resulting in a mounting number of unsolved murders.
This documentary, filmed a month before the 2016 election, explores the life circumstances of a cross section of Trump supporters, referred to by Hillary Clinton as “deplorables.”
Commonalities shared by this demographic are
recent personal or family experience with job loss, bankruptcy or foreclosure.
strong feelings about Wall Street outsourcing manufacturing jobs to third world countries.
strong feelings about US politics being a “crooked” system set up to destroy the middle class.
strong opposition to their perceived corporate control of the two major political parties.
a perception that Trump, unlike other politicians, “can’t be bought.”
When answering filmmakers’ questions about Trump’s perceived racism and xenophobia, their replies vary. Some (especially women) feel that Black Lives Matter activists have a point about the abysmal way Black people are treated in the US. Others claim that Black people (and women) are demanding special privileges not enjoyed by white men.
Most deny that Trump is racist, claiming he only wants to prevent terrorist attacks by banning immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They agree with his proposed wall because they believe his claims that most illegal Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. This flies in the face of research indicating undocumented immigrants (who are loathe to draw attention to themselves) commit far fewer crimes than either legal immigrants or native born Americans.
Golden Dawn is a remarkable documentary tracing the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece. Despite their role in several high profile murders, Golden Dawn has held 18 seats in the Greek parliament since 2012.
Their rapid rise to power relates in large part to dire austerity measures the European Union has imposed on Greece. With 28% unemployment (55% youth unemployment) and drastic pension cuts, many starving Greek citizens join Golden Dawn because of their free food distribution programs.
However as Georgousis makes clear, the strong support Golden Dawn enjoys from police (who openly admit to being members), the media, the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek security services is even more instrumental. In all respects the parallels with Nazi Germany are chilling.
Golden Dawn is notorious for openly beating up and murdering both illegal and legal immigrants – with the police looking on and, in many cases arresting legal immigrants instead of perpetrators.
Only anarchist groups have tried to protect immigrants from these attacks. When they do so, the police step in and arrest, beat and torture them.
In 2012, following the murder of a high profile Greek national, the Greek government finally arrested four Golden Dawn leaders on a charge of criminal gang activity. However instead of stripping them of their parliamentary seats, they then directed Greek jail staff to transport them between jail and Parliament.
What I found most remarkable about the documentary is its excellent footage of actual Golden Dawn meetings and its in-depth interviews with some of its members.
Hidden History: How the Gladio Assassinations of Alfred Herrhausen and Detlev Rohwedder Turned Eastern Europe into a Wall Street Sweatshop
Late Pentagon and intelligence inside Col Fletcher Prouty was the first to raise the alarm that the 1989 assassination of Deutche Bank president Alfred Herrhausen was intelligence-related. This was two decades before the CIA/NATO’s secret Operation Gladio* assassination program became common public knowledge. Although officials on both sides of the Atlantic blamed the so-called Red Army Faction, the extremely sophisticated bomb that killed Herrhausen was well beyond the expertise of amateur extremists.
In a 1992 interview with the Italian Newspaper Unita Prouty states “Some great power center wanted for some reason to get rid of the board spokesman of Deutsche Bank on that day and in that manner, in order to teach others a lesson. So there is a message in the way he was killed.” He adds,“When you consider the great importance of events in the Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe, and especially in Germany . . . then the Herrhausen assassination is tremendously significant. We must not allow it to be swept under the rug.”
In Prouty’s view, the key to the Herrhausen assassination, occurring three months after the fall of the Berlin wall, was his revolutionary proposal to found a Polish development bank, modeled on the German Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau, which played a crucial role in the postwar economic reconstruction of Germany.
What Went Wrong with East Germany?
Economist and historian William Engdahl would explore the Herrhausen assassination in more depth in a 1992 article entitled What Went Wrong with East Germany. The article points out that Herrhausen’s banking views differed significantly from those of the US/British banking establishment.
Herrhausen, recruited by Chancellor Helmut Kohl to assist in planning the economic reunification of Germany, was a champion of third world debt forgiveness. Poland’s debt service burden to help stimulate development in former eastern bloc economies. He also argued strongly for a slow process of German reunification, one that would make full use of East German worker’s superior technological education and skill level. This approach would stimulate East German industrial infrastructure development while simultaneously protecting East Germans against a sudden loss of social supports they enjoyed under the communist regime. Most controversially he proposed to build a high speed rail link connecting Paris, Hanover, Berlin, Warsaw and Moscow.
The 1991 Assassination of Treuhand Chief Detlev Rohwedder
Instead of taking 10 years, as Herrhausen proposed, following his murder, the process of German monetary and economic union was compressed down to one year. In June 1990, Kohl appointed Detlev Rohwedden to head the government created company Treuhandanstalt to oversee the disposition of the entire East German economy. From the outset, Rehwedder, who shared Herrhausen’s vision of East German infrastructure development, was in constant battle with the western banking establishment and other members of Kohl’s cabinet. He insisted on modernizing East German state industries to make them economically viable, whereas the Anglo/American banking establishment sought to simply dump them onto the open market for private investors to buy up.
In his final interview five days before his death, he announced victory – a vital Treuhand policy change from that of immediate privatization to one emphasizing the rehabilitation of existing industries to make them more competitive.
On April 2 1991, Rohwedder was assassinated by a so-called “RAF third generation” sniper who left no forensic traces to his identity. Within weeks of his death, Rohwedder’s Treuhand policy was quietly reversed under new leadership.
The doors of Treuhand were opened to a host of management consultants to pick over the 81,000 East German companies under Treuhand and prepare them for rapid sell-off. Western firms were offered large incentives to buy former East German state owned firms only to shut them down, fire the work force, or use them in similar jobs at a fraction of what western workers would get.
The social consequences of this new Treuhand policy were staggering. In summer 1992, the real level of unemployment (including half time workers) in former East Germany was 40% of the work force.
*Operation Gladio was part of a post-World War II program set up by the CIA and NATO supposedly to thwart the influence of left-wing groups and politicians in electoral politics in Western Europe. They were notorious for false flag operations in which bombings and assassinations were blamed on fictitious communist groups such as the “Red Brigages” and the “Red Army Faction.” The existence of Gladio was confirmed and admitted by the Italian government in 1990, after a judge, Felice Casson, discovered the network in the course of his investigations into right-wing terrorism.
Can We Do It Ourselves? A Film About Economic Democracy
Patrick Witkowsky, Jesper Lundgren, Andre Nystrom and Nils Safstrom (2015)
Swedish with English subtitles
“Economy democracy” describes a system in which workers control the workplace and determine the policies under which it runs. The workers cooperative is the best known model of economic democracy.
The filmmakers begin by differentiating capitalism from a free market economy and economic democracy from socialism – as many people confuse these terms. Under capitalism private capitalists own the capital to run a business and enter into a rental contract with workers to perform the labor. Under this system the capitalists own and control the business and keep all the profits.
With a worker cooperative, workers own and control the business and enter into a rental contract with labor to provide capital. They pay the capitalists for using their money but maintain ownership of the business and control of production. They also decide how profits will be distributed.
Under socialism, the capital is “socialized.” Theoretically this means workers own an equal share of the entire economy. In practice, this has generally translated into state control of the workplace, as opposed to worker control.
This film focuses on the day-to-day operation of two 30-year-old American cooperatives. The first is Massachusetts-based Equal Exchange, founded in 1986. The second is New York-based Cooperative Home Care Associates. The latter was founded in 1985 and has 2,300 member-employees.
The filmmakers also interview various academics, activists, business leaders and trade unions officials regarding their research and experience with cooperatives.
The part of the film I found most interesting was an analysis of how monopoly capitalism distorts the free market. Our present economic system actually consists of three markets: the consumer (goods and services) market, the labor market and the capital market. Only the consumer market operates democratically, in being driven by consumer choice. The goal of economy democracy is to democratize the labor and capital markets, which are controlled at present controlled by a tiny capitalist elite.
Because workers have virtually no say into their work and receive minimal direct benefit from it, capitalists must use the fear of being fired to force them to work. This is only possible in economies with high levels of unemployment and poverty. Historically the corporate elites have deliberately manipulated monetary and fiscal policy to keep unemployment rates high.
Once workers own and run their own companies, unemployment and poverty are no longer necessary to motivate them. Thus full employment is one of the most important benefits of economic democracy.
I was really touched by this review, by a teen blogger, of my young adult novel. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that “teenage-related problems” made the book seem more real for her. Her revelation that she has never read a book like this also grabbed me. I guess it’s pretty rare to encounter books on protest and political change in modern bookstores and libraries.
As a doctor, I’m well aware of the negative health effects of smoking. Studies show a life time of smoking subtracts an average of ten years from your life expectancy. I’m also aware of the considerable health costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease and stroke. Other studies suggest that non-smokers actually generate higher health care costs because they live ten years longer. This research receives limited publicity. The Center for Disease Control prudently chooses not to promote the cost savings associated with premature death.
Owing to a chronic sinus condition, I’m also painfully aware of the effects of second hand smoke. Prior to the public ban on smoking, I had no choice but to avoid public areas (restaurants, bars, theaters and even airplanes) where smoking was likely to occur.
The Stigmatization of Smokers
However, as an organizer and civil libertarian, I’m also extremely wary the increasing stigmatization of smokers – especially when I read that employers are using “smoker status” as a justification for not hiring people. In this regard, I think the right wing may be justified in labeling liberals who lobby for smoking bans as “green fascists.” In an era were corporate and government interests are looking for every possible opportunity to pit working Americans against one another, it’s counterproductive to be hypercritical of lifestyle choices.
Most progressives know better than to stigmatize the unemployed and homeless. Yet many of us don’t give a second thought about villainizing smokers, alcoholics, fat people – and, might I add, gun owners. All four are popular targets right now. I blame this on liberals’ willingness to embrace what is essentially conservative ideology – the need to take “personal responsibility” for our lives.
The Cult of Personal Responsibility
Taking “personal responsibility” simply ain’t going to cut it right now. Not for millions of unemployed Americans, nor the million plus homeless, nor for thousands of families facing imminent foreclosure and/or eviction. And singling out designated groups for bad lifestyle choices distracts us from the real problem in the US – a concerted attack by Wall Street and our corporate-controlled President and Congress on working people.
Decades of epidemiological research (see prior blog on Dr Stephen Bezruchka) show that lifestyle choices account for only 10% of the causation of illness. If we’re really serious about improving Americans’ abysmal health status (near the bottom for industrial countries), it’s time to address the real cause of poor health. Study after study shows a direct link between their extreme income disparity and Americans’ high rate of both acute and chronic illness.
It’s time to focus on the real problem – the corporate deregulation and tax cuts responsible for extreme income equality in the US. Instead of scapegoating smokers and fat people.
Another Excerpt from my young adult novel (from Chap 22)
When Clemente finally took the microphone, the stretch of McDonough between Patchen and Malcolm X was wall-to-wall people. The hip-hop activist, an attractive, thirty-something Latino woman with short, curly black hair and enormous gold ear loops, wore a dark blue hoodie in honor of Trayvon Martin.
“Brothers and sisters, look at us,” she proclaimed. “When hip hop fights back, watch out.” At this, the crowd broke into ecstatic applause, accompanied by whistling and cheering. When the uproar died down, she called up all eighteen Freedom House residents and their sixteen Mandela House counterparts and lined them up on either side of her. “This isn’t a building we’re fighting for today. We’re here to support this phenomenal group of young people. They are our soul and conscience. Like Van Jones says, it’s time to change from fighting against something to fighting for something. No matter what we believe, what we all want, nothing advances or happens without organizing. Lots of it.”
Reverend McLeod came to the stage in a dark gray ski jacket rather than his usual suit and overcoat. Ange assumed that this was to distinguish between his activist and ministerial role. He began by complaining how sick he was of Wall Street’s longstanding pattern of theft from the African American community.
“Yah suh,” a woman in the front row came back, as if they were in church.
“First, it was our supermarkets, then our schools and now our homes. Surely the time has come to say enough.”
“Um-hmn,” the woman agreed.
“The time has surely come,” another woman echoed.
“Marches and rallies aren’t enough to check this power. The time has come, brothers and sisters, to put our bodies on the line. As Reverend Martin Luther King did. People of conscience are called on to break unjust laws, just like our brothers and sisters in Occupy Brooklyn who secured a home for brother Carasquillo and his family.”
He paused dramatically for this to sink in. “Where will you be, brothers and sisters, when the sheriff comes to put these young people out in the street? Will you all be comfortably at home watching American Idol or whatever nonsense they are showing now? Or will you be here with them?” His voice soared. “I tell you where I will be, brothers and sisters. I will be here in front of this building. No matter if the sheriff’s officers come at dinner time or midnight or three in the morning, they will have to walk through me.” He paused again. “Who will join me?”
The reaction from the crowd was stunned silence, followed by quiet murmuring. When Ange turned to look around, she saw the ten live-in protestors and six Occupy activists tentatively raise their hands. “Um-hmn-um,” McLeod vocalized reprovingly. “Looks to me like a long, lonely night.”
A Rebel Comes of Age can be pre-ordered from the following links:
My new novel, A Rebel Comes of Age, is scheduled for release (as a $3.99 ebook) on December 21, 2013.
It’s a sequel to my first young adult novel, The Battle for Tomorrow. In the first book, sixteen-year-old Angela Jones is arrested and sent to juvenile hall for participating in a blockade and occupation of the US Capitol. The sequel takes place a year later, when she and four homeless teenagers occupy an empty commercial building owned by Bank of America. Their goal: to transform it into a teen homeless shelter.
Over the next five months, they work through all the typical problems of inner city teenagers – including raging hormones, the temptation of drugs and alcohol, racial tensions, and pregnancy – as they struggle to win community acceptance. When Bank of America obtains a court order evicting them, the adventure turns deadly serious as they realize lives are on the line. When the other residents decide to use automatic weapons to keep the police SWAT team out, Ange experiences a major personal crisis and is forced to re-examine her attitudes towards guns and violence.
The Lost Generation – Life After Work
A Rebel Comes of Age explores the question of life after work. In the five years since the 2008 economic meltdown, 25-40% of 18-30 year olds still find themselves permanently excluded from the workforce. What we are looking at, in essence, is an entire generation sidelined to the fringes of society. Despite all the government and media hype, the capitalist economic system is incapable of creating jobs for them.
We are all conditioned to believe that life without full time work is unlivable. I seriously question the validity of this viewpoint. As a species, human beings occupied the planet quite happily for 250,000 years without selling their labor to a wealthy elite. Two centuries ago, the concept of waged work was virtually unknown, and most of the world’s current seven billion inhabitants are officially classified as “unemployed.”
With more equitable distribution of economic resources, freeing people from the drudgery of work opens up infinite possibilities for more creative and socially productive activities. Some analysts attribute the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to unemployed youth taking up social and political activism as an alternative to work.
A Rebel Comes of Age provides a brief snapshot of a group of homeless, unemployed teenagers who find themselves building a movement, without quite realizing this is what they are doing.
My next post will feature an excerpt from Chapter 1.
A Rebel Comes of Age can be pre-ordered from the following links: