Friday, September 23, 2022

Hypocrisy--from Joe Biden to Starbucks' Howard Schultz--is alive and well in the United States

(Martyred labor organizer, troubadour and immigrant Joe Hill)

American hypocrisy was one of my German-born mother’s first discoveries of the United States when she arrived with my U.S. Army-veteran father in 1948.  Into the welcoming arms of the Statue of Liberty she came only to find intense discrimination and resentment against immigrants like herself, particularly Germans after a war that had devastated her land and people as well as most of Europe.


No matter that she herself had been imprisoned by the Gestapo for her efforts to make lives easier for French prisoners at a camp in La Rochelle, France, where she had been sent by the German government to work. When she arrived in my father’s native South, first in Georgia then North Carolina, she heard a lot about “Southern hospitality” but then witnessed a racism that at times could be as raw and deadly as the racism of the Nazis in Germany.


For all its ideals of liberty and equality, the United States remains a nation where hypocrisy continues to reign—certainly at the highest levels of business and government, including Joe Biden.


My former University of Mississippi student Jaz Brisack, a Rhodes scholar, was fired in recent days from her job as a barista at Starbucks in Buffalo, New York. The firing was not a complete surprise given the fact she led the successful unionization effort at her shop, an effort that subsequently spread to Starbucks coffee shops around the country and won her nationwide attention as a leading new force in grassroots organizing.

(To the right, Jaz Brisack)


An expected firing perhaps, but still it hurt. “I will admit to mourning more than (legendary martyred union leader, troubadour and immigrant) Joe Hill might have approved of,” she told me, adding, however, “the union rolls on!”


Starbucks chief Howard Schultz and his team may offer a litany of excuses for their firings—they recently fired a union organizing barista here in my town of Oxford, Mississippi, and notoriously fired pro-union workers in Memphis—but their real reason is they want to purge their shops of pro-union workers.


The hypocrisy is that Starbucks has always marketed itself as a cool place to work—hip and youthful and in tune with modern, egalitarian values. Wrong. It’s a union-busting outfit on a par with Walmart.


Labor South has been reporting on the war in Ukraine extensively in recent months.  It’s an issue that threatens the entire world, one that pits old Western colonial powers against the Global South as well as against Russia.


The proxy war that NATO and the United States are waging against Russia has been planned by the Deep State in Washington, D.C., for years, and its purpose is to destroy the Russian federation and its challenge to U.S. hegemony, a first step in a broader effort that also targets China.


You’d think mainstream journalists would at least acknowledge or at least explore this in their coverage, but they’re so imprisoned by the worldview of their corporate owners that real reporting is impossible outside of independent media. The result is an hypocrisy that would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.


When Russian leader Vladimir Putin recently announced a partial military mobilization in his country, mainstream media—from the New York Times to BBC and the major U.S. television networks—rushed to report on protests by Russians against Putin’s move.


The scale of those protests is likely much more limited than what is being reported, and certainly less than the 70,000 protesters in the Czech Republic earlier this month who called for an end to the proxy war with its devastating economic impact on their lives. You’d never know there was such a protest in the Czech Republic if you didn’t go to YouTube or some other source for independent reportage. The same is true of similar nationwide protests in the United States in recent weeks.


Remember the myriad reports of shelling near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, and the mainstream reports about both Russia and Ukraine charging each other with firing those shells. The answer would come, we were told, once international inspectors arrived to assess the safety of the plant. Well, those inspectors came and not a single mainstream report followed as to which side fired those shells.


Wanna know why? It is because the Ukrainians were firing those shells. Of course, they did. Why would Russians fire at a nuclear plant that they already occupy?


Phillip Knightly’s 1975 book The First Casualty is considered the classic account of the history of war correspondence. It’s a sad history of more often bad rather than good reporting.  It’s not just because of the “fog of war”. A prime example is coverage of the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930s. Many of the reporters there were so enamored of the leftist Spanish Republicans and full of hatred for Generalissimo Franco’s fascist army that they failed to report the brutal murders of thousands of Catholic priests and nuns across the land by the Republicans. Every outrage by Franco’s fascists, however, was dutifully reported.


My late mother, Maria Stoller, bless her very religious heart, knew Hitler and the Nazis could be as hypocritical as anyone with all their talk of love for the Vaterland. And she grew to love the people in her new homeland.


Well, maybe not all of them. It’s hard to love hypocrisy. In fact, you can’t. Even hypocrites don’t.


Sunday, September 4, 2022

A rising consciousness about the Neoliberal Order that dominates the world economy and how it serves the corporate rich and its handpicked politicians but impoverishes everyone else


(For the second year in a row, I was asked by the Unitarian Church of Oxford, Mississippi, to give a Labor Day speech, the draft of which I copied below. My topic: Neoliberalism and its effects on working class people


An International Perspective on Labor Day


From Joseph B. Atkins to the Unitarian Church of Oxford

Sunday, September 4, 2022:


It is a pleasure speaking to you again this Sunday just before Labor Day. When I spoke to you last time, I focused on our labor history and traditions in the United States and the religious underpinnings that thread throughout that history.


Today I’m going to look at labor from an international perspective, something very important today in view of the interconnectedness of our modern world in nearly every aspect of our lives.


We live in a world that today is dominated by a NEOLIBERAL ORDER. What is NEOLIBERALISM? It has nothing whatsoever to do with liberalism or conservatism. What it refers to is an economic philosophy that promotes the following (borrowing here somewhat from the writings of Enrico Tortolano):


-       FREE TRADE with as few impediments as possible


-       Free movement of CAPITAL across borders



-       A belief in AUSTERITY as the best path toward economic stability. Witness the EU’s demands of Greece and other countries when they experienced economic difficulty in recent years.


-       PRIVATIZATION of public space and services and reduction or ELIMINATION of the WELFARE STATE and its safety net programs



-       LOW PAY and benefits for workers and RESTRICTIONS on LABOR UNIONS


Who is the PRIME MOVER of NEOLIBERALISM in the world today? The UNITED STATES and its surrogate institutions: THE WORLD BANK, INTERNATIOAL MONETARY FUND, THE EUROPEAN UNION, and even NATO, ostensibly a defense military organization but one that has waged aggressive offensive military campaigns in Serbia, Libya, and Syria, and whose expansion since the fall of the Soviet Union led to the current war in Ukraine, a proxy war for the U.S. that ultimately is being waged to preserve a unipolar world of Western dominance unchallenged by Russia or China.


(To the right, Bill Clinton)

The cause of neoliberalism rose as a philosophy in the graduate demise of the New Deal era of Franklin D. Roosevelt and aftermath of World War II, the splintering and unraveling of the Democratic Party that began in the 1960s and that reached its nadir under the Clinton Administration, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s that led to an arrogant assumption of the subsequent dominance of GLOBAL CAPITALISM. Much of this history is detailed in the just published book The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order by Gary Gerstle.


Trade treaties like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) are essentially neoliberal vehicles to legalize a globalization of free-moving capital that enriches powerful corporations and their friendly politicians but which have had the effect of uprooting millions of workers and small farmers, forcing a mass migration across borders around the world in search of work and sustenance.


I wrote about this in my book The Strangers Among Us: Tales of a Global Migrant Worker Movement in 2016. A collection of essays by writers from around the world, including me, the book details lived lives among the world’s 200 million migrant workers, 40 million of whom are undocumented, and most of whom live marginal lives of bare existence in an economy that has awarded untold riches to a few.


What the book also details, however, are the efforts of organizations and individuals around the world to give voices to those migrant workers, to work to uphold their rights as human beings. They have had some remarkable successes along the way. Many of these organizations are religious. They include:


-       the Asia Floor Wage Alliance in various countries of Asia


-       the Alliance of Progressive Workers in the Philippines



-       the Vietnamese Migrant Workers & Brides Office in Taiwan, run by a Maryknoll priest and also serving Vietnamese wives of Taiwanese men who are essentially sex slaves


-       the Migrant Empowerment Network (MENT) of Taiwan



-       the Mission for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong


-       Transient Workers Count Too in Singapore



-       And in the United States, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), National Farm Workers, United Farm Workers, and the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) union.


In researching this book, I traveled around the world from Hong Kong to Singapore and Taiwan, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. These workers are their organizations are up against powerful forces, but, as Gerstle’s book details, the neoliberal world order those forces represent is beginning to crumble.


(Bernie Sanders during a labor rally in Clinton, Mississippi)


The rise of Bernie Sanders on the Left and even Donald Trump on the Right is a sign of the deep disaffection within the American public with things as they are. So are Black Lives Matter and even the Tea Party. The BREXIT vote by the British people to exit the EU has more to do with that same disgruntlement than it does with an inherent racism or narrow-mindedness.  The rise of the above-mentioned organizations and the remarkable successes they’ve achieved in many cases indicate that neoliberalism’s days may be numbered.


Mainstream media, lapdogs rather than watchdogs mostly, essentially carry the water for NEOLIBERALISM, echoing its ideas and beliefs, the policies of its politicians and governments. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the coverage of the war in Ukraine. This tragic war could have been prevented had NATO not broken its promise to not expand to Russia’s very borders.  Then there was the 2014 coup that ousted a democratically elected leader and put Western-looking leaders in power, the betrayal of the Minsk agreement, the threats to the Russian-speaking people of the Donbas. I’m not giving a pass to Russia or Vladimir Putin in this horrible war. However, the truth is Ukraine’s ZELENSKY is a puppet of the neoliberal order. If he weren’t, then why did he recently sign a law that essentially guts worker rights in Ukraine, all in the name of, and I quote, “raising the competitiveness of employers.”

According to OpenDemocracy, “The new law significantly curtails employees’ rights (on working hours, working conditions, dismissal and compensation after dismissal) and increases employers’ leverage over their workforce. … Employers can require employees to do other work not covered by their contract if it is necessary for defence purposes, as long as this work is not detrimental to their health. … One of the most controversial provisions of the bill concerns the ability to involve women in physically strenuous labour and work underground (in mines, for example), which is currently prohibited by Ukraine’s labour laws.“

Where is the push for a negotiated peace in Ukraine? Where is there diplomacy? There is none because the proxy war ultimately has nothing to do with Ukraine. It is about markets, the free flow of capital from the West without interference or competition from Russia and above all China, the reason for the recent and needless saberrattling over Taiwan.


Constant war, by the way, is another by-product of neoliberalism. Just consider the 20-year war in Afghanistan, a length of wartime unprecedented in previous U.S. history. War feeds the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about a half-century or more ago.


However, again let me say there is a growing awareness, a consciousness, about this neoliberal order, how it serves the wealthy and corporate bottom line but little else. Witness the recent protests in Prague against the Western-and-NATO-dominated leadership of that country. An estimated 70,000 people in the streets protested. A new order is bound to emerge, and it is one that Wall Street and the EU are not going to like at all.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.


Joseph B. Atkins

Friday, August 26, 2022

Russian dissident journalist and rock music pioneer Artemy Troitsky at the University of Mississippi weighing in on Putin, Ukraine, and rock music in Russia


(Artemy Troitsky and Labor South's Joe Atkins)

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is “getting similar to the Stalinist period” in Russia’s history, and “the Stalinist period was a nightmare,” dissident Russian journalist and pioneer rock music writer and promoter Artemy Troitsky told students at the University of Mississippi this week.


The 67-year-old Troitsky, a sharp critic of the Putin regime whose views have forced him into exile in Tallinn, Estonia, came to Oxford, Mississippi, to visit friends and spoke at my Media History class at Farley Hall on the University of Mississippi campus Thursday, August 25.


The war in Ukraine that began this February “is a huge catastrophe to Ukraine but also for Russia,” Troitsky told students and faculty. “Russia has become a pariah state. In the Soviet Union we had several phases—Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev, Gorbachev. During the Cold War, there was at least a degree of respect (for the Soviet Union as a nation), an enemy, yes, but not a stray dog, a bandit.”


(Artmy Troitsky lecturing at the University of Mississippi)

Troitsky is a legendary writer and commentator whose efforts to promote rock music in the 1970s made him Russia’s premier music writer and promoter. He led discos at Moscow State University in the early 1970s, played guitar with the rock ban Zvuki Mu, co-founded the label General Records. Over the years he has interviewed musicians such as Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie.


Known worldwide for his political views as well as his music writing, he is the author of the classic Back in the USSR: The True Story of Rock in Russia (1988) and other books.


Early on, authorities largely ignored rock music as merely Western decadence. Later, as it grew in popularity in Russia, it became more controversial and under the watchful eyes of the powerful.


However, it is mostly Troitsky’s political views that have gotten him into trouble. After several lawsuits were filed against him in 2011, musicians helped organize a benefit concert. Twenty-three musicians joined to record an album titled For Troitsky in his honor.


Today, he lectures in Estonia, Finland, England, and other countries, and has a music program on Radio Liberty as well as a videoblog.


“I’m absolutely sure Ukraine is going to win the war,” he said. “They are hugely motivated. The question is what will happen afterward. Russia cannot win against the whole free world.” However, he added, “Russia will not be occupied.”


In my discussions with Troitsky, I told him my own views of the war and the complicity of the United States and NATO in starting the war—the expansion of NATO to Russia’s very borders, the U.S. role in the 2014 coup d’état in Ukraine that ultimately led to the pro-Western leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky, Zelensky’s failure to abide by the Minsk Agreement that would have allowed autonomy in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and eased Russian concerns about an anti-Russian military buildup there. Furthermore, I don't believe Ukraine will win this war. There needs to be a negotiated peace.


As Labor South readers know, I’m also concerned about Zelensky’s corruption, the right-wing elements in his regime that recently gutted worker rights in Ukraine. I have no illusions about Putin, however. Putin has gutted press freedom in his country and silenced or jailed his political critics. In the first eight years of his two-decade rule, some 13 journalists were murdered in Russia under mysterious circumstances. These include the crusading Putin critic Anna Politkovskaya, a former colleague of Troitsky’s at the Novaya Gazeta.


“You are a dissident in your country, and I am a dissident in my country,” I told Troitsky. 


Troitsky looked at me with a silent nod, and we shook hands.


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

I. F. Stone would have told the truths about the war in Ukraine that mainstream corporate media won't tell


(I.F. Stone in 1972)


I.F. Stone, the crusading underground journalist who got rejected from the National Press Club for telling truths that mainstream journalists wouldn’t tell, once had this to say about the corrupting influence of close ties between media and government:


“You’ve really got to wear a chastity belt to preserve your journalistic virginity. Once the Secretary of State invites you to lunch and asks your opinion, you’re sunk.” It’s those private lunches and meetings where “highly confidential (and one-sided) information is ladled out to a flattered elite.”


For this reason, Stone, who died at the age of 81 in 1989, eschewed press conferences as “brain washings” and power lunches with the powerful. “All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.”


Too bad Stone isn’t around any more to prove the lie to much of what is being reported these days about the war in Ukraine. Not since the days of U.S.-led NATO’s invasion of Serbia in the late 1990s has there been such jingoistic reporting from “a flattered elite” ladled with one-sided information.


Though the U.S. and European public rarely, if ever, gets a complete, multi-sided view of the war in Ukraine from mainstream media, whether it’s the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Fox, or the BBC in England, the Ukrainian people themselves know what’s going on. A recent poll showed that 82 percent of Ukrainians, of course, blame Russia for the war, but more interestingly 58 percent of them believe the United States bears responsibility as well. NATO fares little better with 55 percent of Ukrainians blaming it in some measure for the war.


Those are not the kind of poll statistics you’ll read about in corporate mainstream media. One has to turn instead to news outlets like FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) and its newsletter EXTRA!, Consortium News, or to YouTube to see the Jimmy Dore Show or Breaking Points.  Reporters Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Robert Scheer, and Chris Hedges keep the I.F. Stone tradition alive. Not the New York Times or Washington Post, and certainly not MSNBC or Russophobe reporters like Rachel Maddow. Ironically, one of the few mainstream journalists who has truly probed the causes and truths of the war in Ukraine is conservative Fox commentator Tucker Carlson.


Let’s have some examples.


(To the right, Volodymyr Zelensky)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ruling Servant of the People party has pushed through legislation in the nation’s parliament that will gut workers’ rights, using the war with Russia as an excuse but continuing the deterioration of those rights that has been a feature of Zelensky’s rule. Not a word about this in U.S. mainstream media. To get that story a reader has to go to a news outlet called OpenDemocracy.  


OpenDemocracy reporters Thomas Rowley and Serhiy Guz quote the party’s official line that “extreme over-regulation of employment contradicts the principles of market self-regulation (and) modern personnel management.” Furthermore, the change in labor laws is needed to allow “the self-realisation (sic) of employees and for raising the competitiveness of employers.”


This is also the party line of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and European Union, where “austerity” is preached and the taking down of government safety-net programs is demanded when countries, like Greece in recent years, get into economic trouble and need assistance.


Where are the ace reporters of the elite media of the United States and Europe when the issue is corruption in Ukraine or the fate of the billions in Western military arms that have been sent into what has been the most corrupt country in Europe? Chronicles journalist Pedro Gonzales has reported at some length on Zelensky’s off-shore financial holdings and his relationship with Ukrainian oligarch/kingmaker Ihor Kolomoisky. Gonzales’ sources included the so-called “Pandora Papers” compiled by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.


Zelensky’s nationalization of TV news and restriction of opposition parties also received only passing coverage in American media as if such coverage is reserved for the Russian side of the war.


FAIR recently published a study that showed the slanted coverage the New York Times has given the war in Ukraine compared to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Ukraine invasion received nearly twice the front-page, mostly top-of-the-fold coverage that the Iraq invasion received in the first months of the two wars.


Of course, what’s also missing in the mainstream coverage is a sense of history about what is going on in Ukraine, a detailed explanation of the 2014 coup that forced a Russia-leaning president out of office and replaced him with Western-leaning heads of state and eventually Zelensky. Little attention has been given to broken promises to Russia by NATO not to expand eastward, its betrayal of its supposedly defensive identity in the invasions and wars in Serbia, Syria, and Libya. Remember U.S. threats of war when the old Soviet Union wanted to put missiles in Cuba back in 1962? Of course, it’s a different story when it’s Russia’s reaction to NATO’s threats to arm Ukraine on the Russian border.


Mainstream corporate-owned media in the United States are part of the same “Deep State” that has dominated both Democratic and Republican administrations for decades. Their reporters and editors wine and dine with the same Deep State operatives that give marching orders to members of Congress and presidents. The failures of the Deep State in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya in the name of preserving U.S. hegemony matter little so long as the weapons industry is kept happy and prosperous and the dream is kept alive that the United States will remain a shining capitalist citadel that oversees the world.


Monday, July 11, 2022

"Elvis" the film tells the tale of a Southern country boy who crossed the racial divide, fused blues & country into rock 'n' roll, then followed his Svengali into a glittering blind alley


(A cloth hanging of Elvis I purchased at a roadside stand in rural Marshall County, Mississippi, back in the early 1990s)

The lady on the porch of the Tupelo, Mississippi, shotgun house stood in contrast to her surroundings. She looked like the nicely dressed, somewhat stocky, bouffant-hairdoo’d Southern women I used to see on the front steps of the First Baptist Church on Sundays as my family made its way to the Pentecostal Holiness church on the other side of town.


This was back in the 1980s, and she was part of the two-lady welcoming committee to the humble birthplace of Elvis Presley. She nodded when I asked her if she was a native of Tupelo.


“Did you ever know or see Elvis when he was growing up here?”


She shook her head. “No, we never came over to this part of town.”


Elvis is much on my mind these days after seeing director Baz Luhrmann’s film Elvis, an $85 million extravaganza that likely will earn twice that or more in box office receipts around the world. Actors Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Elvis’ Svengali-like manager, the ol’ carny Colonel Tom Parker, breathe new life into those familiar protagonists of a much-told story.


The kind of sumptuous visual and audial feast we’ve come to expect in a Baz Luhrmann movie, Elvis is simply amazing to the eyes and to the ears. Luhrmann and cinematographer Mandy Walker’s sense of mis-en-scène in the depictions of the juke joints and ramshackle black churches around Tupelo and the throbbing life on Memphis’ Beale Street in the late 1940s and early 1950s is nothing short of thrilling.


In a film about arguably the world’s most famous singer, music is central, and Luhrmann and music director Elliott Wheeler create a world where blues and gospel provide a tonal backdrop for the music that ultimately comes out of Elvis. The blues hollers of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Big Mama” Thornton, the soaring gospels of Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe at times blend with the intense modern-day sounds of rapper Eminem and others as Elvis shakes, rattles, and rolls his way from Tupelo and Memphis fairgrounds to the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport to neon-lit Las Vegas.


Based on the 2001 book Colonel Tom Parker: The Curious Life of Elvis Presley’s Eccentric Manager by James L. Dickerson, my good friend and publisher, Elvis does a good job probing the toxic relationship that ultimately developed between Elvis and Tom Parker, a Netherlands-born snake-oil salesman and carnival huckster who rose from managing dancing chicken sideshows in Tampa, Florida, to managing country stars like Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow before he discovered Elvis. His demand for total control over Elvis was a huge factor in Elvis’ rise but then also his decline in his later years and in the frustrations and addictions that led to his death at 42.


Still, the film’s storyline is flawed in some important ways. Much attention is paid to the influence of blues and black gospel on Elvis’ career. A sharecropper’s son who lived in public housing and whose family depended on welfare, Elvis also grew up listening to Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, and Hank Williams, like most young Southerners his age. The film depicts Hank Snow as jealous of Elvis and highly critical of the sexual energy his shaking and wiggling on stage created among the legions of females in the audience. However, Snow played a critical role in Elvis’ career by helping him get the RCA contract that led to Elvis becoming a national star.


Films today, likes films of yesterday, have great trouble dealing with the poor Southern white. Directors and producers, like journalists and writers and intellectuals in general, can’t rid themselves of the images of the “rednecks” and “white trash” who screamed at blacks and civil rights workers trying to integrate their schools in the 1950s and 1960s.


They can deal with the Southern white country boy who crossed the color line, shopped at Lansky’s on Beale Street, and sneaked into juke joints to get the inspiration that led to him singing Crudup’s “That’s All Right, Mama” on his first record. They’re less comfortable with the Southern white country boy who recorded Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on its flip side.


Yet, in the end, it was both those songs that created not only Elvis but also rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a lot of blues in country music. The first great country music star, Jimmie Rodgers, belted out blues after blues, albeit with a twang. Way back in 1980, I interviewed Bill Monroe in his “Bluegrass Special” bus, and the King of Bluegrass talked to me about the blues. “If you are a sad man and you like to hear the blues,” Monroe said, “you can get it out on a mandolin or a fiddle.”


Of course, you can also find a lot of country music in the blues as well. Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf used to listen to the Grand Ol’ Opry.  Take Jimmy Reed”s “Honest I Do” or Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry’s “Down by the Riverside” and you get country-infused blues.


The magic of Elvis was that he saw value and freedom in that cultural amalgamation, challenged the powerful forces that wanted to stifle it, took it, and made it his own. The world owes him a lot for that.


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Is Biden's America starting to resemble Germany's Weimar Republic in the 1920s?


(To the right, a disabled German World War I veteran begging on a Berlin street in 1923)

In the mid-1970s I lived in Munich, Germany, and I used to love to hear Oma and Opa, my German grandparents Josef and Maria Stoller, tell stories of the old days. Still, many of those memories were painful. Tears would run down Oma's cheeks when she talked of the poverty and desperation of the 1920s, a time of out-of-control inflation, rising political extremism, and governmental incompetence.


“One day I was walking down a street to our apartment, and I saw a man feeding his horse a semmel (a Bavarian bread roll). I just stood there and watched. I was so hungry and I wanted that semmel so bad.”


Those were the days of the Weimar Republic, a period of some democracy in traditionally autocratic Germany but also one of great struggle with the impossibly punitive reparations France’s Georges Clemenceau and other Allied leaders had imposed after World War I. Another struggle was with the monarchal and industrial forces that still wielded power.


(A 50 million German Mark issue in 1923)

The value of the mark collapsed, inflation raged, and the Weimar government response was to print more money. By 1922, inflation topped 700 percent. “A wheelbarrow full of money couldn’t buy a newspaper,” the Britannica historical website says.


As the government floundered in finding solutions, the streets roared with political extremism and conspiracy theories.


Am I hearing echoes of the Weimar Republic across the United States today? Inflation, fueled by Western sanctions on Russia, has reached a 41-year high with energy prices rising 34.6 percent in May, fuel oil 106.7 percent, food costs ranging from 10 to 14 percent. The government in Washington, D.C., led by millionaires and financed by billionaires, is stalemated and grossly out of touch. It is willing to send $40 billion to Ukraine, thus further enriching the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about, but unable to agree on spending an additional $10 billion for COVID-19 relief.


Crippled Germany saw political gridlock and a succession of leaders take over in the 1920s, but eventually the nation looked to an old war hero, Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg, to lead it out of its morass. He was 78, the same age as Joe Biden when he became president. A monarchist with hardly a political vision, Hindenburg tried feebly to steer a course through the troubled political waters but, slipping toward senility and under the influence of close advisers, ended up handing the keys of power to the most extremist of all the upstarts around him, Adolf Hitler.


Fast forward to Joe Biden, who’s ostensibly holding the fort of America against a return of the autocratic extremist Donald Trump. Yet he has serious trouble getting his program through a divided Congress and is funding a distant war that has nothing to do with American security interests but that is doing serious damage to the nation and world’s economy. Biden talks about democracy and justice and his pro-labor, working class roots. Yet in his heart of hearts, he is a pro-corporate neoliberal whose foreign policies are enriching the rich while bringing suffering to average working class Americans.


Biden’s proxy war with Russia in Ukraine is an utterly misguided effort to continue U.S. post-Cold War dominance by weakening and humiliating Russia. It’s not working. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, tired of broken Western promises and continued military encroachment on his nation’s borders, is winning the war in Ukraine that the U.S. and NATO are largely funding. Ukraine is tragically a victim caught between competing world powers.


As in the other disastrous wars the U.S. has waged in the last 50 years, its political and military leaders don’t really know or understand their enemy. The same goes for the sycophantic mainstream, corporate-owned media—from the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to network news and CNN and Fox (BBC in England is no better). They are mainly mouthpieces for their government, publishing or broadcasting every memo from Washington or Kyiv whether validated or not.


Even when mainstream media begrudgingly acknowledges Russia’s gains—and Putin is close to complete success in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine—they never fail to remind us how Russia failed to take the capital city of Kyiv. They never explore the possibility that Russia did not want to destroy a city that is close to the heart and soul of Russian history and culture.


Is there today another parallel to the Weimar Republic in that era’s much-discussed decadence, the drunken orgies and bacchanalia of Berlin’s cabarets that raged while Hitler’s storm troopers tightened their collective fist around the country’s neck? If there is, it can be found among the American oligarchs who fund our politicians, both Democrat and Republican, and engorge themselves with untold wealth that even their counterparts in Russia can’t claim.


What are those lyrics from “Willkommen”, the theme of the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret? “Leave your troubles outside. So life is disappointing, forget it! In here life is beautiful.”


Indeed life is beautiful where America’s oligarchs play. But, forget it, those of us on the outside are not “willcommen.”

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Why aren't reporters asking about peace negotiations in Ukraine? Why isn't Joe Biden pushing for peace instead of more weapons?


(To the right, a painting of a Ukrainian woman by Ilya Repin, considered by many Russia's greatest painter. Repin was born in Ukraine.)

It was the summer of 1992, and the embers of Russia’s 70-year experiment with communism still smoldered. Near Red Square in Moscow protesters called for a return to the glory days of the dismembered Soviet Union. One of the clearest signs of that dismemberment was near the city’s Tretyakov Gallery, where the paint-smeared, uprooted statues of Stalin and other Communist leaders lay helter-skelter on the ground.


Our guide, 25-year-old university student Roman Fiodorov, always a sly grin on his face, waxed philosophical. “Systems are different, but people are the same. People just want a (normal) life.”


I’ve been thinking back to that trip to Russia that my wife and I made back in 1992. It became an important experience in my life, a turning point, in many ways, prompting me into a years-long obsession with Eastern Europe. What followed were three trips to Poland, other trips to Slovakia, the former East Germany, sponsored visits of students from Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Albania to the University of Mississippi, where I teach. I studied Russian for two years and Polish for one.


It also led to a lot of writing, including my first book, The Mission: Journalism, Ethics and the World (2002), which drew comparisons between Eastern Europe and my native U.S. South. I railed in newspaper columns against NATO’s bombing of Serbia in the former Yugoslavia in 1999 allegedly on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians. It was an illegal and unnecessary war given the fact that then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had already agreed to allow Kosovo autonomy.


Watching those developments closely were the leaders of post-communist Russia, which had agreed to the reunification of Germany after NATO promised not to expand eastward. As the years passed, however, Russia also watched as NATO broke its promise again and again, expanding to Russia’s very doorstep, with even Ukraine wanting to join and given encouragement by U.S. officials.


Today, Ukraine is the blood-soaked victim of, yes, a brutal Russian invasion but also of the U.S.-led NATO’s relentless push to preserve the United States as the world’s lone superpower and to mock Russia’s security concerns about the Western military buildup on its borders.


You wouldn’t know the complex backstory to this invasion by reading, watching or listening to mainstream, corporate-owned media in the United States and Europe. What you get from their alleged journalists is the same old jingoistic claptrap that comes with every war—the demonization of Russia and Russians, even including Russian opera singers and athletes as well as Vladimir Putin, the reporting of every claim from the Ukrainian side and the parroting of endless U.S. military speculation about the war, whether validated or not, and the glorification of so-called heroes like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has repeatedly called for a “no fly zone” over his country and other Western interventions that likely would cause a global nuclear war.


Where are the questions from journalists about peace negotiations? To his credit, Zelensky had indicated his willingness to relinquish Ukrainian hopes to join NATO, a key Russian demand, but the last thing the U.S. oligarchs of the military-industrial complex and the Deep State in Washington, D.C., want is any semblance of a Russian victory. What they want are more weapons to be poured into Ukraine, continuing the war until the Russians give up or the last Ukrainian is dead. They want a humiliated Russia that can never challenge the United States’ status as the world’s only superpower. Once they’ve taken care of Russia, then they can focus on China.


President Biden seems utterly in the throes of the Deep State, and perhaps now he has been forgiven for ending the war in Afghanistan. Spending billions of taxpayer dollars on weapons for Ukraine goes a long way toward getting forgiveness. By the way, why does the Deep State still have credibility after its dismal failures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, all U.S. invasions in which oceans of blood were spilled?


None of this is to paint Putin as anything but the autocrat that he is. I have no illusions about what lies within his capability. I would likely be in prison if I were a journalist in Russia.


Back in 1992, Roman Fiodorov, again grinning, made a comment to us tourists that spoke more truth than perhaps intended. “You Americans,” he said with a shake of his head, as my memory recalls. “Two people are killed in a car wreck and it’s on the front pages of your newspapers. Here in Russia, hundreds disappear in Siberia, and no one says anything.”