Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 29, 2014

Bratton, De Blasio and the subway break-dancers

Filed under: crime,New York,racism — louisproyect @ 7:35 pm

Today’s NY Times reports on the crackdown on break-dancers in the subway.

The young dancers, Peppermint and Butterscotch, scanned the scattered faces aboard the New York City subway. One caught their eye.

“Are you a cop?” a performer asked, as their Q train rumbled toward Canal Street. The man waved them off. Peppermint and Butterscotch were satisfied.

“It’s showtime!” they shouted.

Music filled the train. Legs curled around the car’s graspable bars like creeping ivy. Then came a finale that surprised even the dancers: four plainclothes officers converging in tandem, and two sets of handcuffs.

Cheered by tourists, tolerated by regulars, feared by those who frown upon kicks in the face, subway dancers have unwittingly found themselves a top priority for the New York Police Department — a curious collision of a Giuliani-era policing approach, a Bloomberg-age dance craze and a new administration that has cast the mostly school-age entertainers as fresh-face avatars of urban disorder.

There’s probably nobody more opposed to being a captive audience on the subways than me. I have been riding NYC subways since they cost 15 cents a ride. When they were this cheap, they lacked air conditioning and were as noisy as hell, but you could at least be assured that you would never be forced to watch a musical performance, begged for spare change, or listen to a sermon.

That was a function of the city being a lot more economically and socially viable than it has been ever since the fare reached the dollar level at least. In 1961 the city was home to a million and one small manufacturing plants that provided jobs for Blacks and Latinos. This is not to speak of the jobs in heavy industry just across the river in New Jersey, such as the Ford plant in Mahwah. In those days, jobs were like low-hanging fruit for recent immigrants from the Deep South or Puerto Rico. They disappeared long ago, forcing the grandchildren of those who worked in them to beg for change or to break dance just one step ahead of the law.

In some ways it is the subway preachers that make me the most crazy, even though they are probably certifiably insane themselves. When I used to take the number one train up to Columbia University, there was a guy who showed up about once a month and preach to us. He had a thick Jamaican accent and would always prattle on about how Jesus was coming to take the faithful up to heaven and send the sinful down to hell. I had to restrain myself from ranting about there being nothing but colliding atoms. What good would it do?

During the Giuliani administration, chief of police William Bratton implemented the “broken window theory”, one that posited petty crime as creating a climate for more serious crimes. This meant in practice arresting the homeless men who used squeegees on car windows when they were stopped for a red light. They generally didn’t say anything if you refused but hoped to get a dollar for their work. The cops also went after young men, mostly Black and Latino, who spray-painted graffiti on subway cars, including Michael Stewart who died in 1983 while under police custody. Despite eyewitnesses who saw the cops kicking and beating him, an all-white jury acquitted the six officers.

Eventually the “broken windows” policy led to the formation of a Street Crimes Unit that targeted young Blacks and Latinos for selling drugs or other minor offenses. This was really the beginning of “Stop and Frisk”, the policy that Bill De Blasio claimed he wanted to abolish. Obviously it has snuck back in through the back door. In a very good article on Bratton in the ISO newspaper, attorney David Bliven describes his experience with Bratton’s law and order:

As a young civil rights lawyer in Jamaica, Queens, at the time, I had more than a few victims of this police harassment come into my office. They were often Black teenagers who described how they were walking home from school, or from the store, or just hanging out with friends, when a car pulled up and out jumped the NYPD thugs. They’d throw the teen into their car, rough him up in the backseat, try to get drug sale information out of him, and when they determined the kid knew nothing, end up dumping the then utterly frightened kid on the other side of Queens.

The Street Crimes Unit was eventually disbanded–not because it wasn’t effective at its mission (intimidating and oppressing Blacks and Latinos)–but because it eventually made its way into the mainstream press and thus fell out of favor with the white liberal establishment. The idea behind the Street Crimes Unit lived on and was quickly replaced by Drug Sweep Teams, which were the precursor to the “stop-and-frisk” policy.

Now that Bratton is running the police department again, the “broken window theory” has been reinstituted. Besides break dancers, it seeks to protect the public from the mostly minority men and women who sell single cigarettes on the street at a cut-rate price. One of them was Eric Garner, an immense but sickly African-American who died as an illegal chokehold was being placed on him and as he cried out that he could not breathe:

To its credit, the NY Times editorialized against Bratton’s policy:

How terrible it would be if Eric Garner died for a theory, for the idea that aggressive police enforcement against minor offenders (he was a seller of loose, untaxed cigarettes) is the way to a safer, more orderly city. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton responded swiftly after Mr. Garner was fatally assaulted by officers on Staten Island. They reached out to his family, promising to retrain every officer about the rules against using chokeholds. Two officers have been put on desk duty pending investigations.

The mayor and the commissioner should also begin a serious discussion of the future of “broken windows” policing, the strategy of relentlessly attacking petty offenses to nurture a sense of safety and order in high-crime neighborhoods, which, in theory, leads to greater safety and order. In reality, the link is hypothetical, as many cities and towns across the country have enjoyed historic decreases in violent crime since the 1990s, whatever strategies they used. And the vast majority of its targets are not serious criminals, or criminals at all.

Bratton is a pioneer of broken windows policing and Mr. de Blasio is a stout defender. The tactic was embraced in the crime-plagued New York of 20 years ago. But while violence has ebbed, siege-based tactics have not. The Times reported on Friday that the Police Department made 394,539 arrests last year, near historical highs.

The mayor and the commissioner should acknowledge the heavy price paid for heavy enforcement. Broken windows and its variants — “zero-tolerance,” “quality-of-life,” “stop-and-frisk” practices — have pointlessly burdened thousands of young people, most of them black and Hispanic, with criminal records. These policies have filled courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders whose cases are often thrown out, though not before their lives are severely disrupted and their reputations blemished. They have caused thousands to lose their jobs, to be suspended from school, to be barred from housing or the military. They have ensnared immigrants who end up, through a federal fingerprinting program, being deported and losing everything.

No matter how much clout the “newspaper of record” has, the politician that the Nation Magazine, Salon.com, and the Huffington Post drooled over will likely ignore its recommendations. Once again from the NYT article we linked to at the beginning of this post:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended the approach even as some police reform advocates have called for big changes after the death of a Staten Island man, Eric Garner, during an arrest over accusations of selling untaxed cigarettes, a subject of complaints by local businesses.

“If you’re violating the law, I can understand why any New Yorker might say, well that might not be such a big offense or that might not be something that troubles any of us individually,” the mayor said, standing with Mr. Bratton on Monday at City Hall. “But breaking the law is breaking the law.”

And what exactly is the difference between Giuliani and De Blasio? I guess the same difference between Bush and Obama. In a period of declining economic opportunities, law and order will become more and more repressive. In the early stages of capitalism, vagabonds roamed the British countryside and prompted the equivalent of “stop and frisk” back then—draconian policies including being sentenced to a debtor’s prison.

Chapter 28 of V. 1 of Capital begins as follows:

The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil, this “free” proletariat could not possibly be absorbed by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world. On the other hand, these men, suddenly dragged from their wonted mode of life, could not as suddenly adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working class were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation treated them as “voluntary” criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed.

Now that we are in the period of capitalism’s senescence, we find that once again manufacturing cannot absorb the “free” proletariat. In the 18th century this was because it had not come into existence. In the 21st it is because it no longer exists.

May 9, 2014

Ken Silverstein’s “The Secret World of Oil”

Filed under: corruption,Counterpunch,crime,energy — louisproyect @ 5:08 pm
Ken Silverstein’s “The Secret World of Oil”

Ken Silverstein

A Descent Into Big Oil’s Inferno

by LOUIS PROYECT

Reading Ken Silverstein’s “The Secret World of Oil” is like picking up a rock in the middle of the night and shining a flashlight at the creepy, crawly things found beneath. The emphasis is on the word secret since many of the men he scrutinizes prefer it that way. Even when their activities remain within the law, their assault on ethics and decency would provoke a Sodom and Gomorrah punishment from a just god if one existed. Is moral turpitude, criminality and a bestial level of greed intrinsically connected to making a living as a middleman in the petroleum industry? That is the conclusion a reader would draw after reading the fast-paced and entirely entertaining tour led by Ken Silverstein, our Virgilian guide to a Dante’s Inferno fueled by oil and gas.

Silverstein manages a juggling act that puts Philippe Petite to shame. While his record of investigative journalism, especially that part of it dealing with energy industry sleazebags, is well-established, he manages to ingratiate himself with some of the major players even managing to establish friendships. Of course, if one of them is gazillionaire Ely Calil, an oil middleman who is one of the richest men in England, there are certain rewards. Dinner on Calil’s dime would include on one occasion “a bouillabaisse, small plates of scallops in a truffle sauce, and veal loin with poached pear”. One imagines Silverstein taking notes under the table surreptitiously for a future article. If details such as this give the reader a sense of the opulence enjoyed by oil tycoons no doubt within the law, it is really the business side of things revealed by Silverstein that make you wonder if he will ever be invited to dinner again.

read full article: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/05/09/a-descent-into-big-oils-inferno/

March 9, 2014

Honduras, Venezuela, and crime: the double standard

Filed under: crime,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 1:49 pm

Mary Anastasia O’Grady: don’t ask her to be consistent as it is a waste of time

Wall Street Journal, June 29 2009
The Americas
Honduras Defends Its Democracy
Fidel Castro and Hillary Clinton object.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

Hugo Chávez’s coalition-building efforts suffered a setback yesterday when the Honduran military sent its president packing for abusing the nation’s constitution.

It seems that President Mel Zelaya miscalculated when he tried to emulate the success of his good friend Hugo in reshaping the Honduran Constitution to his liking.

But Honduras is not out of the Venezuelan woods yet. Yesterday the Central American country was being pressured to restore the authoritarian Mr. Zelaya by the likes of Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Hugo himself. The Organization of American States, having ignored Mr. Zelaya’s abuses, also wants him back in power. It will be a miracle if Honduran patriots can hold their ground.

Read full article

* * * *

Wall Street Journal, August 22 2010
The Americas
Chávez’s Next Big Problem: Crime
Rising street violence in Venezuela is beginning to hurt the president among his constituency.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady

When a photograph of 12 chaotically strewn, naked corpses at the Bello Monte morgue in Caracas ran on the front page of the Venezuelan daily El Nacional 10 days ago, Hugo Chávez reacted with indignation.

But his ire was not directed at morgue management or, since the dead were most likely murder victims found in the street, at those responsible for public security in the capital.

Mr. Chávez was angry with the newspaper. He immediately blasted the wider press for its recent reports on Venezuelan violence, which has reached epic proportions. A Chávez-controlled tribunal soon issued a ruling prohibiting the publication of such graphic images. After an international outcry of censorship, the ruling was amended to apply only to El Nacional and one other newspaper.

Why, then, should the morgue photo cause alarm? Perhaps because in the runup to the Sept. 26 national assembly elections, the issue of violent crime in poor neighborhoods risks awakening voters.

Though the government has stopped publishing official crime statistics, the nongovernmental Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) has claimed there were 16,047 murders in 2009. This is up from 14,589 in 2008 and 4,550 in 1998, the year Mr. Chávez was first elected.

Read full article

* * * *

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/17/us-honduras-homicides-idUSBREA1G1E520140217

Honduras murder rate falls in 2013, but remains world’s highest

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:52pm EST

(Reuters) – The murder rate in Honduras, the Central American country with the world’s highest number of homicides per capita, fell last year according to a United Nations-affiliated report released on Monday, although the number of “atrocious crimes” ticked up.

Honduras has suffered a wave of violence in recent years, as Mexican drug cartels have expanded into the country, enlisting local street gangs and using the country’s often lawless Caribbean coastline as a pit stop for U.S.-bound cocaine from South America.

The murder rate fell by 6.5 percentage points in 2013, a security institute sponsored by the U.N. and part of Honduras’ national university said in its annual report.

Migdonia Ayestas, who leads the institute, told Reuters that violent homicides fell to 79 per 100,000 people last year from 85.5 in 2012.

“But we saw a noticeable increase in the number of atrocious crimes, including mutilations and decapitations, with bodies thrown into the street, which cause terror in the population,” she said.

The atrocities, which are a relatively new phenomenon in Honduras, bear the hallmarks of Mexican cartels, who engage in a grisly form of one-upmanship to instill fear in rival gangs.

Honduras, a country of some 8.5 million people, suffered an average of 19 murders each day in 2013, down from 20 the year before, the report found.

Neighboring El Salvador has regularly had the No. 2 murder rate for countries not at war, although comparable figures were not immediately available.

Putting an end to Honduras’ cycle of violence was the main theme in last year’s election, won by the National Party’s Juan Hernandez. He has vowed to restore order, adopting a militarized approach to taming the warring gangs.

Critics say a similar military-led move in Mexico, rolled out by former President Felipe Calderon in 2007, only served to increase the violence as the cartels splintered, creating dangerous power vacuums.

Others fear the possibility of rights abuses as soldiers do a job usually performed by police.

February 9, 2014

Maureen Orth’s reporting on the Allen-Farrow controversy

Filed under: celebrity,crime,sexual abuse — louisproyect @ 9:26 pm

The main purpose of this article is to take a close look at Maureen Orth’s reporting on the Allen-Farrow controversy but I want to preface that with some comments on three of the principals, all of whom I find utterly reprehensible without even taking the sex abuse matter under consideration.

To start with, I found Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi disgusting. His infamous defense of his behavior—”The heart wants what it wants”—comes from an Emily Dickinson letter that was meant to explain why she writes poetry and had nothing to do with an unchecked libido. At the time I scratched my head and wondered why a powerful and charismatic actor and director would cheat on his long-time companion and get involved not only with someone who was young enough to be his daughter but also the daughter of that very woman he was about to dump. It reminded me that the “talking cure” was not only unscientific but a waste of money.

This is not to speak of his crappy films that ur-sectarian but often very sharp film critic David Walsh once described in these terms, prompted by the apparently awful Whatever Works:

We have made the point before: it is impossible to detach Woody Allen’s decline, notwithstanding its individual twists and turns, from the general fate of considerable numbers of quasi-cultured, semi-bohemian, once-liberal, upper middle class New Yorkers in particular.

Intellectually unprepared for complex social problems, culturally shallow, ego-driven and a bit (or more than a bit) lazy, exclusively oriented toward the Democratic Party and other institutions of order, distant from or hostile toward broad layers of the population, inheriting family wealth or enriching themselves in the stock market and real estate boom…for a good many, the accumulated consequences of the past several decades have not been attractive.

Turning now to Mia Farrow and the wretched Ronan Farrow (who like me is a Bard College graduate), the two have staked out a position for “humanitarian interventions” in places like Darfur and Rwanda. I wrote about the two lovely people back in April 2008 and called attention to Ronan’s op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that complained about the U.N. Human Rights Council’s votes to condemn Israel. He blamed the presence of “dictatorships” like Cuba for the votes that resulted in nothing more than verbal protests. Meanwhile, the U.S. uses its veto in the far more powerful Security Council to block any serious measures against the Zionist state.

I also found Mia Farrow’s habit for adopting third world kids as if they were pets disgusting. Apparently she got the idea for “saving” Asian kids during an antiwar protest in the 60s. It was her way of compensating for what the USA was doing in Vietnam. I acted on an entirely different impulse and dedicated myself to destroying the system that made such wars possible.

In an essay for Humanity titled On ‘Humanitarian; Adoption (Madonna in Malawi), Kerry Bystrom puts the obsessive adopting habits of Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Mia Farrow into context:

Transnational adoption—at least from a certain point of view—literalizes a traditional vision of humanitarianism associated with child care, in which white Americans “save” and symbolically mother nonwhite or non-Western people portrayed as unable to attend to their own basic needs. In the United States, this hierarchical, patriarchal, and racially coded vision of humanitarianism was historically tied to appeals from political figures and media celebrities on behalf of “worthy” causes….The crumbling of boundaries between public and private matches the collapse of perceived distance between celebrity and ordinary life, as the popularity of reality TV and YouTube attest. In such a situation, representations of Madonna’s very public adoptions of two African children provide a useful window onto the impact of celebrity activism on the wider “ethos of humanitarianism.”

Turning now to Maureen Orth’s journalism, it is necessary to begin by stating that she is basically creating grocery store checkout tabloids for the carriage trade. Vanity Fair is a magazine that caters to a celebrity-obsessed but educated middle-class. Most of the articles are fawning tributes to loathsome individuals like Nancy Reagan but they are not so nearly as titillating as the junk Maureen Orth turns out. She always makes the news with exposes of Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson and Woody Allen—those megastars whose bedroom sins and peccadillos make waiting for your doctor or dentist almost worth it.

Like The National Enquirer, Orth does not quite make things up. She just understands the fine art of innuendo. Of course, there are times when she gets her facts wrong. Given that Michael Jackson was quite weird to begin with, one wonders why Orth felt the need to gild the lily. For example, in one article she stated that Jackson got a Japanese youth named Richard Matsuura drunk—something he denied to reporter Mike Taibbi (the father of Matt). Vanity Fair was forced to issue a retraction. She also reported that Jackson had participated in a ritual blood bath to put a voodoo spell on Steven Spielberg. According to Ms. Orth, Jackson ordered hundreds of cows to be sacrificed for the ritual. Wow, that’s interesting.

I understand that most people are ready to believe the worst about Michael Jackson simply on the basis of his overall weirdness, but there is at least one person who was troubled by the ganging-up on him in the bourgeois press. Identifying Maureen Orth as one of his prime assailants, Ishmael Reed wrote an article for Counterpunch in 2009 titled The Persecution of Michael Jackson that is worth considering. Reed writes:

G. Q. s Mary  Fisher accused her colleagues of lazy journalism of the sort that defamed Jackson in life and in death. Maureen Orth from Vanity Fair didn’t read Mary Fisher’s findings.  She was on the Chris Matthews Show accusing Jackson of “serious felonies” involving pedophilia.  Another reporter who seemed to nullify the 2005 Jackson jury’s decision was “Morning Joe’s” adjunct bimbo, Courtney Hazlett.  She said that there would be no pilgrimage to Neverland as there was to Graceland, because “bad things happened at Neverland.” We are led to believe that Presley and his entourage spent their days at Graceland drinking milk and reading each other passages from the scriptures.

The November 1992 article titled Mia’s Story is aptly titled, I suppose. She starts off by referring to a psychotherapist named Susan Coates who had been treating Woody Allen for “inappropriate” conduct with Dylan. In the next sentence, Orth adds that “He could not seem to keep his hands off her.”

If you take the trouble to do a little research on Coates, you will discover that she testified under oath that she “never observed him acting in a sexual way toward her.” She also stated that she warned Woody Allen that she feared for his safety because of threats made by Mia Farrow. What’s more, in an evaluation of Dylan she conducted in 1990 she found the girl easily “taken over by fantasy” when asked to describe something as simple as an apple tree. That’s according to the March 30, 1993 New York Times. Somehow all this failed to be reflected in Orth’s article.

Citing Coates once again:

“I felt it was a really dangerous situation,” she said, explaining she told Mr. Allen that he should not visit Ms. Farrow and her children at their country home because Ms. Farrow remained so distraught. “In my clinical evaluation, this was a place where protection was needed.”

Right. Just the sort of situation that would lead to Woody Allen sexually molesting Dylan as the entire household was looking dagger eyes at him.

The article, like the one about Michael Jackson, refers constantly to “several sources” that, for example, confided to her that Woody Allen, clad only in his underwear, would take Dylan to bed with him and “entwine his body around hers”. So who are these sources? Mia Farrow and one of her adopted children? That’s the problem with this kind of unnamed sources reporting. There is no way to verify it. Usually when I run into this sort of thing, it is in the context of debunking some bullshit about Syria, like Seymour Hersh’s article that cast doubt on Baathist use of sarin gas. Who told him that Bashar was not to blame? Some CIA veteran? Great. It might have been Ray McGovern for all I know.

The article is filled with this sort of gasp-inducing incidents, like Woody Allen rubbing his finger in the cracks of Dylan’s buttocks as he applied suntan lotion. Of course, with such a tawdry record you’d have to ask why Mia Farrow ever gave her approval to Dylan being adopted by Woody Allen.

After several pages of building up to the grand climax, Orth gets around to the infamous trip to the attic that took place on August 5th 1992. My problem is that this incident occurred six months after Mia Farrow discovered Soon-Yi’s nude photos in Woody Allen’s apartment. Prior to that discovery, not a single report of sexual abuse had been reported. Of course, Orth tries to create the impression that it had been ongoing for years, at least as long as you believer her “several sources”. All I can say is that if Mia Farrow saw Woody Allen sticking his fingers in Dylan’s buttocks, she exercised supremely poor judgment in writing an affidavit in favor of him becoming her adoptive father.

While Maureen Orth is best known for writing scandal-mongering pieces such as this, we would be remiss if we failed to mention her other specialty, which is third word trouble spots.

In a March 2002 Counterpunch article, Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair called attention to Maureen Orth’s Vanity Fair article on Afghanistan’s Deadly Habit that blames the Taliban for the growth of the opium industry. They wonder why she failed to mention the CIA’s possible role in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Orth has a thing about America’s enemies plotting to weaken our glorious nation through illegal drug exports. In November 2008, she wrote a piece for Vanity Fair titled Inside Colombia’s Hostage War that reads like a Colombian government press release. The article is a spittle-flecked tirade against the FARC. Ms. Orth has had a long-standing interest in Colombia after having served there as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1964 to 1966.

She quotes President Uribe: “If not for illicit drugs we would have defeated these groups long ago.” Just as was the case with her article on Afghanistan, she puts the blame exclusively on America’s enemies. Anybody who has studied Colombia understands that Uribe’s government, as those before his, were far more responsible for the drug trade than the FARC that only taxed small coca farmers.

A cursory search on the Internet would reveal Uribe’s hand caught in the cookie jar:

WASHINGTON — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, one of the Bush administration’s most steadfast allies in South America, was allegedly a “close personal friend” of slain drug lord Pablo Escobar and worked for his Medellin cartel, according to a newly released U.S. military intelligence report.

The 1991 report by the Defense Intelligence Agency describes Uribe, then a rising star in Colombian politics, as “dedicated to collaboration” with the Medellin cartel, at the time the world’s richest criminal organization and the source of most of the cocaine imported into the U.S.

Los Angeles Times, August 02, 2004

The article also reveals Orth as a Hugo Chavez-basher on a par with any op-ed writer for the Wall Street Journal:

Chávez, the fiery leftist autocrat who hates the United States and has designs on ruling the whole northern region of Latin America, has always been tight with the FARC, which is officially designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. But just how closely Chávez and the FARC were aligned was not clear until last March, when an amazing trove of intelligence came into the hands of the Colombian government. After the Colombian Army went one mile into Ecuador to raid the camp of senior FARC commander Raúl Reyes, killing him and 33 other people and wounding 190 more, it seized three laptops, two hard drives, and two memory sticks, which together contained 8,736 Microsoft Word documents, 211 PowerPoint presentations, and 2,468 other documents.

For those who need to be convinced that the “revelations” contained in these computers had to be taken with a wheelbarrow full of salt, I would recommend Greg Palast’s article dated May 16, 2008 that appeared on Tomdispatch.com.

Do you believe this?

In early March Colombia invaded Ecuador, killed a guerrilla chief in the jungle, opened his laptop – and what did the Colombians find? A message to Hugo Chavez that he sent the FARC guerrillas $300 million – which they’re using to obtain uranium to make a dirty bomb!

That’s what George Bush tells us. And he got that from his buddy, the strange right-wing President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe.

So: After the fact, Colombia justifies its attempt to provoke a border war as a way to stop the threat of WMDs! Uh, where have we heard that before?

The US press snorted up this line about Chavez’ $300 million to “terrorists” quicker than the young Bush inhaling Colombia’s powdered export.

What the US press did not do is look at the evidence, the email in the magic laptop. (Presumably, the FARC leader’s last words were, “Listen, my password is ….”)

I read them. (You can read them here) While you can read it all in español, here is, in translation, the one and only mention of the alleged $300 million from Chavez:

“… With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call “dossier,” efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the boss to the cojo [slang term for ‘cripple’], which I will explain in a separate note. Let’s call the boss Ángel, and the cripple Ernesto.”

Got that? Where is Hugo? Where’s 300 million? And 300 what? Indeed, in context, the note is all about the hostage exchange with the FARC that Chavez was working on at the time (December 23, 2007) at the request of the Colombian government.

Indeed, the entire remainder of the email is all about the mechanism of the hostage exchange. Here’s the next line:

“To receive the three freed ones, Chavez proposes three options: Plan A. Do it to via of a ‘humanitarian caravan’; one that will involve Venezuela, France, the Vatican[?], Switzerland, European Union, democrats [civil society], Argentina, Red Cross, etc.”

As to the 300, I must note that the FARC’s previous prisoner exchange involved 300 prisoners. Is that what the ‘300’ refers to? ¿Quien sabe? Unlike Uribe, Bush and the US press, I won’t guess or make up a phastasmogoric story about Chavez mailing checks to the jungle.

I’ve lost track of how many Facebook friends who have taken Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow and Dylan Farrow’s word as the gospel truth. They see Woody Allen as no different than the Catholic priests who prey on young boys and girls or Roman Polanski who actually confessed to sexual assault. (Of course, Mia Farrow was happy to defend Polanski in another lesser-known incident.)

I try to see things on a case-by-case basis. The charges made against Woody Allen do not make sense to me, even if Maureen Orth had never written a single word. But that so many of my friends and comrades have automatically assumed that this grocery store checkout counter tabloid reporter for the carriage trade and imperialist mouthpiece is credible really bothers me. Maureen Orth is a symbol of everything that is bad about the bourgeois press. She was married to Tim Russert, the long-time host of Meet the Press who pretended to be a tough interviewer, all the time understanding his class affinities with those he was grilling. In an obvious case of nepotism, their lunkhead son Luke landed a job with NBC.

She has found the ideal roost for her crappy reporting. “Vanity Fair” is a perfect symbol of a degenerated American political culture. It flatters the rich and the powerful at the same time it occasionally sacrifices one or another of its members in good standing to sell copies of the magazine. All in all, there is an element of commercial exploitation in all this that reeks to high heaven. The Times relishes the visits to its website as people look for the latest dirt, while Ronan Farrow’s name is bandied about in a way that can only create interest in his MSNBC show that is likely to be as much of a drag as all the rest of this fetid altar to the Obama White House.

February 2, 2014

Mia and the sex offenders

Filed under: crime,Film — louisproyect @ 11:13 pm

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December 23, 2013

The Confidence Man

Filed under: crime — louisproyect @ 6:12 pm

About a year or so ago my wife began mentioning Jeffrey Beall’s Scholarly Open Access website to me with some frequency. As a librarian at the University of Colorado in Denver, Beall had become aware of bogus journals operating under the rubric of Open Access. As opposed to print journals behind a Jstor paywall, Open Access journals were strictly Internet-based and seemed to offer the possibility of being both a valuable resource to tenure-track professors looking for an opportunity to be published and non-academic readers interested in a scholarly treatment of a particular topic but not willing to pay the exorbitant fee for downloading an article.

While I generally don’t seek out Jstor type journals after some unpleasant experiences with capricious editors a decade ago, I made an exception for “Capitalism, Nature, and Socialism” that was putting together a special issue on indigenous peoples. For the past five years or so I had been researching Comanche Indians and an invitation to submit something to CNS was just the impetus I needed to write the article that had been gestating for some time. If you go to the CNS website you will be given the opportunity to read the entire issue for $121. To save some money, you can read my piece titled “The Political Economy of Comanche Violence” for $36. I understand the need of print journals to cover the costs but there’s something troubling about these prices.

A few months after my article was published, I began receiving unsolicited communications from Open Access journals that I routinely ignored. But about a month ago I decided to look more carefully at one that like the others had a subject heading of “Call for Papers”. The Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH) was soliciting submissions onmedia studies, methodology, philosophy, political science, population Studies, psychology, public administration, sociology, social welfare, linguistics, literature, performing arts (music, theatre & dance), religious studies, visual arts, women studies, anthropology, communication studies, criminology, cross-cultural studies, demography, development studies, education, ethics, geography, history, industrial relations, information science, international relations, linguistics, library science etc.” Well, in today’s era of specialization, it is gratifying to see that at least one journal has a big tent agenda. Maybe I’d send in something titled “The Ethics of Clog Dancing among the Bahai”.

The umbrella group that puts out this journal and others just as lofty is the Maryland Institute of Research about which Jeffrey Beall had this to say:

I am currently researching an organization called the Maryland Institute of Research. It publishes two open-access journals, the International Journal of Business and Social Research, which began in 2011, and the Journal of Arts and Humanities (JAH), which just published its first issue in August, 2012.

One confusing thing about this publisher is that it seems to be hiding its true headquarters location. It lists an address in Annapolis, Maryland, USA, as its headquarters, but there’s no local phone number listed. The building at that address is a block of small office suites, and it’s conceivable that this organization may have rented one.

The main page links to a page called “We the people” that links to a page called “Board of Counselors.” There the president of the board is listed as “Prof. Dr. Muhammad Yunus.” A Google search turns up information identifying him as the Bangladeshi winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize; he won for setting up microcredit loans to microbusinesses in his country. The look and feel of his website is similar to the Maryland Institute of Research’s website. Is he a part of this scam?

Many of the authors published in the two journals lack any institutional affiliation, and I didn’t see any from Maryland. The editor of the business journal is listed as Jonathan Bendor, a business professor from Stanford University. Some of the content on the instructions-to-authors page is lifted from other sites. The publisher charges $200 per paper accepted, but “research students” are granted a discount and charged only $50.

These are obvious scam artists exploiting tenure track professors and grad students trying to build up a CV, but there is evidence that “legitimate” open access journals are not a whole lot better:

Hundreds of open access journals, including those published by industry giants Sage, Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer, have accepted a fake scientific paper in a sting operation that reveals the “contours of an emerging wild west in academic publishing”.

The hoax, which was set up by John Bohannon, a science journalist at Harvard University, saw various versions of a bogus scientific paper being submitted to 304 open access journals worldwide over a period of 10 months.

The paper, which described a simple test of whether cancer cells grow more slowly in a test tube when treated with increasing concentrations of a molecule, had “fatal flaws” and used fabricated authors and universities with African affiliated names, Bohannon revealed in Science magazine.

He wrote: “Any reviewer with more than a high-school knowledge of chemistry and the ability to understand a basic data plot should have spotted the paper’s shortcomings immediately. Its experiments are so hopelessly flawed that the results are meaningless.”

In one instance it is the author being scammed out of $200, in the other it is an Alan Sokal hoax that demonstrates the slipshod quality of the “better journals”. Who’s to say which is sleazier?

Recently I installed a device called a Digitone Call Blocker that can be used as the name indicates to block calls from scammers trying to sell me a senior alert system, or credit card relief—just two of the more frequent bids to separate you from your money. The Digitone cost me $90 but it is well worth it not to have the phone ringing three times a day from such assholes.

On the low-rent cable TV networks you get commercials amounting to the same thing, often featuring Montel Williams who is a spokesman for MoneyMutual.com, an outfit that sells your personal information to loan sharks. Williams is also a huckster for copper-laced compression garments that supposedly relieve aches and pains from arthritis and other ailments.

It seems that the decaying capitalist system is spawning confidence men by the millions by simultaneously making an honest living more difficult and allowing the elites to game the system with zero consequences. Eleven years ago I wrote about Herman Melville’s “The Confidence Man”. It is worth repeating since it connects the dots between Open Access scammers and the racism implicit in much of the pop culture and even the scholarship on Comanche Indians:

Herman Melville’s “The Confidence Man”

If you really want to understand the heart of darkness that defines American society, it is necessary to read Herman Melville. While Melville has the reputation of being a combination yarn-spinner and serious novelist, he is above all a profound social critic who sympathized with the downtrodden in American society. In his final novel, “The Confidence Man,” there are several chapters that deal with the “Metaphysic of Indian-Hating” that, as far as I know, are the first in American literature that attack the prevailing exterminationist policy.

“The Confidence Man” is set on a riverboat called the “Fidèle,” that is sailing down the Mississippi. As the title implies, the boat is loaded with con men who are either selling stock in failing companies, selling herbal “medicine” that can cure everything from cancer to the common cold, raising money for a fraudulent Seminole Widows and Orphans Society or simply convincing people to give them money outright as a sign that they have “confidence” in their fellow man. The word “confidence” appears in every chapter, as some sort of leitmotif to remind the reader what Melville is preoccupied with: the meanness and exploitation of his contemporary America. Because for all of the references to the need for people to have confidence in one another, the only type of confidence on the riverboat is that associated with scams.

For Melville, the act of scamming represents everything that is wrong in American society in the decade preceding the outbreak of the Civil War. It is a time when the power of capital is transforming the American landscape, turning everything into a commodity. In Chapter 9, titled “Two business  men transact a little business,” shares in something called the Black Rapids Coal Company are proffered. The man who is being enticed to buy the shares is a bit worried because there was a “downward tendency” in the price of the stock recently, just as there has been in vast numbers of securities on the global exchanges in 1998.

The stock seller tries to reassure his customer:  “Yes, there was a depression. But how came it? who devised it? The bears,’ sir. The depression of our stock was solely owing to the growling, the hypocritical growling, of the bears.”

When the potential buyer asks him “How, hypocritical?,” the stock seller answers:

Why, the most monstrous of all hypocrites are these bears: hypocrites by inversion; hypocrites in the simulation of things dark instead of bright; souls that thrive, less upon depression, than the fiction of depression; professors of the wicked art of manufacturing depressions; spurious Jeremiahs; sham Heraclituses, who, the lugubrious day done, return, like sham Lazaruses among the beggars, to make merry over the gains got by their pretended sore heads — scoundrelly bears!

Scoundrelly bears? I suppose that’s as good an explanation for recent woes on Wall Street as any.

When the stock market was becoming the big craze in the 1850s, much of the speculation was fueled by prospects of American business penetrating into the heartlands west of the Mississippi. In order to facilitate this penetration, it was necessary to remove the indigenous peoples who had inconveniently come to dwell on these lands over the past ten thousand years. The founding fathers of the United States endorsed their removal wholeheartedly. As David Stannard has written in “American Holocaust,” the slave-owning “democrat” Thomas Jefferson wanted to show the Indian no mercy:

…in 1812, Jefferson again concluded that white Americans were ‘obliged’ to drive the ‘backward’ Indians ‘with the beasts of the forests into the Stony Mountains'; and one year later still, he added that the American government had no other choice before it than ‘to pursue [the Indians] to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach.’ Indeed, Jefferson’s writings on Indians are filled with the straightforward assertion that the natives are to be given a simple choice–to be ‘extirpate[d] from the earth’ or to remove themselves out of the Americans’ way.

Agreement with Jefferson’s sentiments were practically universal in American society. I would hazard a guess that moral objection to slavery ran stronger than defense of indigenous rights. Given the overall support for what amounts to a policy of genocide against the Indian, Melville’s thoughts on the subject appear strikingly at odds with the mainstream.

The subject appears in the course of a discussion between two men on the deck of the riverboat about the infamous “Indian-hater” John Moredock. Moredock was the son of a woman who was killed by a small band of Indians, who, according to the narrative, “proved to belong to a band of twenty renegades from various tribes, outlaws even among Indians, and who had formed themselves into a maurauding crew.” Moredock eventually tracked down this band and killed them all. But he became consumed with hatred for all Indians in the course of his vendetta. This is what Melville calls the “metaphysics of Indian-hating.” It took over Moredock’s life. He proved so adept at Indian killing that he eventually joined the army, where he rose rapidly in the ranks on the basis of his exterminationist skills. However, after he became a colonel, his Indian hating became an obstacle to further career growth in government, because other skills besides blind aggression are necessary. Melville writes:

At one time the colonel was a member of the territorial council of Illinois, ends at the formation of the state government, was pressed to become candidate for governor, but begged to be excused. And, though he declined to give his reasons for declining, yet by those who best knew him the cause was not wholly unsurmised. In his official capacity he might be called upon to enter into friendly treaties with Indian tribes, a thing not to be thought of. And even did no such contingency arise, yet he felt there would be an impropriety in the Governor of Illinois stealing out now and then, during a recess of the legislative bodies, for a few days’ shooting at human beings, within the limits of his paternal chief-magistracy. If the governorship offered large honors, from Moredock it demanded larger sacrifices. These were incompatibles. In short, he was not unaware that to be a consistent Indian-hater involves the renunciation of ambition, with its objects — the pomps and glories of the world; and since religion, pronouncing  such things vanities, accounts it merit to renounce them, therefore, so far as this goes, Indian-hating, whatever may be thought of it in other respects, may be regarded as not wholly without the efficacy of a devout sentiment.

Now does this portrait of a man totally consumed in hatred remind you of any other in literature? It should because John Moredock is almost identical in motivation to Captain Ahab who wants to murder whales instead of Indians. While Moredock is ready to abandon election to higher office, Ahab is willing to destroy a ship and her crew, including himself, in order to kill Moby Dick. This monomaniacal drive to exterminate Indians and whales is very much symbolic of mid-19th century America.

In a powerfully ironic fashion, hatred of Indians and obsessions with whales is still very much part of our national psyche as the Makah get ready to go out and hunt for a gray whale. All of the Indian haters in the United States have decided to put the Makah in their gunsights as the Makah themselves get ready to put one gray whale in their own. What would Melville have made of this drama?

I will attempt to answer this question in an extended essay on Melville, whales and indigenous peoples that will be a chapter in the book on I am working on, titled “Marxism and the American Indian.” I will go on record at this point to state that Melville would have been a supporter of the Makah and an enemy of industrial whaling. My arguments are in part based on my interpretation of “The Confidence Man” and “Moby Dick.” They are also based on other writings, where Melville makes his solidarity with the American Indian explicit.

In a review of Francis Parkman’s “The California and Oregon Trail,” written in 1846, Melville takes note of Parkman’s hatred of the Indian:

…when in the body of the book we are informed that is difficult for any white man, after a domestication among the Indians, to hold them much better than brutes; we are told too, that to such a person, the slaughter of an Indian is indifferent as the slaughter of a buffalo; with all deference, we beg leave to dissent.

And what is the dissent based on?

It is based on our belonging to one race, the human race. Melville says, “We are all of us–Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks and Indians–sprung from one head and made in one image. And if we reject this brotherhood now, we shall be forced to join hands hereafter.”

(The “Confidence Man” is online at http://www.melville.org/)

July 28, 2013

Spammers, don’t waste my time or yours

Filed under: commercialism,computers,crime — louisproyect @ 9:07 pm

My readers may have noticed a post from the other day asking someone to stop posting what appeared to be legitimate comments from a page identified as spam in WordPress’s database. Since the comments did not have the usual “Excellent points you are make! I will definately bookmark you for future enjoyment” quality, I assumed that they were legitimate. As someone pointed out to me, the spammer took the trouble to find some text somewhere that plausibly corresponded to the content of my post. I should have taken WordPress at its word and simply deleted the bogus comment. Just now some other spammer has taken the same tack as evidenced by this comment being held in my spam queue:

Screen shot 2013-07-28 at 4.52.28 PMI googled the words highlighted above and discovered that they were first posted to Andy Newman’s blog. Some idiot spammer is taking the trouble to find some comment made elsewhere so that one of my readers will click his link. Doesn’t he understand that people who visit the Unrepentant Marxist are the most deeply suspicious people on earth, as likely to click such a link as they are to vote for Mitt Romney? I guess the url of the link indicates the level of desperation. Bodaideal.blogbyt.es comes from Spain. The unemployment there is over 50 percent for people in their early 20s. I would only advise my spammer to work for the overthrow of the capitalist system there. He will have much more success in that endeavor than tricking my readers into going to a website titled “Ideal Wedding”.

July 10, 2013

Blocking the scammers

Filed under: crime — louisproyect @ 6:59 pm

Anybody who listens to WFAN sports talk radio, WABC rightwing talk radio, or the cheesier cable stations will be familiar—overly so, no doubt—with a commercial for Super Beta Prostate that features former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann as a spokesman. Theismann, who is four years younger than me, claims that after taking this snake oil medicine he doesn’t have to get up to piss as much as he used to. Once a man reaches 55 or so, there’s a good chance he will suffer from enlarged prostate that causes one to get up to pee a number of times. The idea that some “natural” medication can shrink a prostate gland is absurd. From what I have heard from friends my age, prescription drugs like Flomax don’t work that well either. My answer to the problem is to get up and pee and then go back to bed. Usually I get back to sleep in five minutes. As the Akira Kurosawa movie puts it, “The Bad Sleep Well”.

On April 8, 2013, a class action suit was filed against New Vitality, the product’s manufacturer. Dr. Jeffrey J. Zielinski, another spokesman seen in TV ads, gave a sworn declaration stating that his claims were as an actor, not a medical professional.

An article on the case at Public Healthwatch (http://www.publichealthwatchdog.com/new-vitality-facing-consumer-fraud-class-action-lawsuit-over-super-beta-prostate/) revealed that the man who hired Theismann and Zielinski was a repeat felon:

Super Beta Prostate was created by Roger Mason, a convicted felon who pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute PCP in 1975. He was later arrested while on parole for manufacturing 326 counterfeit credit cards. The lawsuit points out that Mason is presented as a “research chemist” even though “ He has no training, education or experience relevant to the treatment of BPH or its symptoms. He has no training, education or experience relevant to the development of drugs or dietary supplements. He has never held a job in any of these fields.” Super Beta Prostate uses high amounts of mixed sterols, including B-sitosterol, which has been deemed as inappropriate for the treatment of BPH. The suit further alleges that the product is actually illegal because even though it is a drug , it has never been reviewed by the FDA.

Meanwhile, as I have pointed out in the past, Pom Wonderful, a pomegranate juice manufacturer, has been ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to stop advertising the drink as a way to prevent heart disease and cancer. The CEO of Pom Wonderful is one Stewart Resnick, who sits on the board of trustees of Bard College. In my view, he and his wife Linda are worse criminals than Roger Mason. Advertising fruit juice as a way to prevent cancer is a heinous crime. I only wish someone had launched a class action suit against them so as to bring their “healthy” Pom juice, Fiji water, and pistachio nut empire crashing down around their heads.

The only thing that is a bit of a puzzle is why it took so long for law and order to catch up with these individuals. How can the regulatory agencies allow so many scams to be run on TV and radio without stepping in?

If being bombarded by snake oil medicine ads is not enough to get rid of your cable connection and just rely on Netflix or Hulu for entertainment, you might feel tempted to dump your regular phone and only use a cell phone. At least with a cell phone, scam artists who are trying to fleece you out of your hard-earned money won’t call you 5 times a day. In fact, I have never gotten a call from a legitimate telemarketer. Mostly what you get are outright thieves like these:

(402) 909-5693
They want to sell you a new security system “at absolutely no cost”.

(480) 999-5637
Same pitch as above but Caller Id states “Native American”

(616) 613-2126
Lower your credit card interest rate

(617) 849-7385
Pretend to be Verizon, want you to pay your bill with credit card over the phone.

Like most of you, I put my phone number on the “do not call” registry at https://www.donotcall.gov/. This database will only have an effect on legitimate telemarketers and not the crooks.

About a month ago, I decided to press “9” to speak to a representative at the “lower your interest rates” outfit instead of ignoring the call. When the guy got on the phone with me (he was in India), I told him that they were wasting their time calling us since we weren’t answering the phone when we saw their number on caller id. I added that since they were being paid for each “sale”, an unproductive call would cut into their revenue. He laughed and said that it made no matter to people like him. They get paid a salary and do not work on commission. That boggled my mind. How in the world can they make enough money to pay people a salary?

I should have figured out that there are huge amounts of old people who are susceptible to con artists. Con men prey on the old who are often tempted to take a chance on some scam because they are under so much economic pressure. They are also often lonely and will give a con artist the time on the phone to talk them into turning over some cash. Data also indicates that they are soft touches, especially for things like cancer support and recovery from natural disasters.

Since I am tech savvy, I have no idea why it took me so long to figure out a way to block such phone calls when the Do Not Call Registry was such a waste of time. I finally went to the Verizon website and tried to find a solution. The people who designed the website must have been on LSD at the time since it is the worst I have ever seen in terms of “user friendliness”.

After poking around for a couple of hours, I figured out how to block incoming calls. This is the home page of Verizon Fios Phone:

Screen shot 2013-07-10 at 12.58.54 PM

Once you are there, you should click “Calling Features”. This will bring up something that gives you a number of options. You need to toggle “Incoming Call Block” to “on” and then enter phone numbers by clicking change as indicated below:

Screen shot 2013-07-10 at 12.59.22 PM

After I began using this feature about 3 months ago, the number of unsolicited scam calls has dropped to zero. I suspect that these jerks have a way of tipping each other off that someone has got their number.

However, I still was getting phone calls that indicated “Unknown Number” in caller ID. When my wife or I answered the phone, there was never anybody on the line. I could not figure out whether it was a telemarketing crook or someone just playing games with me. I called Verizon and found out that you can block numbers that are blocking caller id. To be more accurate, they can block it for you since this is not a feature available from their website.

Of course, the real question is how numbers like the ones listed above can get past square one. When you are issued a phone number, don’t you have to provide some kind of legitimate identification like a bank account? Don’t they check one of these credit report agencies? If you Google any of these numbers, you find all sorts of complaints. Can’t a regulatory agency shut them down?

I feel sort of stupid posing this question after the 2008 subprime meltdown.

I was reminded of this just yesterday:

NY Times July 8, 2013
Spaniards Fight to Get Savings Back
By SUZANNE DALEY

MADRID — For Gonzalo López, 77, it has been a lifetime of scrimping on a factory worker’s salary, trying to save enough to make sure his brain-damaged son would be cared for even after he was gone.

He and his wife put aside $87,000. But four years ago, as the economic crisis took hold here, a bank official called Mr. López at home to suggest he move his money into a new “product” that would give him a 7 percent return.

“I asked, ‘Is this safe?’ ” Mr. López said. “I trusted him. He knew the money was for my son.”

Today, Mr. López is one of about 300,000 Spaniards who, in the midst of a brutal recession, have seen their life savings virtually wiped out in what critics call a deceptive and possibly fraudulent sales campaign by banks that were threatened by the implosion of Spain’s property market. Many, like Mr. López, are older and lack formal education, and were easily misled when bank officials hit on the idea of raising capital and cleaning debts off their books by getting people with savings accounts to invest in their banks instead.

For many of these savers, the first hint of trouble — and understanding that they had bought into risky investments — was when some of these banks essentially failed about two years ago. Overnight, they were unable to withdraw their money.

Full: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/09/world/europe/spaniards-fight-to-get-savings-back.html

I guess my problem is acting as if there is something wrong about criminality at the highest levels, such as Goldman-Sachs, or at the lowest level with Joe Theismann shilling enlarged prostate “cures”. Maybe the average person just assumes that this is the way the system works as if designed by Hobbes except with a useless state allowing the law of the jungle.

In such times it is hard not to feel like Joe Buck in that famous scene from “Midnight Cowboy” where he is walking down the sidewalk in midtown Manhattan and spots someone either asleep, passed out, or dead. He stops dead in his tracks and kneels down over the man while everybody else passes by unperturbed. Starting from the age of 22 when I became a socialist, I have never been able to pass by that person on the sidewalk like the rest of society.

August 30, 2011

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

Filed under: crime,Film,religion — louisproyect @ 6:04 pm

On August 20 the New York Times reported on the freeing of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., commonly known as the West Memphis Three. Imprisoned seventeen years ago for allegedly murdering three young boys in a satanic ritual, their freedom was won through DNA evidence as is so often the case nowadays. The article mentions a 1996 documentary about their case that led to a national campaign to win their release:

An award-winning documentary, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” was released after their convictions, bringing them national attention.

Benefit concerts were held, books were written, a follow-up documentary was made and a movement to free the “West Memphis Three” grew in size and intensity, drawing those intrigued by the case and those who saw a kinship with the men at the heart of it.

“I was kind of going through the same clothing style: long hair, dark clothes,” said Mecinda Smith, 30, one of the hundreds of supporters who had come to the courthouse, holding posters and wearing “Free the WM3” T-shirts.

“We were just trying to stand out and be different,” said Ms. Smith, who was 12 when the murders took place.

Last night I watched it on HBO and like all their documentaries, it can be also bee seen on-demand from Time-Warner or on your computer using HBO Go. Additionally, you can rent it from Netflix, as well as a follow-up documentary made in 1999 titled Paradise Lost 2: Revelations. Meanwhile, “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” which was shown at this year’s New York Film Festival and scheduled for HBO next year, brings the case up to date.

These films were co-directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who also worked on “Brother’s Keeper” together, another film about marginal members of society being accused of a capital crime. In that film, a mentally impaired brother is accused of a mercy killing of his own brother on a dilapidated farm that he shared with another brother. Despite the fact that the three elderly men were reclusive and shabby-looking, this did not prevent their neighbors from pitching in to help them find a lawyer and build solidarity for the accused brother. It is a singularly inspiring film and also available from Netflix, including a streaming version.

Berlinger is also the director of “Crude”, the courageous and radical story of Chevron’s attempt to force the people of Ecuador to accept the toxic waste legacy of Texaco, a company absorbed by Chevron, that has left land and water despoiled and thousands ill. He has been in a running battle with Chevron over the oil company’s demand to see his outtakes as part of a bid to prove that they have no responsibility for the damage.

There is an obvious affinity between the characters in “Brother’s Keeper” and the West Memphis Three. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Jessie Misskelley Jr., who had an IQ of 72 and who was grilled by the cops for 12 hours after being arrested. He was pressured to testify against his two friends Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, who—like him–came from poor and dysfunctional families. Echols in particular was the easiest to demonize since he listened to heavy metal music, dressed in Goth style and described himself as a Wiccan. In a rural Arkansan town in the early 1990s, this was not the way to endear you to the community, least of all the cops. Like many towns in the Bible Belt, it was also a breeding ground of Baptist churches that took the idea of Satan very literally.

When the local cops could not find the actual killers of the three boys, they victimized Echols and his two friends who they calculated a jury would find guilty just on the basis of their appearance. While Misskelley and Baldwin did not share Echols’s Goth lifestyle, guilt by association could be relied on by local prosecutors. As Echols states in the film, West Memphis was a modern version of Salem, Massachusetts.

With a complete lack of physical evidence, the prosecutor is forced to rely heavily on questions to Echols on the witness stand about his reading habits, particularly the Satanist Aleister Crowley who the youth has actually never read, only heard of. On his Wiccan beliefs, Echols states that he was drawn to them because they stressed the eternal female principle. One can only wonder how he survived growing up to the age of 17 in West Memphis, an ordeal by fire equal in some ways to the next 17 years he would spend in prison.

The Salem-like hysteria that pervaded this trial overlapped with the “repressed memory” sexual abuse cases of the period that were documented in another powerful HBO documentary titled “Capturing the Friedmans”, about a gay computer programming trainer who supposedly sexually abused dozens of his students in his basement classroom on Long Island without them ever telling their parents. Although Satanism was not a factor in the trial, it relied completely on the “repressed memories” of his students who described wild orgies in the basement prompted by the suggestions of the investigators.

The two themes of ritual satanic abuse and repressed memories, however, did come together in the infamous McMartin preschool case of 1983. Young children were pressured into “remembering” that the satanic teachers and care-givers at the school lured them into orgies as wild as that took place in the Friedman basement. The wiki on the McMartin case states:

Some of the accusations were described as “bizarre”,[6] overlapping with accusations that mirrored the just-starting satanic ritual abuse panic.[4] It was alleged that, in addition to having been sexually abused, they saw witches fly, traveled in a hot-air balloon, and were taken through underground tunnels.[4] When shown a series of photographs by Danny Davis, the McMartins’ lawyer, one child identified actor Chuck Norris as one of the abusers.[2]

Some of the abuse was alleged to have occurred in secret tunnels beneath the school. Several investigations turned up evidence of old buildings on the site and other debris from before the school was built, but no evidence of any secret chambers was found.[4] There were claims of orgies at car washes and airports, and of children being flushed down toilets to secret rooms where they would be abused, then cleaned up and presented back to their unsuspecting parents. Some children said they were made to play a game called “Naked Movie Star” in which they were photographed nude.[4][1][21] During the trial, testimony from the children stated that the naked movie star game was actually a rhyming taunt used to tease other children—”What you say is what you are, you’re a naked movie star,”—and had nothing to do with having naked pictures taken.[4]

Although I have been harshly critical of Alexander Cockburn in recent years, this Wall Street Journal piece on the McMartin miscarriage of justice reminds me of how his writings back then inspired me to take up the cause of the left after 11 brutal years in a Trotskyist sect:

Wall Street Journal

February 8, 1990

The McMartin Case: Indict the Children, Jail the Parents

Ray Buckey is a man whose life has already been effectively destroyed. The first charge of child abuse against this teacher at the McMartin day-care school in Manhattan Beach, Calif., was laid against him in the summer of 1983. The allegations against him had been extorted from her two-year-old by a mother — now dead — with a history of mental illness who also claimed that an AWOL Marine had sodomized her dog.

It was not long before Ray Buckey had direct experience of the operations of the justice system. The Manhattan Beach Police Department sent a letter to 200 families whose children attended McMartin that read in part, “Any information from your child regarding ever having observed Ray Buckey to leave a classroom alone with a child during a nap period, or if they have ever observed Ray Buckey tie up a child, is important.”

By spring 1984, Mr. Buckey, his mother, grandmother, sister and three fellow teachers had been arrested, and the police now claimed no less than 1,200 alleged victims of abuse. Briefly released, Mr. Buckey was rearrested and jailed for five years. On Jan. 18 of this year, after a trial that lasted more than two years and cost $15 million (making it the most expensive criminal trial in U.S. history), a jury acquitted Mr. Buckey and his mother on 52 counts of molestation. On 13 remaining counts of molestation and conspiracy against Mr. Buckey the jury was deadlocked (though it seems a majority was convinced of his innocence) and a mistrial on these counts declared.

Any sane society would have granted the Buckeys peace to recover as best they could from this horrible ordeal. But on Jan. 31, Los Angeles County District Attorney Ira Reiner announced that Ray Buckey would be retried on at least some of the 13 counts. The decision came after a period of grotesque agitation by the parents of the supposedly abused McMartin children. They appeared on talk shows, and terrorized the Los Angeles Board of County Supervisors into voting 4 to 1 to urge the district attorney to a new trial. (If he did not, they wanted the board to call upon the state attorney general to take the decision out of Mr. Reiner’s hands.)

Mr. Reiner, who is running for the office of state attorney general this year, has in the recent past lost well-publicized cases. The McMartin verdict was another blow, and he obviously felt he had to put Mr. Buckey back in court or face taunts for being soft on child abusers. Mr. Reiner was also presumably under great pressure from Attorney General John Van de Kamp to retry Mr. Buckey, since Mr. Van de Kamp is running for governor and public sentiment is strongly against the jury’s verdict of Jan. 18. So here are two men with tremendous incentives to put Mr. Buckey back in the dock — in an atmosphere so polluted with hysteria it must be doubtful whether any jury could be assembled to assure Mr. Buckey a fair trial.

The psychological squalor is even more disturbing. The McMartin case was but one in nearly 40 episodes across the country between 1983 and 1987 in which prosecutions against teachers or supervisors in day-care centers were prompted by children’s accusations.

Many of these accusations, taken seriously by parents, social workers and the justice system, were of the most fantastic nature. McMartin children said they had been marched to cemeteries to dig up bodies. One child said he had seen his teacher fly. In 1985 children in Pennsylvania said teachers had forced them to have oral sex with a goat. In 1986 children in a preschool in Sequim, Wash., said they had been made to watch animal sacrifice in a graveyard. In Chicago, the kids said they had watched a baby being boiled.

Terrible injustices were done in this extraordinary replay of the 17th-century Salem witch trials. People were tossed into prison for years, on the say-so of infants. In all 50 states children as young as two or three can testify to abuse, without corroboration from adults and without physical evidence. In many states they can make charges without having to endure cross-examination, being bounced up and down on a judge’s knee in private chambers. In some states the charges can merely be repeated as hearsay by adults.

What was the reason for this wave of self-evidently preposterous stories about a satanic network terrorizing infant schools, and other tales of ritual abuse?

Society seems to have a periodic need for witch trials. At the onset of the Reagan era there weren’t really any Communists around to persecute, so the hunt went back to the traditional exorcism of Satan, whose horns and cloven feet assumed the form of the local day-care teacher.

The 1980s also brought the great onslaught against Freud, arguing against Oedipal fantasy and in favor of the reality of physical abuse. These days many people like to claim they were “abused” as a child. It’s a way of absolving yourself for screwing up by shifting the blame to your infancy, when you can’t be blamed for anything. From these gymnastics, by which “therapists” make their money, the adult emerges guilt-free.

Also, the charges were quintessentially Reaganite, in that they took child abuse out of the family, which is where 99% of it occurs, and put it into day-care centers, which in the Schlaflyite scheme of things are abodes of Satan. Again, some parents probably feel a fair amount of guilt for dumping their children in day-care centers anyway, and are obviously ready by way of compensation to support passionately whatever their children may claim. Of course, any considerate parent, social worker or sane therapist (as opposed to the hysterical self-promoters who mostly feature in these cases) would realize that months and years of interrogation and court procedures are the very last things a child needs after a genuine case of abuse. The public investigation and litigation merely magnify the hurt.

The trouble is that these parents now have a huge emotional investment in “the case,” whether it be McMartin or similar episodes. Indeed, in some of these court trials the parents also have a strong material interest, in the form of very substantial awards by insurance companies that cover day-care centers.

So now the McMartin parents can triumphantly torture poor Ray Buckey again, abetted by the cowards and opportunists in the justice system. But if people can be prosecuted on the words of children, then children should take full responsibility for what they are saying. If a child says he saw Ray Buckey kill a horse with a baseball bat (which one did claim) and if this charge is disproved (which it was), then the child should be indicted for perjury, with present prohibition against such infant indictment removed.

If a parent abetted the child in this false accusation, then this parent should be indicted for perjury, too. If the court then establishes that parent and child were lying, at least the parent should suffer the consequences. A few well-publicized sentences of imprisonment of parents (along with “therapists” and social workers, it goes without saying) and we would see a speedy end to these disgusting miscarriages of justice.

February 10, 2011

Carancho

Filed under: crime,Film,Latin America — louisproyect @ 7:15 pm

Over the years, automobile crashes have become apt symbols in a group of movies attempting to make big statements about society. Perhaps the most profound was Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” that featured a long tracking shot of a traffic jam on a French country road that culminated in a shocking car wreck with mangled bodies strewn across the road. That pivotal scene was an introduction to the remainder of the film that depicted a France descending into barbarism.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, there’s Paul Haggis’s “Crash”, a movie that preaches “understanding” as a way for the races to reconcile. Orchestrated over a series of fender benders, the film exhibits Hollywood liberalism at its most meretricious. Apparently, Haggis just resigned from Scientology after 35 years in protest over the cult’s opposition to gay marriage. Now that would be a plot for a movie I’d much prefer to see.

The most recent entrant into the field is Carancho, an Argentine film directed by Pablo Trapero that opens at the Angelica Film Center in NY tomorrow. I have seen Trapero’s Crane World, a powerful neorealist study of a crane operator, as well as El Bonaerense, a documentary-like feature about police corruption in Buenos Aires. Crane World is available from Netflix and I recommend it highly.

Carancho is the Spanish word for vulture and refers to the main character, an ambulance-chasing lawyer who preys on the families of the dead and those injured in car crashes. While Trapero is aspiring for social commentary in the same way as Godard and Haggis, he is also insistent on the more mundane aspects of a problem which is decimating Argentina. The film opens with words to this effect on the screen (these were taken from the press notes):

In Argentina, more than eight thousand people die every year in road accidents at a daily average of twenty-two. More than a hundred and twenty thousand are injured. Only the last decade has seen one hundred thousand deaths. The millions of pesos that every victim represents in medical and legal expenses produces an enormous market, supported by the compensations of insurance companies and the weakness of the law. Behind every tragedy, there is an industry.

We first meet the lawyer Sosa at a funeral where he is being punched and kicked by a couple of burly surviving relatives for representing himself as a friend of the deceased and a fan of the same soccer team the dead man followed religiously. Suspecting rightly that he was a shyster, the relatives ask him to name the team. After Sosa answers incorrectly, they pummel him. Lying on the ground, he keeps naming other teams—incorrectly—and receives fresh blows for his efforts.

His shady business brings him into contact eventually with a young female doctor named Luján who works the night shift in an ambulance. Without wasting any time, the two end up as passionate lovers even though she understands that he is a carancho. Her own social isolation working at nights might have something to do with this, but Sosa has a real charisma despite his tawdry background. On their first date, he bets her that if two cars go through a red light at the nearby intersection, she will have to let him kiss her. She ups the ante to four. After 6 cars ignore the red light, they kiss. In the very next scene, they are undressing each other in Luján’s bedroom.

Sosa is played by Ricardo Darín, one of Argentina’s most respected actors. He plays Sosa as a kind of tarnished Bogart-like figure. Darín was Marcos, the senior partner of younger con man in “Nine Queens”, a similar role. Middle-aged and a bit overweight, Sosa has an insouciant charm that Luján finds irresistible. She is played by Martina Gusman who has starred in other Trapero movies, including El Bonaerense, and co-founded a film production company with him in 2002. She is excellent.

In the press notes, interviewer Michael Guillén asks Trapero for his thoughts on a comment by Eduardo Galeano:

Galeano argues that there is nothing accidental about car wrecks; that, in fact, from the moment cars were manufactured and set loose on the roadways car wrecks were inevitable. He said a better word to describe a car wreck would be “a consequence”, rather than “an accident”.

If Trapero is intent on describing the consequences of the automobile on Argentine society, he seeks to it not as a documentary film-maker would. Instead, his approach is that of the film noir director for whom the crashes—always occurring at night—serve as a kind of deux ex machina that drives the plot forward, with ever-increasingly ghastly results. When Trapero decides to break with the gangsters who employ him, they threaten both his life and Luján’s. In the stunning climax, the conflict between man and man, and man and machine is resolved in chilling fashion.

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