Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 15, 2011

I am interviewed by Richard Estes on KDVS radio

Filed under: media — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

http://169.237.101.62/archives/2011-09-09_1730_32kbps.mp3

August 19, 2011

Programming the Nation

Filed under: Film,media,psychology — louisproyect @ 6:15 pm

One of the most stunning revelations—at least for me—in the eye-opening documentary “Programming the Nation”, a history of subliminal messaging in America that opens today at the Quad Cinema in NY, was the fact that Edward Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew. Bernays, the father of public relations who collaborated with Walter Lippmann to craft WWI propaganda, was eager to utilize Freud’s insights into the subconscious to seduce the American public into backing a bloody imperialist war, or, as the need arose, buying Kellog’s corn flakes. In essence, this is the point of a documentary 7 years in the making—to show how American society is saturated with subliminal messages to feed the consumerist machine, and when necessary to get young men and women to violently defend the machine against all threats.

Bernays’s Freudian predilections reminded me of “Mad Men” with its constant chatter about how a particular cigarette or whiskey ad will appeal to the consumer’s libido. As a show steeped in the late 50s/early 60s zeitgeist, it might have easily dramatized subliminal advertising, the much discussed but poorly understood phenomenon of the period. We learn from “Programming the Nation” that its first occurrence was more of an urban legend than a reality. In 1957 market researcher James Vicary conducted an experiment in which messages such as “Drink Coca-Cola” or “Buy popcorn” were flashed rapidly during showings of the movie “Picnic”. After he produced statistics that demonstrated sales shot up, he was forced to admit that they were falsified. The Vicary experiment was the centerpiece of a best-seller in the late 50s by Vance Packard titled “The Hidden Persuaders”. Packard also wrote “The Status Seekers”, a book that along with “The Organization Man” gave young people like myself the first inkling that not all was right during the heyday of the “American Century”.

A film with a title like “Programming the Nation” could have easily turned into a lurid conspiracist tale about mind control in line with a number of pop culture references that were alluded to at its beginning. One of these is John Carpenter’s terrific “They Live”, in which the hero (wrestler Roddy Piper) sees messages like “No independent thought … Consume … Conform … Stay asleep … This is your God  … Do not question authority … No parking” on building walls through special glasses given to him by a rebel. But director Jeff Warrick, who has a background in marketing and decided to make the film after developing the suspicion that the “war on terror” launched in 2001 was fueled by subliminal messaging, utilizes a much more interesting and useful approach. He allows experts on both sides of the question to express their opinions without stating his own. Indeed, one gets the sense that he is not entirely persuaded that subliminal messaging strictly defined (in other words, words or images that are barely perceptible) is as much of a problem as the messaging that is much more in your face and that makes fairly explicit connections, for example, between sexual fulfillment and a Lexus sedan.

The film relies heavily on experts in the field of subliminal messaging, including Wilson Bryan Key, the author of “Subliminal Seduction”, the definitive treatment of the practice. Key, like Vance Packard, considered subliminal messaging a real threat to American society even though he had doubts about the cruder version of the practice symbolized by Vicary’s “Drink Coca-Cola” messages. You also hear from media critics of the left like Mark Crispin Miller, Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman who are far more concerned about the more obvious messaging techniques that are turning America into a consumerist nightmare bent on world domination.

Whether or not subliminal messages actually work, powerful forces in advertising and politics continue to use them. One of the more notorious examples was reported by ABC news in 2000:

Vice President Al Gore is accusing Republicans of dirty tricks for running a television ad that flashes the word “RATS” on screen for a split second.

“I’ve seen the pictures from the ad,” the vice president told reporters as he campaigned in Ohio today. “I find this a very disappointing development. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I think the ad speaks for itself.”

In a Republican National Committee commercial criticizing Gore on health care, the word “RATS” appears on screen for a brief moment before the full word “bureaucrats” appears.

But GOP nominee George W. Bush dismissed the notion that the visual effect was intended to subliminally manipulate voters, as the Gore campaign has suggested.

“The idea of putting subliminal messages into ads is ridiculous,” Bush told reporters this morning in Orlando, Fla. “One frame out of 900 hardly, in my judgment, makes a conspiracy.

You can see Bush speaking to reporters in the film but the last paragraph does not quote him accurately. Bush said, “The idea of putting sublimanible messages into ads is ridiculous…” That pretty much sums up the difference between Bush and Obama, who never would have mispronounced the word subliminal. In fact, it has now become obvious that Obama is merely the latest product to roll off Edward Bernays’s assembly line:

ORLANDO, Fla. (AdAge.com) — Just weeks before he demonstrates whether his campaign’s blend of grass-roots appeal and big media-budget know-how has converted the American electorate, Sen. Barack Obama has shown he’s already won over the nation’s brand builders. He’s been named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008.

Mr. Obama won the vote of hundreds of marketers, agency heads and marketing-services vendors gathered here at the Association of National Advertisers’ annual conference.

Mr. Obama won the vote of hundreds of marketers, agency heads and marketing-services vendors gathered here at the Association of National Advertisers’ annual conference.

“I think he did a great job of going from a relative unknown to a household name to being a candidate for president,” said Linda Clarizio, president of AOL’s Platform A, the sponsor of the opening-night dinner attended by 750 where the votes were cast.

“I honestly look at [Obama’s] campaign and I look at it as something that we can all learn from as marketers,” said Angus Macaulay, VP-Rodale marketing solutions “To see what he’s done, to be able to create a social network and do it in a way where it’s created the tools to let people get engaged very easily. It’s very easy for people to participate.”

Finally, I would ignore the negative reviews that this splendid documentary has received, especially from the NY Times.  This film is essential viewing for those trying to get a handle on the Orwellian world we are living in today, including a newspaper that saw fit to publish Judith Miller on the war in Iraq, an example of Edward Bernays media manipulation second to none.

July 27, 2011

What do Alexander Cockburn and the Norwegian mass murderer have in common?

Filed under: conservatism,Fascism,media — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

The short answer to that is an affinity for the writings of paleoconservative William S. Lind. If you do a search on “by William S. Lind” on the Counterpunch website, you will come up with 16,500 hits. It should be understood that many of these hits refer to the same article, but clearly we are dealing with someone who was at one point as much of a presence there as fellow paleoconservative Counterpuncher Paul Craig Roberts is today.

Last October Alexander Cockburn defended this orientation to the right in an article that referred to me as an “old Trotskyist lag” in light of my unaccountable inability to appreciate the Tea Party:

Contrary to a thousand contemptuous diatribes by the left, the Tea Party is a genuine political movement, channeling the fury and frustration of a huge slab of white Americans running small businesses – what used to be called the petit-bourgeoisie…

Who says these days that in the last analysis, the only way to change the status quo and challenge the Money Power of Wall St is to overthrow the government by force? That isn’t some old Trotskyist lag like Louis Proyect, dozing on the dungheap of history like Odysseus’ lice-ridden old hound Argos, woofing with alarm as the shadow of a new idea darkens the threshold.

Who really, genuinely wants to abolish the Fed, to whose destruction the left pledges ever more tepid support. Sixty per cent of Tea Party members would like to send Ben Bernanke off to the penitentiary, the same way I used to hear the late great Wright Patman vow to do to Fed chairman Arthur Burns, back in the mid-70s. Who recently called the General Electric Company “an opportunistic parasite feeding on the expansion of government?” Who said recently, “There are strains in the Tea Party that are troubled by what they saw as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working-class people have been abused or hurt by special interests and Washington.” That was Barack Obama, though being Obama he added, “but their anger is misdirected.”

As has been revealed not long after it made its appearance on the worldwide web, Anders Behring Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto is pretty much a copy and paste job from other authors, including the Unabomber whose references to the hated “leftists” was replaced with “cultural Marxists”.

Breivik also borrowed liberally from William S. Lind. I first learned about Breivik plagiarizing from Lind in an email to the PEN-L mailing list by Tom Walker who blogs at Ecological Headstand where he wrote:

UPDATE: Plagiarism alert Breivik’s text on “Political Correctness” appears to be lifted almost entirely from a screed called “Political Correctness: a Short History of an Ideology,” by William Lind, “Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.”

I was so struck by Breivik’s rant on “political correctness” that I posted it on my blog the day before yesterday. When I subsequently learned that the words were Lind’s and that he was a frequent contributor to Counterpunch, I decided to do some poking around there.

To Counterpunch’s credit, nearly all the articles by Lind are strictly anti-war affairs of the sort that might have been written by Justin Raimando. It is not as if there were anything particularly wrong with them, only that they were unexceptional and mostly of interest perhaps because they were written by a paleoconservative.

But there’s one that’s more than a bit troubling. It appeared on July 12, 2007 and is titled “Old Bottles for New Wine: Not Fourth Generation Warfare“. Lind, who is an expert on Fourth Generation Warfare, warned Counterpunch readers:

On Friday, July 13, a Boyd Conference at the Quantico Marine Corps Base will devote a day to the subject of Fourth Generation war. As a panelist for one session of the conference, I have been asked to answer the question, “As one of the original authors and principal proponent of the 4GW concept, how well is it understood and acted upon by the West? By our adversaries?”

I will leave the second part of this question until Friday. As to how well the West grasps the concept of 4GW, the news, sadly, is bad on every level.

At the level of national governments, Western states not only do not grasp 4GW, they avert their eyes from it in horror, pretending it is not happening. In part they do so because they are the state, and the state does not want to admit that its own legitimacy has come into question. As Martin van Creveld said to me a decade or more ago, “Everyone can see it except the people in the capital cities.”

In larger part, they ignore the reality of 4GW because it contradicts their ideology, commonly known as “multi-culturalism” but actually the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School. That ideology says that all the world’s cultures are wonderful, happy, peaceful cultures except Western culture, which is oppressive and evil and must be destroyed. In fact, Western culture is one of only two cultures in human history that has succeeded over millennia (the other is Chinese). 4GW theory warns that we now face a world of cultures in conflict, that we must defend Western culture and that many, perhaps most, other cultures are threats, especially when they flood Western countries with immigrants. Cultural Marxism welcomes immigrants who will not acculturate precisely because they are threats to Western culture.

To start with, why is it the worry of Counterpunch’s editors or its readers whether 4GW is “understood or acted upon by the West”? As it turns out, Lind co-authored a book with two-time presidential candidate Gary Hart titled “America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform.” Look, I don’t quite know how to put this, but I don’t want America to win. There, I said it.

The wiki on 4GW states:

The simplest definition includes any war in which one of the major participants is not a state but rather a violent non-state actor. Classical examples, such as the slave uprising under Spartacus or the assassination of Julius Caesar by members of the Roman senate, predate the modern concept of warfare and are examples of this type of conflict.

Not being up to speed on Julius Caesar, I am not sure what the Marxist position would be on this but I am damned sure that I would have been for the Spartacus-led slave revolts. And the last thing I would have been interested in is advising the military on how to defeat 21st century versions of such revolts.

But the thing that really sticks out is this:

4GW theory warns that we now face a world of cultures in conflict, that we must defend Western culture and that many, perhaps most, other cultures are threats, especially when they flood Western countries with immigrants. Cultural Marxism welcomes immigrants who will not acculturate precisely because they are threats to Western culture.

Was Alexander drunk when he read this article by Lind and gave it the green light? How in god’s name does one of America’s most well-known radical journalists fall asleep at the wheel and let such racist crap pollute a website that he has many reasons to be proud of.

Perhaps he published it as an example of the kind of sickness that pervades a certain sector of the American right. If that was the case, I would only ask that he include a brief introductory note the next time he favors us with such an item—something along the lines of this:

Dear Counterpunch readers

This article from regular contributor William S. Lind is not the sort that we usually include from him. It is not worthy of the kind of praise that his antiwar articles merit. We include it because it gives you an idea of the kind of nativism that affects a wing of the American conservative movement that could ultimately lead some of its furthest reaches—either here or abroad—to take violent action against its perceived enemies.

Alexander Cockburn

July 21, 2011

Cenk Uygur leaves MSNBC after refusing to “tone it down”

Filed under: media — louisproyect @ 1:43 pm

I was partial to Cenk not just because he is a Turk but because he was one of the sharpest critics of the DP on MSNBC despite being–in the final analysis–just another DP spokesperson.

For the last week or so, Al Sharpton has been hosting his 6pm show. At first I thought Cenk was on vacation but it turns out that he was too critical of Obama and the other rightwing assholes in the DP. All he wanted was the DP to be more liberal. Fat chance of that.

For those not familiar with American politics, Sharpton is an African-American one-time FBI informant and “radical” street demonstration organizer in NYC. He has “matured” into a total DP hack who can be called upon to spin Obama’s latest rightwing offensive against workers and the Black community.


July 16, 2011

Bolshevik newspapers: myth and reality

Filed under: media,revolutionary organizing,socialism — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

Premier issue of Pravda

For most aspiring vanguard party builders, the Bolshevik Party serves as a kind of gold standard worthy of emulation, even if the actual historical experience of that party remains far removed from contemporary versions of that history which tend to project back into the early 1900s patterns of behavior that Lenin would have never recognized.

Perhaps nothing is more essential to the task of building a new “Bolshevik” type party than a newspaper that will promulgate the party “program”. When James P. Cannon returned from Moscow in 1928, he resolved to create a new communist party that would be true to Lenin’s vision. Nothing was more necessary in that process than creating a newspaper based on a revolutionary program. Wasting no time, Cannon launched the Militant. That newspaper was seen as in the tradition of the Bolshevik press but the actual living history of the Bolshevik press had little to do with Cannon’s idealized version. As is so often the case, idealized versions of Bolshevik history can get the contemporary left in all sorts of trouble.

There are only two newspapers that can be considered the equivalent of the Militant in Bolshevik history, but neither of them turned out to be much of an equivalent—for better or for worse.

The first of the two is Iskra, the paper that consumed Lenin’s attention in “What is to be Done”. If you’ve ever read this article that was written in the heat of battle and that Lenin considered outpaced by events not five years after it was written, you might assume that the newspaper advocated by Lenin materialized following the 1903 conference where Lenin put forward his proposal.

In fact, Lenin’s proposal was defeated and Iskra remained under the control of his Menshevik opponents: Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Potresov and Martov; with strong support from Trotsky. Furthermore, the paper was published for only two years.

One interesting side-note on this. In his open letter Why I Resigned from the Iskra Editorial Board, Lenin reserved the right of a minority to express its views in a manner that is utterly at odds with our modern understanding of how to build a Leninist party: “Every circle, even of Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, is entitled, on joining the Party, to demand the opportunity to express and advocate its views.” Rabocheye Dyelo was, of course, the journal of the Economist tendency. Keep in mind, however, that Lenin wrote this article in 1903, long before the idea of a homogenous revolutionary party organized around the thoughts of Trotsky, Mao or Stalin had calcified.

Following the unsuccessful bid to establish Iskra as a revolutionary tribune, the next major attempt at publishing a Bolshevik newspaper in Czarist Russia was made in 1912 with the launching of Pravda, the same name as the ghastly official newspaper of the USSR years later.

Most of what will follow at this point is based on the article “Lenin and Pravda: 1912-1914” by R.C. Elwood that appeared in the June 1972 Slavic Review. I knew nothing about Elwood before reading this article, but was impressed enough to persuade me to put his “Reconsidering the Russian Revolution”, a collection of articles, on my “to-read list”, as well as his biography of Inessa Armand.

In 1910 when the Mensheviks approached Lenin, who was living in exile in Western Europe at the time, about the possibility of launching a legal worker’s daily, he was cool to the idea. He felt that a legal paper would foster the illusion that change could come through evolutionary means.

The Mensheviks managed to persuade the Bolsheviks who were still based in Russia to go ahead with such a newspaper, agreeing that it should be a true workers newspaper written by the workers themselves free from the factional disputes of the illegal émigré press. Lenin was persuaded to endorse the formation of a legal newspaper after he decided that the elections for the Fourth Duma allowed revolutionaries to exploit legal openings to make their case.

The first issue of Pravda appeared on April 22, 1912. Most of the articles were contributed to this new daily by Russian workers in more or less the same spirit as many online publications today, especially those that report directly from the fields of struggle. The paper was a big success initially, selling 40,000 to 60,000 copies of each issue in April and May. This was a period when workers were mobilized to protest the killing of gold miners at Lena on April 4th and eager to read a paper published in their own interests.

Despite this initial success, Lenin was not pleased. Pravda was far too conciliatory toward the Mensheviks. Stalin, who would ultimately gain a reputation as a factional thug, wrote an article that must have annoyed Lenin to no end. Titled “Our Aims”, it called for “unity at all costs”.

When Lenin submitted articles that ran contrary to this spirit, the editors routinely deleted passages that they found offensive. Lenin wrote them in complaint: “Why does Pravda persistently and systematically strike out any mention of the Liquidators both from my articles and from those of other colleagues?” Not only did the editors cut his articles, they occasionally rejected them completely. Lenin complained again: “To write ‘for the wastebasket’, that is, articles to be thrown out, is not very enjoyable.”

Despite heavy pressure from Lenin, the editorial board failed to publish articles that drew clear class lines for the upcoming Duma elections. Lenin might have been the nominal leader of the Bolshevik Party but Pravda enjoyed a kind of independence that no “Leninist” paper would think possible. Indeed, if Lenin had his way, that independence would have to be sacrificed in the name of the revolution. The point being made here is not that Pravda was the kind of newspaper that we should aspire to today but that the Bolshevik Party was not the well-oiled machine that so many people speaking in its name today would have us believe. It was a lot messier affair, reflecting no doubt the contradictions of the political situation in Russia.

Lenin grew even angrier when he learned that Pravda was publishing Bogdanov’s articles. He wrote Maxim Gorky, who had put up the funding for the paper, that Bogdanov’s articles were “the same old Machism-Idealism concealed in such a way that … the stupid editors of Pravda could not understand them.”

Matters came to a head on December 15, 1913 when 11 Menshevik deputies from the Fourth Duma voted to merge their newspaper with Pravda. Being too much for Lenin to accept, he called a high-level meeting to resolve what he saw as a crisis even if the unity-minded members of the two factions of the Russian social democracy saw otherwise. He managed to push through a reorganization of the editorial board that resulted in Iakov Sverdlov being named chief editor.

Before Sverdlov had a chance to purge the Mensheviks, he was arrested.  The paper suffered from other problems besides its inability to educate its readers about the dead-end of the kind of gradualism that was being promoted by the Cadets and implicitly supported by the Mensheviks. The paper’s leading contributors were always being arrested. The paper might have been legal but the Czarist cops thought nothing of illegally jailing its writers and editors.

In 1913, the repression escalated. On July 5th, the cops closed it down. But one week later it reemerged as Rabochaia Pravda. In 1914, Kamenev assumed editorial leadership, thus guaranteeing that the paper would at last reflect the thinking of the Central Committee. The paper did make big gains under Kamenev’s direction, reaching a circulation of 130,000 on its second anniversary. Just as Pravda was coming into its own as the definitive voice of the Russian social democracy, it was closed down for good in July 8, 1914.

Three years later, the paper began publishing again under the editorial co-direction of Kamenev and Stalin, advocating a policy of “pressuring” Kerensky for reform (not unlike the policy some leftists pursue with respect to Obama today) and advocating the continuation of the war on “revolutionary defensive” terms. At the March conference of the Bolshevik Party, Stalin advised unity with the Mensheviks. Writing from exile, Lenin began submitting articles to Pravda once again and as before they ended up in the wastebasket.

So except for the one year that Kamenev edited Pravda in 1914, you might make the case that a Bolshevik newspaper was more of an idea than a reality. The irony is that its vicissitudes were a reflection of the strength of the movement overall. The Russian social democracy reflected massive social formations in motion that were never operating at the same tempo or with the same immediate goals until October 1917.

Lenin was frustrated much of the time because he was dealing with people who were reflecting the relative backwardness of the social layers they emerged from or that they were responding to. It was a little bit like herding cats, as they put it, but these cats numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

The modern-day self-declared Bolsheviks do not have to bother with such distractions because they do not emerge out of a mass movement but out of the minds of small groups of people inspired by Lenin’s party but not fully understanding it. They think that by launching a newspaper modeled after a Bolshevik newspaper that never really existed in the real world they will be able to unleash forces through the power of their words that will ultimately transform the world.

Unfortunately, the class struggle does not move in a straight line and least of all in compliance with the directives of an ideologically purified newspaper. Without being too precise about this, I would propose that a newspaper might usefully follow the example of Pravda at least in one respect. In 1912 this newspaper was made up primarily of articles written by workers themselves. In the age of the Internet and in a period of deepening social crisis, something very much in the same spirit is urgently needed.

June 3, 2011

Reflections on the World Socialist Web Site

Filed under: media,socialism — louisproyect @ 3:46 pm

Although I mostly go to the World Socialist Web Site for their movie reviews, I often find other issues covered there worth reading.

For example, they have an informative piece on the tornado that killed 3 people in Massachusetts. It is obviously drawn from the bourgeois press, but it includes enough analysis to let the reader know what side of the barricades they are on:

The small town of Monson, with a population of about 8,000, took a direct hit. Like many towns in the area, Monson was once a thriving mill town but has now fallen on hard times. Remarkably, no one in the town was killed, but homes and businesses sustained severe damage. The steeple was ripped off the church and was lying in the front yard.

So out of curiosity, I checked their Alexa rating to get a handle on how much traffic they are getting:

Site Information for wsws.org

Alexa Traffic Rank: 38,549

United States Flag Traffic Rank in US: 23,233

Sites Linking In: 4,146

This is simply fucking amazing.

For comparison’s sake:

Site Information for counterpunch.org

Alexa Traffic Rank: 33,853

United States Flag Traffic Rank in US: 11,038

Sites Linking In: 6,052

Given the high profile of Alexander Cockburn and the people whose articles appear there on a regular basis such as his brother Patrick et al, it is amazing that the two websites have comparable ratings.

Perhaps I should have realized this since my wife, who teaches at 2 NYC colleges, once told me that her students are always citing wsws.org in their term papers.

I am sure that the key to their success rests on the fact that they are a daily newspaper, except for Sunday. I gather that they discontinued their print version some time back. Also, despite their ultra-sectarian politics, they tend to offer straightforward radical journalism of the sort that you might have seen in the Guardian newsweekly, a radical U.S. publication that folded in the 1980s.

By another standard of comparison, Socialist Worker, the newspaper of the leading socialist group in the U.S.—the ISO—ranks much lower than the Socialist Equality Party, the sect responsible for wsws.org:

Site Information for socialistworker.org

Alexa Traffic Rank: 153,945

United States Flag Traffic Rank in US: 45,178

Sites Linking In: 922

To some extent this might be comparing apples and oranges, since the ISO’s newspaper is primarily designed to be sold as a print publication to students, trade unionists, and participants in the mass movement. It is also a weekly newspaper embodying the traditions of the “vanguard” press going back to Iskra, at least as understood by those following such a tradition. Perhaps given the Internet revolution that is to the 20th century what the Gutenberg press was to the 17th century, it is a time to rethink these paradigms.

A few years after the Guardian ceased publication (it was probably 1992 or so, just around the time I was discovering the Internet), I approached Barry Cohen of the Committees of Correspondence (a group I belonged to for five minutes until I realized how embedded in the Democratic Party they were) with a proposal to start something like the Guardian again. Barry had been the editor of the People’s World, the CPUSA newspaper, and knew the business inside and out.

Barry was adamant that economics was making print publishing a thing of the past. The costs were prohibitive, from office space to the printing press itself. He thought that a newspaper was probably needed, but that it should be based on the Internet. With the Internet, you no longer had the problem of laying out a newspaper that had to fit into an even number of pages, etc. Of course, the C of C never went anywhere with this, choosing instead to focus on Portside, a daily aggregation of articles that many people subscribe to (excluding me).

Speaking for myself (who else, obviously), I am leaning strongly in the direction of launching an online daily newspaper after retiring from Columbia University. I think there is a crying need for a publication that has no ideological agenda other than to promote the kind of broad-based socialism that the Guardian newsweekly once stood for. I would hope that such a web-based publication would welcome open debate among Marxists. Our political culture has tended to encourage newspapers, either print or web based, to see themselves as disseminating a “party line” to the exclusion of opposing viewpoints, even in the form of letters. This not only robs the left of having the exchange of clashing viewpoints that are so necessary to drive the dialectic forward.

At this stage of the game, I don’t anticipate that such a newspaper would have any connections to an organization. Frankly, I am too old and too weary for that sort of thing. But given the absence of a newspaper or website that has no ” revolutionary program” to sell, like toothpaste or cereal, I think that most potential readers would find that a refreshing change.

Peter Camejo once told me that a program for the American revolution does not exist and that it can only take shape through the living class struggle where objective conditions and the relationship of class forces will help to clarify what goals should be advanced and what strategy and tactics would be best suited to achieve such goals.

As my retirement draws near, I will try to put flesh on these bones.

February 28, 2011

Matt Bai gung-ho against public sector unions

Filed under: financial crisis,media,workers — louisproyect @ 7:55 pm

Matt Bai

Back in 1967 when I was working for the welfare department in Harlem and already becoming convinced of the analysis that would persuade me to join the Trotskyist movement, I went out on strike. The union was led by Judy Mage, who was married to Shane Mage at the time I believe. Even though I had learned how to read the newspaper of record with a jaundiced eye, I was still not prepared for the outright propaganda. The paper argued that our strike would hurt welfare mothers when in fact Judy Mage was a tribune fighting to preserve benefits.

If anything, the paper has become even more propagandistic over the years—a function no doubt of the declining power of labor. But it took some degree of chutzpah for them to print Matt Bai’s gargantuan (6600 words) puff piece on New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, whose attack on public service unions is as vicious as that being mounted in Wisconsin. Bai writes:

Like a stand-up comedian working out-of-the-way clubs, Chris Christie travels the townships and boroughs of New Jersey­, places like Hackettstown and Raritan and Scotch Plains, sharpening his riffs about the state’s public employees, whom he largely blames for plunging New Jersey into a fiscal death spiral. In one well-worn routine, for instance, the governor reminds his audiences that, until he passed a recent law that changed the system, most teachers in the state didn’t pay a dime for their health care coverage, the cost of which was borne by taxpayers.

And so, Christie goes on, forced to cut more than $1 billion in local aid in order to balance the budget, he asked the teachers not only to accept a pay freeze for a year but also to begin contributing 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care. The dominant teachers’ union in the state responded by spending millions of dollars in television and radio ads to attack him.

“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”

By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “ ‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “ ‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1½ percent contribution to health benefits.’ ” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”

Acid monologues like this have made Christie, only a little more than a year into his governorship, one of the most intriguing political figures in America. Hundreds of thousands of YouTube viewers linger on scenes from Christie’s town-hall meetings, like the one in which he takes apart a teacher for her histrionics. (“If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, then I have no interest in answering your question.”) Newly elected governors — not just Republicans, Christie says, but also Democrats — call to seek his counsel on how to confront their own staggering budget deficits and intractable unions. At a recent gathering of Republican governors, Christie attracted a throng of supporters and journalists as he strode through the halls of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel like Bono at Davos.

Done regurgitating? Okay, then let’s proceed.

Bai is one of the more toxic figures associated with the N.Y. Times, competing with Tom Friedman, Bill Keller, Judith Miller, A.M. Rosenthal, and other venomous creatures who have made the paper required reading for those of us monitoring the talking points of the liberal wing of the class enemy.

Bai has his own style, however. Unlike a pompous toad such as the late A.M. Rosenthal, he tries to come across as a breezy, non-ideological observer of political horse races, the kind of guy who would make an ideal panelist on Bill Maher’s show.

On his website, he includes this bit of telling information on his bio page:

I grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut, a nice little town just outside of Bridgeport, the city where both of my parents were born. Those who have ever driven through Bridgeport will understand how I came to care about politics and industrial decay. In fact, I’ve never lived more than a few miles from a housing project, which probably explains my skepticism toward both Darwinian social policy and the notion that expansive government can fix everything. I went to Tufts and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, where the faculty generously awarded me the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship.

So what is the point being made here? If there is “industrial decay” and what we can assume is a run-down housing project, the conclusion Bai draws is that “expansive government” cannot fix everything. Just the kind of guy who fits in perfectly with the Democratic Party nowadays–a party that he proffers advice to on a regular basis.

Bai made his first big splash in 2007 with a book titled “The Argument: Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics”, a prime example of the advice referred to above. It is focused on the Netroots and big donors to the Democratic Party, evaluating their “effectiveness” without once questioning the politics of a party that was throwing most of its New Deal legacy overboard. In fact Bai sees his role much more as that of a consultant, even offering his advice to the Republicans from time to time. On his NY Times blog, Bai suggested to John McCain that Condoleezza Rice would be a good running-mate back in 2008:

Strategically speaking, there are enough reasons to think that Ms. Rice wouldn’t be a great fit. She is closely tied in the public mind to an unpopular administration (what better way for Democrats to lash John McCain to President Bush’s foreign policy?), and she has no experience with the economic issues on which McCain is most vulnerable. Her presence on the ticket might signal something nice about inclusion in Republican politics, but it probably wouldn’t enable Mr. McCain to attract more than a sliver of African American voters anyway. All that aside, though, the stories about Ms. Rice have officially opened speculation on what kind of running mate Mr. McCain will ultimately choose.

Okay, so you get the picture. This is a really shallow guy who has lived his entire life with the sole ambition to write such drivel. Whether he learned to polish it at the Columbia School of Journalism that includes the wretched Todd Gitlin as a faculty member is an open question.

Bai also saw Obama’s candidacy as a confirmation that we were living in a “post-racial” America. In an August 10 2008 NY Times magazine article titled “Post-Race”, he wrote:

For a lot of younger African-Americans, the resistance of the civil rights generation to Obama’s candidacy signified the failure of their parents to come to terms, at the dusk of their lives, with the success of their own struggle — to embrace the idea that black politics might now be disappearing into American politics in the same way that the Irish and Italian machines long ago joined the political mainstream.

”I’m the new black politics,” says Cornell Belcher, a 38-year-old pollster who is working for Obama. ”The people I work with are the new black politics. We don’t carry around that history. We see the world through post-civil-rights eyes. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but that’s just the way it is.

”I don’t want in any way to seem critical of the generation of leadership who fought so I could be sitting here,” Belcher told me when we met for breakfast at the Four Seasons in Georgetown one morning. He wears his hair in irreverent spikes and often favors tennis shoes with suit jackets. ”Barack Obama is the sum of their struggle. He’s the sum of their tears, their fights, their marching, their pain. This opportunity is the sum of that.

This prompted the sagacious Glen Ford to write:

Matt Bai’s Sunday Times article is based on the same fact-devoid theory of Black rightward political drift and a yawning age divide. Even before his national debut at the 2004 Democratic convention, Barack Obama joined Cory Booker, Artur Davis, and then Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (TN) – once George Bush’s favorite Black congressperson – as exhibits in an endless series of “New Black Politics” articles, each one a clone of the last. This is what Bai mistakenly calls “the generational transition that is reordering black politics.” It’s not about age at all – other than that the young are hungrier and more malleable than their elders, and thus better prospects to march under the corporate colors.

Barack Obama does pose a dire threat to the coherence of Black politics, but not for Matt Bai’s reasons. Obama’s presidential bid is inseparable from the ongoing corporate money-and-media campaign to confuse and destabilize the Black polity – an offensive begun in earnest in 2002. Obama, a prescient and uncannily talented opportunist, understood which way the corporate wind was blowing at least a decade earlier, and methodically readied himself for the role of his life.

To the extent that African Americans expect more from Obama than they got from Bill Clinton, they will be devastatingly disappointed. His candidacy has at least temporarily caused Black folks to behave en masse as if there are no issues at stake in the election other than an Obama victory. It is altogether unclear how long this spell-like effect will last. The short-term prospects for rebuilding a coherent Black politics, are uncertain. But one thing we do know: the formation of a near-unanimous Black bloc for Obama – of which he is absolutely unworthy – is stunning evidence that the Black imperative to solidarity is undiminished. Unfortunately, the wrong guy is the beneficiary – but in a sense, that’s beside the point. Black people are not working themselves into an election year frenzy just to commit political suicide by disbanding as a bloc, no matter what Matt Bai and his ilk say.

Bai also came to the attention of Matt Taibbi, since the similarities of their names and the fact that they both are journalists (Bai even put in a stint at Rolling Stone at one point) led people to confuse the two, something Taibbi was anxious to clear up:

Bai is one of those guys — there are hundreds of them in this business — who poses as a wonky, Democrat-leaning “centrist” pundit and then makes a career out of drubbing “unrealistic” liberals and progressives with cartoonish Jane Fonda and Hugo Chavez caricatures. This career path is so well-worn in our business, it’s like a Great Silk Road of pseudoleft punditry. First step: graduate Harvard or Columbia, buy some clothes at Urban Outfitters, shore up your socially liberal cred by marching in a gay rights rally or something, then get a job at some place like the American Prospect. Then once you’re in, spend a few years writing wonky editorials gently chiding Jane Fonda liberals for failing to grasp the obvious wisdom of the WTC or whatever Bob Rubin/Pete Peterson Foundation deficit-reduction horseshit the Democratic Party chiefs happen to be pimping at the time. Once you’ve got that down, you just sit tight and wait for the New York Times or the Washington Post to call. It won’t be long.

Read full article by Matt Taibbi here

January 28, 2011

Bill Keller’s hatchet job on Julian Assange

Filed under: media,war,Wikileaks — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

Bill Keller

For obvious reasons, the New York Times does not like Julian Assange very much although they don’t spell out their political differences,  preferring to use cheap ad hominem attacks. For example, John Burns described him as “erratic and imperious” in an October 23rd story. Indeed, it seems almost impossible for the Times to write about Assange without including such terms.

This Sunday the magazine section will include an 18 page article on Assange by the paper’s executive editor, one Bill Keller. It is basically an exercise in character assassination relieved only by a pro forma defense of the Wikileak founder’s right not to be kidnapped, tortured, killed or imprisoned. Keller writes:

But while I do not regard Assange as a partner, and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism, it is chilling to contemplate the possible government prosecution of WikiLeaks for making secrets public, let alone the passage of new laws to punish the dissemination of classified information, as some have advocated. Taking legal recourse against a government official who violates his trust by divulging secrets he is sworn to protect is one thing. But criminalizing the publication of such secrets by someone who has no official obligation seems to me to run up against the First Amendment and the best traditions of this country. As one of my colleagues asks: If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?

If Keller had simply left it at this, one might have forgiven him despite his extensive record as a willing accomplice to imperialist war. Implicit in his hatchet job on Assange is the idea that someone hostile to American foreign policy is beyond the pale. For a newspaper that has been responsible for Judith Miller’s lies that led to a massive loss of Iraqi lives, it is high time for it to reexamine its role as propagandist. Of course, as long as there is a class system in the US, this is not likely to happen.

On February 8th, 2003, Keller wrote an op-ed piece in the Times titled The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club that stated among other stupidities:

We reluctant hawks may disagree among ourselves about the most compelling logic for war — protecting America, relieving oppressed Iraqis or reforming the Middle East — but we generally agree that the logic for standing pat does not hold. Much as we might wish the administration had orchestrated events so the inspectors had a year instead of three months, much as we deplore the arrogance and binary moralism, much as we worry about all the things that could go wrong, we are hard pressed to see an alternative that is not built on wishful thinking.

This is really what sticks in their craw when it comes to someone like Julian Assange or a Noam Chomsky. These two dissidents stubbornly refuse to buy into the “arrogance and binary moralism” that are at the heart of American foreign policy whichever party is in power. Furthermore, despite Keller’s assurance that he “deplores” such a stance, he is the living embodiment of it. The only reason the NY Times has written anything critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they have turned sour. If you go back and review coverage of the invasions of Grenada or Panama, you will find nothing of the sort. Imperialist liberals of Mr. Keller’s persuasion only begin to think twice about American foreign policy when it fails to achieve its immediate goals.

In the first paragraph of Mr. Keller’s attack, he makes sure to remind his readers that his target is an “eccentric former computer hacker”. Okay, we get it. Our enemies are “eccentric” while the inhabitants of the White House are normal. It doesn’t matter very much if these normal people are killing thousands of civilians just as long as they wouldn’t raise eyebrows at a cocktail party thrown at some NY Times editor’s house in the Hamptons.

In order to establish that Assange would never get such an invitation, Keller cites a communication from Eric Schmitt, a reporter assigned to work with Wikileaks:

On the fourth day of the London meeting, Assange slouched into The Guardian office, a day late. Schmitt took his first measure of the man who would be a large presence in our lives. “He’s tall — probably 6-foot-2 or 6-3 — and lanky, with pale skin, gray eyes and a shock of white hair that seizes your attention,” Schmitt wrote to me later. “He was alert but disheveled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-colored sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days.”

Despite these fashion notes, it appears that Schmitt’s background is not in the fluffy, idiotic Style section that appears in the Thursday edition of the NY Times. Of course, if Assange had shown up in a perfectly fitting Armani suit, that would have made little difference to these cheap propagandists. With respect to his body odor, one could only assume that it is difficult sometimes to bathe when you are on the run. We can assume that Mr. Keller and Mr. Schmitt are perfectly groomed since their professional life would hardly ever make them the targets of Interpol, the CIA, MI5 or other armed bodies on the same side of the class divide as the newspaper of record.

The article continues to paint Julian Assange as a kind of dirt bag. On page three, we learn that “reporters came to think of Assange as smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically but arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous.” I have never been in Assange’s position, but I probably would find myself rather “thin-skinned” in the presence of a sartorial hawk like Eric Schmitt especially since my own socks have occasionally dropped around my ankles.

While the NY Times decided to form a partnership with Wikileaks (one that no longer exists because of John Burns’s hatchet job, no doubt), it was obvious that it recoiled at some of the more incendiary leaks that pointed to American war crimes. It was one thing to include chatty obiter dicta from American embassies overseas (that is, until Tunisia exploded) but it was another to publicize anything that proved we were involved with war crimes. Keller writes:

The Guardian, which is an openly left-leaning newspaper, used the first War Logs to emphasize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, claiming the documents disclosed that coalition forces killed “hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents,” underscoring the cost of what the paper called a “failing war.” Our reporters studied the same material but determined that all the major episodes of civilian deaths we found in the War Logs had been reported in The Times, many of them on the front page. (In fact, two of our journalists, Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi, were kidnapped by the Taliban while investigating one major episode near Kunduz. Munadi was killed during an ensuing rescue by British paratroopers.) The civilian deaths that had not been previously reported came in ones and twos and did not add up to anywhere near “hundreds.” Moreover, since several were either duplicated or missing from the reports, we concluded that an overall tally would be little better than a guess.

Of course, it is understandable why Keller would be agnostic on whether casualties amounted to “hundreds” based on the reporting of Stephen Farrell. The Kunduz incident alone resulted in the death of 90 Afghans, but you really could not tell from Farrell’s article whether the dead people were insurgents or innocent civilians. He made sure to include these disclaimers:

Though there seemed little doubt some of the dead were militants, it was unclear how many of the dead were civilians, and with anger at the foreign forces high here, NATO ordered an immediate investigation.

In explaining the civilian deaths, military officials speculated that local people were conscripted by the Taliban to unload the fuel from the tankers, which were stuck near a river several miles from the nearest villages.

German forces in northern Afghanistan under the NATO command called in the attack, and German military officials initially insisted that no civilians had been killed. But a Defense Ministry spokesman in Berlin later said the ministry believed that more than 50 fighters had been killed but could give no details about civilian casualties.

This kind of “balance” is what makes the NY Times so worthless. If there were 90 people supposedly dead as a result of a Taliban attack, trust me that one of its reporters would not be so careful to include “the other side” of the story.

Finally, a word about Keller’s likening of Assange to figures in a novel that I am currently reading:

I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from a Stieg Larsson thriller — a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.

As one of my colleagues asks: If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?

I will have a lot more to say about Stieg Larsson after I am finished reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” but one wonders if Mr. Keller has read the author. The obvious connection is between Julian Assange and Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, the two extremely likable characters who come together as partners in an investigation of murders committed by members of a bourgeois family with Nazi connections and corporate crime carried out by another wealthy magnate. One wonders what would make them villainous in Keller’s eyes. Was it their willingness to take on corporate power?

Indeed, it is very likely that the NY Times would have had exactly the same bourgeois snobbery and anti-leftist animosity when it came to Stieg Larsson who created these memorable characters. As a young man, Larsson was a militant of the Trotskyist group in Sweden and dedicated to bringing down the system that Julian Assange is opposed to. If Larsson had not died as the result of a heart attack, I can easily imagine him participating in Assange’s defense. The main message of his novels is the abuse of corporate power, something that American writers need to adopt as well in the face of financial collapse, greed and, class divisions on a scale not seen since the Great Depression or earlier. If I had the ear of such a novelist, I would tell them to take a close look at Bill Keller, a real villain by any estimation.

November 28, 2010

Exchange with a NY Times reporter

Filed under: Islamophobia,media,repression — louisproyect @ 5:11 pm



Erik Eckholm

NY Times November 27, 2010
F.B.I. Says Oregon Suspect Planned ‘Grand’ Attack

By COLIN MINER, LIZ ROBBINS and ERIK ECKHOLM

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Somali-born teenager who thought he was detonating a car bomb at a packed Christmas tree-lighting ceremony downtown here was arrested by the authorities on Friday night after federal agents said that they had spent nearly six months setting up a sting operation.

The bomb, which was in a van parked off Pioneer Courthouse Square, was a fake — planted by F.B.I. agents as part of the elaborate sting — but “the threat was very real,” Arthur Balizan, the F.B.I.’s special agent in charge in Oregon, said in a statement released by the Department of Justice. An estimated 10,000 people were at the ceremony on Friday night, the Portland police said.

Mr. Balizan identified the suspect as Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a naturalized United States citizen. He graduated from Westview High School in Beaverton, Ore., a Portland suburb, and had been taking classes at Oregon State in Corvallis until Oct. 6, the university said Saturday.

Mr. Mohamud was charged with trying to use a weapon of mass destruction. “Our investigation shows that Mohamud was absolutely committed to carrying out an attack on a very grand scale,” Mr. Balizan said.

“At the same time, I want to reassure the people of this community that, at every turn, we denied him the ability to actually carry out the attack,” he added.

full article

* * * *

Thank you for your thoughtful letter and your deep insight into who I am, based no doubt on careful reporting.

BTW, proud to be called a hack.

Erik Eckholm

National Correspondent
The New York Times
212 556-8819
________________________________________
From: NYTimes.com [emailus@ms2.lga2.nytimes.com]
Sent: Sunday, November 28, 2010 7:30 AM
To: Eckholm, Erik
Subject: READER MAIL: Erik Eckholm – Entrapment

To: ERIK ECKHOLM

You have received reader mail via nytimes.com. To respond to this reader, simply ‘reply’ to this message.

READER’S NAME:
Louis Proyect

READER’S E-MAIL:
lnp3@panix.com

READER’S MESSAGE:
The thing I can’t figure out is why the FBI never carried out sting operations against the terrorists who were blowing up abortion clinics in the name of Jesus. I imagine that such a question would never trouble a hack like you.

ARTICLE REFERENCED (if any):
Entrapment

November 7, 2010

Clifford Krauss: propagandist par excellence

Filed under: media,oil — louisproyect @ 6:48 pm

Clifford Krauss

After having seen the powerful documentary Gasland that shows the impact of “fracking” on households across the United States, including flammable tap water and cancer clusters that are the inevitable outcome of natural gas drilling byproducts, I have begun to pay closer attention to news coverage, including my hometown papers in Upstate NY where energy companies are attempting to buy support from impoverished land owners.

So with that in mind, I read the article “When a Rig Moves In Next Door” by Clifford Krauss and Tom Zeller Jr. in the Business section of today’s NY Times with keen interest. As is so often the case with the newspaper of record, it has to maintain the illusion of objectivity, so necessary for its market niche: college-educated professionals who vote Democrat, watch PBS, listen to NPR, drive a Lexus, and donate money to the ACLU or mainstream environmentalist organizations. It simply would not suffice for Krauss and Zeller Jr. to write the sort of thing that you would hear from Rupert Murdoch hirelings, even if it amounts to the same thing more or less.

The article reports on the riches gas drilling has bestowed on Louisiana:

By the 2000s, De Soto, with a population of about 28,000, was one of the poorest parishes in the state.

Then came the shale.

“People went to bed one night poor and woke up the next day rich, enabled to buy a Cadillac and pay cash,” said Mayor Curtis McCoy of Mansfield, the parish seat. “It’s kind of like the show ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.’ ”

Farmers who once lived check to check are now extremely comfortable, if not downright wealthy. New cars, recreational vehicles and trailers are parked in nearly every driveway. Vinyl siding has been applied to weather-beaten cottages and clapboard houses.

But to make sure that he maintains the aura of objectivity, Krauss reports on the negative consequences as well:

The Haynesville area has not been spared from drilling accidents, experiencing several over the last two years that might make residents howl in some other parts of the country.

Nearly 150 homes had to be evacuated in the neighboring Caddo Parish in April, when drillers of an Exco Resources well struck a shallow pocket of gas, causing a blowout. Exco says methane was already in the drinking water, and suggests that further study is needed to determine whether some gas came from the well.

Careful readers will note, I’m sure, that he is sure to turn a negative into a positive: “further study is needed to determine whether some gas came from the well.” You almost need to study Hegel to master all the contradictions contained in the article.

I especially enjoyed his reporting on how some environmentalists are for gas drilling despite the inflammatory water faucets and cancer clusters:

Some environmentalists support fracking and other means of extracting natural gas because gas emits a fraction of the carbon of either oil or coal. They also prefer it because it could replace coal as the nation’s principal source of electricity and provide a lower-carbon bridge before renewable energy sources can be developed on a larger scale.

You don’t have to be working at FAIR to ask the question which environmentalists. Back in junior high school, our social studies teacher explained what good reporting is all about. It has to address the questions of who, what, when, where and why. The NY Times is fully capable of answering these questions when it is in the interests of the class it speaks for, just as it is capable of fudging them when it is not. I was not surprised to discover that a google search on “environmentalists support fracking” only turned up links to Krauss and Zeller’s article. Maybe they are the environmentalists they are talking about, since both contribute to Green, a Blog about Energy and the Environment at the NYT.

In the course of finding out more about Clifford Krauss, I discovered that he is someone who has been responsible for shoddy reporting in an entirely different arena. Along with Simon Forero, Krauss was writing articles about Hugo Chavez that were compliant with American foreign policy imperatives. In an article “High Stakes: Chávez Plays the Oil Card” from April 10, 2007, Krauss informed his readers:

We are on a collision course with Chávez over oil,” said Michael J. Economides, an oil consultant in Houston who wrote an influential essay comparing Mr. Chávez’s populist appeal in Latin America with the pan-Arabism of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya two decades ago. “Chávez poses a much bigger threat to America’s energy security than Saddam Hussein ever did.”

Needless to say, Krauss did not bother to cite anybody like Mark Weisbrot or Eva Gollinger.

Along with Forero, he has also been presenting Chevron’s case in Ecuador most assiduously: Chevron Offers Evidence of Bribery Scheme in Ecuador Lawsuit.

So one can only surmise that as a watchdog of American energy corporations’ vital interests in Latin America, it was only natural for him to adopt the same fighting stance in places like Louisiana or Pennsylvania.

But it is in Sandinista Nicaragua where Clifford Krauss sharpened his propaganda skills working for the Wall Street Journal prior to landing a job at the Times. On May 18, 1987 Krauss wrote a piece for the WSJ with the unwieldy title Central Issue: If the Contras Collapse, U.S. Faces Bigger Task In Containing Marxism — Officials Fear an Adventurism By Nicaragua Sandinistas Similar to That of Castro — The Likely Refugee Problem. It pretty much dispenses with any pretensions toward impartiality that would be necessary for the NY Times readers and presents an analysis that might have been written by a State Department flack:

No one knows the future of Nicaragua. The image of a triumphant, militaristic, Marxist-Leninist Nicaragua torments antiCommunists. Others think the Sandinistas will broaden civil and economic liberties once the Contra pressure is released. Some observers speculate that Managua will face serious internal political pressures from the Nicaraguan public and from within the Sandinista party itself once the war fades and domestic crackdowns are no longer justifiable. The Sandinistas’ future may be profoundly affected by whatever commitment the Soviet Union makes in Nicaragua, and by the moves Washington makes.

“We don’t have a wall to stop Sandinista ideology or subversives,” complains William Hall Rivera, the Honduran president’s chief of staff. “It won’t be a fight over land, but over minds.” He adds: “We’ll need a Marshall Plan.”

In the early 1960s, President Kennedy faced an arguably comparable situation. Fidel Castro quickly consolidated his revolution in Cuba, defeated a U.S.-organized counterrevolutionary force and attempted to export his ideology to the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela and Bolivia. His adventurism failed, partly because Washington pushed Alliance for Progress social programs and military training in Latin America, but mostly because of indigenous anti-communism in the hemisphere.

Krauss is an Edward J. Murrow Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), a policy review body filled to the rafters with inside-the-beltway pundits and NY Times reporters. Whatever qualms I might have about Murrow’s own connections to power, he had the guts to take on McCarthy at a time when Krauss would have likely been raising a ruckus over atom spies.

In an interview he gave to the CFR, Krauss answered the question about the most important story he covered in his career:

No question, the most impactful story I ever covered were the wars in Central America during the late 1970s and 1980s. The fall of Somoza, the Sandinista revolution and Contra counter-revolution, and the revolutions and U.S. policy in El Salvador and Guatemala were dramatic events that brought an otherwise remote part of the world into focus for Americans and the world. It was a challenging story for many of us young reporters because we carried lessons and baggage from the Vietnam era.  Some were pertinent to this story, while others were not, and we had to sort it out. The Cold War loomed large, of course, with Cuban and even Soviet bloc involvement. But there were also crying human needs and suffering that needed to be addressed, and revolutionaries not particularly sympathetic to American interests (to put it mildly)  sometimes appeared  to be the only ones eager to address them. In the end, good reporting was needed to break through the simplistic perceptions of both left and right. I was attracted to Central America at first because of my own Vietnam experience as a high school and college student, and I left with a much more nuanced view of the world.  As for Central America, it’s still a mess, but the foreign correspondents are essentially gone.

You’ll note his self-justification thatIn the end, good reporting was needed to break through the simplistic perceptions of both left and right.” And the older but wiser bullshit about a “more nuanced view of the world”. Such formulations reflect the “sensible” way that American ideologists see themselves, from Krauss’s thumb-sucking apologetics for gas-drilling corporations to Jon Stewart’s idiotic rally. As a way of maintaining the status quo, there is no better tactic for persuading the affluent middle class that its interests are the same as the people who own the NYT or Comedy Central (Time-Warner actually). But when the status quo amounts to job loss, foreclosure, deteriorating water and air, pension uncertainties and ever-escalating health costs, that status quo will begin to appear more and more inadequate. That will most certainly begin to persuade the formerly complacent that radical change is not only desirable but necessary.

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