CRITICS CHAPTER

'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.' - Pauline Kael


WHO WE ARE

Dr David Archibald, University Of Glasgow
Film International, Financial Times, Cineaste


Liza Bear,
Bomb Magazine


Dan Bessie
Filmmaker and Culture Critic

Prof. Dennis Broe
Jump Cut, NY Newsday, Boston Phoenix

Dianne Brooks
The Film Files, Writemovies.com

Lisa Collins
Filmmaker

Benjamin Dickenson
Bright Lights Film Journal, UK

David Ehrenstein
Quarterly Review of Film and Video

Miguel Gardel
Proletaria Press


Michael Haas
Culture critic

Laura Hadden
Pacifica Radio

Gerald Horne
University Of Houston

Reynold Humphries
British Film Historian

Sikivu Hutchinson
BlackFemsLens.org, KPFK Radio

Jan Lisa Huttner
TheHotPinkPen.com, Films For Two

Cindy Lucia
Cineaste Magazine

Pat McGilligan
Film Historian

Prairie Miller
WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network

Logan Nakyanzi
Go Left TV, Huffington Post

Gerald Peary
Boston Phoenix

Steve Presence
Radical Film Network, UK


Louis Proyect
s
Counterpunch, Marxmail.org

Sandy Sanders
BlueJayWay.net

Nancy Schiesari,
BBC, Channel 4,
Univ. of Texas, Austin

Rebecca Schiller
Culture Critic

David Spaner, Hollywood Inc.

Luis Reyes
, Arsenal Pulp Press

Christopher Trumbo
RIP, January 8, 2011

Dave Wagner
Mother Jones, Film International

Linda Z
LFC Film Club

Noah Zweig
Telesur


Paul Robeson With Oakland, Ca. Shipyard Workers, 1942

Black August

So in order to best cover all bases, progressive film critics tend to consider three categories of assessment, rather than two: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The first two are self-explanatory. And the third category is reserved for movies that may have been impressively put together, but there's just something offensively anti-humanistic about them.

Stay tuned......

The Organizer

BRO ON THE EURO-CULTURAL BEAT: VIEW FROM AFAR



Early commentary and comparisons of the Trump reign or regime (since to use that word suggests US overthrows of foreign countries with the dictum now reversed so that it is now more important than ever that `Regime Change Begin at Home´) have focused on Weimar likenings of Trump’s sympathies to those of a proto- or neo-fascist. And perhaps so but there is a particular moment in the post-Weimar period that has not as yet, and needs to be, accentuated.
    
Hitler had come to power by stressing the Socialist portion of the National Socialist formula, emphasizing how he would put ordinary people to work under the Nazi industrial miracle. When Hitler assumed dictatorial power in 1933, the head of the brownshirts or SA, the street militias, Ernst Rohm, then looked to the fruher to complete the right-wing revolution by redistributing wealth. But Hitler had sealed a pact instead with Germany’s leading bankers and most conservative industrialists in the heavy domestic industries of manufacturing and energy and his reply was to institute a purge of the left of the party, which resulted in the murder of Rohm and at least 85 others of the party’s more lower or lower-middle class aligned members as the street brawling and thuggery of the SA gave way to the organized and systematic assassination for profit of the more upper class SS.
   
Trump’s election was forecast in a 2015 Pew Research Center study which found that 20 percent of US households live at or near the poverty level with the middle class now no longer constituting the majority of the adult population and the new American dream, formerly to own a house and two cars, now being to have a job. Trump seized on the dissatisfaction this persistent grinding of the population into poverty was promoting and, unlike the more haunty Clinton, famous for `flying over America´, promised to alleviate this pain. Voters in traditional working-class Democratic strongholds like Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania responded, with one stating in an article in Le Monde, that he had originally backed Bernie Sanders but when Sanders lost (or had the nomination stolen from him just as Clinton likely had the election stolen from her in a classic example of ´as she reaped so she sowed´) then switched to Trump.
   
And Trump seemed to speak their language, attacking globaization and the European and Asian Trade Treaties as dispersing American jobs just as Clinton’s NAFTA had done while also promising to rebuild deterioriating infrastructure and bring jobs home.
   
However, every action he has taken since being elected has betrayed those promises in gestures that though more silent will be just as deadly as the fruher’s betrayal.
   
Far from promoting working class interests, Trump has simply trumpeted deregulation and rather than being sensitive to the continuing destruction wrought by the 2008 financial crisis where eight years later job and income levels have still not returned to their pre-crisis levels, Trump’s appointees in crucial economic positions are from deep inside the financial belt, many from Goldman Sachs, continuing the trend of treating that investment bank as the equivalent  of a Global Fed or actual World Bank. But it‘s worse than that. Those Trump has nominated are not simply experts in bilking the global economy and transforming it into a global casino. They are the dregs of the 2008 crisis who if they were in Iceland, where they prosecute bankers, might now be in jail. So, Steven Mnuchin, the nominee for Treasury Secretary, is famous for presiding over a savings bank that expelled thousands of, most likely, Trump supporters  from their households and William Ross, Secretary of Commerce nominee, ´the king of bankruptcy´, is famous for buying failing companies, stripping them of their assets including firing many of their workers, and then reselling at a profit.
   
When Dick Cheney came to power (You may remember his Vice-President George W. Bush) his first official act, always an important marker (Obama’s was to reward his Wall Street backers by bailing them out at the expense of homeowners), was to call a Energy Conference at the White House with the oil and gas lobby. The minutes of this conference were never made public and constitute a Holy Grail for explaining foreign (and probably domestic) policy in the Bush White House including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Trump didn’t even bother to hold a secret meeting. He simply announced that US foreign policy is set by oil and gas companies by naming the head of Exxon as his Secretary of State. There is no possible clearer statement of US priorities. The age of what  we used to call fondly, in the times of the Greek social philosopher Nicos Poulantzas, state autonomy, is over. Trump did not come to drain the swamp, he came to drill and frack it. Ulysses S. Grant presided over that cesspool of corruption The Gilded Age; Trump will be the master of Petrol Politics in a devastation that could end humanity while the smell of gas, natural and otherwise, from Washington grows increasingly more noxious.     

Meanwhile Trump’s constituency will continue to be the victims of his policies, though globally there are signs of hope. In France the General Assembly is now debating the subject of worker burn-out as 3.2 million workers are now classified as trapped in job situations that are `excessive and compulsive´, while, in Great Britain, a judge recently threw out of court and ridiculed Uber’s claims to be part of a sharing economy that only employs entrepreneurs and clients not workers. Likewise, Finland has now begun limited experiments with a guaranteed income that seems likely to encourage, not discourage, both productivity and worker satisfaction.  This is the global allied front against the opening of Trump’s long night of pain and misery where betrayal is just a ratings booster in the live reality show we are now living on that cable channel we can’t seem to get enough of, Trump TV.  
     
Dennis Broe teaches at the Sorbonne and is based in Paris, and he is a film, television and culture critic and correspondent for Arts Express.     
 

                                 The Fix Was In


Trumped! It was the economy stupid

Everyone, meaning mostly the neoliberal elite, is searching for answers at the moment for why the billionaire Trump beat the corporate candidate Clinton. Was it his zenophobic rhetoric which drew angry white Americans, his macho humiliation of women in the face of which his supporters had to hold their noses to vote for him, or was it the (Trumped-up) charges of “Crooked Hilary” aided and abetted by the FBI “October Surprise” of a new treasure trove of (probably mostly irrelevant) emails that are now being “investigated.”
  
A revealing article here in Paris in Le Monde on the eve of the election seems instead to contain the answer for why solidly union and industrial states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania would abandon the Democratic party and vote for Trump, who after all was not the choice of the Republican elite. For decades now, politicians have looked to the October economic, labor and jobs report, released last week, to boost their status just prior to the elections. And indeed, the report showed the creation of 161,000 new jobs and a slight decrease in unemployment of one-tenth of a percent for a total of 4.9 percent, figures that compare favorably to pre-2008 financial crisis statistics. So you would think the Democrats would argue that the economy is in good hands.
  
In fact the Clinton campaigners did not bring up the “optimistic” report because they felt to do so would be incendiary, that is throwing flames on the fire as Trump emphasized that the new jobs were extremely low paying and could not compensate for jobs lost under the Reagan-Bush-Clinton neoliberal regime whose Clinton variant featured the repeal of Glass-Stiegel which loosed the banks and financial capital and resulted in the 2008 crisis as well as the implementation of  NAFTA, a jobs disaster for both the US and Mexico.
  
A further examination of the statistics reveals the pain behind this supposed rosy picture, a pain that voters expressed at the polls. This “dynamic” job creation is in the lowest paying sectors of the economy, the service sector, mainly bars and restaurants, where there is constant turnover, such that from 2007, 1.7 million new jobs have been created but at the same time 1.5 million lost their jobs in the industry.
  
A second “rosy” statistic in the report is that salaries rose 2.8 percent. Great, right. Well, hold on, this rise is in the context, as Thomas Piketty has demonstrated so thoroughly, of a dramatic shift of income as a whole upward to the wealthiest 10 percent and now to the wealthiest 1 percent. So, the increase in salaries went mainly to corporate executives who saw their pay increase 4.7 percent, while the bottom 83 percent of the workforce saw their pay increase only 2.1 percent, an increase that was mostly eaten up immediately by an inflation rate of 1.5 percent. So, the rise in pay was essentially meaningless and could have easily been felt as again simply a rewarding of the wealthiest.
  
But it is in the unemployment statistics themselves, or rather the concealing of the true nature of unemployment, where even more real pain and suffering, and perhaps the key to the Trump victory, emerges. Only 62.8 percent of Americans even have a job, the lowest in 40 years, and, in the 25 to 55 age category that constitutes the majority of the workforce, the percentage keeps falling so that it is now below both 2007, in the supposed boom years of the housing bubble, and below 2000, in the supposed boom years of the dot.com bubble. That is, employment following the constant booms and subsequent busts is no longer fully rebounding, but instead returning to lower levels. After these continual crises, things may get better but they do not fully recover and the recovery is less effective after each crisis, certainly giving rise to a feeling that even when things are apparently getting better they are in fact gradually getting worse.

The true tragedy though lies in a statistical sleight of hand perfected under the Clinton administration, of “retiring” workers from the labor statistics who have given up looking for work, that is, no longer listing them as unemployed. Today this accounts for 11.5 percent of Americans from 25 to 55, with 7 million having simply abandoned the search for work in areas where jobs no longer exist, such as the hollowed out former industrial zones of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. If you add these workers, who may not have jobs, but can still go to the polls, to the unemployed, we now have roughly 16 percent unemployment. These are workers who are now resorting to anti-depressants, and other over- and under-the-counter drugs to live with the pain of no prospect of jobs. To that, we might also add, the underemployed, that is, the 5.9 million workers who are working part time but who would very much like to work full time, approximately 4.6 percent of the working population. Add this to the over 16 percent and there is approximately 21 percent of the workforce either not working or working in low paying, part-time jobs with little reward.
  
Is it any wonder then the hardest hit in these areas went to the polls to express their grief, anger and despair at being left behind. Trump offered a largely delusional hope that someone was hearing their pain and responding. He will most likely betray that hope; that is the history of the far right. But a Democratic party that was so eager to run, in this year of the Brexit and of a generalized anger being expressed everywhere at corporate elites, a candidate who was the epitome of the corporate order, who took more money from corporate funds than any single candidate before her, must now stand chastised. Clinton stole the California primary and the nomination from Bernie Sanders, a candidate who was speaking to this generalized and largely warranted anger and channeling it in more positive directions and so instead of a battle for the heart and soul of the American black and white working class, we had a name-calling campaign in which the message of the supposedly more rationale candidate was, “under me things will only gradually get worse.” This is what passes for hope at the dawning of the end of the neoliberal age and voters, who felt the pain inflicted on them by a greedy corporate elite which could no longer be concealed in phony statistics, choose outright delusion over gradual hypocrisy.


Neoliberal France: Terrorists of a Different Stripe

Part 1: Austerity and Free Marketing Europe to Death, the context for the emergence of Nuit Debout and the wave of strikes that link June 2016 to the Popular Front strikes of June 1936 which I’ll talk about next week.

Europe has succumbed to a tidal wave of neoliberal thought which has worsened and grown nastier after the neoliberal debacle of 2008. The Great Recession was felt in Europe not as crushing personal debt but as state debt. The answer has been for countries to reign in public spending, curtail financial regulation, and punish the weakest and neediest members of the society. The result has been to extinguish the remaining vestiges of the Social Democracy while continuing to reward those who caused the crisis with measures that widen the income gap on the continent while furthering divisions between north and south and east and west such that Germany, the main financial culprit of the credit crisis and its main beneficiary, is seen as staunch, upright and responsible while the southern countries Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain are referred to by the financial industry by the acronym PIGS, suggesting they are slovenly. (The real pigs of course might be Phillips Petroleum, ING, Goldman Sachs, and Santander, a pool of bankers and energy companies).

LISTEN TO THE SHOW HERE

The rape of the continent continues apace. In Greece, the troika, the combination of IMF, European Union and Central Banks, has demanded privatization; Greece selling its major assets including ports and airports at a fracture of their worth to make a down payment on its debt in order to finance more debt. The German company Fraport is purchasing for 40 years, with an option to renew another 15, 14 airports including those on the tourist islands of Rhodes, Mykonos and Korfou. The most powerful voice in the troika commanding this sale is German financial interests and the consultant for the sale is the German airline Lufthansa which itself owns a controlling interest in Fraport. Blatant looting of the have-nots by the financial haves

The debt itself is attributed, in a book by the ex-head of the IMF Jacques Larosiere, to the fact that EU member states were encouraged to go into debt in a bull market where previously they were forced to limit their debt and is part of a global inflation of debt which has accelerated since the 2007-2008 crisis to 56 billion dollars in a situation where no major country has succeeded in significantly reducing its ratio of debt to gross national product.

On the continent and in France specifically, profits to stockholders continue to increase. Dividends in 1980 in France constituted only 4% of GNP but by 2005 they accounted for 13 percent. While companies in 1980 were not so focused on rewarding stockholders, with 40% of profits going to them, by 2012 that figure had doubled and is now over 80%, with only 15% of the remaining profits now divided between paying employees and investments. An ever more greedy corporate capitalism, less interested in the needs of its workers.

One answer for the devastated social democracies has been to focus on taxing the rich but this has been met with a good deal of fiscal fraud. An area of austerity demanded by corporate oversight is cutting back fiscal fraud investigators, so that, in Europe, 56,000 investigators have been fired because of austerity demands between 2008 and 2012, when the more prudent course would have been to hire more investigators to reclaim more tax money for strapped governments. The only country to jail bankers for their part in the 2008 crisis was Iceland where they are called “banksters,” that is, banking gangsters, and where the presidents of the three largest banks are appealing six year prison terms. In Iceland they proudly claim they threw out all the bankers and there are only writers (and I guess soccer players) left.

Neoliberal ideology is also very important in this pillaging of the continent; the idea that corporations do not as Google says do evil but are instead forces for good, primarily interested in job creation and are efficient and not wasteful like the state. These fallacious assumptions set up an atmosphere in which it becomes difficult to go after tax fraud because this pursuit is seen as stifling job creation. In France it is estimated that corporate and personal tax evasion accounts for a loss to the state of 40 to 60 billion euros per year, which, rather than going to job creation, is going to fatten the bellies of corporate board members. When tax evasion is approached, it is treated as a public relations gambit so that in May the City in London, the former European financial center, held a conference on halting fiscal fraud, but disallowed discussion of the British Caimans, Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Britain’s nearby fraud centers of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Mann, the sum of which constitute half of all tax shelters in the world according to the book Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson.

And the Europe promoted by this corporate treasure trove? In France, holder of the COP21 Climate Conference, the third leading killer behind alcohol and tobacco is pollution, the quality of the air, responsible for 48,000 deaths per year and a possible decrease in life expectancy by 30 years. And nothing is being done about the cars and motorcycles and the emission of fine particles in the air such that Paris is 20 to 50 times greater in emission of micrograms per cubic meter of fine particles than the norm.

Meanwhile the cutthroat work environment itself under neoliberalism is a subject that seems to be off the table, since everyone is supposed to just be grateful that under the global exporting of labor they even have a job. The old factories that surrounded the outskirts of Paris have been steadily closing with the empty spaces now often used as warehouses for companies like Amazon which of course employs far fewer workers and which produces no goods in France just ships out goods that were assembled in the third world. Still, these areas employ 13% of France’s workers. In the Amazon warehouse, set up on the Japanese just in time Toyotoization model, an advanced more ruthless form of a former scientific measuring of workers called Taylorism, the workers are given orders by a machine voice, a talkman, and each worker’s productivity is monitored in a machine-like manner with incentives for increased production which causes health problems because of the lifting and accidents. Automation is also increasing steadily with right now a key industrial park Haynecourt sprawled over 600,000 square meters which 100 or even 30 years ago might have employed 30,000 now boasting of employing only 1300 workers.

Finally, this on the nature of neoliberal work. France Telecom, like all telecom services has now transformed into a more complex internet and communications company called Orange. The company is now on trial, or rather seven directors are, for creating a climate in the 2009 to 2012 period of the transition where they evicted over 20,000 employees, one-third of the workforce. Over the course of the firings, 60 people, because of management methods termed by the court “extraordinarily brutal,” committed suicide. One director ordered that employees leave “one way or another, either by the door or by the window.” It is in this atmosphere that Nuit Debout, the current round of strikes, and the furor against the labor law, all of which I’ll be discussing next week, has erupted.    

            Seemingly unrelated to neoliberalism but actually part and parcel of it is the complex of the attack at Nice, the frustrated coup in Turkey, and an attempt by Russia to stabilize Syria instead of bombing it back into the stone age.

The other side or perhaps the same side of the financial barbarism of neoliberalism is its more blatant and overt violence unleashed against all the peoples of the Middle East and now often unleashed against the innocent of Europe as well. When the French neo-colonialist Hollande declares himself shocked and in sympathy with the victims of the latest mass attack, his actions in continuing to bomb Syria to exploit its oil rights belie these declarations. This bloodshed continues to arouse the ire of those who have now been utterly decimated in the, as the US calls it, “kill zone that stretches from Peshwar in Pakistan to Istanbul in Turkey” in attacks that each day in that area match the body count of those killed in Nice but do not burst on the scene with the same spectacular effect as killings in the West. Rather than devastating the entire infrastructure of Syria, one of the oldest countries in the world, Russia has instead attacked not only ISIS but also the so called rebels who even the US is hard put to label as anything but opportunists or jihadis. Turkey and Russia, on the eve of Assad’s government in Syria, the only source of stability in the country, winning a decisive victory, had reconciled and were about to join forces to attack at least ISIS and probably the so-called rebels.

Just as John Kerry arrived in Moscow to negotiate the terms of a new peace in Syria, or a new divisioning of the spoils, the army attempted a coup in Turkey, a coup which all the democratic elements in the country opposed and which was identified by the Turkish labor minister as originating in the US, with the supposed coup master, Gulen who favors a kind of neoliberal pro-Western Muslim, sequestered in Pennsylvania.  The army in its initial announcement in the first moments of the coup claimed it was bringing democracy to Turkey and thwarting the Turkish president Erdogan’s authoritarian drift. But, the democracy party quickly recognized that US style military democracy, as in the case of Egypt, is no democracy at all and refused to back the coup which resulted in its defeat.

Back in Moscow, Kerry, who supposedly with the US firmly back in control of Turkey would have had a better hand to negotiate with Russia on the fate of Syria instead had egg on his face and had to spend his time denying that the US would ever do something as garish as back a military takeover. (Tell that to Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Venezuela, et cetera, et cetera). Later, back in the friendlier confines of the EU, he hypocritically hoped that Turkey would respect democratic institutions as it now appears likely the US did not. The US media of course quickly submerged the Turkish accusations in a sea of worrying about Erdogan’s revenge on those who participated in the coup, while 308 people lay dead in the fighting, more casualties, as are the civilians in Nice and as is the daily body count in Syria, of the West’s colonial meddling in the still oil rich Middle East. This is truly the underside of the supposedly more peaceful process in the West of slowly starving people by continuing to appropriate their wages and their wealth. To return to Iraq, in this season of the political conventions, one can see the difference between democrats and republicans. George Bush firebombed and massacred the Iraqi people while the Clinton neoliberal democrats under Madelaine Albright preferred the far more humane approach of starving them to death. On the ground in the Middle East, it’s very difficult to tell the difference.
 
         I would like to conclude in asking who is the barbarian and who the civilizer by quoting Melville in his account of the Western conquest of the Polynesian islands in Typee:  How often is the term savages [substitute terrorists] incorrectly applied. None really deserving of it were yet discovered by voyagers or by travelers. They have discovered heathens and barbarians whom by horrible cruelties they have exasperated into savages. In all the cases of outrages committed by Polynesians, Europeans have at some time or other been the aggressors, and the cruel and bloodthirsty disposition of some of the islanders is mainly to be ascribed to the influence of such examples.

Bro On The Euro-Cultural Beat: View From Afar




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