The Lies of the Self-Help Industry


In the popular show The Americans on TNT, about two undercover Soviet KGB agents pretending to live as Americans in a Washington DC suburb to spy for the USSR Motherland; in order to make themselves believable and not get caught by US authorities, they become totally ‘American’, more American than actual Americans. They ape everything a middle class, upwardly mobile American family would do to avoid detection and suspicion. They speak perfect unaccented American English, pretend to be flag waving patriots, never slip out a syllable of Russian, even in their most distressed moments, they are to maintain their cover. Part of aping the life of an American family is also to partake in all of the trappings of capitalism and consumption. The show is situated in the 1980s, the height of the Reagan era and the Cold War and the consumerism culture. While the ‘wife’ Elizabeth Jennings has no trouble separating her identities as a communist Soviet woman in her private hours and an average American wife in her daily public life, her husband Phillip Jennings isn’t so sure. He openly enjoys the trappings of capitalism, such as getting a flashy new Camero and spoiling their children with material things; things he was deprived of in his harsh post-War Soviet upbringing where even food was scarce. But he is still, deep down, a Soviet spy loyal to the motherland, a communist at heart, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the trappings of their ‘job’ which they do at great personal risk to themselves. His wife Elizabeth didn’t mind it so much either, but her alarm bells went off when he started attending EST Seminars. While she had no problems with her husband finding help for his childhood traumas and enjoying American consumption a little too much for her taste, attending EST Seminars was one step too far off the deep end. Like all good communists, Elizabeth Jennings recognized that EST is a propaganda perpetrated by the ruling class of capitalism.

EST is the precursor to the massive 11 billion dollar (or more) self-help industry today. The goal of EST is:

[To] transform one’s ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself”. It “brought to the forefront the ideas of transformation, personal responsibility, accountability, and possibility”.

It is Reaganism reduced to two sentences. Werner Erhard is replaced by the likes of Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins today, who got even more cleverer and incorporated ‘spirituality’ in their charlatan teachings of ‘self-help’.

In and around the early 2000s, these ‘self-help’ gurus were all the rage. Positive thinking was all the rage. Manifesting (imagining) your way to wealth, happiness and prosperity was all the rage, as evidenced by the massive sales of the book ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne (published in 2006). I immediately developed an allergic reaction to all of these self-help gurus. It runs contrary to my dark morose nature, it runs contrary to evidence: if everyone can manifest (or imagine) their way to riches, wouldn’t we all be rich? Who wants to be poor? Who wants to struggle? And it runs contrary to my natural pessimism. But in spite of all this, I bought into it for a while. I was shamed into it by almost everyone I knew. Even people who didn’t read books picked up a Deepak Chopra book and read The Secret, they were able to read this claptrap but can’t finish Pride and Prejudice. I was told that I was depressed and anxious all the time because I had negative thought patterns and if I just think more positive thoughts, my life will be more positive and productive (translation: higher income). I would get that pay rise, that promotion, that dream job, my bank account would just overflow with the money I needed. I’ve tried thinking positive happy thoughts. I only got more depressed later when my happy positive thinking didn’t yield happy positive results. Also, it didn’t pay my bills. Money didn’t just magically appear as these gurus implied. It’s all a Reaganomics scam. Anyone can be rich, anyone can be middle class if they want to, they just have to work hard with a positive mental attitude, be rid of their self-limiting thoughts and beliefs, then everything else will take care of itself.

The issue here is not being against self-improvement, of developing positive thought patterns and behaviors to a happier more fulfilled life. This is necessary, but the problem with the American self-help industry is, it’s almost always predicated upon getting rich. Meaning if at the end of your self-help journey and you don’t become rich, you are the problem, you have failed at helping yourself. You pick up a Deepak Chopra book, it’s all full of spiritual babble, but you reach the end, the desired result is financial prosperity. Tony Robbins who is all the rage right now and has a documentary out on Netflix, hosts these self-discovery seminars, where he gets the audience to expose their emotional vulnerabilities to gain ratings and telling them that not letting go of their past trauma is the cause of their current financial troubles. We need to ‘awaken our giant within ourselves’ to become bigger and better versions of ourselves (which in the self-help world almost exclusively means richer), not necessarily a better person. How is he fit to make this assessment? On Tony Robbin’s website he calls himself an entrepreneur, philanthropist and bestselling author, I don’t see any qualifications of him as a qualified psychologist or therapist.

The ‘self-help’ industry puts the blame of one’s financial failures on their inability to transform the hardships of their life into learning moments. One would think after the financial crash of 2008, the self-help industry would expose itself to be the fraud that it is. It has nothing to do with positive thinking leading to positive actions and behaviors but bankers, governments, the ruling class who control the economy do what they want with our money and financial stability which causes our financial problems and misery. But after the crash of 2008, the self-help industry was booming, it’s still booming. Tony Robbins is hosting seminars all over the world, charging hundreds of dollars for a weekend of his seminars, selling books, DVDs, audio books to his followers, how if you just think big and rich like him, you will become rich like him.

These self-help theories are completely arbitrary, there’s no science or research to back it up. At best there is anecdotal evidence from previous followers, they only tell you of the success stories, not the people who forked over hundreds of dollars for a weekend or perhaps thousands for personal coaching and saw ‘no returns’ on that investment, only feelings of shame at their perceived failures. In capitalism, everything must be commodified for it to be legitimate, it must have monetary return, it must have a monetary value or the ability to generate monetary value. Self-improvement for the sake of self-improvement is not enough, it must have a financial reward attached to it in the end. People who are not upwardly mobile are not considered in the equation of ‘self-improvement’. Wishing to live a financially modest but a fulfilled life in service of others is not considered a ‘success’ by the self-help industry. You must dream big, get that big house, that dream car, that dream job (which is really making your money work for you and not really doing or making anything productive – something Donald Trump advocates – using other people’s money to build your business).

When you visit the websites of these ‘self-help’ gurus or ‘life coaches’ and you go to the testimonial section, it’s almost always about how much richer they’ve become. The big transformative events which occurred as a result of hiring this particular life coach is almost always monetarily related, very little of it has to do with real self-improvement or self-actualization in the true meaning of the word. The self-help industry is just another predatory scam to prey on vulnerable people, who feel stuck in their lives because of a bad economy, and they think that by forking over the last few hundred or thousands of dollars of their savings will jump start their financial lifeline again.

The Con of Martha Stewart


I was re-organizing my linen drawers today and as I was trying to fold fitted sheets with the elastic rounded edges I suddenly remembered an old episode of Martha Stewart Living, where she taught us mere mortals how to fold the perfect fitted sheet and for those who are extra particular and have the extra time to spare, we can iron the edges so it looks better on a shelf or in a drawer.

I am slightly embarrassed to say I was a fan of Martha Stewart. I liked her brand, her ‘effortless’ homemaking style and the idea of your home is your castle so treat it like one. Whether you live in a log house or mansions in Connecticut, New York or Maine, it doesn’t matter, show some pride in your home. Cook the best meals you can whip up, entertain in the best manner you can manage, live an elegant but outwardly simple life using all that you have in your attic or what you can buy and make your domestic life fabulous. She made a killing promoting this ‘lifestyle’. Women all over America ate up her cookbooks, magazines, TV shows,  all hoping to replicate a piece of the Martha Stewart magic.

When rumors swirled about what a terrible and exacting boss she was to work for (apparently she made her staff pick up the pink granite off of her long driveway in her home in Maine before each summer season for storage), she not only didn’t go into damage control mode by having the press see the softer side of her with her dogs and menagerie of groomed and immaculately kept animals, she defended her actions. She is a teacher, she teaches people how to do things, make things, cook things and bake things, therefore she has to be particular, exacting and close to ‘perfect’ as possible. Her standards have to be the best, everything she does has to be the best, otherwise how is she fit to teach? She made the analogy of would you take French lessons from a teacher who didn’t have the French language mastered? She is the original master of self-promotion, using her own life story as the ‘American Dream’ turbo edition and it was her grit and her determination alone that saw her go from Martha Kostyra from a middle-class family in Nutley, New Jersey to Martha Stewart, chatelaine of great mansions all along the East Coast. Martha Stewart claims that her mother (also called Martha, affectionately known as Big Martha when she’s on TV with her daughter) taught her how to cook and sew and her father taught her how to garden and grow food and her grandparents taught her about canning and food preserving and this is where she got her wealth of knowledge from. Along the way she married an Andy Stewart, Yale Law Graduate and later stockbroker and she went from Martha Kostyra to Martha Stewart. She kept her more Anglicized married name after their divorce. Martha Stewart sounds all-American, apple pie and upwardly mobile.

Even when she was convicted of insider trading in 2004 and had to serve jail time at a white collar prison, she turned it into a ‘Martha Stewart Event’. She taught prisoners how to sew and make things and when she was released from jail, she left with a shawl that was knitted by another inmate. Because she was convicted of insider trading, she wasn’t allowed to be CEO or a business executive for a certain period of time, but it hardly mattered. She was the face and brand of her company. No one cares who the CEO of Martha Stewart Omnimedia is. In business and Wall Street circles, Martha Stewart was known as the woman who was able to turn something so mundane as homemaking into not only an art form but was able to monetize a very scattered and broad market and made herself a millionaire many times over. And all of her ‘fans’ ate it up like suckers. Martha Stewart is teaching women (and some men) how to do the things they’ve doing for millennia but now do it the Martha way. With the implication that if you turn your home, however modest, into your own personal sanctuary, you will be happier, your life will be better, you’ll have more friends. She is also a living example of what she teaches. She is hardworking and diligent, she sleeps no more than 5-6 hours a night, rises early, does her morning exercises to get her going, doesn’t have any vices or bad habits (according to her self-description), she doesn’t drink coffee, only caffeine-free teas, rarely drinks alcohol to excess and she is equally demanding to all those that work for her. She makes it clear to live the Martha Stewart way takes effort and diligence, it’s not for the lazy.

It’s unclear why I suddenly remember that episode of Martha Stewart Living as I was folding my my fitted sheets. After struggling with it too long, I rolled it up into a neat ball and put it in my drawer, like how 99% of the people fold fitted sheets. Martha Stewart Living is just another massive con sold to women that if we can learn to do and be everything, we are better and stronger for it. Making our home a castle is a time consuming and arduous task, something most people don’t have the time or inclination for. I am far too lazy to ever be a mini-Martha, to bake the perfect cookies and cakes, or make a roast just-so. It’s also a massive waste of time. The best parties I’ve ever hosted or attended are the ad-hoc ones. Ones thrown together the last minute where everyone shows up with a bottle of wine and the hosts tries to put together a quick meal of hors d’oeuvres and light dinner or a meal by potluck. None of this matching plates to napkins and obsessions about where the utensils go or which glasses to use. Real friends don’t care if you have the table setting right, they just want to sit, chat, eat, drink and have a good time.

Martha Stewart is part of a long list of people who want to make everyone else feel inadequate unless we do things their way. To encourage women to spend time, money and energy to do things which are totally unnecessary. Clearly Martha Stewart’s target market are for the upwardly mobile middle class. A big part of social mobility is hosting good parties so that guests at your party can go tell other people you want to impress that you are a hostess with the mostest, with the ultimate goal of everyone wanting to be on your guest list. It again shows that when something even so mundane as homemaking is turned into a capitalistic enterprise, it becomes exploitative and corrupted.

There is nothing ‘effortless’ about homemaking, anyone who’s had to do this boring, tedious, usually unpaid, under appreciated ‘art’ can attest to it. There is nothing glamorous about it too, keeping a well ordered and clean home takes massive amount of time and effort, and if we are honest, unless there is domestic help, there is no such thing as an always immaculate and orderly home. But in our late stage of capitalism, when there is nothing more to sell or profit from, it tries to monetize things which has no monetary value. The Fyre Festival (selling an experience not product) ripped jeans costing hundreds of dollars, more than whole in tact outfits and Martha Stewart Living and the art of homemaking.

Big Little Lies (2017) – A Surprising Honest Portrayal of Domestic Abuse


Big Little Lies can easily be dismissed as a vehicle for former has been A-list movie stars who turned their attention to the small screen because they are past their sell-by date by Hollywood standards and are no longer profitable box office draws, but this turns out to be better than that. It is a HBO 7-episode miniseries about four wealthy women living in the seaside utopia of Marin County in Northern California. It is one of the richest counties in California and a favorite of tech millionaires. I was apprehensive about using rich women in extremely privileged backgrounds to depict the trauma of domestic abuse because with wealth and privilege, victims can be better sheltered by the aftermath.

It stars Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Mackenzie, who is basically a grown up version of Tracy Flick from her breakout role in Election. She is nosy, bossy, gossipy and shrill, an all around pint sized nightmare. Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright, a former lawyer but is now a stay-at-home parent to her twin boys. Laura Dern as Renata Klein, a tech company executive, sits on the board of Google and a multimillionaire, the richest of the group – she is equally bossy and shrill, and then you have the odd girl out, Shailene Woodley as Jane Chapman, a single mother to a son Ziggy, and she’s not any single mother, she’s a single mother who doesn’t know the identity of Ziggy’s father. He was conceived during a night of fun flirtation which turned into violent rape and the man who raped her disappeared. She never got his real name or phone number. She wants to find him and confront him about what he did to her.

The series start with a murder, a man was murdered, he seems like an important person who everyone knows, we only see shadows and far away images of him; he’s white man, wearing a nice suit and fancy shoes. The story is told in flashback and as the series progresses, we are to find out who the victim is and what led up to his death. This is juxtaposed with first day of orientation at Otter Bay Elementary School, which all the children of the four main characters attend. It is a public school but because of the rich tax base of Marin County, it functions like a free private school for the residents of Marin County. By the end of orientation, Renata Klein’s (Laura Dern) daughter Annabella has been choked by a classmate and a mark was left on her neck. Renata Klein of course was appalled and proceeded to make a big deal out of it in front of all the students and demanded her daughter to point out to her who choked her. Annabella pointed to Ziggy Chapman, son of Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), the newest student (and resident) to the school as the boy who did this to her. Jane didn’t overreact but asked her son calmly if he did this, he said ‘no’, but he looked scared, and Jane told her son that she believes him and to not worry, but Annabella is insistent that Ziggy was the person who choked her despite his denials. The teacher decided to end the discussion there and take it private. But the damage was done. The new boy, Ziggy Chapman, whose mother isn’t rich like all the other parents, has been marked out as the class bully with no proof except the words of a scared little girl. It was downhill from there for him at the new school.

The battle lines are now drawn and sides are forced to be chosen by all the other moms. When Annabella’s birthday party came around (and these aren’t just any normal birthday parties, they are whole dog and pony shows with a circus act flown in and custom designed cakes), Renata Klein declined to invite Ziggy Chapman for bullying her daughter. When Madeline Mackenzie found out she was indignant, as she and along with many other parents even the teacher didn’t believe Ziggy choked Annabella, he was just being blamed and scapegoated because he’s the new boy and his mother has no wealth or status. Madeline rallied all the other moms to boycott Annabella’s birthday party. She not only told everyone to boycott the party, she arranged for all the kids to attend a Disney on Ice show via private chauffeur and complimentary champaign all paid for by her. Even though she’s just met Jane Chapman, she has decided to take her under her wing. It can be easily dismissed that Madeline has some type of a savior syndrome and wants to make herself out to be a good person, but the truth is, Madeline was that single mother once. She has an older daughter Abigail from a former marriage. She married very young and her husband walked out on her to pursue his dreams and hobbies which were not compatible with family life. She struggled on her own as a single mother in a very affluent town, until she got remarried to her very rich second husband, who also works in tech. This is Madeline’s strange way of showing solidarity with another single mother, not for once considering how little Annabella might feel when half of her friends are missing from her birthday party.

The lynchpin of the series is the story line of Celeste and Perry Wright (Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård). On the outside they are admired and envied. Perry is handsome, charming and a ‘perfect’ father and Celeste is the ‘barbie doll’ of the group, though she is an ‘older’ mother, she looks ever youthful with a handsome and rich younger husband. Even after 7 years of marriage, they still pack on the PDA like teenagers, much to the envy of those with established marriages. But in the middle of all this ‘perfection’, there is chatter of about how it looks ‘too perfect’ and fake and no one is that ‘perfect’. The PDA is just weird and too much (envy aside). And they are right. Perry Wright is a vicious abuser. He beats his wife mercilessly. In fact he is such an expert at beating her that he knows exactly where to inflict the bruises so that no matter what she’s wearing they won’t show (upper arms, shoulders, upper back and breasts). This is one of the few shows where it delves into the nitty gritty details of domestic abuse, what happens before, during and after. What the battered wife does when her husband isn’t around, the far off stares into space, the jumpiness when someone suddenly walks up behind her and maintaining a facade of perfection when it is a nightmare at home. This is one of Nicole Kidman’s best performances of her career. I’ve seen many of her films, including the The Hours where she won an Oscar for best actress portraying the writer Virginia Woolf, it doesn’t come close to the depth of this role. Nicole Kidman fully captures the mannerisms, psyche and actions of an abused woman. The fact that she’s rich, lives in a seaside mansion, has two adorable sons, having the looks of a movie star never compensates for or distracts from the fact that she is a domestic abuse victim first and everything else second.

After one really horrific beating where she was choked to the point of almost passing out, she told Perry that if he lays his hands on her one more time, “I will fucking leave you.” and she meant it, he knew that she meant it. They decided to seek couples therapy to fix their ‘toxic relationship’. The actress playing therapist Dr. Amanda Reisman is Robin Weigert, who puts in a subtle and brilliant performance as a family therapist. In their first meeting, as Perry and Celeste dance around their ‘toxic’ issues, it very quickly it became obvious to Dr. Reisman that this is a dangerous and abusive situation and Celeste’s safety is in peril. Her face went from neutral to barely disguised disgust (one of the finest pieces of acting). Perry Wright has the classic symptoms of an abuser, emotionally manipulative, controlling, needy, insecure, doesn’t like his wife to go out with her friends, cut her off from her inner circle of family and friends, doesn’t want her to go out without him, and he blames his violent actions on everything except himself. Dr. Reisman doesn’t even think of trying to reform or counsel him, her goal is to get Celeste out of that situation as soon as possible.

Celeste begins to see Dr. Reisman regularly on her own without her husband (he travels a lot for work), as she begins to divulge the details his abuse (aided by flashbacks of the actual abuse – and this is very triggering to watch), Celeste realizes that Perry wasn’t just toxic he is deadly. After each beating he cries to her and apologizes to which they have passionate (or violent) make up sex after, sometimes Celeste preempts all that by just taking off her clothes first so he’d skip the beating part. It is a deadly and twisted game of abuse and sex; some would argue that to be marital rape, for a wife to perform sex to avoid abuse. When Celeste is insistent that her boys do not know about this abuse, Dr. Reisman dropped the polite therapist act and told Celeste to get real and rent an apartment immediately, furnish it, get the children’s rooms ready, stock the fridge, set up a secret bank account so that she can leave him the minute she needs to. Celeste dismisses this as going overboard, she’s not ready to let go of the life she gave up everything for and hope that it would all work out in the end.

The therapist also allowed Celeste the space to say good things about her husband, to reminisce on their good times. For example, when he dropped everything to attend to their premature twin boys in the hospital, taking care of her along and their twin boys. When the boys had repeated trips to hospital from lingering premature birth issues, he was awake every night with them and reassured her that they would be fine. Their joint suffering and sadness at the many miscarriages before finally delivering twin boys. Domestic abuse is very complex, the emotions involved are very complicated. Most abusers aren’t abusive every minute of everyday, they have their good moments and most victims hang on to those good moments for as long as they can, until they run out of emotional reserves. But it’s made clear no amount of ‘good’ in the marriage could compensate for the abuse.

The most disturbing scenes are not always the violent sex scenes or when her husband empties a bucket of legos over her head and pins her down and pummels her but the before and after. It’s the fight before or non-incident which he blows up to be a major travesty against him and he’s escalating verbally and you know what comes next; the punch, the shove the grab, choking or the aftermath when she’s inspecting her bruises while alone in her bedroom or applying makeup to her bruises in the car before she gets out of the car to pick her kids up from school. Or her holding back tears when she’s sitting quietly alone at home or in a coffee shop thinking how did her life come to this? In spite of all this she is in deep denial, she believes that with the ‘right’ help, their toxic marriage could be transformed into a healthy one. Her therapist told her that she can do whatever she likes but in the mean time, as her therapist she’s already begun a log of incidences of abuse and detailing her injuries.

I mentioned earlier I am unsure if I like the depiction of domestic abuse from the point of view of white, rich, high status, powerful people, even though domestic abuse spares no one, no social class, race, ethnicity or gender. On the other hand, the most common depiction of domestic abuse is usually the working class alcoholic or drug abusing husband beating up his even lower status wife; it rarely goes into the details, you just have scenes of huge blow up fights followed by physical beatings and then a trip the the ER, followed by apologies and the cycle repeats itself. So perhaps a portrayal of domestic violence involving rich people so that it’s not burdened by the crude stereotypes of the working class drunk beating his wife would serve better to showcase the horror of living with domestic violence. The devil is in the details.

There is often a conspiracy of silence when it comes to domestic abuse. No one wants to talk about it, even when it’s happening right in front of you, people are too afraid, too ashamed and the favorite excuse they don’t want to meddle in the domestic affairs of another family, so the victim often suffers in silence for far too long. But sometimes the conspiracy of silence starts with the victim herself, the shame and embarrassment at being labeled a domestic violence victim; while they have no trouble leaping to the defense of another battered woman, to reveal their own situation of domestic abuse is not something they do willingly, as is the case with Celeste Wright. It is a vicious cycle of abuse, silence and denial.

Back to who choked little Annabella on orientation day and then later during the school year she came home with bruises on her back too and who the murder victim was, I won’t spoil it. It wasn’t Ziggy who assaulted her, but the one who did, the apple didn’t fall that far from the tree and puts to rest the idea that children don’t know what’s going on inside the home. Even though Ziggy’s mother believes him when he said he didn’t choke Annabella, she was worried that he might have unknowingly done so because his biological father is a violent rapist and that Ziggy might have inherited that ugly trait. She projected her own fears for her child onto him.

I was pleasantly surprised at the honest portrayal of domestic abuse victims and how far the violence and dysfunction of one family can spread. Some of the abuse scenes are very hard to watch, I would go so far to offer a trigger warning, especially for those who suffered abuse at the hands of ‘handsome charming’ men. Alexander Skarsgård does a brilliant job of playing a handsome, winsome but brutally abusive man, it’s so believable that when he comes on the screen you just seethe with rage. For Nicole Kidman, this is one of her best performances and it’s all in the details, during her unspoken moments does she convey the pain of a domestic abuse victim.

The Gig Economy: Precarious and Anxious

Gig Economy: Biggest scam to hit workers

I am part of the gig economy. When I am not stuck in the kitchen radicalizing myself, I take side contracting jobs (gigs) when I can from the list of contacts I’ve made in my years of working in the formal economy. I am not dependent on this for my income but anything I make will go towards the family budget or savings nest egg.

My week started out normal, if not slightly sunny and optimistic (which is rare), I had what seemed a fairly simple contracting job and it was going along smoothly. It hadn’t taken up an inordinate amount of my time and it appears to be moving towards completion. Many moons ago I was a mortgage loan processor before the market crash and all that really means is I am a glorified paper pusher. The listing and selling agents make the deal (and get all the big fat commissions) and I make the deal happen by completing the mortgage process for the buyer. It’s not a hard job but a tedious one, one that requires patience because nine times out of ten, you are dealing with a buyer who knows nothing about what they are signing, what they are doing and all they are thinking about is getting the shiny keys to their new house. I get a fee for doing all this work and I don’t get compensated unless the deal is ‘closed’ or until the buyers get their keys. I don’t really pursue these gigs, they sort of find me and I take them on if I can perform the contract in the time required. I emphasize this point because for many people, they don’t have this luxury, they need the ‘gig’ and more importantly they need the ‘gig’ to close so they can get paid.

The buyer in this case is purchasing a condo on a FHA (Federal Housing Administration) sponsored loan, which means they can get into a home with 3.5% down payment with very lenient income to debt ratio requirements. It’s the preferred method for most first time home buyers or buyers who don’t have a lot of savings but make a healthy income to afford a mortgage payment. However, one almost always non-negotiable requirement of purchasing a condo under a FHA loan (and conventional Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans too) is that there can be no pending litigation against the HOA (Homeowners Association). Pending litigation means that the Homeowners Association (a motley crew of builders, investors and homeowners themselves) can become financially insolvent and the whole condominium complex needs to be liquidated to meet the lawsuit compensation; which means the mortgage holder could lose their investment in the condo.

So after I’ve done about 90% of the leg work and now it’s just a matter of the buyer signing her loan documents to finalize the closing, we hit a snag. What did we find out from the Homeowner’s Association? There is a pending lawsuit against them. Someone fell in the common area while trimming shrubs and injured himself. The HOA said the lawsuit was frivolous just to extort money from them and they in the process of resolving it, but it’s been filed since late 2015 and it’s still pending. This particular detail which can derail whole deals is the responsibility of the listing agent to find out BEFORE they list the property to sell. And it’s also the responsibility of the seller’s agent to make sure they are not advising their buyer to purchase a condo with a pending lawsuit against it. Clearly no one bothered to check. The finger pointing commences. From prior experience, I know in these situations the blame almost always gets placed on someone with the least power and least compensated (The listing and seller agent get 5% commission between them, the loan agent – person who gets them the loan gets anywhere from 2-3% of the loan amount for commission paid by the lender, I get $925 for processing the loan). I could smell the blame coming my way a mile away.

Between the listing and seller’s agent there is over 40 years of ‘experience’, as all real estate agents love to boast about their experience, I have an on and off 10 years experience with loan processing, the last time I did loan processing as a full time job was 2008. I was being asked if I had a ‘check list’ I referred to when I worked on my files, to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. On top of coordinating between 4 to 5 agencies and departments, sending hundreds of emails to make sure everyone has everything they needed, I will not do the jobs of people who out earn me by almost ten times because of their carelessness, which can cause the whole deal to tank and the buyer to lose their deposit. It’s not my problem. I told them point blank that I am not here to compensate for their mistakes. And the listing and seller’s agents each have their own assistants as well. What were they doing? Privately, I told my contact at the lender that I don’t compensate for the stupidity of others, I am sorry all of your big paychecks are at risk, but up until now, between this and all of my other responsibilities, I’ve been more than on top of everything. I’ve not only met every deadline but stayed ahead of it. No one will pin this major, idiotic, stupid blunder on me.

We are to find out what recourses we have on Monday, if we can switch the loan program, which then means the loan agent won’t be happy as his commission will be cut, or worse, no one gets paid because if I were the buyer in this case, I’d sack everyone. The days where I ran around solving everyone’s problems to prove my worth are over. I know my worth, I know my value, and it’s a lot more than $925 and I am sure as hell not going to take the blame for the incompetence of those who have much more experience than me.

This is one side of the precarious gig economy. The $925 I made would have gone towards utilities, food and part of the rent or even to our savings. I am lucky, I have other sources of income. I don’t depend on these $925 contracting fees to meet my monthly expenses but if I did and I just now found out that one-third of the monthly income I must earn to just meet my minimal expenses to live is in question or perhaps gone, I’d be going into a panic and meltdown right now. My week ended with me being in a foul mood, for wasting time on a deal that was basically dead to begin with and the listing agent or her assistant bothered to place a phone call to the HOA offices all of this could have been avoided. But at least I am not panicking or spiraling into the rabbit hole of anxiety which would then render me non-functional and thus unable to quickly find alternate ways to make up for my lost income. People who regularly suffer from anxiety know what I am talking about, when you are so anxious your heart races, brain freezes and you go on autopilot, instead of trying think quickly to resolve a crisis.

The gig economy is not cool. It’s not more relaxing or autonomous. It is fraught with anxiety especially if your compensation doesn’t come through for one reason or another. And then there is the issue of uncompensated labor. When a gig doesn’t pan out, you would have just wasted hours upon hours working for someone for free. This is more than surplus value, this is outright theft, theft of someone’s labor, time and resources (internet, wifi, office supplies, transportation expenses if they need to travel). This is the type of economy waiting for Millennials and those who have been laid off in the Great Recession and haven’t been able to find full time gainful employment since. Is it any wonder that mood disorders and addictions are on the rise?

Just yesterday a Texas representative by the name of Rodey Arrington (R-TX) justified cutting of SNAP benefits (food stamps) by using the Bible, saying that God said only those who work get to eat (‘If a man will not work he shall not eat.’ And he goes on to say ‘We heard that some of you are idle.’ ). People on SNAP don’t work so therefore they don’t deserve to eat. This piece of racist white trash thinks its fine to starve those who can’t get work, who can’t work, who are too ill to work by using the Bible as justification. He is the scum of this earth. It’s time to sharpen those guillotines.

Motherhood, Leftism and Feminism

Credit: fiverr

Going back to the kitchen radicalized me. I became a leftist and a socialist. I now fully understand and appreciate how Russian women headed into the streets in 1917 full of rage and fury. Pissing off women who spend their days in the kitchen is not a good idea, not in 1789, not in 1917 and not in 2017. It is when I returned to the home to perform the most mundane and traditional of duties that spurred my activism and turned me from a lukewarm liberal feminist to a radical socialist feminist. There is no turning back.

My husband told me that I’ve become too politically radical lately. My criticisms against the police state, white supremacy, institutionalized racism, sexism and misogyny, US imperialism and military aggression, the overt anti-immigrant stance of this and previous administrations has gotten to him.

He told me I am too old to be a radical, a not so subtle dig that my days of political activism and youth are long behind me, that I should focus on “more important things” – translation: being a good mother and wife. Just one year ago I would have vociferously defended myself on the one thousand and one ways in which I am a good mother. I don’t care if I am a good wife or not, but for the record, I am not a terrible wife. I’ve since entered a give no-fucks zone. I give no defense for my actions or beliefs. I don’t care to, I don’t want to and no one will shame me into living my life differently. While I wasn’t much affected by racism, toxic masculinity and patriarchy has scarred me. I won’t defend it, I won’t cater to it and I won’t accommodate it. Me shutting down any fat jokes, racist, sexist, misogynistic or ableist speak has made me a politically correct bore. I used to be so much more fun or I used to laugh at slightly inappropriate jokes. Perhaps, but at who’s expense?

I naturally lean left, but I grew up with mostly conservatives (in culture and politics) around me. My father was a registered Republican but would be considered a Democrat today, he was a social liberal (pro-choice) and fiscal conservative. He died before the 2008 elections heated up, he didn’t live to see our nation elect a black president. My mother and her family are Confucianists, largely apolitical but conservative in culture and beliefs, with an authoritarian bent. My natural anti-authoritarian nature didn’t fit well in this mould. Many times I was far too reactionary for my own good. My early feminism came of the desire to defy convention and there’s no better way to piss off the authoritarian males in my life than to become a feminist.

Feminism is natural to me. How could anyone not be a feminist? What kind of a person isn’t for promoting equal rights for women? If the majority of the people are for equal rights for all people, feminism ties right into that. Feminism seeks to liberate half of humanity.

I became a leftist for my children. I went from a liberal feminist to a radical socialist feminist for my children. I was born in 1979, a generation no-man land between Gen. X and Millennials. I am too old to be a Millennial but close enough in age to see up close and empathize with their plight. I graduated from college in 2001 and was probably one the last batches of college graduates who got a full time job with benefits and 401K plan within six months after graduation. I saw the last vestiges of the corporate boom before it all came crashing down. When the crash of 2008 happened, I had enough work experience under my belt where I could get another full time job and I wasn’t ‘too old’ to start over. I am lucky. Those who were born a few years after me weren’t so lucky.

They experienced the cruelty and evils of capitalism without ever tasting its rewards. The ruling class has completely looted the economy and not any single one of them have gone to prison for their crimes against humanity. Their crimes created untold poverty which might last generations, the economic violence which they unleashed on the working and middle classes is on a scale we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. And nine years after the 2008 crash, they act like all is well again, and the economy is stronger than ever. I heard one financial ‘advisor’ describing the crash of 2008 as getting rid of the “deadwood” which invariably exists in capitalism. People’s jobs, lives, homes, families are “deadwood” to capitalists.

Article after article is promoting the hipness of the ‘gig economy’ as the next ‘cool’ thing. It’s what Millennials want, it’s what they like so they have free time to pursue their other passions. The truth is the economy has no more good jobs on offer; no one has a stable job with benefits because capitalism has exhausted itself. Everyone has to make do with part time contracting work and try to make it seem cool and hip. Remember that Lyft driver who got a special commendation for working until the day she gave birth? If that isn’t sadistic I don’t know what is.

I became a leftist for my children. I grew up in an authoritarian household under authoritarian male and female figures. With the exception of my maternal grandparents and mother, I hated every single one of them. My contempt for them was barely contained and palpable. I became a self-taught feminist out of my disgust for authoritarianism and I reserved extra bile for the women who upheld male authoritarianism and used it to suppress other women. My early feminist influences were Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir; I devoured the ‘The Second Sex’ and ‘The Feminine Mystique’, the early seeds of giving no-fucks were sown. It affirmed my latent belief that as a woman I do not owe anyone an explanation about my choices, that if I made a mistake, I need not hang my head in shame and beg for absolution. There are no such things as the scarlet woman, the whore, the sinner; it was all invented by men to oppress women so they can go on and be the scarlet man, the man-whore and sinner without impunity.

At the time I didn’t see the connection between the oppression of women and the role capitalism played in that context. In order for capitalism to succeed a large number of people need to be oppressed. They include the middle class, working class and within those categories, women. Women provide uncompensated domestic labor so men can go out and earn his living. The woman provides a comfortable and relaxing home so the Fortune 500 company executives can focus on his career and earn all those bonuses. None of it is possible without women giving their labor away for free at home. Even women who work full time still does more chores at home than her male counterpart. Part of the Steinem, de Beauvoir and Friedan’s philosophy is that women can do anything and everything a man does and more, and that includes joining the boardroom, making her own money and more importantly having full control over her own money; a sort of first-wave pre-Sheryl Sandberg ‘Lean-In’ ideology. While that sounds good in theory, in practice, women have just stretched themselves even thinner; never mind the fact that Lean-In doesn’t apply to working class women, only well educated elite women with jobs that earn above the median wage apply. That aside, while she may be the boss of the boardroom, she still has the responsibility of being the archetypical wife and mother outside of the boardroom, and with those titles, there are still expectations attached to them where no amount of status or high salary can erase. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s long essay in The Atlantic brings this point home, literally; she had to give up her dream job as Director of Policy in the State Department because her two young sons were struggling without their mother (her family lives in New Jersey and she commuted weekly to Washington DC for her job). But to save face for her husband, because let’s face it, all that means is he couldn’t hack it, he couldn’t be a tenured professor at Princeton University and look after the needs of his two sons at the same time, something his wife manages everyday without giving it a second thought. Slaughter said she had to return to her tenured position at Princeton University because she had been absent for two years and they can take away her tenure if she doesn’t return. It’s a load of crap. If Anne-Marie Slaughter was a man, it would have never occurred to him to quit his dream job and return home to manage his children, his wife would be expected to handle it, and if she couldn’t she’d be seen as the loser, a mother who can’t handle her responsibilities. She’s supposed to know how to do that without the involvement of her husband.

While Slaughter correctly pointed out the way the American workplace is structured is what contributed to her dilemma, she didn’t point to its biggest culprit which caused her to abandon her dream job and that is capitalism. It is the exploitative nature of capitalism which caused Slaughter to nearly crumble under the stress of her dream job and being there for her family, not the ‘corporate work policy’. We can argue that the way companies and their work policies are set up suits men and single women more than women with children or people with other care taking responsibilities, meaning if we institute more flex hours for those that need it, more people would be able to participate in the workforce. If we can only get out of the rigid nine to five concept of work, we can get more people involved in employment. But the baseline question is still not addressed, who made it a rule that people must sell their labor and time to earn a living. Depending on how much wages we are able to earn, that then determines how much goods and services we can purchase and the quality of life we can lead. How much wages one makes has no correlation to how hard they work or how many hours they work. If that were the case, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet wouldn’t be the richest people in the world. They do not work, they’ve stopped ‘working’ decades ago, they let their capital, which is earned on the backs of workers from all over the world, work for them. They haven’t done an honest days work in decades. Like a good capitalist, they let their money work for them while everyone else works backbreaking hours to just pay rent and put food on the table. And somehow we are brainwashed into thinking all of this is normal and this is the way it should be, because capitalism is deemed the most efficient way to do business, the cream rises to the top, the deadwood float until a tide sweeps them way and the rocks just sink right to the bottom.

Capitalism is a drug, a powerful toxic drug. In the West, Capitalism is equated with affluence, freedom and democracy. Socialism and communism is equated with poverty, oppression and authoritarianism. Capitalism is a system of exploitation, where the ruling class owns the means of production and exploits the middle class and the middle class exploits the working class and the lumpenproletariat. Hence poverty will always be a byproduct of capitalism. Capitalism cannot survive but for the poverty it creates. No amount of reform can change this simple fact, neoliberals can dress it up however they like, but at the end of the day, someone, somewhere, will have to work slave wages in deplorable conditions in order for capitalism to thrive.

I believe socialist feminism can free the world from oppression. This might sound naive and fanciful but I believe it wholeheartedly. Women as a category, is the largest group of oppressed people. Women as a group have been oppressed by the patriarchy since the dawn of time. To liberate women is to liberate the oppressed. But liberation cannot come at the cost of some women over other women. The price of women’s liberation cannot be paid with the blood of underprivileged women so privileged women can enjoy freedom. The first wave and second waive feminists addressed specific rights such as voting, property rights, right to self-agency, to be able to open bank accounts and purchase property without a male co-signer. Then it was right to our bodies, access to birth control and safe abortions so we can have agency over our bodies. If women in Third World countries and the Middle East are being bombed and subjected to unbearable conditions and oppressive authoritarian regimes installed by Western governments, then the liberation of women in the West is meaningless. Freedom and liberation cannot come at the expense of other people, that is not true liberation. Liberal feminism and their brand of Lean-In feminism has no place in socialist feminism. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean-In method of female advancement in the corporate world has no meaning to working class women all over the world. Feminism which doesn’t address capitalism as the root source of female oppression has no place in socialist feminism.

Women will not experience true liberation unless the underlying economic inequalities is addressed, which again goes back to capitalism. Even if men and women made equal amount of wages for the same work, we are still beholden to wage slavery. Our time and labor can still be exploited and stolen from us, the issue of surplus value still isn’t addressed. Capitalists will still control the means of production, which will determine how the rest of us live.

I do not know what kind of a world my children will inherit. There will be no jobs left for them. Everything will be automated, digitized and robots will take over most of the jobs that used to be done by humans. They have two options, join the army of part time contract workers soon to be the surplus army of laborers or they can become capitalists where they become the oppressors. Both of those options are unacceptable to me, so I became a leftist to show them another way. When I am long gone, they can continue the fight. I hope they sharpen the guillotines and use them when the time comes.

Dear Senator Sanders: The Time for Universal Healthcare is Now.

I wrote and sent this to Bernie Sanders through the Contacts page on his official website. I encourage everyone who cares about Universal Healthcare for all to write to Bernie Sanders. Since Trumpcare failed and not likely to be resurrected any time soon. Now is an opening for Congress to draft the real alternative to Obamacare.

The link to his Contacts page is here:

Dear Senator Sanders:

Now that Trumpcare has failed spectacularly with no hope of it ever resurrecting itself, I implore you to introduce legislation which provides Medicare for all. The time is now. The time has come. There will be no time other than now where this legislation is the most necessary, most imperative when compared with other legislations. None.

Access to good healthcare is a universal human right. It should be freely given on demand, no questions asked. Lifesaving medications should be dispensed on demand, not after checking with the insurance company and collecting a copayment.

Families are choosing whether to put food on the table or visit the doctor or to fill that prescription, this is unacceptable. Senior citizens are choosing whether to eat or pay for their medication, this is disservice to them. Healthcare and pharmaceuticals for profit is an abomination. For publicly traded corporations to profit from the illnesses of their customers is an abomination. To put a price on a person’s health and deciding whether that person deserves to live or die based on how much money they have or don’t have is an abomination. People filing bankruptcies because they’ve had an unfortunate medical emergency and are uninsured and do not qualify for state Medicaid is an abomination. Young people crowdfunding on social media to pay for their medical costs should cause an outrage of biblical proportions.

Access to quality healthcare is an inalienable human right. It is a feminist issue, it is a child advocacy issue, it is a family advocacy issue, it is a senior citizen issue, it is a civil rights issue and it is a LGBTQ issue (this group receives some of the shoddiest medical care when they do get access to healthcare). It is lifesaving for the most vulnerable and marginalized people. Access to healthcare and medicines on demand is a non-negotiable inalienable human right. What use is all of our amazing medical innovations and advancements if the people that need it the most can’t get access to it. What good are medical breakthroughs if only the richest 5% can enjoy it?

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be a step towards the direction of getting everyone covered under one form of insurance or other. If your employer doesn’t provide health benefits and you are too poor to purchase health insurance on exchange, you can get covered by Medicaid expansion (if your state agrees to sign on). While the intent may be there, the implementation has been a disaster. The minute that insurance companies see that they are not profitable being in the market exchange, they start charging higher premiums, increasing deductibles and reducing benefits. Some companies have withdrawn from the exchange all together which then reduces the pool of competition so that the remaining insurers can charge whatever they want, which renders the idea that of competition will drive prices down to be moot. What’s worse is doctors started cherry picking which insurance they would accept and which they wouldn’t and many doctors in my home state of California has refused to accept private insurance regardless if it was purchased on or off exchange, they only want the big group plans sponsored by employers as those almost always guarantee coverage and payment. So we are back to a two-tiered health coverage again: those with good coverage and those with poor coverage.

What we need and what we needed all along is a Single-Payer system, Universal Healthcare, or Medicare for all. And we shouldn’t have to wait until we are the age of 65 with one foot in the grave to get it. This means-testing method has failed on almost all social welfare programs. Those who are vulnerable but not quite poor enough fall through the cracks – and this group is only increasing every year.

To those who say ‘how will we pay for it?’ or ‘we can’t afford it?’ or the better question ‘who will pay for it?’ I would point to a small island nation 90 miles south of Florida, a country that has been under economic embargo for decades; Cuba has managed to train an abundance of good doctors to where they go to other developing and third world countries to train other doctors. Cuba provides universal healthcare for all, and this is supposedly a bankrupt country that is barely hanging on and is about to collapse every other month. There are many problems in Cuba but not having access to a doctor and medical services when you need it isn’t one of them. They have also made huge innovations and progress in cancer treatment and managing chronic illnesses.

Our medical cost for services and medicines are through the roof. They are at inflated prices, put there for profit, they are not the real prices. An Epi-pen doesn’t cost $600, it doesn’t even cost $100 to make. A packet of lifesaving 10 dose Tamiflu doesn’t cost $145, it should be free. A bag of antibiotic IV doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars, it costs tens of dollars at most. When hospitalized, a single tablet of Motrin or Tylenol doesn’t cost $15, a whole bottle doesn’t cost $15 at the local drug store. A routine stay at the hospital shouldn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. A ride in the ER van shouldn’t cost hundreds of dollars out of pocket. These are routine drugs and services which have been in use for decades. Profit in medicine and healthcare services needs to be abolished, just like we don’t expect the local fire department to make a profit when they are putting out fires and pulling people from burning buildings. It is immoral and unethical to make a profit off of someone’s illness.

I am fully aware the bill may not pass and it may not even make it out of committee and for sure the senior leadership in both parties won’t be behind you advocating for this bill and for sure Trump will veto it. But it’s worth a try to get some senators behind you, and it is worth convincing them that if they lose their reelection over their support of this bill, it would have been for a good cause – advocating on behalf of the people.

You ran for president on this platform and this resonated with your supporters, because it is the necessary and humane thing to do. For all the millions of people who voted for you in the primaries, myself being one of them, please draft the Single-Payer legislation for them.



Moonlighting (1982) – Polish Working Class Comes Full Circle

Moonlighting (the movie not the insipid television show) by Jerzy Skolimowski where Jeremy Irons plays an illegal Polish worker in London is a story that foretold the Polish working class of the 20th century. For better plot analysis and a better marxist reading of class struggle and conflict between capitalists and communists, I’d refer you to this:

Moonlighting is a deceptively simple movie. At the end of 1981, just before General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law on December 13, four Polish construction workers, Banaszak, Kudaj, Wolski, and Nowak fly from Warsaw to London on a tourist visa to renovate a town house for a man referred to only as “the boss.” By hiring Poles and paying them in Zloties, Nowak explains, the boss can get his house in London for a quarter of what it would have cost to hire English workers and pay them in pounds. On the surface, it looks like a good deal for the four men. They get a trip to London. They get paid above the rate they would be getting paid back in Poland. They each get a 20 pound bonus. But the devil is in the details. “The Boss” has given Nowak 1250 pounds for expenses. It sounds like a lot of money. Nowak remarks that it’s more than he’d earn in 25 years in Poland. The problem is that the 1250 pounds must cover not only building supplies, but food, clothing, entertainment, and the 80 pounds Nowak will need to pay the four 20 pound bonuses. Technically it should be enough, but there’s no margin for error. The slightest mistake means they come up short.

Jeremy Irons, a quintessential Brit in real life, has transformed himself brilliantly into a Polish migrant worker: anxious, insecure (financially and emotionally) and always having to think three steps ahead so he and his crew don’t go under. He underwent this transformation without resorting to crude stereotypes of Eastern Europeans yet he doesn’t come across as a Brit pretending to be a Pole either, he is thoroughly convincing as a Polish migrant worker. It’s one of his best films yet so few people have heard about this movie.

The movie was set in 1981 which was 23 years before Poland joined the European Union. Poland was given a special waiver so Polish workers did not have to wait the obligatory 7 years before they are allowed to travel to another EU country for work. The difference between the migration of the Polish worker in 2004 and 1981 is in 2004 they could do so legally. Any Pole can book a flight to Germany, France, the UK or any place in the EU they like for the sole purpose of work and they need not have a job lined up in advance to be allowed to make that move. They will immediately have legal residency and can access nearly all of the services of the citizens of that country. One of the premises of the establishment of the EU is free movement of labor to create a more competitive market. By 2015, over 831,000 people living in the UK are born in Poland, they’ve surpassed India as the largest group of foreign born residents in the UK. Many Poles have also resettled in the UK permanently and a second generation of Polish-British children are being born to these emigrants.

Particularly in the case of the UK and Poland, this exchange of labor and capital was welcomed. Many Poles were desperate to get out of Poland and go to UK to earn a living, most importantly, they earn their wages in Sterling, which when converted back to Zlotys is quite a lot. For the British, Polish workers, especially in the technical trades such as plumbing, electrical work and building have similar skill proficiency as British workers, but without the high wages and possible hassle of dealing with British trade unions and British builders. Polish workers will work overtime and on weekends without much complaint.

The EU referendum for Brexit on June 23, 2016, the UK decided to leave the European Union. There reasons were many but on the part of the Leave campaign, emigration was a huge part of the reason for leaving the EU. Many British people feel that the open borders and free movement of labor had gone too far, and with the major economies in the single currency and single market collapsing, many Europeans migrants chose to go to the UK for work. Though not explicitly stated, the large number of Polish emigrants to the UK had become too much of a good thing. They were undercutting the wages of Britons and while the Polish working class are getting ahead in Britain, the conditions of the British working class have gotten more desperate. There were also huge debates about emigrants using the NHS and claiming benefits and contributing to the budget deficit (which upon closer examination and research, EU migrants claim lesser benefits than Britons).

Had Nowak and his men been born a generation later, they could have come to England to renovate the town home of “the boss” legally, with some protections from the law. They could have demanded to be paid in Sterling and Nowak’s crew would have had recourses when Nowak was detaining them against their will inside a London town home. Nowak and his men were the precursor to the legal migration in 2004. Poles also came to the UK for better jobs, better wages to support their families back in Poland. Poland on the other hand, was happy to export their unemployment to richer Western EU countries. Poland is only a short plane ride away, unlike Mexican, Central American or Filipino migrants in the United States – where going home isn’t an option because they can’t safely return, Polish emigrants can visit their families any time they like. They can enter and exit any EU country safely, the set up is perfect for someone to go to the UK to work and send money home every month but not lose the connection with their families.

Moonlighting is about the concept of solidarity (or lack of in this case) amongst the proletariat; but it can be expanded to include solidarity of all the proletariat of the world. In order for the Revolution to succeed, the proletariat must recognize who the class enemy is and find solidarity to fight that enemy together. Nowak certainly showed no solidarity with his fellow proletariats, in the end he was stealing from their wages too. The three men who played Nowak’s working crew had no lines in English (the plot of the story is Nowak is the only one who speaks English), a few lines in Polish, but besides being the muscle in the renovation job, they had no other purpose, they were the average worker looking for work everyday; there are millions like them, not just in Europe but all over the world. Except just when you are about to write them off as just workers who only know how to follow and not lead, they kick the the living daylights out of Nowak when they find out that he kept the very important news of Poland being under marshal law declared by General Wojciech Jaruzelski from them. It was a well deserved thrashing.

Jerzy Skolimowski argues that the biggest oppressor of the workers is not capitalism, but each other. Given a chance to get ahead, any worker will grab the opportunity by the horns and gladly sell his fellow worker with whom he’s worked alongside with many years down the river; and it doesn’t even have to be for a lot of money. This is probably how the British working class view the Polish emigrants who undercut their wages which would then help destroy what’s little left of their unions. If capitalists can hire a lot of workers to do the same job and a fraction of the cost why bother negotiating with trade unions?

But I argue that it is precisely of capitalism that forces workers to treat each other this way. It’s the classic divide and conquer. Capitalists toss a few crumbs to a few workers to get the other workers in line. These ‘crumbs’ are mere pocket change to the capitalist, they won’t miss it but to the proletariat, it’s everything. It is capitalism that destroys solidarity of the people, not the other way around. Confucius said before we lecture people about having good morals, they must first have warm shelter and food in their bellies; hence it is why poverty is the worst kind of violence. It makes good people desperate, forces them to do desperate things to feed themselves and their families, things they normally would not do had they had their basic needs met.

If Nowak had a child, his child would be eligible to legally emigrate to the UK for employment, but with the Brexit referendum of 2016, Nowak’s grandchild could possibly face expulsion from the country that they were born and raised and consider home; modern events have again proven, ‘the workingman has no father land.’ Polish emigrants who’ve settled in the UK for over 20 years may be forced to uproot again and go back to Poland where there are probably no jobs waiting for them and they’ve grown accustomed to British lifestyle. The Polish working class of the 20th century with their relationship to the UK labor market have come full circle.

Post Election Meditations

I haven’t written in a while. It’s been an unduly germ-ridden winter where bugs and viruses were passed around like candy. There’s also not much to say so quickly post-election. The ‘news’ and blogosphere is already over saturated with post-election analysis and post mortem. It was fun to sit back and watch the Clintonites go completely hysterical at the loss of their anointed queen; to see a group of people, so devoid of self reflection and their total inability to accept any form of constructive criticism. The concept of if you put forth a corrupt candidate, run a bad campaign, you have a good chance of losing to your even worse opponent is alien to Clintonites.

The election of Trump is a ‘mask coming off’ moment for me. It’s the moment where you get to see at once where people stood on not just on the political spectrum but where they stood on issues such as racism, immigration, militarization of police and overall bigotry of the other. The election of Obama shattered the notion of the ‘moderate Republican’, there were none, there were racist Republicans like Jeff Sessions (our new Attorney General) and there were the dog whistling Republicans. The loss of Hillary Clinton revealed liberals to be militant right-wing Democrats, where instead of self reflection they turned to state-run fascist institutions for answers. It was the Russians and the director of FBI who caused her downfall, not her bad campaign and total disregard for the left wing of the Democratic party. The CIA suddenly became a credible institution which establishment Democrats turned to for help. Because the CIA declared, after a short investigation, that Russia did indeed tamper with US elections (as if the CIA never lies), therefore they are to blame for Clinton’s loss, we are to accept it as fact. To question the veracity of the CIA report, is anti-Hillary, sexist, racist, anti-establishment (fill in all the words that Clintonites used to describe Sanders supporters) and we get all we deserve under the Trump regime.

Since Trump’s win, all Republicans who hold public office have jumped on board his administration, even those that gave the harshest criticism of him during the campaign, which proves my earlier point, there are no ‘moderate Republicans’. Anyone who ascribes to the right wing world view is elitist, racist, warmongering white supremacist. The Democrats on the other hand doubled down on what got their ass handed to them in the first place, capitalism, neoliberalism, interventionism and reinforcement of the mass surveillance state. The party that was suppose to (but never really have) serve the working people have finally given up that mask too and showed their true colors.

I am an armchair or observing socialist or leftist at best. My political inclinations always lean left, despite being surrounded by right wing people most of my life. I don’t believe that the United States will ever adopt socialism never mind communism, but with recent events unraveling, it’s not a matter of choice, left is the only place to go. The conservative right and moderate right have exhausted itself and has revealed itself to be as ugly as Donald Trump. No one should be shocked that Trump was able to swing it and win the election, the US is this ugly underneath. When Democrats and Republicans alike rips off their mask, what is revealed is Donald Trump; an  elitist, openly racist, bigoted, Islamaphobic ranting compulsive tweeter at 3 am. While Democrats and liberals may not be openly racist, sexist or misogynist but the ire and hatred towards the working poor of this country, a demographic they’ve long abandoned, for voting for Trump is just as ugly. The founder of Daily Kos wrote an article expressing glee at coal miners losing their health insurance because they voted for Trump is one example of liberals ripping off their masks and their distain for the working poor is exposed. Matthew Yglesias, another Clintonite and liberal defending the inadequate safety rules in Bangladeshi garment factories as “OK” because different places need to have different rules or in other words, lives of poor Bangladeshi garment workers working for American companies at slave wages don’t matter as much as a GM factory worker in Detroit because Bangladesh is a poor country and they are lucky to even have a job and the US is a rich country and therefore US workers deserve better. If there is a more disgusting defense of neoliberalism, capitalism, wage theft, labor theft and murder it is summed up here:

Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.

On a more local level, the election of Trump has emboldened some closet racists to come out of the closet. People who I thought were ‘nice liberals’ have revealed themselves to be ugly and bigoted. The few police officers I know peripherally have rejoiced at the prospect of finally being able to do their jobs properly and not fearing suspension, termination or civil lawsuit every time they discharge their firearm. Corporate lawyers and those that work in finance finally admitted that the financial crash of 2008 wasn’t their fault but the fault of ‘irresponsible and stupid people’ who took out mortgages they couldn’t afford and feel personally aggrieved that they’ve had to take the blame and had to live modestly for fear of being scorned for their wealth while everyone else was struggling.

The conspiracy of  normalizing elitism, bigotry and racism was fomented by both liberals and conservatives. While the conservatives banged on about how black and brown people were taking advantage of government welfare; hence the relentless argument for small government (note: the largest group of welfare recipients are white people) and how the Mexicans were stealing our jobs, the liberals sat there and promoted neoliberalism even though it was causing massive poverty and killing people across the world. They reinforced the idea that rich people got their money and deserved every penny of it because they worked hard, which is indirectly saying those who are poor don’t work hard enough. There is nothing more violent than to be poor, to stay poor, to raise children in poverty. When you are poor you are invisible, no one cares what you think and you have to beg for scraps. When you are poor, member of a minority, undocumented, your existence becomes a danger as the recent ICE raids at school gates have shown. Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants isn’t about undocumented people, it’s about ethnic cleansing of the “bad hombres” he doesn’t like. Illegal immigrants are not only confined to Latinos, there are undocumented people of every race, including Europeans who have overstayed their visa which would categorize them under undocumented; but they are not the target of ICE raids, only brown people are. While the courts were successful in shutting down the Muslim Ban, it isn’t as successful with deportation cases are they are usually heard individually.

The thing more ugly than Trump is the faux outrage of liberals, deeming Trump’s actions ‘un-American’, calling him corrupt and a stooge of Russia. Where was the outrage at Hillary Clinton’s lies? Where was the outrage when the DNC denied Bernie Sanders a fair chance to win the nomination? And before this election, where was the liberal outrage when Obama deported almost 2 million undocumented persons or dropped 27,000 bombs in Muslim majority countries in Middle East and Africa, when Obama bailed out the banks and let American middle and working class suffer? Obama blamed Republican obstruction, but Trump was waving that executive order pen like a magic wand to get what he wants, did Obama forget how to compose an executive order and sign his name on it? What about when Obama expanded the mass surveillance state in the name of national security and terrorism threats and his relentless persecution of whistle blowers who challenged the big brother state? Now with the recent State of the Union address by Trump, fawning liberals and conservatives on CNN have declared Trump to be ‘presidential’ for the first time, all because he praised the heroism of a fallen Navy Seal during a botched raid in Yemen which killed scores of civilians that included women and children and the real ‘terrorist target’ they were after wasn’t there and the raid yielded no significant intelligence and a few days before Trump blamed the generals for its failure. A few words of platitude in front of the Navy Seal’s tearful widow makes him suddenly presidential? Perhaps the most nauseating is the normalization of the blood drenched war criminal George W. Bush. Michelle Obama and Ellen Degeneres have both been photographed hugging him in the most affectionate manner; as if he were nothing more than a loving grandpa enjoying his retirement. Iraq is still reeling from the illegal invasion initiated by George W. Bush. Presently, Iraq’s PMU forces (People’s Mobilization Unit) are in a ferocious and courageous battle to retake the Western part of Mosul from ISIS terrorists.

The two-party system has collapsed. There’s no where to go but left or self-destruct. The jig is up, the poor and downtrodden are no longer convinced that their poverty and their plight is a result of their laziness or lack of ambition, it’s the result of capitalism and neoliberalism. The ruling elites put them there and the Democrats failed to help them.

Those that rolled the dice and voted for Trump, either to piss off the establishment, their parents or to give their middle finger to liberals, hoping against hope that Trump might not be as atrocious as he appears, that he might actually care about working class whites (Trump made it clear that he advocates for white America), they’ve been scammed too. Trumped increased the military budget by $54 billion, that huge infrastructure project he talked about to put Americans back to work hasn’t materialized. He spent far more energy fighting the courts for his illegal executive order than drafting the infrastructure bill. While he can win an election with bombast and braggadocio, he’s unable to govern because has no loyalty from the executive branch of government who are leaking embarrassing details of his administration left and right. He’s begun an ‘investigation’ on the leaks, but good luck, the federal government is a behemoth and they are all united in their dislike of him.

The best thing for the United States is for the rot in government to be exposed, let the state collapse, let the unjust fascist institutions collapse, so that the left, the People, the working people, can pick up the pieces and rebuild.

Winter’s Bone (2010)

In this last election, Hillary Clinton supporters went out of its way to convince voters that rural poor white America doesn’t exist, and if it does, it’s their own fault. They failed to capitalize on their ‘white privilege’ and make something of themselves. Instead they choose to regress to their sexist and racist past and voted for Donald Trump instead. And if the consequence of voting for Trump results in them losing their medical subsidies, food stamp subsidies, or whatever little welfare the government gives them, it’s their fault too. They deserve to die, because they chose the arrogant ferret who told them what they wanted to hear over the arrogant neoliberal warmonger who looks down on them.

Winter’s Bone was released five years before Anne Case and Angus Deaton’s study, Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century, which talks about the exact demographic Winter’s Bone depicts.

It is set in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains (home state of President Bill Clinton), a rural, poor, decaying farming community where the main economy isn’t farming but meth cooking. They are the hill-billy version of Walter White from Breaking Bad. It stars a pre-Hunger Games fame Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, a seventeen year old high school student who lives with her mother and younger brother and sister. Her mother is mentally ill and has been prescribed heavy doses of medications which don’t work. She is a zombie, rarely speaks and is incapable of fulfilling her parenting duties. Ree has become her caretaker, and the caretaker of her younger siblings. They are destitute, they’d be going hungry if their neighbor Sonya didn’t share her meat and vegetables with them. The small circle of kin and neighbors are aware of Ree’s plight and most try to help out in small ways by slipping her an odd $20 bill here and there. The only thing the Dolly family has of any value is their house and woods attached to it.

Ree Dolly gets a visit from the sheriff one morning asking if she’s seen her father Jessup Dolly recently. She says she hadn’t seen him in years. He is a well known meth cooker in the area and has been arrested and jailed multiple times. The sheriff proceeded to inform her that for his last arrest, he made bail by using their house as collateral and if he doesn’t show up for his court hearing in a few days, the bail bonds man will come and seize their home and they’ll will be homeless.

Ree begins a frantic search for her father, calling on all the people who might have seen him recently, starting with her father’s brother Uncle Teardrop. She was met with hostility from Teardrop Dolly and he grabbed her by the neck and told her to drop the whole thing and don’t go looking for her dad. She ignored that and then went on to all the other kin (it is implied in that small Ozark mountain community are all related to each other somehow). She even tracks down her dad’s former mistress, the mistress said she saw her dad a few weeks ago but he was with some shady people she’s never seen before and that was the last she heard of him. Every other person (other meth cookers she knows her dad associated with) all slammed the door in her face saying they can’t help, even when she is in this desperate situation. And she was warned repeatedly by very dangerous and powerful local people to ‘drop it’. Her uncle Teardrop finally told her that in his last arrest, Jessup Dolly was facing 10 years prison and he couldn’t face that, so he became a police informant, a snitch. And Teardrop was just trying to distance himself from his brother so that he doesn’t get killed. When Ree learned that her father became a police snitch she is almost certain he had been killed. And if she can provide proof to the police and the bail bond company that her father was dead and therefore cannot show up to court, she’d keep their house.

Despite repeated warnings to not go near the town’s main drug lord, Thump Milton to inquire about her father’s whereabouts, she didn’t heed that warning. Since he won’t open his door to her, she went and sought him out at a public place, at the cattle auction market to get his attention. This action forced the women (as per hilly-billy honor code, you don’t snitch and men don’t harm women) associated with Thump Milton to beat up Ree Dolly. A bunch of middle aged women dragged a 17 year old by her hair and beat her to a pulp. Then as they stood around to discuss what should happen to this wayward teen who can’t follow simple instructions (and the option of killing her was discussed). Ree, bloodied, swollen and bruised said, “you can help me, have you thought of that”? At this moment her uncle Teardrop showed up and ‘saved’ her by saying his niece will be his responsibility and she won’t talk.

The most heartbreaking scenes in the movie is not when she gets beaten to a pulp, or when her uncle gets violent with her, or when various members of the community instead of trying to help her stay in her home offer to take in one of her siblings and splitting up the family; or even the middle age men leering lecherously at her hoping to take advantage of her plight. The most heartbreaking scenes are when she begs her mother to help her to decide whether they should sell the valuable woods behind their property before the bail bond company take everything or should they try to fight the bail bond company? She tells her medicated catatonic mother “please help me, just this one time, please”. She is a child begging her mother to be a parent. The second heartbreaking scene is when the same women that beat Ree to a pulp decide to help and bring her to the body of her father. He is thrown in a shallow watery grave in the middle nowhere, in the middle of winter. The women brought a chainsaw with them with the purpose of cutting off the hands of Jessup Dolly to give to the police to run fingerprints, proving that he’s dead. They told Ree to do it, she couldn’t, so she held her father’s corpse so they can cut off his hands. After this gruesome task was done, Ree shed a tear. It was tears of loss of her father, who was a criminal and abandoned them but her father nonetheless (the audience was not informed what kind of father he was before he disappeared), the final reckoning that she is now truly alone, a young girl with her sick mother and two younger siblings, she has no more male protection. We are reminded in these two scenes that Ree is just a child herself. She desperately needs her parents but they are missing in action, and for whatever reasons are unable to step up to their responsibilities. The burden on her young shoulders is too much for a 17 year old to bear. She got their house back and even got back some much needed cash because an anonymous person used cash to put up a portion of her dad’s bond as the deed to their home was insufficient. So, for the time being, they will not be made homeless, and with their criminal father out of the way, life could go on. But the stark reality is, unless she puts her mother in an institution and moves out of the Ozarks with her younger siblings, in twenty years time, she will turn into the hardened middle aged women who beat her up. Her little brother could become a criminal like their father, her younger sister could be pregnant before she is out of her teens.

She, like them, will realize there are no real opportunities besides back breaking farm work and cooking meth. Eventually, out of survival, she will somehow get involved with meth cooking, even if she doesn’t become addicted herself. In a scene with her uncle Teardrop, he takes out a bag of white powdery substance and puts it up nose right in front of his young niece (drug use is a way of life, there’s no need to conceal it from young children), he asks her ‘have you developed a taste for this yet’? She said ‘no, not yet.’ He gave her a knowing look saying you will one day. It’s inevitable if you choose to stay in the Ozarks. The contrast of Jennifer Lawrence’s face with that of her co-stars couldn’t have been more different. Lawrence still had the cherubic youthful looks of a teenager, even if an overburdened one, there is still hope, sincerity and kindness in her eyes and heart. But one day, the deep lines of a life of hardship, bitterness, of being left behind by everyone else around them will show on her face, like all the others.

This small Ozark mountain community is not unique. There are hollowed out communities like this in America everywhere, known as sacrifice zones. These are the people that liberals and neoliberals wrote off en mass as a surplus of useless people, the sooner they disappear the better it is for everyone. These are white working folks, they had their chance to make it, but they blew it, so now they need to go away. They are unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary. This little movie staring the future A-list superstar Jennifer Lawrence drew almost no attention from the public, though she was nominated for an Oscar for the role and this movie paved her way to her Hunger Games stardom (another movie about a teenager sacrificing herself for her younger sibling).

The story, the script, the excellent cast of characters in this small, dreary film about rural poverty and crime in the Ozark Mountains is more contemporary of the times than any big budget movie from Hollywood can offer.

They will come for us.

I am no political theorist nor political scientist. I can’t definitively say if we are in a real, by the text book definition of a fascist regime. For that, I’d refer you to to Robert Paxton’s ‘The Five Stages of Fascism’ for better clarification. But by taking recent events at face value, it sure feels like it. The over-militarized police and border control officers have become even more bold and militant, answering only to Donald J. Trump. Some have ignored court orders, denied people illegally detained at customs their right to see their attorney and refused elected officials to see the people detained. I wish I could say I am surprised.

Donald Trump is a piece of shit. Most people I know believe the same, but that’s not the tragedy here. The real tragedy is the only other alternative to Donald Trump is the corrupt and warmongering Hillary Clinton. It’s a race to the bottom. When voters are presented with two bad choices of which level of hell you want to descend to, it’s not a choice.

Many people who agree that Donald Trump is a piece of shit also just want to keep their heads down for the next four or eight years until it blows over and hope that we still have have some semblance of our lives and sanity afterwards. Many people feel powerless against the behemoth that is Trump and his criminal cronies at the top. But instead of fighting back and resisting, their plan is to stay clear of the warpath and hopefully escape unscathed when all of ‘this’ is over.

I was one of those people sleepwalking through life. I had the privilege of doing so. Through the Clinton, Bush, Obama years, I could effectively keep my head down and pretend none of it was happening to me personally. I still have this privilege today, one of pretending nothing will happen to me or those immediate to me, if I so choose. But I can’t. Donald Trump is trying to ethnically cleanse this country of minorities. He’s starting with Mexicans and Muslims (even though Muslims aren’t a race or an ethnic group but is anyone who adheres to the religion of Islam, he doesn’t care), he’s going after Native Americans by polluting their land and water source. Trump is getting by the skin of his teeth with Jews only because he’s using his hapless son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka Trump (a converted Jew) as a firewall against charges of anti-semitism and he promised Benjamin Netanyahu to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, so at least on the surface, despite hiring Steve Bannon, a known white nationalist and anti-semite as his chief strategist, Trump is not labeled as an anti-semite yet.

The immigrant group he hasn’t yet gone after are the Asians. And being Asian and involved with Asian immigrants myself, many are taking the dodge the bullet path, and it’s unacceptable. Because Trump hasn’t named and shamed an Asian group yet, they think they are ‘safe’ from his wrath and anti-immigrant policies. Trump has made some remarks about China and how they cheat on trade and currency manipulation, but as far as targeting Chinese or Asian immigrants in America, he hasn’t said anything about them yet. Indonesia being the largest Muslim country in the world, who also have a significant amount of extremist activities was left off of his travel ban. Trump is an opportunist, the seven countries on the list of persons banned from entry are economic non-entities in terms of trade with the US, he can afford to incite their ire and wrath. But Asia is quickly becoming the economic center of the world, it would be stupid to incite their wrath.

One quick study of history one will see that fascists spare no one. They are bloodthirsty hunters who show no mercy. Trump’s white nationalist agenda is clear. Trump is preparing to ethnically cleanse this country of non-white people. And if he can’t get rid of them, he’ll deprive them of resources and shift it to white people. This is his ‘Make America Great Again’ promise. It’s make white America great again. The factory jobs he claims he’ll bring back, it’s for white people. Plum government posts and jobs, those are for white people, especially positions which requires them to enforce his illegal executive orders. The few benefits which he won’t slash, those are saved for white people. Everyone else can either accept the new world order or go back to where they came from. This is unacceptable. We will not be silent.

The minorities he hasn’t targeted yet, he will come for us. When he is done kicking out the Muslims and Mexicans and putting the fear of the state police in their hearts, he’ll come for the rest of us. My family is Asian. I am a child of a first generation immigrant and my children are third generation immigrants. We are seeing American born citizens being detained at airports with immigration officers questioning their loyalty to the United States and how they feel about Donald Trump all on the account that they are not white and have travelled to a Muslim country. Today it’s Muslim countries, tomorrow it could be countries who Trump perceives to be ‘cheating’ economically or manipulating their currencies.

I can no longer ‘mind my own business’, go about my daily life uninhibited by what’s going on. And for the minorities currently in the ‘privileged’ groups, those who still can board airplanes and deplane without hassle and harassment; those days may be numbered. We have an obligation to help and stand up for those who have no voice or are too scared to speak. Every small act of solidarity matters. Every small act of resistance counts towards the larger resistance. We can’t depend on any political party, least of all the Democratic Party to help those being targeted by Trump’s fascist policies. We only have each other.

Adolf Eichmann: The Banality of Evil

“The Banality of Evil” is as important as it is today than it was in 1960 or in 1940. Scores of ‘well meaning people’, people who normally wouldn’t hurt a fly are still executing and enforcing illegal, inhumane, unenforceable criminal orders handed down by the president of the United States. The words ‘by federal mandate’ scares everyone into submission. Some agencies such as state and federal police are created for the express purpose of executing unjust orders, but then you have mayors and state authorities following their federal counterparts blindly, for fear of losing their positions or getting into trouble themselves. Now is a time to take a stand against state sanctioned violence and criminality. If those in power, even if they are just an insignificant immigration officer or airport security officer, don’t exercise that power based on their conscience, based on what’s right or wrong, then what they good for? They are no better than Adolf Eichmann, the man charged with the logistics of executing The Final Solution, the man who swore up and down at his trial what he did was a horrible thing, that he “sinned against God” but because all of it was legal, he, therefore, cannot be charged with a crime carried out under the laws and mandates of a legitimate government (The Third Reich). It was bullshit to those who heard it then in that Jerusalem courtroom in 1960, and it’s bullshit now. Huge crowds of people have gathered at our nation’s biggest airports, showing outrage at our government and support to those detained. Lawyers are offering their time and expertise to prepare unlawful habeas corpus briefs, these are people without a badge or assigned power, what are those in power prepared to do?


Hannah Arendt volunteered to report on Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem in 1960 for The New Yorker magazine, she wrote a series of articles for them, later compiled in a book called Eichma…

Source: Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

Homelessness, Death and the American Nightmare

Photo Credit: Kiran Opal @kiranopal

I wrote about a relative visiting last summer who had addiction and mental health issues. We found out this morning the sad news that he has died. He was stabbed on the night of January 21, 2017 in Honolulu Hawaii, near a homeless tent city. The circumstances of his death are gruesome and tragic. We are shocked and saddened by his sudden and rather unexpected death. Though he has been homeless for a while, Honolulu is a safer place to be homeless than say Los Angeles. In fact, Hawaii is called a homeless person’s paradise, if there’s anything more sickening than that. There is mild weather all year round so they won’t freeze to death in the winter or overheat in the summer . There are many shelters and places to go for meals provided for by the state government or local charities, and they even have places to shower and clean up. Hawaii has the highest homeless persons per capita in the United States. Being homeless in Hawaii, sadly, especially post 2008 recession has become just another fact of life. Homeless encampments and ‘tent cities’ crop up in various abandoned industrial buildings in downtown Honolulu and other public parks. They aren’t subject to police harassment as long as they stay out of tourist areas such as Waikiki Beach and life goes on in parallel universes between the rich tourists who fly in for the weekend from Japan or the Philippines and go shopping and then fly home, the housed and the homeless.

This relative is my husband’s son from a previous marriage. He is my two children’s older half brother. Though his one and only visit in our home was a bit fraught due to his mental health issues, I am forever grateful my children got to meet him. My daughter being older at 4 years old has fond memories of her ‘big brother’. For all of his troubles, mental health issues (he’s a possible schizophrenic), drug addiction and homelessness, he was gentle and kind to his younger siblings. He was always a gentle, kind and sentimental person. He expresses deep love and affection for all of his family and friends. ‘Sweet’ would be an accurate description of his nature. His death, in such a violent and gruesome fashion is devastating for his parents, his siblings, cousins, extended family and friends. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He fell down the rabbit hole and there was no safety net to catch him.

He grew up in a solidly middle class family, he got good grades but somewhere in high school, like many adolescents he began experimenting with drugs and while he had periods of sobriety, full time sobriety eluded him.  It was a roller coaster of drug abuse and periods of sobriety where he had a job, a place to live and functioned normally. In the last couple of years, he began having hallucinations and violent outbursts as a result of those hallucinations. They mimicked symptoms of schizophrenia but it’s unclear if he’s really schizophrenic or the result of his many years of drug taking since the state of Hawaii pours its budget into beautifying tourist areas and not taking care of its people. Like many homeless people, getting in trouble with law enforcement comes hand in hand with being rootless and rudderless. He was under probation when he died. His probation officer was a kind lady who tried to help him, but how does law enforcement expect a homeless person without a car to get to classes, appointments and court hearings on time or at all. Every time he misses a hearing or appointment, it goes against his criminal record. He was in a cycle of getting trouble with the law and being homeless. And in this great nation of ours, having a criminal record basically renders you unemployable for life. He came from a middle class family, became a proletariat and died as a lumpenproletariat.

Over the holidays, when his family and friends in Hawaii couldn’t find him anywhere (he’s normally quite easy find and they bring him food and other necessities and he also goes to a relative’s house to get some of his other belongings and takes showers), I got a bad feeling. In recent months, he’s gone longer and longer before being seen and when he was spotted, he was seen talking to himself or inanimate objects. Even as recent as May of 2016, he had a full time job and rented a room, but as his violent outbursts became more frequent, he lost his job, couldn’t pay his rent and became homeless again. Being an adult who isn’t sectioned by the state, his parents nor his family could do much to commit him to treatment, even if Hawaii didn’t have a waiting list for any type of treatment facility a mile long. He’d have to go voluntarily but the need is so dire in Hawaii, it could be months perhaps a year before he’s admitted anywhere.

Neoliberalism, just like caption suggests, he would score points for being Asian and neoliberals don’t want anything bad to happen to him on the account of being Asian, but him dying a violent and horrific death as a result of being homeless due to mental health issues, having a criminal record and not finishing his college degree so that he can remain in the class in which he was born, well, that’s just too bad. To conservatives he is a ‘loser’, to liberals, he needs more ‘education and training’, to neoliberals it’s just tough luck, social darwinism. Over Christmas dinner, while discussing our concern for not being able to find him, I said that it’s not an accident that our relative and dear friend is in the situation he is in with next to no help besides sleeping in the county jail. He was put there by the 1% and the policies they helped our government influence. The state of Hawaii is flooded with homeless people but its a tourists paradise. Homelessness is at crisis levels. Our friends who live in Hawaii have observed this alarming trend for over one year, yet with all of the empty buildings downtown, all of the vacant boarded up houses, there is no government policy or action to quickly refurbish these places and give the homeless people a permanent bed to sleep on every night and three hot meals a day. How are the homeless supposed to ‘get back on their feet’ if they don’t even have a place to live and regular meals? If they’ve no permanent address or phone number how are they supposed to fill out job applications (assuming there are jobs of course, because according to Republicans and Democrats alike, there are jobs everywhere, you just have to look hard enough)?

And before anyone asks the million dollar question, ‘where are his parents and family in all of this?’ His father and siblings has offered all the help they can, I personally have spent hours on the phone finding a spot for him in rehab facilities and hospitals and trying to get him any type of assistance he can qualify for, people have taken turns going to Honolulu to see that he’s taken care of. He is unable to leave the state of Hawaii until he finishes his probation requirements, but that’s near impossible when you are living on the streets, mentally ill and broke. At the end of the day, he is a grown man, he has a lot of pride, and a lot of shame and embarrassment for his situation, especially when he sees his siblings graduate from college, moving on with their lives yet he’s stuck in a cycle of joblessness, poverty and homelessness, he doesn’t always want our help. Like many people in crisis, when asked how they are doing, the stock answer is “I am fine”.

We have no idea what happened which led him to being stabbed to death, he always had street smarts, he was the kid who could talk his way out of trouble, squirm his way out of tough spots, he doesn’t go looking for fights nor does he get in stupid confrontations over nothing. His father told him again and again, someone comes at you with a knife, run the opposite direction.

I have no answers on what to do, I only have anger and rage. Rest in Peace.

He should have picked up the pitchfork.

As of 12:01 January 20, 2017, we have a new president, Donald J. Trump; the most odious and oleaginous man to grace one’s imagination. How did he get here? How did we get here? It’s the actions and inactions of his predecessor Barack Obama.

“My administration,” the president added, “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

-Barack Obama.

This was all Obama had to say to the greedy bankers sat before him when they were trying to justify why they deserved such high salaries and bonuses after they stole everyone else’s money and homes and got a government bailout. This statement also summarized this whole presidency. That he is a do nothing fence sitter. He tried to govern from the center like a good liberal, appealing to the morals and good conscience of the intransigent Republican party. While the Republican party obstructed and sabotaged, instead of playing their game on their level and strike back with whatever powers being a president affords him; Obama followed the rules, which was to do nothing, and then tell the voters who voted for him ‘sorry, I tried. If you have any issues, take it up with the Republicans.’ In his first midterm elections, he lost the House majority by a wide margin and nearly lost the Senate. He went from having a supermajority on both chambers to losing the majority in one chamber and nearly losing the majority on the other.

So this pattern went on. Obama doing everything half assed, never putting forth the full effort, in the spirit of compromise and finding common ground with his political foes. His so-called signature but about to be repealed domestic legislation the Affordable Care Act is another fine example of fence sitting. Instead of insisting on Single Payer or nothing, he concocted this messy hodgepodge of commingling of private insurance companies with public funds. Instead of insisting insurance companies play ball or the government will go ahead with its own government backed healthcare initiative, he compromised again. Eight years later, the ACA is all but useless, premiums are not lower and people find out they don’t get to keep their doctors unless they pay out of pocket for them. I have personal testimony to this fact. And if someone asks him now about the failure of Obamacare, he’ll say he tried his best with what he had to work with at the time. Not good enough.

Awkwardly, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, not having been in office for even a year, he’s never brokered any peace treaties, the only thing he remotely did which resembled an act of peace was his speech at Cairo University in Egypt about unity between Muslims, Jews and Christians. And the first foreign interview he gave as president of United States was to the Arabic network Al Arabiya (which we know now to be an Al Qaeda mouthpiece advocating for the war in Syria) as a show of good faith to the Muslim world. These combined actions furthered inflamed the claim from the far right that he’s really a Muslim and not a Christian. After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, he’s gone on to bomb seven countries, all of them Muslim, all of them impoverished, brown and black. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “led from behind” – (what the fuck does that even mean?) along with NATO allies and destroyed Libya, now it’s a wasteland, a failed state, infiltrated and occupied by extremists. With Syria, he didn’t take a strong stance against against intervention except by saying “Assad needs to step aside” and by creating an arbitrary ‘red line’, but allowed Gulf mercenaries to send armed gangs to essentially invade Syria. The Gulf States provided the mercenaries and the US sold the weapons to the Gulf states. He gave himself a huge pat on the back when at the last minute he decided to not bomb Syrian army’s positions in Damascus because the evidence for the gas attack allegedly carried out by they Syrian army (the ‘red line’) was not solid and could have been a false flag by the rebels to induce the United States to bomb Syrian army’s positions. So, with less than 24 hours to spare, much to the ire of Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama called off the airstrikes. He’s learned from the lessons of Iraq and decided to let brown Arabic speaking people go to war with each other and topple undesirable regimes rather than US army invading another Muslim country in the Middle East again. This way, there is plausible deniability. And if it all goes sideways, the State Department can blame it on ‘sectarian conflict’. Obama’s one foreign policy winner is the nuclear deal struck with Iran. He did this against the opposition of the Republicans, Israel and various Israel lobbies, which goes to prove, if he really wanted to do something, he can get it done, even in the face of strong opposition. It wasn’t that Obama had warm and fuzzy feelings toward Tehran, but that risking a nuclear war with an oil rich Middle Eastern nation who has the support and backing of Russia isn’t smart foreign policy. Any policy which prevents going to war with Russia or any of its proxies is a good thing.

The biggest betrayal of Obama was towards the middle and working class Americans, the people that voted him into office, the people that supported him in spite of everything. The same people who are misty eyed at him leaving now. Obama bailed out the auto industry but not its workers. The workers were faced with either redundancy, forced early retirement at a fraction of the promised pension or accept lower wages and without union protection (we can’t afford it – he said). When Obama chose Wall Street over Main Street and let people lose their homes despite bailing out the banks who held their mortgages, he betrayed the people. He gave the banks a blank check and then told them to go help the people in need without any preconditions or consequences for not following through. The banks have no incentive nor fear of consequences for not saving people’s homes and they’ve got billions in free government bailout money at the same time. He did the same thing with Israel, he writes them a $38 billion dollar check and then says ‘now, be nice to the Palestinians, don’t shoot innocent civilians and don’t bomb them’. Under Obama the mass surveillance state started by Bush has expanded. When whistleblowers outed the NSA mass surveillance scheme, they were punished mercilessly. Guantanamo Bay prison is still open.  He did next to nothing against police brutality. Aside from offering words of condolence and platitudes, his open support for state sanctioned armed gangs is unwavering. If the issue of police brutality doesn’t hit home with him, then perhaps the accusation that he is detached, aloof and professorial isn’t too wide off the mark. Obama has been known to make good speeches at the right times to diffuse whatever overcharged emotions or events we are mired in, but they usually come after the horse has bolted. And reflecting back upon some of them, they sound downright patronizing and preaching. He deported millions of vulnerable undocumented immigrants back to poverty stricken and unsafe countries. Families are torn apart, lives ruined and disrupted, all to prove to Republicans that he’s tough on immigration. But to deflect from that, he granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children and without criminal records a path to citizenship. Obama did all of these things right under our noses and liberals are wiping away their tears as he leaves office today. Some even go so far as to declare Obama one of the best presidents this nation has ever had. That is unclear, what’s for sure is he is the first Black president United States has ever had and he can rest on that laurel. He’ll always be in the history books for that fact alone.

A combination of all of these actions and inactions angered and inflamed an already agitated nation. Worried about job security, the economy and how will anyone afford a decent standard of living anymore, the Democratic party offered the people Hillary Clinton – a neoliberal warmongering Wall Street and corporate shill, against the people’s choice of Bernie Sanders, who for all his shortcomings at least directly addressed the economic anxiety of the people (which the Clinton people turned it into a racist and sexist message as that’s only geared towards white working class men), where as Clinton babbled on and on about an esoteric form of equality which doesn’t address the income inequality and tough foreign policy. The Republican party had its own mayhem and disorder and they produced Donald Trump. Trump dumbed down the message and the American people by selling them a false bill of goods. Make America Great Again (again, what the fuck does that even mean). Trump will kick out the immigrants, build a wall on the southern border, he’ll bring jobs back (how he doesn’t say, employ them at his sleazy hotels?), and out of a better alternative, people fell for it hook, line and sinker. Trump didn’t win this election squarely and fairly, Hillary Clinton got three million more popular votes, but due to the archaic rules of the electoral college, Trump won the election. But the real story is about half of the eligible voters stayed home, couldn’t be arsed to vote. Hillary Clinton couldn’t do what Obama could, which is bring people to the polls, Obama had volunteers drive people to vote if they couldn’t get there on their own. So between the non-voters, third party voters, and the three million popular votes which didn’t count, we got Donald J. Trump as our next president. Liberalism has failed. Neoliberalism has failed. Capitalism has failed and morphed into fascism. Liberals won the cultural war but lost the political battle.

If Obama had only picked up the pitchfork instead of being the barrier to the pitchforks, even if that action failed and he turned out to only be a one term president, he would at least go down in history as not just the first Black president but also a president being on the side of the working people and not the powerful ruling elite.

ACA: So Much for Keeping Your Doctor


It’s new enrollment season for ACA (Affordable Care Act). It’s time to buy new insurance or switch your insurance or make any type of changes to your insurance. It’s also the time when people hope, with baited breath, nothing changes from the previous year.

I’ve just purchased health insurance off the Exchange for my two children at the rate of $360 per month for both of them. It’s a decent PPO plan with a reasonable deductible, with pretty comprehensive coverage. I could have qualified for federal subsidies, but I chose to forego that and claim my deductions at the end of this year rather than upfront so that I don’t run into problems of certain doctors or providers not accepting my children’s on Exchange insurance. My son at the moment is under the care of several specialists on top his usual pediatrician, I need him to be as well covered as I can afford.

The first shock to my system this year is my pediatrician announced that she is no longer taking individual plans on or off Exchange. She’s only accepting group policies as her in-network. So, this makes my carefully curated and selected insurance policy useless. I am now out-of-network despite my PPO plan. For a simple check up and a vaccination for my two children cost me $757 out of pocket, the billing department from my doctor’s office will submit it to my insurance for out-of-network reimbursement and anything they receive they will refund to me or keep as as ‘credit’ at their office for us to use next time. However, unless a miracle happens, I have to meet my deductible before I get any coverage and/or reimbursement, and I haven’t met my deductible yet. Which then begs the question, what the hell did I get for $360 a month PPO plan that is NOT on the Exchange.

One of the hallmarks or the selling points of Obamacare is 1) It will cost less 2) We can keep our doctor or choose any doctor we like 3) Easy and simple to access. None of those are true. It doesn’t cost less and it won’t cost less in the long run as long as privately held insurance companies are allowed to opt out of the Market Exchange. The Obamacare price model was predicated on insurance companies large and small pooling their resources to form one huge group to offer discounted insurance rates and better comprehensive coverage to patients. This model would work in theory, provided if insurance companies can’t willy nilly opt out when the profits don’t go their way. So far in California, a supposed ‘success’ story of Obamacare; UnitedHealthCare, Aetna and Humana all have opted out of the Market Exchange due to ‘infeasibility’ or translation: not making enough money off of sick people. These also happen to be the three best companies in terms of coverage. And they do not offer individual plans to consumers, they only offer big group plans to employers. Another woman with two small children at the doctor’s office the same time I was covered under the NHL Player’s plan offered by Aetna. Her plan was accepted without a problem. So we are back at where we started, people who are lucky enough to be employed with companies that offer health insurance benefits and are covered under a big group policy get the best access to health care. Everyone else sort of languish between not being able to choose or afford the best care they can get or worse, going on state funded insurance, which can be yanked away by President Elect Donald Trump after January 20th, 2017.

We ‘can’ keep our doctor, provided we pay out of pocket for them. My son who has some immediate health issues he needs to address, all the extras will just have to come out of our pockets. I can’t imagine the stress and anguish of parents with children who have special needs, to have to navigate this income and class driven health care must be disheartening. The whole health care industry is a massive collusion between health insurance companies, big Pharma and state governments who serves as a conduit to allocate those services and resources. State agencies and corporate boards get to decide how medications and health services are allocated, not the actual health care providers. This is a deliberately created scarcity so that health insurance companies and big Pharma with the help and collusion of the government can reap big profits at the expense of sick patients. This is why Universal Healthcare needs to happen and it can’t happen soon enough. The ACA was again, typical of Obama, the slimy fence sitter who wants look like the good guy fulfilling the promise he made to his voters but then not wanting to piss off his corporate donors at the same time. He dangled the Single Payer plan for ten minutes to make it look like this was his original goal but due to ‘factors beyond his control’, he’s unable to implement that. It’s nonsense. We do have a single payer system, for people over 65, it’s called Medicare and guess what, its satisfaction rate from both users and providers consistently rate at 90%, so it works. But the only reason why Medicare lasted this long is because its users are the older white demographic, folks who actually bother to drag themselves to the voting booth for every election, local or national. Politicians know this so they can’t aggressively gut the program yet. But with this new administration along with the shifting demographics from a white majority to a more diverse one in forty years or less, soulless conservatives such as Paul Ryan is looking to turn Medicare into a ‘voucher program’, aka, privatization, aka gutting it, which means the poorest, most vulnerable elderly people will die of diseases which can be easily treated or managed, and worse, die in deplorable undignified conditions. And in light of this, the media is focused on Trump and his alleged prostitutes. Maybe its their goal, so we are so distracted we don’t realize what’s happening to our most prized social services.

City of God (2002) – The Violence of Poverty

It was suggested that I watch City of God after watching Straight Outta Compton, City of God is Straight Outta Compton turbo charged. Straight Outta Compton deals with First World poverty and City of God deals with Third World poverty. While all poverty is ugly and violent, in the Third World there’s an extra layer of hopelessness and despair, a poverty so violent and oppressive that its turned inward and that aggression explodes into outward physical violence.

City of God is a real place, a favela in the outskirts of Rio De Janeiro. In 1960 the government decided to move all of the slum dwellers inside the city to a new housing project away from the city in an effort to ‘clean up’ the city. The residents were provided with housing and basic utilities (water electricity) and education but attendance is not enforced. Other than that they were cut off from government and social agencies, the economy and left to fend for themselves. All the government cared about was that ‘those people’ were out of sight from the Rio city center. Brazil is a racially and ethnically diverse place, but it’s worthy to note that the majority of the residents in the City of God are Afro-Brazilians (black). Brazil is held up as an example of a country where there exists a harmonious relationship between black people and white people (and every shade in between), but Brazil is also one of the countries where the gap between rich and poor is the largest and two-thirds of the poor are Afro-descent. So, yes the black Brazilian may not be randomly stopped and frisked by cops or treated with suspicion on the account of being black, but the black kid goes home to a favela at night and the white kid return to a nice house in the suburbs.

Favela dwellers are usually poor, black, under educated, unemployed and unemployable with no access to the formal economy. Any money or income they derive comes from robbery, stealing or drug dealing. A favela dweller’s chance of getting a proper job with a salary and benefits in the city center is near nil. Those jobs are reserved for the affluent and middle classes, with university degrees. The favela dwellers are the uneccessariat of Brazil. They are surplus army of workers spat out by capitalism. In Brazil’s version of turbo capitalism, they’ve no need for hoodlums. And for a hoodlum to transform into a worker, it’s a near impossible feat. The City of God will always draw you back into the life of an outlaw. One of the tagline of the movie is:

“If you run, the beast catches; if you stay, the beast eats”. 

In other words, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

City of God is a violent film. It’s disturbingly violent, at times it’s overkill. It’s based on a semi autobiographical novel of the same name by Paulo Lins. It is lauded as one of the greatest movies about the world’s poor and what poverty does to people, but one must be able to look past the violence, withhold judgement for a minute  in order to process the message of the movie. The message is poverty is violence. Poverty causes not only misery, death, stress, anxiety but also violence. The grind of having to fend and scavenge for every meal, every life’s necessity will turn the most docile and gentle person into a beast. It is a life of extreme indignity which should not be borne by any human being. To know that your community, your country expects nothing of you but to breed more people like yourself and one day shooting each other to death will turn anyone into beasts. There is no expectation of you ever succeeding in your life besides a life of organized or petty crime.

The narrator of the movie is young man called “Rocket”, he is a photographer for a local newspaper. By luck he has avoided the pitfalls and didn’t become a hoodlum. He was able to finish his primary and secondary education and enter the formal workforce, even as an unpaid photographer. He makes friends and acquaintances who do not live in the favela and has had a taste at normal life. The movie begins as Rocket inadvertently walks into a gang war and he had his new camera on him (given by the newspaper editor) and as he’s photo-documenting the shoot out, he takes us back 20 years to tell us the story of the main characters. He grew up surrounded by crime, petty and organized. The organized crime in the favelas is normally drug dealing; petty crimes include holding up stores, motels, restaurants, gas delivery trucks, anything which involves cash transactions. This is their only economy, the only way for them to have access to any cash, which without, one can’t live.

The gang leader of City of God is a nasty fellow called Little Z, he is a childhood acquaintance of Rocket. Little Z committed his first mass murder before he hit puberty and did so with glee, to show up the older boys who were making fun of him. He took all the money stolen from that mass murder and ‘disappeared’ with his friend Benny. Many thought they died due to their young age but they didn’t, they kept their heads down until they came of age and Little Z came back into the favela with Benny and one by one bumped off his ‘business’ rivals and became the drug kingpin of the City of God. The streets of the favela are so violent that the police enter with caution, and there seems to be an endless stream of weapons. Children as young as 8 or 10 years old have a gun. This is where I find the narrative of the film goes overboard. There is a gang of young boys called The Runts who routinely rob and hit business establishments under Little Z’s control. Wrongly believing that their status as children will protect them from the wrath of Little Z, they couldn’t be more wrong, Little Z to teach those rascals a lesson (to not fuck with Little Z’s interests) forced one child to shoot another or else he’ll die to prove his loyalty to Little Z and to make sure they never try something so stupid again.

This is where I may get accused of having First World middle class privilege. It is my belief that as humans we have some control over our decisions, no matter how small or insignificant. The residents of favelas are controlled by a monster bigger than they. They didn’t choose a life of poverty, indignity and oppression, and should they act out accordingly to redress that, I find those actions justified and mandatory. But asking a child to shoot another child to teach them a lesson is a choice Little Z made out of the monstrosity of his soul. He’s a psychopath. On top of making one kid shoot another, he shot another young child in the foot all for fun, to teach The Runts a lesson. I don’t even expect him to have empathy and think “I was that Runt once”, that’d be asking too much, but he knows that his actions were beyond the pale. Just like when he raped Knockout Ned’s girlfriend because she spurned his advances saying she has a man already, Little Z, feeling insulted, raped her in front of Knockout Ned, and then proceeds to kill Ned’s brother and father and an uncle. This action forces Knockout Ned, who considers himself a ‘worker’ and not a hoodlum to retaliate and get revenge, he joins forces with Carrot, the only white gang leader in the favela and plans to take out Little Z, which results in a massive gang war that Rocket walked in on and documented.

Throughout the film, I kept wondering where on earth did they get their endless supply of weapons. After all, no one goes to the favela unless they live there or they go there to score drugs. We find out it’s none other than the fine policia of Rio De Janeiro. In a deal to get the cops to leave the favela alone an arms deal was struck. Rocket photographed Little Z handing cash over to the police for purchase of weapons. The photograph alone can bring down the local police department, not that it would be a huge shock, Brazil is known for its corruption. The newspaper Rocket interns for, their journalists have never been able to get inside of City of God, and upon finding out Rocket was born and raised there and still lives there, they saw it as an opportunity to get pictures of the gang leaders and gang activity inside the favela. It was a career advancement opportunity for Rocket, even for a lowly paid part time internship, his transformation to ‘worker’ would be complete. He would be legitimate, he’d be part of the formal economy, a contributing member of society – something that capitalism values above all else until they decide they don’t want you anymore.

At the last moment, upon deciding which photos to use for the newspaper front page, instead of choosing the photo of the cops exchanging money with Little Z, which is the real story, he chose to use a picture of Little Z’s dead body in an alleyway somewhere as front page news photo. Signifying the end of an era and beginning of another. Rocket chose his career over exposing the truth. He’s now a participant in the system that oppressed him and his family and friends.

This is a difficult movie to watch, the running time is over two hours, and the directors force you to confront the reality of Third World Poverty, the ugliness, the violence. Usually films about the poor, the director puts a human and loving face on the poor. They are poor but they are kind, they look out for each other, they take care of each other, they are kind to each other; the directors don’t do that here. The people of the favela are nasty and horrid, just like how they grew up. There is very little kindness shown anywhere in the movie. My first gut reaction when half way through the movie is these people wake up, eat, fuck, get high, go commit a crime and do it all over again, everyday. The young men and women try to seek meaningful romantic relationships with each other, but they are obstructed by the forces in City of God. The women want the men to become workers and leave the favela, but where would they go where they can get all their basic necessities met without resorting to violence. These men are unemployable, discarded and ejected from the formal economy. When Benny met a nice girl Angelica not from the favela and as they prepare to leave the favela for good and live a rural farm life, at the farewell party, Blackie’s (another gang leader) gun goes off by accident and kills Benny. But even before a bullet stopped Benny, Little Z tried to stop Benny from leaving, Little Z has no other friend besides Benny, but Benny’s mind was made up. Benny was Little Z’s gatekeeper, when Little Z got too out of hand, Benny would step in and pacify and diffuse the situation, now he was leaving. But sadly, that small desire of living on a farm somewhere with a girl you love was out of reach.

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
To be beating on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fucking with me cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searching my car, looking for the product
Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics
You’d rather see, me in the pen
Than me and Lorenzo rolling in a Benz-o

Fuck tha Police by NWA 

I avoided watching this film because it is too close to home. I grew up about less than one hour away from Compton California but it might as well be another planet. The children of the middle class suburbs of California know of a place called Compton but it’s to be avoided at all costs. Nice middle class children have no business going to Compton. Anyone who has ‘business’ or acquaintances in Compton is seen as suspect. You only go to Compton for nefarious reasons, you are asking to be mugged, carjacked, shot or killed.

The stereotype of Compton as a gang infested place where it’s an open battle field between the various gangs, when in truth the biggest gang out is the Los Angeles Police Department. As middle class and rich kids were getting high and getting up to no good in the suburbs and behind mansion gates, the LAPD chose to go after poor black families in Compton. Compton is an urban wasteland. Jobs are few, high school drop out rates are high, teenage pregnancy rates are high and premature death rate is also high. A great many people in Compton depend on some sort of public assistance to get by and high school students are often bussed to better school districts to attend high school. O’Shea Jackson (aka Ice Cube) , member of NWA was one of those students. It was a place where people went to rot or be killed, either by gangs or police. There are no hopes and dreams for the residents of Compton, except to get out of Compton and move on to greener pastures. It is no different with NWA.

NWA (Niggaz with Attitude) were born of this environment. They were all boys who were forced to grow up too fast and saw too much in their young lives. In order to survive they adopted the gang culture, the rules of their society. It’s not always pleasant or pretty but it was kill or be killed, there’s no middle ground. While rival gangs battle it out on the streets, they knew who their real enemy is, who the real gangster is. And that’s the brutal fascist force known as the LAPD. Their environment was not such if you stayed out of trouble cops will leave you alone, no, the cops went out of their way to look for trouble when there was none. But the boys of NWA are lucky, they lived to tell the tale. Michael Brown of Ferguson Missouri wasn’t so lucky, neither was Laquan McDonald of Chicago. The cops in Los Angeles during the late 80s weren’t so brazen to open fire and kill people in broad daylight, yet. They have no problem roughing them up, pushing them to the ground, smacking them around, maybe break a few bones; but to put bullets in the back of someone’s head as they are running away? Not yet. As a result, the members of NWA: O’Shea Jackson (Ice Cube) Andre Young (Dr. Dre), Eazy-E (Eric Wright), DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby), MC Ren (Lorenzo Patterson) and Arabian Prince (Kim Renard Razel) lived to tell the tale and released their controversial and brilliant album Straight Outta Compton. We all recognize the jam of Fuck tha Police when we hear it, but few really took those words seriously.

Straight Outta Compton doesn’t glorify gang life or made it seem like one easy cake ride or even seen as anything cool or to aspire to. It showed the gritty heartbreaking side of living in gang infested neighborhoods, where no one cares if you lived or died. But it fell short in driving home the radical message of the convergence of capitalism and the necessity of the police state. Ice Cube being the most radical member of the group, had no problem giving it straight, telling it like it is. He doesn’t sugar coat his words or actions. He was accused of anti-Semitism when he mentioned the ethnicity of their former manager in a response to a ‘diss song’, when asked if he was “anti-Jew” he said no, he’s just anti the one Jew Jerry Heller. When a record executive failed pay Ice Cube his royalties at the promised time, after releasing a successful album and after informing the executive that he’s just purchased a home and has a child on the way, and after trying to reason with the record executive and only to get blown off with corporate bullshit (“I am sorry, I love to help but my hands are tied”), Ice Cube comes back with a baseball bat and smashed all of the glass office furniture in the record executive’s office. Ice Cube saw him for what he was, just another thug in a fancy suit inside a fancy office suite, so he reacted like a thug from the streets of Compton not to be messed with. He got his check.

Dr. Dre showed his entrepreneurial side early. He saw the potential for rap music going mainstream before the other group members did. The others originally wanted to make music for the ‘hood. Dr. Dre in Eazy-E saw raw lyrical talent, who could write and produce great rhymes. The members of NWA were a gang of brothers, childhood friends from a rough neighborhood, who were going to tell people outside of Compton what it was like growing up in Compton. But like every monkey wrench in a movement, someone always comes in to divide and conquer. Talent agent Jerry Heller spotted Eazy-E’s talent right away and decided to be his manager only. Through that arrangement Heller could take a bigger piece the pie and he convinced Eazy-E to stall the other guys for as long as he can so they can keep the early profits of the album Straight Outta Compton to themselves longer. Immediately Ice Cube and Dr. Dre knew something wasn’t right, but being a businessman Dr. Dre didn’t want to rock the boat at the wrong time, in the middle of the rise, Ice Cube got into a few verbal confrontations with Heller about a management contract where he would see a piece of the royalties as he’s also wrote a lot of lyrics to their most popular songs including Fuck tha Police; but he was blown off with “it’s being worked on”. But he also bid his time, taking Dr. Dre’s advice.

Heller sand bagged until the other members of NWA were so desperate for a paycheck and that was when he presented each member with a paltry check along with a ‘contract’ of their future earnings. To get the check, all they had to do was ‘sign the contract’. Every one of them signed except for Ice Cube. Dr. Dre knew better than to sign but he had a young child at the time he needed to support and saw no other option. Ice Cube left the group after the promotional tour for Straight Outta Compton and signed with another label and became a successful rapper, actor and producer in his own right. Dr. Dre enlisted the help of the notorious and infamous Suge Knight to look over his contract and realized that he’d been screwed. Suge Knight used his muscle to get Dr. Dre out of that contract and he and Dr. Dre started Death Row Records. While Eazy-E may have looked like he got the best deal, we later find out that wasn’t the case either, his funds were mismanaged by Jerry Heller and he was signing checks and documents without reading them. Eazy-E for a while lost touch with his best friends, which is hard for the sensitive Eazy-E to bear and he later finds out Jerry Heller had been misusing his earnings too, he fired Jerry Heller before his death. NWA, for all their street smarts and raw artistic talent and even natural business acumen, had no knowledge about how contracts were enforced and executed. Never mind not having a law degree, most of them didn’t even graduate high school. When they wanted to consult their own lawyer before signing, Jerry Heller talked them out of it.

Jerry Heller is the sleazy capitalist, dividing and conquering the solidarity of the workers for his own benefit and gain. One of the most compelling scenes in the movie is when they were recording the Straight Outta Compton album in Torrance (a middle class neighborhood of Los Angeles) and while on a smoke break someone called the cops on them, saying there were suspicious gang member looking men loitering outside. A black sergeant showed with with 2 other white cops. The black cop, perhaps he is showing off to his white colleagues and decided to ride the boys of NWA even harder than the white cop. He demanded that they face down on ground and be cuffed and patted down and verbally abused the boys. It was none other than Jerry Heller who came to their rescue. A white man rescuing young black men from the jackboot of a fascist black cop. But that same white man is scheming against young men he’s trying to rescue at the same time. The workers face oppression from both ends, the capitalist and the police force which enforces the capitalist system.

The first half of the movie carried the message of how capitalism doesn’t foster creativity and growth, it kills it via divide and conquer. The climax of the movie is when NWA was warned by Detroit PD that if they perform the song Fuck tha Police, they’d all be arrested and jailed for inciting a riot. The police were more concerned about their reputation and not about keeping the peace at the concert venue. Of course no one in the audience was going to incite a riot over that song, the police was going to incite a riot and make it look like NWA did it. No self-respecting artists would adhere to those demands, so not only did NWA perform Fuck tha Police, they performed with extra passion. In that sequence we see  police departments for what it is, just another cog in the capitalism machine. Soldier men carrying out orders for the capitalists to protect their interests and property. The authority of the police only work if the general public accepts and respects the authority, otherwise they are just a bunch of assholes with a gun and badge and someone else with a gun can overpower them retaliate. Police departments do not exist to protect and serve the general public, just the rich against the poor.

The second half of the 2 hour and 30 minute movie went against what the first half was trying to portray. The second half of the movie depicts how Dr. Dre started his own successful label after leaving NWA with Suge Knight, but when things went really wrong with Death Row Records (due to illegal activities of Knight) he was smart enough to walk away with nothing. He let Suge Knight keep all the artists, their contracts, masters and future earnings. The movie didn’t say so, but Suge Knight is long known to be a LAPD informant, a snitch; going against him can bring on serious trouble for yourself. Dr. Dre decided it was better to start over than to get dumped in a ditch somewhere. Fast forward to 2017, Dr. Dre is a superstar producer and multi-millionaire, Ice Cube is a well respected actor, rapper and producer and a millionaire. Eazy-E tragically died of AIDS in 1995 but before he died he reconnected and made up with his old friends from the hood, after he fired Jerry Heller and reformed NWA.

One note about the actor who played Ice Cube in the movie. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the real Ice Cube, even the timbre of his voice, the way he spoke, down to the minute mannerisms; it was as if Ice Cube himself went back 25 years in time to play a younger version of himself. When the movie was over and the credits rolled, it turns out it was O’Shea Jackson Jr aka Ice Cube Jr who played the role of his father. Jackson Jr didn’t just mimic his father in the movie, he transformed into his father.

The members of NWA didn’t set out to be radicals or even controversial, they just wanted to tell their truth to the world. They warned us about the abuses of police in 1988, many didn’t take them seriously, dismissing them as a bunch of thugs and that’s why the police targeted them. Fast forward to 2015 when the movie was released, after the deaths of Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice and countless others; “Fuck tha Police”.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt: By Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco

If we need proof that America was never great to begin with, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco is that proof. This book doesn’t go as far back as the 1800s to the days of slavery, not even the 1960s during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, this book is a current account of the abuses of the US government against the citizens and people of this country.

Hedges and Sacco visit Pine Ridge Reservation South Dakota, Camden New Jersey, Welch West Virginia, Immokalee Florida, Liberty Square New York (Occupy Wall Street). Their reporting on these places took place in the last few decades, some as recent as the last five years. The people who gave testimony to their suffering are still alive and still suffering from the abuses of the American corporate class sanctioned by the government.

Those of us who are still lucky enough to be in the top 25% of the upper-middle class often wonder how we can impart to our children how the other 75% live, without going into long winded lectures about the starving children in Africa which would then solicit eye rolls, they can read this book. It is very easy to read, there are many illustrations, it’s written in a novel-like narrative style without jargon, what’s more, after reading this book, I can bring my children to visit these places. They still exist. The suffering of these places still exist (except Occupy Wall Street protests), the people who are suffering still exist.

The places Hedges and Sacco chose represent pockets of forgotten America. Pine Ridge Reservation represents all the Indigenous Americans suffering, languishing and forgotten on ill maintained and underfunded reservations, where poverty, unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction have blighted whole families and whole communities. Family social services on Pine Ridge Reservation are overwhelmed and underfunded with scores of families needing assistance with alcohol abuse, sexual abuse and domestic abuse caused by the genocidal policies of the US government. Camden New Jersey represents urban decay, the urban poor in America’s major cities. Those hidden in plain sight who are forgotten, ignored and deliberately overlooked in favor of more attractive demographics and locales. And when it suits local politicians, the urban poor are trotted out like show ponies during election time as a pawn or tool to get votes and after the election they are put back in their urban prison forgotten and neglected again. Immokalee Florida represents the rural farm migrant workers from Mexico and Central America, who are literally working in slave like conditions, with sub-minimum wage, long brutal hours in the hot sun, in unsafe conditions handling hazardous materials, so that the rest of us can purchase groceries at reasonable prices. If American farm workers were paid the minimum wage with 8 hour work days and overtime pay, these huge industrialized farms would go out of business or the price of food would be unaffordable to even more people and government would have to subsidize part of the cost of food. Welch West Virginia represents the white rural poor, coal mining communities, people referred to as hicks and rednecks with missing teeth and can barely string a proper sentence together, derided by the liberals and exploited by conservatives. Mining by blowing off the mountain tops with dynamite and heavy machinery to strip coal instead of using human labor to dig for coal has devastated the region. It is devastating not just in economic terms, but environmentally as well. The water from most of Southern West Virginia are undrinkable, their air is polluted with soot, dust and noxious chemicals produced from blowing off the mountain tops. Where there used to be over 140,000 coal mining jobs are now reduced to under 15,000. Residents who fight back against the environmental warfare unleashed upon them are forced to choose between further economic ruin or health and environmental ruin. It has divided the residents of these communities, which is just what the big coal companies want, divide and conquer so they can take everything while everyone is fighting each other, dying from lung disease, cancer or drug and alcohol addiction. Also, the Appalachian mountains are some of the most beautiful parts of this country. West Virginia was one of the most picturesque and lush states but now with coal companies blowing off the mountain tops to extract coal, arial views of West Virginia Appalachia show vast craters of dirt where there used to be mountains. Big coal companies have raped the land, left it exposed, filled it with toxic waste and chemicals and people dying in big numbers. These are what Hedges and Sacco call Sacrifice Zones, sacrificed at the alter of capitalism.

These four pockets of America consist of people the government, now almost entirely controlled by corporate interests have forgotten, left behind and wish would disappear so that they don’t have to figure out what to do with them. Indigenous Americans, just let them drink to death. The residents of Camden, make their conditions so miserable, they’ll just kill each other. The undocumented aliens and migrant workers, work them to death or make their living and working conditions so unbearable that they’ve no energy left to protest and returning to their home countries isn’t possible either because then they’d all starve. Former coal mining communities of West Virginia either put up with poisoned air and water and meet a slow and painful death from lung disease or cancer or they can drink, drug themselves to death; either way, they get out of the way and won’t complain about how their pristine mountains are being blown off, how their water and air are being poisoned and those still with houses and property left are now virtually worthless because of the polluted surroundings.

The ruling class used to at least try and placate and patronize the working class, the unnecessariats and throw them a few crumbs here and there, now they don’t even bother, they provide ways for them to die and disappear; the faster the better. The Republicans don’t care what happens to brown migrant workers, Indigenous Americans and the suffering of black people, and they prey on the the social conservatism of Appalachian coal miners to get their votes and then abandon them to the big coal corporations when the election is over. The liberal elite on the surface care about women and minorities if only to further their neoliberal agenda, but they’ve totally written off the working class white people as a lot of ignorant, racist, bigoted, toothless folk who were born white but didn’t capitalize on their privilege and instead sat in their parents basement and moaned about how immigrants stole their jobs. The Democratic party, the party they used to look to for some releif is now turning against them too, deriding their ignorance and backwardness, blaming them for their own misfortune.

The Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17, 2011 in New York City. The protesters attempted to physically Occupy Wall Street as a protest to the economic havoc it wreaked on Americans and the world, the chickens have come home to roost at the scene of the crime:

The devastation on Pine Ridge, in Camden, in southern West Virginia, and in the Florida produce fields has worked its way upward. The corporate leviathan has migrated with the steady and ominous thud of destruction from the outer sacrifice zones to devour what remains. The vaunted American dream, the idea that life will get better, that progress is inevitable if we obey the rules and work hard, that material prosperity is assured, has been replaced by a hard and bitter truth. The American dream, we now know, is a lie. We will all be sacrificed. The virus of corporate abuse— the perverted belief that only corporate profit matters— has spread to outsource our jobs, cut the budgets of our schools, close our libraries, and plague our communities with foreclosures and unemployment. This virus has brought with it a security and surveillance state that seeks to keep us all on a reservation. No one is immune. The suffering of the other, of the Native American, the African American in the inner city, the unemployed coal miner, or the Hispanic produce picker is universal. They went first. We are next. The indifference we showed to the plight of the underclass, in Biblical terms our neighbor, haunts us. We failed them, and in doing so we failed ourselves. We were accomplices in our own demise. Revolt is all we have left. It is the only hope.

Hedges, Chris; Sacco, Joe (2014-04-08). Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Kindle Locations 3100-3109). Nation Books. Kindle Edition.

The history books in the school curriculum are complete lies. They teach our children that slavery was a thing of the past and the human rights abuses towards minorities ended during The Civil Rights Movement and that this country has learned from its mistakes and are at a new dawn. This is patently untrue. On top of migrant produce workers working in appalling conditions, millions of Americans are enslaved to wages, the meagre wages of most American wage workers do not earn enough to eat, live and enjoy life. The ruling class has indoctrinated the masses to believe that only the 1% and the upper middle class deserve leisure because they have the disposable income to do so. The rest of us need to work to death because to demand a government that provide its people with enough to eat, live and enjoy life is a mark of entitlement and laziness. The crimes perpetrated against Indigenous Americans are far from over, they are still ongoing as evidenced by the North Dakota Pipeline at Standing Rock. The US government has broken almost every treaty made with Indigenous Americans and even after they were given sovereignty over their reservations, that didn’t stop big corporations from trying to loot the resources on their lands through legal loopholes. The mayor of Camden New Jersey has no control over how tax dollars allocated for Camden is spent, that is determined by the state of New Jersey, whose politics is dictated by corrupt individuals like George Norcross and Chris Christie who’s aim as governor was to divest from poorer New Jersey neighborhoods and then transfer the wealth to middle and upper class towns. The poorer neighborhoods tend to predominately be black or brown neighborhoods too. In the produce fields of Florida and California, scores of migrants and their families slave away in deplorable conditions picking our fruits and vegetables so that the legal residents of America can have access to cheaper groceries. In the coal fields of West Virginia, the coal companies, in collusion with corrupt and bribed local judges will not stop until every last ounce of coal is stripped from the mountains, and they won’t quit until every inch of land and water is contaminated with toxic waste. They don’t care what happens to the people living their nor the environment. 

The truth is, a country founded on land theft and genocide and made itself prosperous on the backs of slaves, could never be great, could never have been great. The country was perhaps founded on some good ideals but those rights didn’t extend to everybody. It’s especially even more erroneous to think that this country is on a path to greatness.  

Amy (2015)

2016 has been an awful year for many, the election of Donald Trump, rise of white nationalism, and just before the year is over, the singer George Michael and writer and actress Carrie Fisher has been taken from us.

I’ve lost track of the In Memoriam a long time ago. I am still stuck on Amy Winehouse. I am aware she died on July 23, 2011 at the age of 27, which in this digital age is aeons ago. Amy Winehouse belongs to the ’27 club’, which to me is just when your body gives up after one has abused it for so long, it’s not some cosmic fate or mystical number to me. It’s biological. A human body can only take so much abuse before it expires.

Unlike many sensationalist documentaries where the filmmaker focuses on the most scandalous and salacious bits of the subject’s life, Amy’s director, Asif Kapadia attempted to show the world the whole Amy, warts and all. Amy Winehouse is not a difficult subject to document, she’s neither reclusive nor shy. She’s a very open and candid person and doesn’t tend to sugarcoat events to make herself look better. And for someone who had such a short life and an even shorter time in the spotlight, she only became globally famous after the release of her album Back to Black in 2006, there was a lot of unreleased unseen footage which the director could draw from.

In an era where singers often lip synch, or use auto tune, Amy Winehouse was a revelation. She was brought up on Jazz music on the influence of her father Mitch Winehouse who was a huge fan of Jazz. Her voice is so crisp, so clear, so emotional. Amy Winehouse didn’t just sing Jazz music, she studied it and lived and breathed it. One of her band members said she had a PhD in Jazz music and often gave out ‘homework’ to her band members by requiring them to listen to Jazz albums and provided reading materials for them. Her first album Frank was a Jazz album she wrote herself and was named after her favorite singer Frank Sinatra.

Amy the movie shed light onto Amy Winehouse the full person, or to be more frank, how she came to be so fucked up, and it had nothing to do with fame. Not even close. Fame may have contributed to her problems, but they were not the cause. Amy came from what’s best described as an upbringing of benign neglect. Her parents were absent. They were loving, physically present but emotionally absent. The best way to describe her mother Janis Winehouse is a dingbat. She is a loving but vague woman, who has medical issues of her own (multiple sclerosis) and an unfaithful husband who was already gone before he packed his bags and moved in with his mistress. Amy poignantly said in one of her voice recordings “my dad was never there even when he was here”, when Amy and her brother were misbehaving at home and giving their mother a run around, her father never stepped in to discipline them, “didn’t even tell us to not be little shits”. Amy was also a strong willed child and her mother often caved to her daughters demands, regardless of how unreasonable or inappropriate it was. Janis Winehouse admits as much, she was totally helpless against the strong will of her daughter. She even suggested that her daughter’s frequent outbursts seemed like a form of Tourettes. When Amy told her mother that she was eating and throwing up her food as way of controlling her weight, instead of seeing the early dangerous signs of bulimia and taking her to a doctor, her mother thought it was a “phase” and that it would pass. When Amy’s father finally moved out of their family home, Amy began to show signs of depression and begun self-harming, her mother let a psychiatrist put Amy, then 12 years old on antidepressants (very dangerous for children under 18), and this is on top of her untreated bulimia. Amy had a warm and loving relationship with both of her parents, but she also knew they were not reliable parents whom she can turn to for help.

Janis and Mitch Winehouse failed to see what everyone else could see was wrong their daughter, and that is she (along with her brother) needed parental guidance, of any kind. Some force in their lives to say a firm ‘no’ when they were out of hand. All of those outrageous behaviors are just a test of boundaries to see how far they could push, and as we now know, it’s pretty far. There were no boundaries. When Amy became famous and her substance abuse issues spiraled out of control to where she was losing contracts and gigs, she had one chance to go to rehab, her managers asked Mitch Winehouse to step in as that is the only person that can make Amy do anything. But in that critical moment, where he could have stepped up and be a proper father to her, he failed her again, he said she didn’t need rehab. She was just upset at her breakup with her boyfriend and she’ll be fine with some rest. Many that knew her saw that to be a fatal mistake. It was the one and only chance where Amy was amenable to rehab without conditions. In her song Rehab, she writes:

They tried to make me go to rehab
I said, no, no, no
Yes, I been black
But when I come back, you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time
And if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab
I won’t go, go, go
Her life went from out of control to completely off the rails when she met her future husband Blake Civil. They were a tumultuous match, it was a ‘relationship’ (if one can call it that) marred by fights, infidelity, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and violence. It was Blake Civil who introduced her to hard drugs, prior to meeting him she mostly drank and smoked weed. She became a full blown addict, slurring her words and wobbling down the streets of London with curious looking white substances at her nostrils, even losing a tooth at one point. She went from a girl with a quirky unique sense of style; heavy winged black eyeliner with that huge beehive wig and a big smile to a disheveled unkempt mess. Her father tried to get her into rehab then, to no avail. She first demanded to be in same rehab as her husband, Blake Civil, and then they both left rehab together within days.
Out of that tumultuous relationship with Blake Civil came one of the best albums ever made in recent times, Back to Black. It’s a 10 song track of a toxic relationship gone horribly wrong. She manages to convince you that getting involved with a bad boy is a really bad idea and not many people have successfully done that. The album is a documentary in song on a relationship which was wrong to begin with (Blake Civil had a long term girlfriend at the time) and went ahead with the relationship anyways but he decides to go back to his former girlfriend as he felt it was wrong to leave her like that, Amy Winehouse has a total breakdown for not being the one he chose, even if he is all wrong for her. After the release of the album, Blake Civil wormed his way back in to Amy’s life again, they got married and things went from bad to worse. Amy Winehouse did his ex-girlfriend a big favor.
Amy’s life was full of contradictions. She sees herself as a traditional Jewish mama, cooking in the kitchen for the family (and is quite a competent cook herself), she wants to settle down with a nice man one day and have children and be a “mum” yet all of the choices she makes run in direct contradiction to that fantasy life she has in her head. She also didn’t address how she would function as an alcoholic pot smoking mom. The gods intervened on Amy’s behalf when Blake Civil got arrested for causing grievous bodily harm to another person and got incarcerated, this physical separation led to their divorce, much to the relief of everyone. She spent the last year or so of her life out of the spotlight trying to clean up her act. She kicked her addiction to hard drugs but was never able to quit drinking alcohol. Her death was the result of alcohol poisoning aided by a weakened heart due to her years of bulimia (that thing which her mother called a “phase”).
Amy Winehouse was the one singer I wanted to go see perform live after she cleans up her act. She describes herself as a songwriter first then a singer, I disagree, she is every bit a singer as she is a songwriter. Around the time of her death, she already emotionally moved on from Blake Civil and the Back to Black album’s state of mind. She was ready for a new chapter, if not a more clean and sober one, at least a more peaceful one. But it wasn’t in the cards for her.

Closed Circuit (2013) and the Mass Surveillance State

Closed Circuit is a reactionary post-Sept 11 and more specifically post-July 7 London bombing film set in London. The Sept 11 like event in the UK is the 2005 July 7 bombing, though on a much smaller scale. The July 7 bombings were a series of bombings in the London Underground, during peak traveling hours in the morning that ultimately claimed 52 victims. The bombings were carried out by Islamic extremists in Britain. Islamic extremism was always lurking beneath the surface of the poorer London boroughs. There were a series of well known ‘hate-preachers’ that gave fiery anti-West and anti-Christian sermons in the full view of the British public. Due to Britain’s well established free speech laws, authorities were never very successful in convicting these hate-preachers for incitement. And in Britain, they were more successful in recruiting white Britons into radical Islam than their American counterparts. The documentary My Brother the Islamist details the transition of a middle class white British man to his conversion to Islam and then adopting radical Islam to where he feels his life’s mission is to actively wage jihad against the morally corrupt West. The director Robb Leech wanted to explore why his step-brother, someone he grew up with and lived under the same roof for most of their childhood found refuge in radical Islam.

Closed Circuit begins with the bombing of a popular London market called Borough Market where 120 people were killed by a truck bomb. Three men were arrested but two of the three men were killed during the apprehension process and Farroukh Erdogan was the only suspect apprehended alive and he’s been taken into custody and his wife and son are under the guard and surveillance of MI5. The audience does not know how the other two suspect died but that we are told they died during the apprehension process. Erdogan is to be put on trial and will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility or parole if found guilty (there is no death penalty in the UK). Erdogan’s defense is that he doesn’t know the other two suspects well and his only connection with them is that they rent a storage space from him and his only interaction with them is when he collects rent every month. That storage space also happens to be the location where they kept their bombs. Erdogan is no more than an innocent bystander to the bombing. But when his court appointed defense solicitor Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and special advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) begin to question him to prepare the best defense for him, they found their defendant Erdogan less than forthcoming with facts. He almost put up no defense for himself except guilty by association and didn’t seem interested in exonerating himself. He was going to ride through the trial and whatever verdict they come back with, he will accept. He didn’t behave like a man who was innocent and was desperate to clear his name and resume his freedom.

So the solicitors began investigating Farroukh Erdogan’s background and through clever detective work they find out Erdogan is a secret MI5 agent. Erdogan is of Turkish origin and he came to the UK from Germany. He is a heroin addict and was busted on drug charges in Germany. But the real back story is he belongs to a terrorist sleeper cell in Germany and was arrested in connection with another bombing which killed 20 United States servicemen. German and British intelligence authorities found out that Erdogan was just a low level operative who didn’t have access to the leaders of the sleeper cell. So MI5 decided to recruit him to bust other sleeper cells in London using the German connection. It was not an offer Erdogan can refuse because if he does, he will be charged and go to prison and perhaps be deported back to Turkey. Erdogan and his family ’emigrate’ from Germany to Britain with legitimate immigration papers but the solicitor Martin Rose discovers that upon three months after arrival in Britain, Erdogan and his family received full UK residency (it usually takes three years and longer for those with criminal records) and six months later he was driving a late model Mercedes Benz all on income derived from low level heroin dealing, this didn’t add up. Martin Rose and Claudia Simmons-Howe’s go digging further and discover that Farroukh Erdogan isn’t his real name, it’s the new identity provided by MI5 and they found out a ‘special deal’ has been struck between Erdogan and his MI5 handlers that he is to take the fall for this bombing to cover up the fact that the British intelligence service may have used British taxpayers money to purchase the explosives which blew up the Borough Market that killed 120 people. It was an operation that had gone horribly wrong, the bombing was never supposed to be carried out, Erdogan was supposed to turn in the terrorists before the bombing occurred. But the audience is never informed if MI5 is scapegoating Erdogan for this blunder or if the terrorist sleeper cell Erdogan infiltrated double crossed him or if even Erdogan himself double crossed both his handlers and the terrorist cells he infiltrated. The bottom line is Erdogan has to take the fall so that no inquiries would be made into the bombing. And for agreeing to take the fall, his wife and son will be safe and his own life will be spared even if he were to spend it behind bars.

This film is a contrast of the mass surveillance state of the United States versus the United Kingdom. In the US we know we are being digitally surveilled but we’ve no proof of it happening in real time. There are security cameras which record footage in large public places such as subways and train stations, government buildings or department stores, all of which informs us that we are being watched and videotaped (as it is illegal to secretly videotape or tape record another person without informing them). But in the UK there are CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras everywhere, especially in the tubes, bus stations, major train stations, street corners, road intersections, everywhere. The British people know that when they step out their front door they can potentially be recorded by CCTV and their whereabouts that day could be known by pressing a few buttons. It is precisely under these circumstances solicitors Claudia Simmons-Howe and Martin Rose do the investigation on their client. They were not only watched by CCTV but throughout the duration of the trial, they were being watched by MI5 as well. They hide in plain sight, they hide when everyone including cameras are watching their every move. In order to orchestrate a secret meeting, Martin and Claudia decide to attend the same soccer match so they could get lost in a stadium of 80,000 people and in the middle of the soccer match disappear behind the bleachers out of sight of any cameras and exchange information (according to British law, when a trial involving national security and classified information is concerned, the defendant on top of their solicitor also gets assigned a special advocate and they may not meet in private once the trial is commenced because only the special advocate may see the state’s classified evidence against the defendant, the defense solicitor may not). The MI5 tried to keep these two solicitors from asking too many questions and just represent their client in his ‘simple defense’. When they realized they were being ‘managed’ by the British Intelligence Service on how to do their jobs, they discovered the government was trying to cover something up. Despite warnings that their personal safety may be in danger if they veer off course, they don’t relent.

The British justice system (just like the US) is shown in a contradictory light. They pride themselves on having a transparent process but there are closed sessions when discussing classified materials, the public are informed that a ‘closed session’ in judge’s chambers is taking place but cannot divulge the people in the session besides the judge. The judicial process is claimed to be just and fair but the defense attorneys representing the defendant are being steered and told how to do their jobs. For every breach of rights granted by the constitution, there is only one response: national security. For the sake of national security all jurisprudence developed over the last 200 years can be thrown out. For the sake of national security the defendant’s rights can be curtailed and the outcome of the trial manipulated. For the sake of national security, sacred rights such as habeas corpus and innocent until proven guilty can be suspended indefinitely. Suspects may be tortured and abused against the laws of the nation they are being tried but all of it is being done in the name of national security. Those who invoke abuse in the name of national security also defend their actions by suggesting their actions ‘save lives’, which is ironic in Closed Circuit as the movie opens with a massacre at a public market, possibly at the negligent hands of the British Intelligence Service.

‘Tis the Season

It is The Season. The season to be merry, jolly, overeat, over drink, over indulge in ways we normally wouldn’t nor shouldn’t. It’s also a season of undue, self-inflicted, unnecessary stress.

The stress that the turkey or ham won’t cook in time for Christmas dinner, the stress of in-laws visiting, the crazy uncle, the cousin who doesn’t wash on a regular basis and you hope that for Christmas, they, out of some sense of decency for The Season, they’ll wash and show up in a presentable manner.

During The Season, we are pressured into having around or being around people we don’t like and normally would do anything to avoid, but because it’s The Season, we must, out of some arbitrary sense of goodwill and obligation, tolerate people we don’t like, even if it’s just for one or two days. I think this is the stress that irritates people the most. It’s also what ultimately gets to me.

People work themselves into a frenzy over food, wines, spirits, seating charts, whom to invite and being a diplomat to avoid blow ups. But why? Christmas holidays apart isn’t it hypocritical to be nice to someone you usually don’t have time of day for the other 364 days of the year? This mentality is not unique to Christmas. This mentality is prevalent in the Chinese New Year holiday every year too. Growing up, my grandmother banned us (yes, she physically and verbally banned us) from having a cross word or unkind feelings against another person, especially people in our family. Any whisper of complaint about someone we don’t like, she’d immediately hush us and say ‘It’s New Year, stop it.’ The reason for this are many. First, it’s considered bad luck or inauspicious to wish bad thoughts on others or oneself during this annual almost sacred holiday. Second, it’s also a holiday promoting togetherness and family harmony. Specifically in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and any other country where a dominant Chinese population is present, people get 7 to 10 days paid vacation during Chinese New Year for the sole purpose of allowing people to return to their families and celebrate the new season (Spring) and new Year. Thirdly, it’s a ‘new year’, it’s also a time of renewal. Out with the old and in with the new and this includes emotional baggage, grudges, unkind thoughts and feelings towards oneself and others; failure to do this can bring the bad baggage and the bad luck associated with it with us into the new year.

So Americans whipping themselves up into a holiday frenzy of trying to appease everyone and be the best host possible is understandable to me. But how much of it is driven by unrealistic expectations from society and commercial marketing of how a ‘good’ Christmas should look? We all sigh and moan about our in-laws or the creepy uncle who tells racist jokes when he’s drunk, but yet, we still bust our behind to make everyone happy, even at the expense of ourselves. As a hostess for several Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, I fell victim to this. On top of making sure my house is perfectly decorated, tidied, all the lights on, making sure the food and drinks are in order, by the time the guests arrive and we are ready to enjoy the food I prepared, I just want to call it a night with Netflix and a bottle of wine on my nightstand. I realize that everyone is having fun except me, which is what the aim of every good hostess is, making sure all of her guests are happy. As a young unmarried woman, I fancied myself a mini-Martha Stewart hosting fabulous dos and get togethers, when I became a married woman with a house to which I can host parties in, I realized I liked idea of being a Martha Stewart more than the reality of being a Martha Stewart. I was rubbish at hosting people I didn’t know well. I am not a natural conversation starter and I find myself refilling my wine glass too often hoping the evening would pass faster.

My idea of a good Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is a potluck style dinner with lots of wine with my closets friends, people I’ve known a long time, where I don’t need to stay on neutral topics and avoid discussion of politics and controversial subjects, where we can get rowdy and loud without judgment and do and say as we please. This is precisely what I did for this Thanksgiving, it was the best one I’ve had in years. For Christmas we’ve been invited to a relative’s home where other guests might include a corporate lawyer and police officer. I am deciding if I should do the polite thing and stay on neutral topics or go nuclear. I am trending towards the latter.

Happy Holidays!