Ransby on the Reality Behind Smollet

February 28, 2019


15 Years Ago, at the Academy Awards

February 24, 2019
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO TODAY, we were at the Oscars with “The Weather Underground,” nominated as Best Documentary that year. The night before, at a roaring celebration, the film-makers rehearsed their acceptance speeches, sadly never given because the film didn’t win. Bill passed away months ago, and Sam sent me these notes just now:
Sam Green: Shame on you Mr. President!!!! . . . . just kidding . . .
(big laughs)
Bill Siegel: A film like this only gets made with the help of hundreds of people. You know who you are. There’s no way we can thank you all right now – we’re not even going to try – but we are going to be thanking you every day for the rest of our lives.
SG: A former member of the Weather Underground once told us they didn’t set out to make a movie, they set out to make a revolution. And we want to dedicate this award to the revolutionary spirit.
BS: Please understand us. For us, that’s about compassion, not violence, and it’s definitely not about war, it’s about love. I have a two and a half year old son, and I love my boy with all my heart. And I want my boy to grow up in a world with much more peace and much more justice than the one we’re living in right now. And I’m hoping that this year we can all work together to bring the love home and begin making that world.
SG: And a great first step would be voting George Bush the hell out of office!
(thunderous applause! . . . or alternatively, deafening boos)

A reminder to progressives and activists, radicals and revolutionaries:

February 24, 2019
Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures.
Claim no easy victories.
~~Amilcar Cabral


February 20, 2019


Chicago: VOTE NOW!

February 18, 2019

CHICAGO elections: Since some of you asked, here’s my nightmare scenario: A runoff between Bill Daley and one of the other banksters or rich ripoff artists. He will sell-off the public space to private industry and the rich, continue acting as if public education is a product to be sold at the marketplace, and he’s entirely committed to ineffective and discriminatory law enforcement including the militarization of the cops. So here’s a smart guide: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NN9clyiiHKQBGoRS0QybgOfwitRe7loIkm8kBFtt5lA/preview#heading=h.twsj3a6x3qd7

Old and Older

February 11, 2019
Bruce Thomas gave me this earlier today:
“Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven’t committed.”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Invasion and Occupation: As American as Apple Pie

February 10, 2019



Who can object?

Well, me. I can and do object.

OK, if by civil we mean everyone should try to be polite, honest, and fair, sure, I don’t object. Go for it.

If we mean we can agree to stop at red lights, and to drive on the proper side of the road, OK, great.

But why would an Abolitionist in 1850 be civil…or bipartisan?

Calls for civility in the face of white supremacy resurgent, empire unapologetic and on the march, and catastrophic capitalist environmental collapse at hand seems nuts to me.

When Trump calls for toppling the government of Venezuela, and threatens a full-scale invasion—echoes of the Monroe Doctrine and gun-boat diplomacy—and the entrenched leaders of the Democratic Party stand and applaud, it’s time for civil disobedience, not civility. It’s time to resist.

The worst of bipartisanism has always been war. Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Venezuela, Cuba—wherever the war mongers set their sights, the two greatest war parties in history, Republican and Democratic, will fall into line. They disagree in the margins—one faction may be the “bombers,” and the other the “stranglers”—but they agree in principle: the US is the “indispensable nation,” they claim, different from every other, and with special privileges and allowances. The Repulsicans and the Republicrats agree: the US can invade, conquer, and occupy at will.

“If we have to use force,” former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright famously said, “it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation.” A benign interpretation of that extravagant claim might visualize the country as a shining city on the hill, paragon of democracy and freedom; a more execrable interpretation might see the US astride the world like Colossus, holding itself exempt from international agreements like the international criminal court and the Paris climate accords, above the laws that govern others, particularly concerning the use of lethal force. Because we are the very model of virtue and righteousness, our actions are always good; because our actions are always good, we are not subject to the ordinary rules that apply to all others—we are the indispensable nation. So while Russian meddling in US elections is widely seen as outrageous (and it is), US meddling in elections from Honduras to Ukraine to Cyprus is, if we bother even to notice, not so bad. If the government of Venezuela recognized Hillary Clinton as the legitimate president of the US in 2016 it would be laughable; if the US recognizes the opposition party in Venezuela as the legitimate government, that’s the right of the powerful.  The naked narcissism is breath-taking. 

When Mayor Rudy Giuliani was asked if waterboarding human beings constitutes torture, he offered the American Exceptionalist response: “It depends on who does it.” That is textbook American Exceptionalism, supporting the country and offering a rigorous defense against enemies or detractors. To the American Exceptionalist, actions are held to be good in some hands, and bad in others depending solely on who commits the outrage. Torture, assassinations, bombing civilians, forced confessions, invasion and occupation, involuntary servitude, regime change, hostage-taking, imprisonment without trial—all of this and more is judged according to the American Exceptionalist by a single criteria: who did it? This clearly dulls the imagination, obscures reality, anesthetizes some people, and causes moral blindness or ethical amnesia in others.

Venezuela is the current target of US imperial designs, and we are witnessing a textbook case of the steps toward invasion. (see the brilliant Vijay Prashad: https://portside.org/2019-02-09/12-step-american-method-regime-change)

The history of US military actions is a history of conquest and genocide from the start, and chaos and catastrophe ever since: invading and occupying Vietnam and then intentionally expanding that war into neighboring Laos and Cambodia as retribution for the US defeat, a disaster that cost the lives of six thousand people every week for ten years; unleashing a massive shock-and-awe attack on Iraq in 2003 that led to the breakup of that nation and the rise of several reactionary fundamentalist and terrorist formations including ISIS; orchestrating a fifty-plus-year campaign to destabilize and topple the Cuban government; propping up nasty regimes from medieval Saudi Arabia to apartheid South Africa; overthrowing elected presidents in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973; instigating constant civil unrest in Venezuela year after year including a successful if short-lived coup in 2002; supporting the communist purge and the genocide that followed in Indonesia in the mid-1960s; participating in the murders of the African freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba in Congo in 1961, the Moroccan anti-imperialist Mehdi Ben Barka in Paris in 1965, the internationalist Che Guevara in Bolivia 1967, and the anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau in 1973; exporting billions of dollars in arms to Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and reactionary regimes and right-wing subversives the world around. As busy and ambitious as this looks, it’s only the tip of a menacing mega-iceberg, an emblematic list as opposed to an exhaustive survey.

A pervasive and frantically promoted proposition that runs loose in the land is that being a military powerhouse makes the United States (and people everywhere) safe, protects freedoms, and is a force for peace and democracy in a threatening, dangerous, and hostile world. It’s not true—not even close—but it has a huge and sticky hold on our imaginations.

When a random US politician tells antiwar protestors picketing a town hall meeting, “It’s because of the sacrifices our troops are making in [fill in the blank: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, the “Middle East,” Korea, Panama, or wherever turns out to be next] that you have the freedom to stand here and speak out,” s/he is tapping into that stuttering cliché. When a retired general speaks confidently at a televised congressional hearing, explaining to the credulous audience that the “enemy can be defeated” if only the Pentagon would be granted more funds to purchase more weapons, and then given greater leeway in their deployment and use, he’s issuing the same unexamined and banal truism. When a talking head tells us it’s unfortunate that US economic strength rides on oil, a resource that “happens to come from a couple of  nasty neighborhoods,” but it’s “a blessing” we have the power to police the world, s/he’s doing the same thing. And when folks across the political spectrum express public gratitude and support for “our fighting men and women overseas,” while refusing to send their own children into those same wars or harboring serious private doubts about the wisdom, purpose, and execution of whatever US adventure is currently in play, they too are situated in that wide open field of received wisdom and diminishing options.

What if we challenged these instances of hypocrisy and defensive dogma, and insisted that there are more honest and straightforward ways to support US military men and women? What if we demanded their immediate decommission and return home, and insisted that they be provided excellent medical and psychological care, good jobs, affordable housing, and the best available educational opportunities—the things every human be- ing deserves? What if we spoke up in the face of that woolly politician and asked him to draw a straight line between free speech and the specific invasion he’s now supporting and explicitly (or at least implicitly) defending? What if we locked arms as we built a growing wave of peace advocates, anticipating and opposing the next aggression, and the next?

To hope for a world at peace and in balance, powered by love, joy, and justice, to insist that the citizens and residents of the United States become a people among people (not a superior nor a chosen people) and that the country becomes a nation among nations (not some kind of crypto-fascist übernation) is to resist the logic and the reality of war, and to see, as well, the war culture itself as a site of resistance and transformation. It’s to break with the frame that acts as if war is natural and inevitable. It’s to do the hard work of making a vibrant and robust peace movement— connecting with the environmental activists, the immigrant rights forces, the Black Lives Matter upsurge, feminists, and the queer movement—organizing to close all US military bases abroad and to bring all troops home now, leaving no US military or paid mercenaries behind; compelling our government to sign all pending international treaties on nuclear disarmament; mobilizing to cut military spending by 10 percent a year for the next ten years, dedicating the savings to education and health; rallying to suspend and then abrogate all contracts between the US government and Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.

Rest in Power

February 9, 2019


February 8, 2019

Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress (“The best speech he’s ever given,” says Eric Trump; “Rivals the Gettysburg Address in eloquence and vision,” says a Fox News jack-ass) was a predictably dismal affair: racist cant about immigrants, hateful comments about a woman’s right to control her own body, self-loving claims about his own brilliance when it comes to economic policy and foreign affairs. And, of course, lies, lies, and more lies—all in anticipation of his run for re-election next year.

One of Trump’s themes, now coming into clearer focus, will be to manufacture the threat of “socialism” in the US, and to resurrect the McCarthyite playbook of the 1950’s. The Trumpistas will try to paint every modest proposal to promote environmental justice or to help people with health care or education or housing or the basic resources to survive as a small piece of a massive Bolshevik plot. So, of course, Trump wants to unite white people to fear Brown and Black people, but now there’s another terror loose in the land: the Reds!

The Democratic Party establishment ought to stand strong in the face of this repurposed Red Scare.

And what they should say is straight-forward and simple: The most imminent threat to capitalism in the US is capitalism itself.

And they could even name a few names: Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, who became billionaires by legally creating and aggressively marketing drugs that would become the opioid crisis, Mark Zuckerberg, who has legally become a billionaire by conquering and dominating the public square and in the process undermining freedom everywhere and any pretense of democracy in the US, Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, Betsy DeVos, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Sundar Pichai, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Page, the Koch family, Jack Dorsey, Donald Trump himself, and on and on.

But don’t count on it. Collapse is the signature gesture of the Democratic Party establishment, and they will most likely return to form.

They should have responded to the speech by offering a tutorial in the president’s lies and an education in humane public policy: there is no caravan, M-13 is an LA gang, the nation’s drug problem is made in the USA and drugs from Mexico and points south come through legal points of entry, late-term abortions are extremely rare (less than 1%) and always pursued as a medical necessity. And so on.

Shortly after the State of the Union address Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin praised Trump’s speech and added, “we’re not going back to socialism.”Ah, quite clarifying: The US was a socialist nightmare according to the Trumpistas—social security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, VA hospitals, the interstate—until Trump arrived to save us. Look for the assault on all of that to ramp up. And as for “bi-partisan” efforts, the Democratic establishment will agree to, for example, “Public/Private Partnerships” which simply means public money (yours) looted for private profit (theirs); they will vote for war again and again, until we stop them; and they will make the weakest attempts to reign in the casino capitalists, the predators, and the zombies.

We can point out that there is no such thing as a “free market,” despite the noisy claims of the fundamentalist marketeers, their apologists in the bought media, and the well-mannered barbarians from the business schools. The “free market” is highly contested, politically managed, extensively regulated, and supported by government policy and our tax dollars at every level—often, but not always, to the advantage of the rich. Historically the free marketeers have howled at the elimination of child labor (“Let the little tykes earn a buck!”), inspections at meatpacking plants, the organizing of trade unions (“Selfish Bolsheviks!”), environmental regulations, clean air and water standards (“The market will sort it all out in the long run”), health and safety regulations in mines and fields and factories, the eight-hour day (“How dare you arrogant elitists deprive the laborer of his freedom to work as many hours as he likes?”), and the abolition of their right to trade in human beings. Of course chattel slavery was but one form of human trade and trafficking, and wage slavery—though different—is another. Today a defining stance of the marketeers is roaming the world in the company of extravagant military power in search of resources and markets as well as dirt-cheap, super-exploited labor that can be had without those pesky rules (“Child labor has the added benefit of teaching the natives discipline and obedience right from the start”) and then get cast aside without consequence.

Modern economists extol the wisdom of the “free market” in hushed tones typically reserved for glorifying a holy book, or they mumble about the “laws of the marketplace” as if explaining the laws of magnetism or optics or aerodynamics. When my oldest son was in college he took Economics 101 and within a couple of weeks he’d figured it out: if you substituted the word “capitalism” every time the textbooks or the professor said “market,” “economics,” or “industrialism” it made the readings and lectures completely sensible. Economics was simply a metric that reflected political choices and (with more or less accuracy) the social and class relations of society. When he asked why the course wasn’t called Capitalism 101, the professor responded, “Same thing.” Indeed.

Economists quantify everything, disguising their values and their meanings in a mystifying faux-language of objectivity. They advise the rest of us ordinary folks, as the Wizard advised the four seekers skipping down the yellow brick road toward Oz, “Don’t look behind that curtain!”

It would be more honest to admit that economics—like history or anthropology or political science—is a smashing together of the subjective and the objective, or, more precisely an interpretive look at facts and forces that exist in the world. It’s the gathering of statistics in order to describe and construct the world, and the decision as to what we count is of primary importance. Neither the facts and forces nor the interpretations are beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals. We don’t need to be technical experts to be active citizens engaged in the big questions that impact who we are or what we become as people or as a society. We can know we want clean food and water without being epidemiologists; we can say that we want bridges to hold up and airplanes to stay in the air without degrees in engineering; we can recognize that gross disparities in wealth distort and destroy democracy without spreadsheets that can only be read with a magnifying glass; we can decide that nuclear power plants are a bad idea without PhDs in physics. And we can decide we want a system of production and distribution that is transparent, participatory, and in the service of the general welfare—it’s not rocket science. Oh, and we can decide what kinds of rockets ought to be built, too, and how they should be used as well.

But now we see clearly that everything is quantified and everything has its price under capitalism. Everything can be bought and sold; everything is reduced to a cash nexus. Birthing a child, cancer treatments, childhood vaccinations, clean water—everything is monetized. We’re encouraged to know the price of everything but the value of nothing. We’re instructed to think of health, for example, not as a human right or a common good, but as an industry—the health care industry. Similarly it becomes less and less jarring to hear talk of the housing market (as opposed to housing), the food industry (not food as an obvious universal need), and the public safety and education markets. The water bazaar is well under way; still to come: the air exchange. This is the way it is, but this is not the way it has to be—not at all.

Imagining the future society we would like for future generations, we unleash our spiritual and social imaginations. We think of children and grandchildren, and of grandchildren’s grandchildren precisely because a co-invented and dramatically extended family, at its evolving best, can be a small-scale model of a mini-society driven by norms of equality and reciprocity, a sense of shared community in which people care about and for one another, mutual respect, recognition of differences including distinct capacities and interests and needs, shared wealth, attempts to account for and correct all chance/accidental disadvantages, and so on—from each according to what he or she is capable of, and to each according to need.

There it is, the wild but in some sense the universal “family”: imperfect to be sure, a little off-kilter and slightly dysfunctional by definition, and yet at its best, a nice model of everyday anarchy and common-sense socialism.

The Chicago Bungler

February 6, 2019

Since you asked (and many of you did)…

Most candidates for office develop big money “bundlers” to corral the Fat Cat donors, but this is strictly grassy grass-roots, and we don’t have any Fat Cats in the wings, or any access to big money whatsoever. Everything helps. I’m so out of my element here that I call myself the campaign’s Chicago “bungler”—add a ukelele, a tin whistle, and a cap to pass on the El, and I could be the first Busker-for-Boudin.

He really does need funds now—seriously—to hire staff and to catch up with the establishment and right-wing candidates.

So please give something—anything (but above $500 is off limits)—for the cause:



Make checks ($500 limit) payable to:

Chesa Boudin for District Attorney

60-29th St. #242

San Francisco, CA 94110