Friday, February 21, 2020

Bernie Sanders' challenge to the DNC and MSNBC and CNN establishment evokes the Populist uprising of the 1890s

(Bernie Sanders campaigning for unionization of the Nissan plant in Mississippi back in 2017)

Bernie Sanders’ challenge to the Democratic Party establishment evokes memories of the Populist uprising against the nation’s two-party system more than a century ago, as does the Democratic Party’s current maneuverings to destroy Bernie’s challenge.

Back in the 1890s, the People’s Party, better known as the Populists, gave the leaders of the nation’s two major political parties the scare of their lives, mounting the biggest third-party challenge in U.S. history. It was indeed a people’s party, challenging the corporate hegemony that had taken over the nation and giving a long-overdue voice to the farmers, factory workers - both black and white - and small business folks that both the Democratic and Republican parties had too long ignored. In many ways, the establishment parties had become what Louisiana’s Huey Long would decades later deride as the “high popalorum” and “low popahirum” of American politics, what Alabama Gov. George Wallace meant three decades later when he said there’s “not a dime’s worth of difference” in the two major parties.

As flawed as Long and Wallace may have been, they were on to something.

(To the right, Huey Long of Louisiana)

Post-Civil War greed and the piles of money coming out of industrialization had so corrupted American politics by the end of the 19th century that average working folks had nowhere to turn other than a third party. In the South, ruling “Bourbon Democrats” appealed “to Southerners when they recalled nostalgic antebellum days and identified themselves with the romantic cult of the Confederacy,” but in their hearts they “were preeminently commercial-minded men who purposely aligned themselves with the Republican-industrial North in order to exploit the manpower and resources of their section,” historian Monroe Billington has written.

(1892 Populist poster)

Well-heeled leaders of the Democratic Party finally managed to pull the rug out from under the Populists, pushing “fusion” and co-opting their key issues and maneuvering and manipulating them eventually out of existence, leaving a legacy of disillusionment that took decades to repair. The Populists “blamed themselves for ever consenting to an unholy alliance with the enemy,” Billington wrote.

The modern-day Democratic Party faces a similar challenge in the populist uprising that Bernie Sanders represents, and its leaders have and will continue to fight tooth and nail to make sure he doesn’t become its titular head and certainly not president of the United States. Working hand-in-hand with the Democratic National Committee are their compatriots MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media stalwarts that style themselves as the official opposition to Trump/Fox News rule.

“People all over this country worked their way through school, sent their kids to school, paid off student loans,” James Carville recently ranted to MSNBC about Sanders’ call for free college tuition and student debt retirement. “They don’t want to hear this shit.”

Carville, of course, was a key architect of Clintonian politics in the 1990s, the centrist, neo-liberal, pro-corporate core philosophy of the Democratic National Committee today.

In response to Carville’s rant, writer Ed Burmila in the New Republic correctly pointed out that the 1970s world Carville invoked has little to do with today’s world, in which college expenses equal nearly 52 percent of a man’s median annual income and a whopping 81 percent of a woman’s. Today an entire generation of college graduates potentially face lifelong debt from their student loans.

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, himself a relic of “the good ol’ days” when he was an aide to former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill, told viewers recently he remembers the Cold War of the 1950s when critics of socialist regimes might be taken to a public park and shot, loosely implying that might be his fate under a Bernie Sanders regime. Give me a damn break!

The Democratic Party establishment, as tied to Wall Street as its Republican counterpart, is scared to death of Bernie Sanders. This was evident four years ago when its operatives leaked debate questions to favored candidate Hillary Clinton to give her an advantage over challenger Sanders. That same establishment spent nearly the next three years constructing “Russiagate” to claim it was Russian collusion that elected Trump, not Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign, Russian collusion that exposed the corruption within official Democratic ranks. In the process, “journalists” like Rachel Maddow completely lost credit by buying into the Russiagate conspiracy hook, line, and sinker.

More recently, the Iowa caucus exposed more DNC and Clintonian shenanigans as the Iowa Democratic Party decided to use an app designed by Clinton operatives to tally the vote, ultimately screwing up the count long enough to make sure Bernie Sanders didn’t come out of Iowa with any kind of momentum that might help him in the New Hampshire primary. Well, he won the New Hampshire primary despite their best efforts and now is the leader in the still-wide field of Democratic candidates.

Next to enter the stage was billionaire and former Republican Mike Bloomberg buying his way into second place behind Bernie with untold millions of dollars in television and social media ads that paint him as kind of a Lone Ranger there to save the party from a socialist takeover (which is his real goal, even more than defeating Donald Trump). However, Bloomberg’s disastrous performance in the debate before the Nevada caucus proved that even tons of money can’t hide the host of skeletons in his closet.

To get truth about this campaign one has to go to social media and YouTube programs like “The Hill” and hear former MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball tell it like it truly is. Another is Kyle Kulinski. Still another is Jimmy Dore. Here you get the cogent analysis that’s missing in traditional media. They’re young, sharp, and hungry for truth, and they speak to the same generation that has become the core of Bernie Sanders’ movement. They’re the future, not James Carville, Chris Matthews, and the other troglodytes who believe they still have something to say to the American people.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Kirk Douglas, the ragman's son who became a star and helped end the fascist Hollywood blacklist

(Kirk Douglas in 1955)

I was preparing to write about the sordidness of the Iowa caucus and American politics in general as the Democratic National Party, aided and abetted by CNN and MSNBC, does everything it can to scuttle presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, but I’ll hold that for later as more pressing is to address the legacy of the great Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas, who passed away this week at the age of 103. He was my favorite actor, a hero on the screen but also in real life, and he deserves an appreciation here in Labor South.

I never got to meet you, but I almost did. It was 1988 at a bookstore in Washington, D.C., and you were signing copies of your autobiography The Ragman’s Son. The line was long to get a signed copy, but I waited patiently. It was down to a mere handful of folks in front of me when they announced the signing was over. Still, they came to the first few of us, collected our books, and I got your “For Rachel and Michael, Kirk Douglas, ‘88” on the cover page of my copy. When my day comes, I’m not sure which of my children will inherit it. A quandary!

You wrote The Ragman’s Son yourself, no ghost writer, unusual for books by celebrities. It’s a good book, and it launched a second career for you as a writer. You were indeed the son of a ragman, Herschel Danielovich, a Russian Jewish peasant, and Bryna Sanglel, daughter of Ukrainian farmers, both illiterate immigrants escaping the Cossack swords and clubs of the pogroms sweeping across the villages of their homeland. Your father became a hard-drinking, brawling ragman in Amsterdam, New York, collecting and selling rags and junk from his horse-drawn wagon, “the lowest rung on the ladder” even “in the poorest section of town.”

You would later tell your children they didn’t have the advantage of growing up poor. Your mother warned you not to become your father, and you did escape his world, but you carried with you its memories and they helped give you the drive that made you one of Hollywood’s greatest actors.

My first encounter with you was a Sunday evening when my family sat down in front of the television to watch your 1960 film Spartacus, that epic tale of an historic slave uprising against the Roman Empire led by the slave Spartacus. He would go on to become the namesake of the radical Spartacus League in Berlin, Germany, that led major strikes again German munitions factories around 1917.

I had little political consciousness when I first watched Spartacus but something in its David-and-Goliath story appealed to me. I would much later learn that you, as its producer as well as its star, would insist that Dalton Trumbo write the screenplay and receive credit for it. Trumbo had been blacklisted by the Communist witch-hunting House for Un-American Activities Committee and essentially banned from Hollywood. Director Stanley Kubrick, brilliant but vain and egotistical, suggested he get credit for the screenplay to avoid the bad publicity Trumbo’s name would create. You said “No”.

“Stanley’s eagerness to use Dalton revolted us,” you wrote in The Ragman’s Son. “That night it all suddenly became very clear. I knew what name to put on the screen.”

That act helped bring an end to the Hollywood blacklist that destroyed so many careers and even lives. It’s a period of infamy in Hollywood and the nation’s history, a time when a peculiarly American brand of fascism was allowed to reign and wreak havoc in the name of democracy.

"Some of the people accused of being Communists were Communists, but that is not against the law in the United States," you wrote. "I think we spend too much time fighting communism instead of fighting to make democracy better." 

From Spartacus, I would go on to watch and love other films of yours, great film noirs like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Out of the Past (1947), Ace in the Hole (1951), Detective Story (1951), and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), which I watched again just the other night. So many others—Champion (1949), Lust for Life (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), all those films with one of my other favorite actors, Burt Lancaster—rank right up there among the best ever, tales of backstabbing boxers, manipulating movie moguls, tortured artists, conflicted soldiers and cowboys out of sync with the times.

In your 2014 book of poetry and memories, Life Could Be Verse, which you dedicated to your wife of 60 years, Anne, you say, “Hard work can get you fame and fortune, maybe make you a star, but nothing will make you happy until you know who you are.”  Let me add a thank you for your hard work. It helped make a lot of people happy, including me.