Roaming Charges: Flaming Patriots

Liberty or death. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Paul Krassner on patriotism: “You can wrap yourself in the American flag, but it doesn’t mean your ass is covered.”

+ I watched George Cukor’s Keeper of the Flame over the holiday weekend, not expecting much, except for some snappy repartee between Hepburn and Tracy. Tracy plays a reporter during the early days of WW2, who travels to Maine to interview the widow of a Lindbergh-like American hero, who has just died in a mysterious car crash. The film moves along pretty briskly and conventionally until Hepburn opens a locked cabinet in her husband’s office (an old arsenal from the Revolutionary War era), turns to Tracy, who had been an admirer of her husband (Robert Forrest), and says:

“Here’s what I found. The key to Robert Forrest’s fascist organization. Of course, they didn’t call it fascism. They painted it red, white and blue and called it “Americanism.” In here are the funds to see through, fantastic amounts subscribed by a few private individuals, to whom $$ didn’t mean anything anymore, but who wanted political power and they knew they could never get it through democratic means. This was the essence of their plan. [She holds up a folder.] Here are some articles ready for release to stir up all the little hatreds of the whole nation against each other. [She hands Tracy a sheet of paper.] This was an article to be published in an anti-Semitic paper attacking the Jews. [She hands him another sheet of paper.] This was to be used in the Farmer’s Gazette to stir them up against city dwellers. Here’s one attacking the Catholics. Anti-negro, anti-labor, anti-trade union, subtle appeal to the Ku Klux Klan. Here’s a list of newspaper editors who either sought to occupy public office or sought to dictate who should occupy public office and when they failed, felt that the public was a great, stupid beast. Here’s a list of men who served their country in the last war and were failures in business and longed again for the power of rank and the prestige of uniform. In there are the names and addresses of the men designated to be America’s first storm troopers. But what was really shocking to me was the cynicism of the plan. Each of the groups was simply to be used until its usefulness was exhausted. Hates were to be played against hates. If one group got too powerful, it would be killed off by another group. And in the end all these poor little people who never knew to what purpose they were lending themselves would be in the same chains, cowed and enslaved with Robert Forrest and his handful of power-thirsty henchmen cracking the whip.”

Keeper of the Flame works as a story and a warning about patriotic fervor. There’s tension, mystery social comedy and romance, though as with most Tracy/Hepburn films, it is a find of flirtation devoid of erotic charge. Cukor avoids flashbacks. We never see Forrest, except in a brooding portrait above the fireplace which Hepburn and Forrest’s assistant, a Goebbels-like character icily played by Richard Whorf, tend like a shrine. The painting is a menacing presence long before we learn Forrest’s evil secret.

Forrest rose from poverty, became a hero at the battle of the Argonne Forest in WW I, and rode his medals to riches and national fame. At the time of his death, Forrest lived in the Maine woods, but his was not a Thoreauvian lifestyle. He and Hepburn resided inside a gated compound, guarded by attack dogs and an Egyptian sphinx. Their Gothic mansion is a cross between Hitler’s Berghof and Kane’s Xanadu.

There’s no tidy resolution to the film and Cukor was, reportedly, disappointed with the finished product. But its ambiguity is one reason why it continues to resonate. A film that raises red flags about the corrosive nature heroism, charismatic leaders and compulsory patriotism can’t have the uplifting ending common to so many other WWII era films.

You didn’t see much writing like that coming out of Hollywood in 1941. And there wouldn’t be much more, either, at least under the writer’s own name, David Ogden Stewart, since he and his wife, Ella Winter, who were two of the founders of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, admitted joining the Communist Party, were blacklisted and sought refuge in England, where Stewart continued to work anonymously on screenplays for nearly 30 years, including writing some the best bits in Woody Allen’s send up of Russian novels, Life & Death. As for his membership in the CP, Stewart later said, “I didn’t want to stop dancing or enjoying the fun and play in life. I wanted to do something about the problem of seeing to it that a great many more people were allowed into the amusement park. My new-found philosophy was an affirmation of the good life, not a rejection of it.”

Stewart had gone to Yale, where he was rejected from Skull & Bones for his radicalism. He became pals with Scott Fitzgerald and through Fitzgerald became friends with Hemingway, who used him as the model for Bill Gorton in The Sun Also Rises. Stewart returned the favor in Keeper of the Flame, basing Tracy’s journalist partly on Papa. Louis B. Mayer attended the premier of Keeper of the Flame and was appalled at the film’s leftwing message. According to Stewart, Mayer “walked out in a fury, when he discovered, apparently for the first time, when the picture was really about.”

Stewart never renounced his radicalism. In fact, he and Ella endorsed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.

+ On almost every issue that matters, including the future of life on the planet, the US government, if not the entire US culture, has become a real time case study of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where the more incompetent it becomes, the less able it is to realize that what it’s doing isn’t working. The less you know, the less you know what you don’t know.

+ There’s no more authentic celebration of the history of America than the mass detonation of incendiary devices without regard to any possible collateral damage (your dog, your kid, your neighbor’s house, the forests of the Columbia Gorge)…

+ Biden says the US’s military mission in Afghanistan will end on August 31.  In fact, the “mission” in Afghanistan ended 19 years ago when Osama Bin Laden survived the attack on the Tora Bora cave complex and escaped into Pakistan. I’m not sure there’s a name for what’s been happening since then, but whatever you call it, it’s been one of the longest running war crimes in show business…

+ Will Defeat in Afghanistan Day become a federal holiday?

+ Maybe the Trumpers are right and Biden isn’t really president. Because he wouldn’t have just straight out lied to us this baldly, would he?

+ James Clyburn is a Dixiecrat on almost every issue except segregation, and even then he repeatedly chided the Civil Rights Movement for “going too far.” His pivotal endorsement of Obama said more about Obama’s real political character than Clyburn’s. But say this for the Dixiecrats of old, they based their politics largely on conviction, debased convictions to be sure. Clyburn follows the money (He’s pocketed more than $1 million from the health “care” lobby alone). He is one of the premier transactional politicians of our time, a contract killer hired to protect the agenda of corporate America.

+ No longer maintaining even the pretense of being in FDR-mode, Biden says he can now to “more with less” on the economy. Of course, Biden will do less with less and even he knows it. Of course, he’d do less with more, too. More would be better, but it would probably go to police and the weapons makers.

+ Move over Jon Meacham, Krugman’s auditioning to write insipid homilies for Biden…

+ As a spectator sport, most of the fun in American politics has been over the manufactured fights over policy and budget issues that would generate a lot of froth and smoke for a few weeks on CSPAN, before being quietly resolved in the customary manner in smoky conference committee rooms or in bars near Capitol Hill, which is where wrote Bob Packwood wrote the outlines for the Reagan tax cuts on a cocktail napkin. But now the fun is gone. They don’t even pretend to fight anymore…Check out Rick Santorum telling a group of Republican activists that they should thank Manchin and Sinema for preventing the Democrats from ending the filibuster. “Otherwise,” Santorum joked. “We’d be dead meat.”

+ Crime Bill Joe: “The president ran on and won the most votes of any candidate in history on the platform of boosting funding for law enforcement, after Republicans spent decades trying to cut the cops program.”

+ Fallujah in St. Louis: “Don Clark Sr., a 63-year-old Army veteran, was fast asleep in his St. Louis home in February 2017 when more than a dozen SWAT team members rammed down his door and threw a stun grenade device inside. As Clark was startled awake, one of the police officers allegedly began shooting without warning, striking Clark nine times, according to a new lawsuit filed by the man’s family. As blood pooled underneath his body, Clark died almost immediately.”

+ Wauwatosa (Wisconsin) police department compiled a “protesters involved” list which had names of local activists. The document, which was obtained through an open records request, contains the names of nearly 200 people, including local elected officials, attorneys, local activists and a member of the media.  The Wauwatosa police sent the list to nearby law enforcement agencies, including the Milwaukee Police Department and the FBI.

+ Next week Eric Adams (NYC’s next mayor) will be draining vodka martinis with Rudy and Tutar at some Tiki bar in Chelsea…

+ As it stands his old colleagues in the NYPD are still refusing to release Adams’ disciplinary records from his decades on the force, despite a New York state law meant to require the disclosure of such reports.

+ If you’ve read a more depraved column than this one in the American Conservative defending the deaths of native children at the hands of the Catholic Church this week, let me know…

Whatever good was present at the Ossossané ossuary—where those who had not yet encountered the fullness of Truth honored their dead as best they knew how—is increased a thousandfold in the cemeteries of the residential schools, where baptized Christians were given Christian burials. Whatever natural good was present in the piety and community of the pagan past is an infinitesimal fraction of the grace rendered unto those pagans’ descendants who have been received into the Church of Christ. Whatever sacrifices were exacted in pursuit of that grace—the suffocation of a noble pagan culture; an increase in disease and bodily death due to government negligence; even the sundering of natural families—is worth it.

+ Ralph Nader: “Bad news for single payer prospects. With Biden and Dems controlling Congress, liberals in the House are in retreat. Bernie Sanders hasn’t even introduced his bill this year. Corporate giants keep hiking premiums, co-pays, prices, and demanding huge govt subsidies and tax breaks. Worse, health insurance giants race to take over Medicare itself via ‘trojan horse’ Medicare (Dis)Advantage, with Congressional and AARP’s complicity.”

+ Mitch McConnell remains vexed about the anti-vaxxers in his ranks…

+ Perhaps Mitch’s guide to the perplexed should be Marjorie Taylor Greene…

+ Memo to Olympic Committee: Protests that conform to your rules are not protests…

+ The drug war claims another victim: the assassins who gunned down Haiti’s embattled president Jovenel Moïse were disguised as DEA agents. Moises’ blood hadn’t even dried before the calls started for yet another US intervention in Haiti by the same wrecking crew that has looted and terrorized the nation for the last 30 years.

+ Leave it to the New York Times to blame the detained migrants for contracting COVID instead of the conditions inside the concentration camps where they caught it..

+ Mitt Romney has sold his home in La Jolla, California for a cool $15 million. It’s hard to keep up with all of the Romney abodes, even Mitt couldn’t remember them all. But this is the one with the car elevator…

+ Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, made a profit of $5.3 million by locking-in his stock options in Alphabet shortly ahead of a House vote to move forward with five anti-trust bills targeting tech companies. If there was some way we can assure the spouses of the powerbrokers that they’d make that kind of bank off of Single Payer Health Care, it’d happen overnight…

+ Sanho Tree: “Variants are the coronavirus’s way of teaching Americans latin.”

+ Who needs Radio WKKK? Jesse Watters to Tucker: “First, we did not steal this land. We won this land on the battlefield and the rest we purchased from the Europeans… are we supposed to give the Dakotas back to Crazy Horse’s family?” The answer to Jesse’s question is: YES.

+ Trump praising Hitler to John Kelly is no surprise. And John Kelly not quitting after hearing Trump praise Hitler is no surprise, either. He is, after all, the guy who ran concentration camps for kids.

+ Meanwhile, the Yale College Council, the undergraduate student body government at the school, has voted to endorse a statement condemning ethnic cleansing in Palestine.

+ Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who owns the Chelsea football team, donated $100 million to the Israeli settler organization Elad, which is causing so much havoc in East Jerusalem.

+ First Jair Bolsonaro alleged there will be massive voter fraud in Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections. Then said he would reject the election results, if there’s fraud. Now, he’s openly suggesting not holding elections if there’s a possibility of fraud.

+ If Otto Rank were still alive, he’d have to make massive revisions to The Myth of the Birth of the Hero….

+ At the park with the 3-year old this morning. He was wearing his Paw Patrol mask, which, after an exhilarating ride down the tunnel slide, had slipped below his nose. I felt a tug on my pants. “Hey, Mister. The mask has to cover his mouth and nose or he can still get the virus,” advised an unmasked 6-year old. It turns out that the 6-year-old’s parents (the kid’s grandmother told me) are COVID denialists who are members of a local church in Oregon City which refuses any medical attention to sick children, resulting in several preventable deaths in the last decade. But the six-year old herself, as is so often the case, seemed more informed on the latest epidemiology of the virus than Fauci.

+ Frida Kahlo – “I don’t give a shit what the world thinks. I was born a bitch; I was born a painter.”

+ A new report in the journal Nature Climate Change confirms the findings of other recent studies predicting that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free by 2035: “The ability of the HadGEM3 model to realistically simulate the very warm LIG Arctic climate provides independent support for predictions of ice-free conditions by summer 2035. This should be of huge concern to Arctic communities and climate scientists.”

+ Correct me if I missed one, but the Israeli demolition (I mean rescue) team didn’t succeed in extracting one living being from the rubble of the Miami condo–but they sure did earn some nice headlines. Maybe they’ll have better luck plugging the ruptured pipeline?

+ Is it merely coincidence that Ken Salazar, one of the people most responsible for the Deepwater Horizon blowout, was nominated to be Biden’s Ambassador to Mexico, then the Pemex pipeline ruptured and the Gulf of Mexico started burning again?

+ Now it’s Norway and Lapland’s turn in the oven…

+ The National Weather Service is forecasting the hottest part of Death Valley to reach 130F on Sunday, one of the highest temperatures ever forecasted by the NWS or any weather agency across the globe.

+ A couple hundred miles to the northwest, the Yosemite Valley is expected to hit 110F on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The last time it was that hot in Yosemite was 106 years ago in 1915.


+ More than 500 humans and nearly a billion sea creatures broiled to death under the heat dome that covered the Pacific Northwest last week.

+ According to the latest climate data released by NOAA, June 2021 was the hottest June on record in California. The state was an stupefying 6.8°F above normal. In the last year alone, California has experienced its hottest June, August, September and October months on record.

+ The California drought is luring more and more rattlesnakes into the backyards, porches and gardens of houses on the state’s Central Coast.

+ Things we haven’t started to worry about yet, but should: fire whirls…

+ Here’s a map of the Jack Fire (as of Friday morning) burning along the Umpqua River, as it closes in on Steamboat, once the mecca of trout-fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

+ The Not-So-Great Salt Lake is dwindling to its lowest levels on record, exposing vast mud and salt flats that are foul-smelling and toxic to birds and other wildlife species.

+ As the West and the Arctic roast, Biden’s climate plan has gone from a Green New Deal to…wait for it…more tax cuts!


+ California officials warned that “nearly all” salmon could die in the Sacramento River this year. Because of the salmon migration patterns in the Pacific (Sacramento River chinook often venture as far as the Aleutians), this collapse may force the total closure of commercial and recreational salmon fishing on entire West Coast three to four years from now….

+ Similar story in Canada, which shut down more than 79 commercial salmon fishing areas, as salmon numbers continue to nosedive. “What cannot be debated is that most wild Pacific salmon stocks continue to decline at unprecedented rates – we are pulling the emergency brake to give these salmon populations the best chance at survival,” said Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

+ Aren’t we such a fortunate generation to see the last of so many, many things…such as ocelots in the American Southwest.

+ The Global Indigenous Council just released FAMILY, a short film highlighting the deep cultural connection Indigenous Nations share with wolves and the major threats currently facing the gray wolf in the lower 48 states.

+ Big fires in Oregon and northern California, a tropical storm swirling up the east coast, a tropical depression over Texas, a downpour that flooded the NYC subway system and a 6.2 earthquake near Lake Tahoe. You couldn’t fit Thursday afternoon into a Michael Bay disaster flick. But Rev. Pat Robertson knows the root cause of these afflictions…SODOMY!

+ Half of the saxophones in the world are made in this village in northern China and its running short of skilled workers.

+ The 1965 performance contract for the Beatles specified that they would not perform in front of segregated audiences…

+ Although he wasn’t a film-maker I paid much attention to, it took note of the death of Richard Donner, at age 91. My late friend Margot Kidder used to rave about Donner, especially his sensitive handling of actors. And Donner remained close to Margie, when nearly everyone else in Hollywood was slamming the door in her face and pretending they didn’t know who she was…

+ I’ve been reading about Eisenstein’s rather unpleasant sojourn in Hollywood. His first proposal was a SF film about a city made entirely of glass, where everyone was under 24/7 surveillance from the authorities and their neighbors. Not Louis B. Mayer’s kind of fare, obviously. Then Eisenstein scripted Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, a much more searing scenario than the 50s film by George Stevens starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. At one time, it seems like Hollywood was home to half the intellectuals in Europe–the ones who’d survived anyway–and just ate them up and spit them out.

+ We tend to think of the epidemic of police shootings as a side-effect (or for some of its architects a desired outcome) of the war of drugs. But I’m pretty sure it can be traced all the way back to the arming of police during the war on booze (aka, prohibition). I watched Public Enemy last night, where bullets are flying all over the streets of Chicago from beginning to end. In one of Cagney’s first capers, when Tom is just a kid, they break into a furrier, get scared by a stuffed grizzly and scramble out of the building, tossing the revolvers they’d just been given by the local mobster, a fastidious piano player named Putty Nose, who Cagney gay-baits and eventually whacks. One of Cagney’s cohorts, another kid, starts to run and is shot in the back multiple times by a cop. At his wake (the kid was 13 or 14), the priest and a couple of older relatives are drinking beer by the casket, one says, “He deserved it.” Another says, “Yeah, he was a rotten kid.” This has always been a country of hard-asses. (By the way, Cagney is electric, but Jean Harlow? I’m not really feeling it.)

+ At one point Buster Keaton’s father and Harry Houdini ran a traveling “Medicine Show” together, in which the young Buster performed. Decades later, after being ripped-off and stripped off artistic control by Louis Mayer, Keaton slipped into alcoholism and was reduced to writing gags for other acts, including the Marx Brothers. He was eventually placed in a straitjacket and hauled off to some grim psychiatric hospital, where even in this diminished condition he was able to quickly escape, having learned from Houdini how to slip out of the restraints. There’s a reason Beckett prized BK above all others and wrote his one movie script, Film, for him. Unlike Lloyd or Chaplin, Keaton traded sentimentality for explorations of the absurd, knowing nothing would work out as planned but trying it anyway because there is no other option.

+ My pal Fred Gardner sent me a note about my essay on De Sica’s “Umberto D” in CounterPunch +:

Thanks for telling me how Umberto D ends. I took a girl to see it at a theater in Greenwich Village c. 1958. There’s a scene where he’s sitting on a park bench with his hat upturned and a passerby throws a coin into it.  I don’t know what nerve it hit but I started crying for the first time in maybe 10 years. (Boys didn’t cry in Brooklyn Before Gentrification.) I couldn’t stop. Really sobbing, loud, almost convulsively. My date had to kind of help me down the stairs out of  the theater. I had already seen Bicycle Thief and wasn’t expecting a comedy, but man…

+ This week’s edition of CounterPunch + features Robert Niemi’s wide-ranging and provocative interview with the radical documentarian Adam Curtis, Daniel Beaumont on the waning, though violent, days of Zionism and my essay on the CIA’s favorite construction company, Bechtel. A year’s sub is only $25 and it gives you 24/7 access to nearly 30 years of the back issues of CounterPunch’s print editions, from the old newsletter to the late magazine.

+ Jeff B sent me his song Stonechild, about the killing of Stonechild Chiefstick in Poulsbo, Washington two summers ago, shot down by police in the middle of a crowd while waiting for a fireworks show.

+ Summer of Soul is a remarkable film, capturing some the 60’s greatest soul musicians (including Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Pops Staples and the Staples Singers, and Stevie Wonder) at the peak of the skills in live performances at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. What’s not true are some of the claims made by its director, Questlove, that he had unearthed the “lost” footage of the concert. In fact, footage of the entire concert had been located and preserved by Joe Lauro of the Historic Film Archive.

Here’s Lauro statement on Questlove’s claim that “for nearly 50 years, this just sat in a basement and no one cared. I looked it up online. It’s not on the internet:

As an archivist and filmmaker who has spent his 35 year career creating music documentaries, and unearthing and preserving rare musical content, I am delighted that this film has finally been produced. I only ask that credit for the Harlem Festival footages’ re-discovery be properly given. Producers of a doc such as this that is touting its righteousness and quest for truth should at least give credit where it is due. I assure you, if it were not for my efforts the Harlem Festival master tapes would likely still be molding in Mr. Tulchin’s Westchester County basement and Questlove would still be in total ignorance of their existence.

+ Sly and the Family Stone’s blistering set, one of the most propulsive live performance’s I’ve ever seen, has been on YouTube for some time…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Fox and I: an Uncommon Friendship
Catherine Raven
(Spiegel & Grau)

The Revenge of the Real: Politics for a Post-Pandemic World
Benjamin Bratton

The Abolition of Prison
Jacques Lesage de La Haye
Trans. Scott Branson
(AK Press)

Sound Grammar
What I’ve been listening to this week…

Small Things
Nick Hakim & Roy Nathanson

The Jeff Lorber Fusion

Dark in Here
The Mountain Goats

The First Revolution

“The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things and see there might be another way to look at it that you have not been shown.” (Gil Scott-Heron)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3