Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 20, 2015

Still Alice

Filed under: aging,Film,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

“Still Alice” is now the fourth narrative film that I have seen dealing with Alzheimer’s and by far the best. (Brief summaries of the other three appear at the end of this review.) Starring Julianne Moore as Alice Howland, a 50-year old Columbia University linguistics professor with early onset, the film is blessed by an exceptionally intelligent screenplay and direction by the late Richard Glatzer whose wife died of ALS. Some critics feel that his own family tragedy helped him shape the material but probably the most important element was the novel upon which it was based.

Written by Lisa Genova in 2007, the novel not only benefited from the author’s expertise as a neuroscience researcher with a PhD from Harvard but her familiarity with the mandarin life-style of her characters. Given the main character’s lofty perch in an Ivy League school, her husband’s own privileged status as a medical researcher, and their familiarity with Manhattan’s exquisite but pricey restaurants and other luxuries, her descent into an illness that would rob her of both her livelihood and—worse—her identity is unimaginably steep. In a key scene, when she and her husband are at their Hamptons summer home, she wets her pants because she cannot remember where the bathroom was.

Moore’s performance won her an Academy Award for best performance by an actress in 2014 and was one I would have supported if I had seen the film that year. Now that is available on Amazon streaming, I cannot recommend it highly enough. At the age of 55, Moore manages to convey the desperation of a world-class intellectual trying to keep her wits about her in the face of insurmountable odds. Her life begins to revolve around her IPhone, which is used to remind her of how to bake a cake or to take the pills she needs for a suicide when the smart phone no longer can bail her out.

Alex Baldwin, who plays her husband, is also very good as a man who does his best to run interference for his wife but finally comes to the sad realization that nothing will make up for her not being able to recognize her own daughter after she has seen her perform in an off-Broadway production of a Chekhov play.

Given the ineluctably predictable nature of the disease, any such film will lack the suspense element that is found in most tragedies. Indeed, it is open to question whether a film about Alzheimer’s can be called a tragedy since it lacks the “fatal flaw”, especially hubris, which is common to the classic tragedy from Sophocles to Shakespeare.

Some scholars believe that King Lear suffered from dementia although it impossible to pin down which kind. What made his downfall a tragedy was not his illness but his hubris, demanding more from his daughters than they were willing to give. There is an element of this in “Still Alice” to be sure. Alice constantly nags her youngest daughter Lydia (played superbly by Kristen Steward, the star of the insipid Twilight vampire movies) about abandoning her career as an actress and doing something more practical. When Lydia finally makes it relatively big in a Chekhov play, mom cannot recognize her—at least momentarily.

While the film is primarily a character study of how a dreaded illness takes down a very successful and self-possessed overachiever, it is also has universal meaning for any human being, particularly those over the age of sixty. 1 out of 9 Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s disease, increasing to one out of three over the age of 85. Scary odds. A week ago on the first night of my wife’s arrival at her parents’ home in Istanbul, her 87-year old father wandered off and ended up in a neighborhood far from home. When it became obvious to a young couple on a bus that he was lost, they were fortunate enough to find his phone number in one of his pockets. He is safe and at home now, much to my relief.

I hold out hope that my mother’s genes will hold me in good stead. Just a few days before her death in 2008, she was as lucid as ever. It was her circulatory system that was her undoing, an outcome of the wrong foods and a long time lack of exercise. Of course, sooner or later something will do you in whether it is Alzheimer’s, a circulatory system collapse, cancer or some other event associated with being in the “mortality zone” as Tom Brokaw put it in a column dealing with his battle against multiple myeloma.

In one key scene, Alice bemoans the fact that she has Alzheimer’s rather than cancer since at least cancer will not rob you of your identity. It is a disease like no other in that it transforms you into a stranger as if a zombie has taken possession of your body. Perhaps the best way to describe films such as “Still Alice” is as a subcategory of the horror movie with the monster being made up of the plaque in your nervous system rather than one stalking you with a butcher knife.

Other films in this genre:

The Savages”: a brother and sister cope with an ailing father in a nursing home. It is bittersweet comedy/tragedy directed by Tamara Jenkins who had the experience of putting her own father into a nursing home when she was in her 30s. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney turn in fine performances as the feckless brother and sister. The DVD can be purchased for pennies on Amazon.com.

Away from Her”: Based on an Alice Munro short story, the wife has entered a nursing home and soon falls in love with another Alzheimer’s patient leaving her husband in the lurch. When he visits her, she has no idea who he is and prefers the company of her new companion. I found the film preposterous but you can make your own evaluation through Amazon.com streaming.

Memories of Tomorrow”: A Japanese film about a successful and hard-driving “salaryman”, who the disease takes down, just like Alice. It is much more of a love story than a tragedy since he depends on a newly kindled relationship to his long-neglected wife to help him through his vicissitudes. Ken Watanabe, one of Japan’s best-known actors, plays the lead character. It is a very fine film that can be only be seen through a Netflix DVD rental.

July 17, 2015

Support for Alison Weir

Filed under: Palestine — louisproyect @ 10:42 pm

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 6.40.03 PMRead full letter

 

Swedish socialism and eugenics

Filed under: Sweden — louisproyect @ 8:07 pm

Gunnar and Alva Myrdal

(This is the fourth in a series of articles on “the Swedish model”. Part one is here. It is an introduction that relates Swedish socialism to Bismarck’s reforms. Part two is here. It is about the persecution of the Samis. Part three is here. It deals with Sweden and the “scramble for Africa”.)

In 1997 the world was shocked to learn that between 1935 and 1976 Social Democratic governments forced 63,000 women into being sterilized. As part of a eugenics program meant to weed out the genetically or racially ”inferior,” the women were told that they would lose benefits and be separated from their living children if they refused. Typically the women were poor, learning disabled or people with non-Nordic or mixed ethnic backgrounds.

The Roma were prime targets of this persecution. In January 2011, Swedish government official Erik Ullenhag admitted, “Throughout history the Roma have been victims of unacceptable abuse, such as forced sterilisation and being deprived of the right to educate their children.” Long after forced sterilization came to an end, the Roma were still being singled out in a Nordic version of racial profiling as CounterPuncher Ritt Goldstein reported on secret files maintained by the cops on Romas, a so-called “gypsy registry”. One entry reported a woman as being as “black as night”.

For the longest time, Sweden social democracy has had a thing about the underclass. Beneath the velvet glove of social benefits, there is the mailed fist of laws intended to rid society of those elements that could not be molded into proper members of “the people’s home”—the term coined by the social democrats to describe their ideal.

Even before eugenics became government policy, you could see a strain of hostility toward the poor in the Stockholm School of economics—their version of Keynesian theory—where Gunnar Myrdal and Dag Hammarskjold were trained.

Johan Gustaf Knut Wicksell, a leading light of the business school of the University of Stockholm that had a profound impact on social democratic policy, was a diehard Malthusian and as such a firm believer in birth control not so much from the standpoint of women’s liberation but as a way to keep Sweden from being “overpopulated”, particularly by the riffraff who are alcoholics or prostitutes as he was fond of pointing out in his lectures.

As leading lights of the Swedish social democracy, Gunnar and Alva Myrdal played a major role in developing the policies that would lead to the monstrous punishment of the weak and the poor. Their theories were hardly the stuff of the Third Reich. You will not find anything about defending Nordic purity, etc. Instead it would be described as “pronatalism”, a belief that the government had a duty to promote family growth in a society that was experiencing falling birthrates despite Wicksell’s neo-Malthusianism. For the Myrdals, poverty was not a breeder of large families, which is often thought to be the case. Instead Sweden faced a problem of demographic decline since the Victorian era, one that the Myrdals interpreted as the outcome of inadequate means. So the answer was to shore up the nuclear family through public housing, income supplements, subsidized medical care—all the things we associate with the modern welfare state. They were also strong supporters of birth control but much more from the standpoint of women’s liberation than neo-Malthusianism.

In “The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics: The Myrdals and the Interwar Population Crisis”, Allan Carlson describes a set of policies that were not only carried out but became the “Swedish model” for Bernie Sanders and countless other American leftists who when the word socialism was mentioned thought of Sweden rather than Cuba. Their recommendations on health care would most certainly endear them to readers of the Nation Magazine:

Turning to health care, the Myrdals praised Sweden’s medical system for already embodying certain principles of social responsibility. From a population policy perspective, cost-free child health care was the most urgently needed reform. The costs of maintaining children’s health, the Myrdals asserted, must be freed from every competing aspect of a family budget. Furthermore, public health service doctors should concentrate primarily on children, particularly preschool children, “which is completely natural, since preventive health care essentially is child care:’ In light of these needs, the complete reform of the medical profession became urgent. There was “little likelihood” that the private efforts of individual doctors would produce any significant change. Abuses and problems among doctors would be solved only through a “great social political program” that brought them all under state regulation.”

If you keep in mind that such a program was intended to “breed” a superior sort of human being that could take his or her place as a productive member in the “people’s home”, you can understand why they would as well look askance at the sort of human beings rolling off the assembly line that were designated as rejects.

Carlson described the Mr. Hyde to their Dr. Jekyll:

Under the rubric of “quality-oriented” policy, the Myrdals described forced sterilization as a necessary option. While affirming, from a “race-biological viewpoint,” the equality of genetic material among all Swedish population groups, they added that a genetically inferior (mindervardighet) substrata existed within the population: the insane, the mentally ill, the genetically defective, and persons of bad or criminal character. With the German nazi program again as foil, the Myrdals stressed that their category of targeted individuals was drawn from all population and social groups. The reproduction of this inferior stock was undesirable, since offspring ran a strong risk of hereditary damage to health and intelligence. Because the government would be called upon to support genetically damaged children, the Myrdals concluded that the state had the right in limited cases to force sterilization on individuals. The guiding assumption should be to resort to the process only in recognized serious cases of illness and defect and only among those incapable of “rational decisions.” Where individuals were capable of reason, voluntary sterilization should be actively urged. Failing this, free contraceptives and eugenic abortion should be made available.

For the most thorough discussion of Swedish social democracy and eugenics, I recommend the article “Eugenics and the Welfare State in Sweden: The Politics of Social Margins and the Idea of a Productive Society” (Journal of Contemporary History July 2004) by Alberto Spektorowski and Elisabet Mizrachi who ironically were faculty members of Tel Aviv University, a pillar of the state that has carried out its own form of cleansing. In another article Spektorowski recommends that Israel become part of a regional framework based on the European Union in order to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I hope that this folly does not prejudice you against his scholarship on Sweden that is first-rate.

The Myrdals came of age when eugenics was all the rage in Europe. Francis Galton coined the term in 1883 as a way of applying social Darwinism to family planning. It became a staple of the Fabian Socialists who were gung-ho for weeding out undesirables. For George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and the Webbs, it was key to social betterment through gradual reform.

Oddly enough, Russian Marxists also embraced it, including Leon Trotsky who referred to it in “If America Should Go Communist”:

While the romantic numskulls of Nazi Germany are dreaming of restoring the old race of Europe’s Dark Forest to its original purity, or rather its original filth, you Americans, after taking a firm grip on your economic machinery and your culture, will apply genuine scientific methods to the problem of eugenics. Within a century, out of your melting pot of races there will come a new breed of men – the first worthy of the name of Man.

Indeed, the Swedes and the Russians would have disavowed the use of eugenics on a racial basis. Unlike the Nazis, they would limit it strictly to those who were mentally deficient, mentally ill, or had epilepsy. Alfred Petren, the head inspector of Sweden’s mental institutions and a member of parliament, submitted the first sterilization bill in 1927. He argued that it was necessary to avoid costly life-long institutionalization. Well, that makes sense when you think of how that would have drained precious resources for raising those better qualified from a social Darwinist perspective.

Not every leftist went along with this proposal. Carl Lindhagen, a member of parliament, stated:

When one thus has tread the path of correcting a social evil by means of force, violating the inviolability of life . . . many will say: this is only the first step. Why should we stop here? … Why only deprive these individuals useless to society and to themselves of their ability to procreate? Is it not more charitable to take their life as well?

As the years sped by, Lindhagen’s warnings would become prophetic. By 1941, it was no longer a question of congenital failings. It now became social failings as well. Spektorowski and Mizrachi write:

In 1941, the reforms advocated to expand the sterilization bill were more far- reaching than eugenic argumentation would allow, and originated in part in the frustration of legislators over the limited extent to which sterilization was performed under the existing legislation. The primary reason for expanding the law was to regulate the sterilization of those considered fit to give their consent to the operation. The new law would regulate the voluntary steriliza- tion of persons of ‘legal capacity’. The proposed law added a social indicator to the existing reasons for sterilization, implicating persons who ‘due to an asocial way of life are . . . obviously unfit to have custody of children’. Asociality in this instance meant vagabondry, alcoholism, etc.

The central claim from the social point of view was that children, due to one or both parents’ ‘inferiority’, would grow up in an unfavourable environment and not receive the care and upbringing necessary to develop into capable members of society. In those cases it would be better if children were not born. This was considered a humanitarian approach.

Finally, although it does not relate to the question of eugenics, a brief word should be added about the Myrdals’ most famous book, “The American Dilemma”, that dealt with racism. At the time it was considered a breakthrough since it regarded the “pathologies” of the slum as a product of a race-divided society.

Not long after the book was published in 1944, Herbert Aptheker charged it with failing to put the blame on capitalism in a short book titled “The Negro People in America: A Critique of Gunnar Myrdal’s “An American Dilemma”. This was followed by other critiques by African-Americans as Thomas Sugrue pointed out in a Nation Magazine article:

Oliver Cromwell Cox, the West Indian-born sociologist whose brilliant but mostly neglected book Caste, Class, and Race was published just a few years after An American Dilemma, took Myrdal to task for downplaying the connection between race and economic exploitation. Cox singled out Myrdal’s “mystical” belief that changing individual attitudes would end the “exploitation” at the heart of racial inequality. “In the end,” wrote Cox, “the social system is exculpated.” Myrdal’s critics grew more numerous in the 1960s. In their 1968 manifesto Black Power, Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton offered their own challenge to individualistic understandings of race relations and coined the term “institutional racism” to account for the ways that racial inequality was not solely or even primarily a matter of beliefs or attitudes. They pinpointed “conditions of poverty and discrimination” rooted in unequal relationships of power and privilege, like the healthcare system that failed urban blacks and that “destroyed and maimed” lives every bit as effectively as the actions of the most brutal individual racists.

As I will point out in a subsequent article, Myrdal’s failings had to do with the very nature of Swedish “socialism”—its abandonment of Marxism in favor of a liberalism that would be the envy of the world until capitalist crisis rendered it just as obsolete as Soviet era “socialism”.

But in my next post, I will describe how Swedish neutrality during WWII coincided with a lucrative trade relationship with Nazi German.

Another insane person found guilty of murder

Filed under: crime,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 12:56 am

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 8.47.27 PM

Years from now, when socialist historians of the future examine the dead carcass of US capitalism, they will pay special attention to the growing barbarism of the penal system. While most attention will obviously be paid to the reintroduction of the death penalty and a racist judicial system that incarcerates minorities disproportionately, there will also have to be a close look at the tendency to treat mentally ill people as common criminals.

For all practical purposes, the insanity defense is a thing of the past. It was first introduced in Great Britain in the 1840s, a time of child labor and other cruelties that figure large in the novels of Charles Dickens. The insanity defense was first used in the case of an 1843 assassination attempt on British Prime Minister Robert Peel by a psychotic individual named Daniel M’Naghten. When a physician testified that M’Naghten was insane, the prosecution agreed to stop the case and the defendant was declared insane despite protests from Queen Victoria and the House of Lords.

The M’Naghten Rule can be simply described as a “right and wrong” test. The jury was required to answer two questions: (1) did the defendant know what he was doing when he committed the crime?; or (2) did the defendant understand that his actions were wrong?

When psychotic individuals were on trial without a prior history of professional treatment, it was somewhat more difficult to find them not guilty by reason of insanity but it could be done. Now it makes no difference if someone has been under treatment for a psychiatric illness. So what happened?

In a word, John Hinckley.

After Hinckley was found not guilty by insanity of his assassination attempt on the beloved reactionary US President Reagan, committees of the House and Senate held hearings regarding use of the insanity defense within a month of the verdict.

Within three years of Hinckley’s acquittal, Congress and half of the states enacted laws limiting use of the defense and one state, Utah, abolished the defense outright. In 1986 Utah was joined by Montana andIdaho, two other “frontier justice” states. Congress passed revisions in the defense embodied in the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, which reads:

It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under any federal statute that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.

As a rule of thumb, schizophrenics who are in a “severe” condition are too detached from reality to go out and kill somebody, let alone cross the street. People who are this dysfunctional are generally hospitalized. The more typical occurrence is somebody who goes off their medication when they are not hospitalized, but who are sufficiently in touch with reality to use a knife or some other weapon. And even if such an individual is in a “severe” state at the time of the crime, they will pump him full of medications during the trial to effectuate a “sane” condition sufficient to win a conviction. Another factor that militates against a successful defense is that psychiatrists are no longer allowed as expert witnesses in many cases.

After 21 years of confinement in a mental hospital, Hinckley had been allowed to visit his aging parents on weekends under stringent conditions. That had outraged all the rightwing talking heads on AM hate radio and the Fox cable news. Meanwhile, all of the top officials of the Reagan administration who broke all sorts of laws in backing the murderous Nicaraguan contras did token time in country club prisons. I guess the lesson is if you are going out to kill people, you should do it on a wholesale basis and wrap yourself in the American flag.

July 15, 2015

Sweden’s Children

Filed under: Sweden — louisproyect @ 7:01 pm

From “The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics: The Myrdals and the Interwar Population Crisis” by Allan C. Carlson:

The Myrdals also pointed to population pressures from outside. The risk was high that a depopulating country like Sweden, with rich natural resources and a strong pension system, would attract foreign peoples. While migration from Scandinavian neighbors would be acceptable and even desirable as a positive step toward Nordic integration, the Myrdals thought it more likely that prospective immigrants would come from elsewhere: Southern and Eastern Europe or Africa and Asia. Such groups were difficult to assimilate and posed a threat to Sweden’s own cultural heritage. The Myrdals also emphasized the problems for the labor movement that this influx of immigrants, willing to work for a cheaper wage, would cause.”

The Myrdals’ “mild nationalism” and ethnocentrism represented a dramatic break with the internationalism that had marked Democratic Socialism. While their later work and reputations are largely based on “internationalism,” their population work was distinctly oriented toward Sweden. This could be seen as but another example of the abandonment by many interwar European intellectuals of historic doctrine, as they dug in to weather the economic and political crises swirling about Europe.” Indeed, this unilateral focus on Swedish self-sufficiency could be seen in Gunnar Myrdal’s general work. For example, in a 1935 speech on the farming crisis he stated that “Agrarian policies must first and foremost involve a monopolization of the whole home market, and within this monopolized home market must be built price and market policies that raise profitability.”14 Aversion to immigration, moreover, could be dismissed as merely another example of organized labor’s aversion to “cheap labor” as producing “cheap men.”

Yet such explanations are less than adequate explanations for the Myrdals’ reluctant, apologetic confession of a “mild Swedish nationalism.” The world war, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Great Depression wreaked havoc with socialist internationalism. The new alternative, national socialism, took more than one form in the 1930s.

While the Myrdals never abandoned their commitment to democracy, they did cast their lot with ethnocentric nationalism. For Alva, the conversion may have been largely tactical, a way of selling her feminist socialism at an emotional level. For Gunnar, though, an almost tribal devotion to the Swedish “folk” drove him in a new direction. As his speeches over the next four years would make clear, he held a true passion for “Sweden’s children.”

Under the rubric of “quality-oriented” policy, the Myrdals described forced sterilization as a necessary option. While affirming, from a “race-biological viewpoint,” the equality of genetic material among all Swedish population groups, they added that a genetically inferior (mindervardighet) substrata existed within the population: the insane, the mentally ill, the genetically defective, and persons of bad or criminal character. With the German nazi program again as foil, the Myrdals stressed that their category of targeted individuals was drawn from all population and social groups. The reproduction of this inferior stock was undesirable, since offspring ran a strong risk of hereditary damage to health and intelligence. Because the government would be called upon to support genetically damaged children, the Myrdals concluded that the state had the right in limited cases to force sterilization on individuals. The guiding assumption should be to resort to the process only in recognized serious cases of illness and defect and only among those incapable of “rational decisions.” Where individuals were capable of reason, voluntary sterilization should be actively urged. Failing this, free contraceptives and eugenic abortion should be made available.

* * * *

From “Stieg Larsson: the Real Story of the Man Who Played With Fire” by Jan-Erik Petterson:

One feature of the extreme Right in Sweden is that, despite the weakness of its popular support, it is remarkably well represented among the elite and ruling classes: among scientists, academics and high-ranking military officers. It was not just theorists like Kjellen and Molin who were in the vanguard in formulating ideas which then became prevalent in the Third Reich. Herman Lundborg, the world’s first professor of eugenics, was part of the trend as early as 1910, and founded the Swedish Society for Racial Hygiene. A decade later he managed to get more or less the entire Establishment behind him when he set up a Swedish racial research institute.

The National Eugenics Institute opened in 1921, with Lundborg at its head, and became well known for its large-scale field-research projects on the Swedish people. He and his colleagues travelled all over the country, photographing, measuring and making notes. The subjects of this research, seeing no harm in it, were allocated to racial groups on the basis of their physical constitution, skin colour, hair colour, shape of cranium, cranial circumference and so on. And there were few who doubted its scientific validity. On the strength of his findings, Lundborg pursued a vigorous campaign for an active population policy, including compulsory sterilization of undesirables, such as Lapps, Gypsies and vagrants. If this were not implemented, the fusion of the races would escalate and culture would fall into decline: `Sexual urges would intensify, immorality, hedonism, vice and crime break out and leave their mark on society. Sooner or later it would lead to discord, dissent, riot and revolution’ (according to an article in Svensk Tidskrift in 1921).

One reason for the rapid and widespread support for Lundborg’s theories was that there had been a deep-seated belief since the mid-nineteenth century that the Germanic peoples of northern Europe were related and that Sweden was their original home. So when the Nazis stepped forward and began talking of restoring the honour of the German nation and defending the Nordic race, many Swedes were willing to listen. And these were not so much Swedish Nazi party members as influential individuals in politics, the civil service, the business world, the military, the police, even the royal family. Some of the greatest admirers of Germany before and during the Second World War were to be found in the Swedish military. When Hitler celebrated his fiftieth birthday in the spring of 1939, he was congratulated by a Swedish delegation of high-ranking officers led by the future supreme commander Olof Thornell. They were accompanied by the openly Nazi Carl Ernfrid Carlberg and Henri de Champs as representatives of the Manhem Society (a patriotic Scandinavian association named after Olaus Rudbeck’s seventeenth-century book of Gothicist speculations) and the Swedish-German Association, who also presented Hitler with a gift, a statuette of Charles XII, which he is said to have much appreciated.

Greece: the scissors trap

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 6:11 pm

(This was posted on FB by Jeff Richards. It overlaps with my article on the drachma conversion issues.)

Greece: The scissors trap.

The story of why Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras changed his mind in the July 2015 negotiations with the European Union will, I am sure, be revealed by memoirs and investigative reporting in the future. At present any political assessment must be provisional. I am not one of those on the radical left (and the radical right in the case of Nigel Farage) who are now letting off a lot of steam with cries of ‘treachery’ or ‘betrayal’ etc. etc. etc.

Former Finance minister in the Syriza government Yanis Varoufakis, in a wide ranging interview with Phillip Adams on the radio programme Late Night Live alluded to one of the reasons why Tsipras recommitted himself to negotiations with the EU. Grexit would have required a new currency, a new Drachma. The task of creating a new currency is a very big organisational undertaking. Adams reminded the listener the vast logistical operation that was required to implement a new currency in Iraq following the invasion of that country by the Bush and Blair administrations.

Varoufakis said in the interview that the new Syriza government did have plans to opt for a new currency and they had assigned a special committee to look into the matter. That committee consisted of five members, whereas Varoufakis said that they would need to have a minimum of 500 personnel to take the process of a new currency to the next level. The reason why the finance ministry (which Varoufakis was leading at the time) did not take it to this next stage was the fear that setting up such a government department would harm the negotiations with the EU ministers. So the Greek government was caught in a trap, on the one hand trying to negotiate with intransigent ministers and hoping to exploit internal divisions within the EU -between Germany and France- and on the other hand not trying to do anything that might harm the negotiations with the EU (like being seen to be creating a new currency).

Greece exiting the European Currency Union (which is not the same as the European Union) is not an impossibly difficult task. It is however, a major logistical operation that would require the full mobilisation of the resources of the state, and the backing of the citizenry to implement. Syriza have alway indicated that it was their intention to try to negotiate and remain in the Euro with improved conditions. Plan B would have been to create a new currency. Syriza were simply unprepared for plan B, and were left with no option but to swallow the poison and hope they will survive without the country descending into a nazi revival. In many ways, it is an understandable why Syriza were caught unprepared. The relative newness in government, the enormity of the problems they were faced with, the urgent need to focus on meeting the needs of those left destitute by the policies of previous right wing governments. Most speculatively, I wondered if the lack of party cadres with limited experience in managing governments and state bureaucracies also played a role in the ‘turnaround’ by Tsipras.

July 14, 2015

Greece and the Underdevelopment of Europe

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 9:32 pm

Greece has been relegated to the ranks of Somalia, Honduras, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe by becoming the first European country to default on an IMF loan. The €1.6bn missed payment is also the largest ever by an IMF member. Popular rhetoric has blamed the situation on inherent Greek profligacy, displayed by their early pension schemes and special interests. This narrative carries the echo of the lazy conflations between the nature of places and its peoples that underpinned the earliest European imperial adventures.Columbus’ travel diaries reveal how he drew on a theory of place offered by Albertus Magnus and Pierre d’Ailly to equate the differing temperature and climates of the ‘new’ and ‘old’ worlds with differing levels of humanity to be granted to the European and non-European. For Columbus, the natives of the new world were inherently childlike due to their plentiful surroundings; hence they could not be treated as equals. Likewise, we now hear talk of the lazy, petulant and irresponsible nature of the Greek people, whose sunny climate explains their inability to adopt the protestant work ethic of the industrious Prussians.The reality is, according to the OECD, that the average Greek worker has worked 48% more hours than the average German worker; the source of the crisis is a failing of the international financial system. Ever since the IMF “assisted” Greece in 2010, the Greek economy has been in depression. 25% of its GDP has been lost under structural adjustment programs labelled “austerity packages.” 90% of Greece’s IMF debt went directly to repay other European institutions.

via Greece and the Underdevelopment of Europe.

Convert to the drachma–piece of cake. Right…

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 5:40 pm

One of the things that’s been nagging away at the back of my mind in this ongoing discussion about leaving the Eurozone is what that means in terms of following through. I think that the average person on the left who considers this to be a sine qua non for Greece moving forward has no idea of what’s involved. It is not just printing new currency and delivering it to the banks. It is also a mammoth undertaking from the IT standpoint. Think in terms of what it would take to reverse engineer something like this:

NY Times, March 9 1998
A Year Before the Millennium Bug, There’s the Euro Problem
By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN

LONDON, March 8— Amid the rush to reprogram the world’s computers so that they will function after Jan. 1, 2000, a little-known computer problem looms as large with a deadline that is even earlier.

On Jan. 1, 1999, the European Monetary Union will introduce the euro, a new currency that could have serious consequences for the computer systems of financial institutions and just about any company that deals in foreign currencies and exchange rates.

Compared with the much-publicized year 2000 problem, which can set computer clocks back to 1900 instead of recognizing 2000, the euro poses a greater number of technological problems.

Exchange-rate and tax software will need to be upgraded, financial statements redesigned, automated teller machines revamped and historical data converted — and that is just scratching the surface.

”The magnitude of the problem the euro poses is unbelievable,” said Nick Jones, research director of the Gartner Group Europe, part of the Gartner Group Inc., a technology advisory and research firm. ”In terms of cost to fix, it is comparable with the year 2000.”

The Gartner Group estimates that it will cost European corporations, many of which have operations worldwide, $150 billion to $400 billion to upgrade their systems. Add to that the expenses in fixing the millennium bug, and that cost almost doubles. Mr. Jones said the cost of fixing each line of code is estimated at $1.10, with billions of lines of code having to be changed.

As someone who worked in IT for 44 years and on some very large scale projects such as developing a completely new system from top to bottom for Goldman-Sachs, this is a huge project that would require banks and any other large-scale corporations in Greece to manage. And that does not get into the problems that the civil service would have to deal with. Pension systems, the tax system, et al would have to be reprogrammed.

I now realize that when people were demanding that Syriza conduct a two-tier operation, one that sought an end to austerity within the Eurozone, and another on a parallel track that would switch over to the drachma, they had no idea what this would entail. Frankly, I don’t think that Greece is capable of converting to the drachma today even if the government voted for it. Billions of dollars would be required to do such a conversion and the cash-starved government agencies would even have less money for such a project than private corporations.

I have heard what seems like dozens of leftists complaining about Alexis Tsipras’s failure to deliver a contingency plan. These are people who almost certainly have never sat in cubicle and programmed a financial system in COBOL as I did for twenty years before I moved over to UNIX based systems at Columbia University.

My good friend Liza Featherstone complained on Facebook this morning: “Seriously every dude is a Greece expert now. How’d you all get so smart so fast?” Boy, was she ever right.

* * * *

Journal of Information Systems, Vol. 13, No. 2, Fall 1999
pp. 105–116

The Impact of the Euro on Information Systems
Daniel E. O’Leary, University of Southern California

Accounting Information System Requirements Brought About by the Euro The introduction of the euro will have a wide range of changes in requirements for accounting information systems (e.g., Dekker [1997] and others).

1. Legacy systems will require multiple updates. Unlike present day relational database systems, many legacy systems redundantly store data items (e.g., currency figures). In these systems, all instances of each redundantly stored currency data item will need to be updated to the same euro figure.

2. Systems must do triangulation. All those systems using processes related to currency exchanges, will have to be updated to reflect changes in the way conversion is done, using triangulation, rather than traditional inversion conversion.

3. Multiple currencies. Since both euro and local currencies can be used during the transition period, systems will need to allow recording and display of both home currency and the euro for each transaction. Inventories of both currencies will need to be kept as long as both are used. The existence of multiple currencies potentially exposes a company to the risk that payments are made in the wrong amounts of a currency. For example, as in Table 3, a bill for 302,706 euros incorrectly might be paid as 4,211,213 euros if clerks use the wrong currency amount.

4. Minor payment differences. Systems will need to be changed to accommodate minor differences in payments. Since customers can pay their bills in either euros or the home country currency, triangulation rounding can create a situation where there are differences in the equivalent between what is billed and what is paid when different currencies are involved. Few systems have been built to accommodate differences in payments and what is billed. Further, few systems currently accommodate billing in one currency and payment in another (Software Echo 1997). In addition, such differences will carry forward to the general ledger, which will also have to accommodate minor differences.

5. Restatement of financial reports. Firms must restate previous financial statements in euros, which raises other questions including the following: Who determines whether historical numbers will need to be restated? How much of the historical data will be restated? Will firms have the restated historical numbers attested to?

6. Inconsistent use of decimals. In some monetary systems, e.g., Belgium and Italy, decimal places are not used. As a result, systems designed for these currencies will need to be updated to accommodate the euro’s decimal places.

7. Number of decimal places. Not only is the existence of decimal places an issue, but also the number of decimal places is an issue. In order to assure that rounding is done at the appropriate level, six decimal places are required to accommodate the euro.

8. Input validation will need to accommodate multiple currencies. Input validation will need to change to accommodate the existence of a new currency and multiple currencies. Reconciliation tests will need to allow for and accommodate differences due to rounding.

9. Internal documents. Typically, most of a firm’s documents, input, and output will need to be changed to accommodate the multiple currencies.

10. Reporting capabilities. Reporting capabilities will need to be examined closely. For example, reports are often based on currency values exceeding some “threshold” amount. In some cases firms will need to change the bases of those thresholds to accommodate the euro. In addition, reports will often need to have the ability to display two or three currencies simultaneously.

11. Currency fonts will need updating. Finally, currency fonts will need to be updated to include the new symbol for the euro. Apparently, Microsoft has announced that it will accommodate the euro symbol in its 32 bit applications, but not in legacy applications, such as Windows 3.1 (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/euro.asp).

full: https://msbfile03.usc.edu/digitalmeasures/doleary/intellcont/Impact%20of%20Euro-1.pdf

 

July 13, 2015

Court; A Hard Day

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:58 pm

New Yorkers have an extraordinary opportunity to see Asian films at their best this week. Opening at the Film Forum on Wednesday July 15th is “Court”, an Indian film about a judicial system that functions as an arm of the police by making it impossible for radicals to enjoy the rights of legal protection supposedly guaranteed in a democracy. In a real sense, the title of the film might have been “Kangaroo Court”. Two days later the Korean film “A Hard Day” arrives at the Village East. Once again if we play with titles, it has an affinity with “A Hard Day’s Night”, Richard Lester’s classic about the Fab Four given its comic inventiveness and visual panache—all the more surprising since it at first blush it seems like just another policier.

If you walked into the theater in the middle of one of the frequent courtroom scenes in “Court” without knowing anything about the film in advance, you might assume that it is an Indian documentary in the Frederick Wiseman cinéma vérité style. It lacks the melodramatic style of something like “A Few Good Men” or “Erin Brockovich”. With almost no rhetorical flourishes of the sort that would help some actor get singled out for a best acting award, most of the dialog sounds exactly what you would hear if you were serving on jury duty. There is minutiae about evidence and instructions from the judge who looks like the human equivalent of the dormouse in Alice’s tea party. You almost expect him to fall asleep at his bench.

Director Chaitanya Tamhane explained his approach in the press notes:

When it came to shooting these scenes, we wanted to maintain a certain distance and objectivity. Instead of fiction films of the genre, which often aim for a subjective experience, we referred to documentary footage of actual trials. Since you cannot get permission to shoot in an actual courtroom, we had to build a set, which recreated the atmosphere of a lower court. No photography or documentation is allowed in the courts, so the production designers had to work from memory and rely on the notes they had made secretly while attending trials.

The matter-of-factness of the film actually serves to accentuate the human drama not only of its main characters but the state of justice in India as a whole today. In the opening seen that takes place in a Mumbai slum, a protest rally featuring the song performance of a 65 year old radical is broken up by the cops who charge him with arrest for abetting the suicide of a sewer worker.

In court the DA pins her case on the testimony of an eyewitness who claims that the radical singer Narayan Kamble (played by Vira Sathidar, a long-time leftist and trade union leader) sang a song urging sewer workers to kill themselves because that would be the only solution to their misery. The eyewitness turns out to be someone the cops have lined up in previous cases to tell any lie that would help convict a leftist.

Vivek Gomber plays Kamble’s lawyer Vinay Vora, an aging bachelor whose parents nag him to get married and who leads a humdrum life outside of the courtroom, falling asleep in front of his television most nights. In one very unusual scene that lasts for about five minutes, you see him shopping for groceries. Going against ordinary expectations of most courtroom dramas, nothing happens in the store except him putting food and drink into a cart. In a Hollywood film, you would expect an assassin to open fire on him with bullet riddled-bottles and cans falling to the floor to the accompaniment of a hard-driving film score. As it turns out the quotidian nature of his shopping roots the film in reality and makes the courtroom scenes that more dramatic.

Vinay Vora is the hero of the film alongside his client, two men who are willing to defy India’s wretched court system. For his part, Kamble is stoical about the prospects of spending time in jail awaiting the outcome of the trial since he understands the costs of challenging the status quo. His lawyer, like most committed to human rights, is willing to go the extra mile to help his client, including putting up the bail money that comes out of his own pocket.

In a way, the director has taken on the same kind of responsibility as the defense attorney by making such a film, one that puts the spotlight on judicial abuses in a country that supposedly adhered to democratic norms.

In a statement that illustrates the director’s commitment to making a film about Indian realities in Mumbai, he emphasizes the need for verisimilitude:

Each character in the film belongs to a different, and culturally peculiar reality of the city. These cities within a city co-exist in a densely packed metropolis and yet, they never overlap with each other. The film tries to depict these gradations whenever we see people outside of the courtroom. In fact, when we decided to show the public prosecutor’s personal life, we tried to recreate a Mumbai that was part of my childhood memories, from the 1990s. And this is a Mumbai that does not exist anymore. The pace of transformation and so-called ‘development’ is so rapid here, that certain people and their Mumbai will soon become extinct. A few of the old chawls (the traditional tenement buildings that house the working class) that we shot the film in, were razed just two months later in order to make place for new high-rise buildings. So for me, COURT is also an attempt to capture the memory of some of these people, as they struggle to survive.

In other words, this is not “Slumdog Millionaire”. It is instead a film about India today from a perspective that takes the side of the oppressed. It is worth seeing not just for its politics but for its superb acting, done exclusively by non-professionals. Dispensing with conventional understandings of how to make a courtroom drama, Chaitanya Tamhane has redefined the genre as well as making a damned fine film in the process.

At the risk of sounding like a mainstream film reviewer whose blurbs appear in commercial, I must states at the outset that “A Hard Day” is the first laugh-out-loud comedy I have seen in years. That is also a roller coaster of a cops-and-robbers ride is almost incidental.

Whether or not it was director Seong-hoon Kim’s intention, he has made a film that has the comic sensibility of Buster Keaton at his best. Despite all the hand-to-hand combat and convoluted plotting that are staples of the Korean crime movie, this is a film that has the same kind of visual imagination and comic genius as “Sherlock Jr.” or “The Cameraman”.

A brief description of the opening minutes should give you a feel for the offbeat humor of “A Hard Day”.

On his way to his mother’s funeral homicide detective Go Geon-soo swerves his car in order to avoid hitting a dog that is in the middle of the street. Unfortunately, this leads him into hitting a pedestrian instead. Since he has had a drink earlier (Korea’s drunk driving laws are apparently very stringent), he feels the need to conceal the body. He is not aware at the time that the pedestrian was not only already dead but a gangster wanted by the police.

He stuffs the body into the trunk of his car and resumes his ride to the funeral parlor where a stroke of brilliance hits him. He will insist that he be allowed to spend an hour with his mother’s casket in order to experience some personal moments of grief, a ploy that will allow him to dispense of the other body–killing two birds with one stone.

Borrowing his daughter’s GI Joe type toy, a soldier crawling on his belly that is activated by remote control, he ties one end of a rope to the dead man’s leg and the other to the toy soldier and sends it into the vent of the funeral parlor that connects to the room where his mother’s casket resides. Once inside the locked mortuary, he activates the toy soldier that begins its descent down the air vent. Once it arrives at its destination, the mourning detective can then pull the body down into the air vent and then finally concealed into his mother’s casket.

Suffice it to say that one mishap after another takes place in this scene, reminding you of silent comedy at its best.

I should add that the film does not only evoke Buster Keaton (or Laurel and Hardy for that matter); it will also remind you of one of Alfred Hitchcock’s relatively obscure works “The Trouble with Harry” that also had a corpse serving as a MacGuffin, the term used for an object in a plot that helps move the plot along. It is usually an inanimate object like the Maltese Falcon but it can also be a human being—as long as he or she is dead (“Weekend at Bernie’s” was another film using such a MacGuffin but by no means as good as Hitchcock’s.)

July 12, 2015

Hugh Roberts: ideological defense attorney for a torture state

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:01 pm

Hugh Roberts

In keeping with its pro-Assad editorial outlook, the London Review of Books gave Hugh Roberts the job of reviewing a number of books about Syria. Titled “The Hijackers”, it makes the case that the revolution was “hijacked” by jihadists from the get-go and lost its legitimacy as soon as it became “militarized”. Responding to the words of an SNC spokesperson that “nobody wants a war”, Roberts counters with “Plenty of people wanted a war”, most particularly Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Roberts has never written a single scholarly article about Syria. His specialty is Algeria and especially the brutal civil war in which the governing FLN suppressed an Islamist uprising in a sort of foreshadowing of what is taking place now in Syria. In an article for Socialist Register, Roberts faulted Noam Chomsky for believing “The Algerian government is in office because it blocked the democratic election in which it would have lost to mainly Islamic-based groups. That set off the current fighting.”

Well, when the elections took place in December 1991, the Islamist FIS won 189 seats in parliament while the ruling dictatorship’s party got 16 seats. Soon afterwards, the dictatorship decided that the elections were not to its liking and began ruling by the fiat and the fist once again. Thomas Friedman saw the wisdom of the ruling party’s decision by darkly warning about the problem of “freely elected tyrants” in Algeria—those parties that admire Ayatollah Khomeini, not the goons in uniform.

In a review of Roberts’s “The Battlefield: Algeria 1988-2002, Studies in a Broken Polity” in Amazon.com, one reader—awarding the book one star—noted:

Roberts may be an ‘expert’ on Algeria, but throughout most of his book he never really questions the official historical line touted by the military junta in Algiers. The book fails to put forward any convincing explanation for the deaths of over 200,000 people in the civil war. This is especially surprising given the numerous first-hand accounts that have recently appeared concerning atrocities committed by the Algerian security services. Mr. Mohamed Samraoui, a former deputy-director of the secret services, has published a book (“Chronique des annees de sang”) in which he accuses the Algerian generals of having planned the government’s overthrow in the 1992 coup before instigating a counter-revolutionary war against the country’s civilian population.

Meanwhile, Joe Stork writing a generally favorable review in MERIP, did have some quibbles such as how Roberts “dismisses out of hand the idea that the riots of October 1988 were motivated by economic concerns.” Apparently, a NY Times reporter must be counted as just another benighted soul alongside Noam Chomsky who didn’t get Algeria when he reported on November 27, 1988:

Over the last few months, work stoppages have erupted in factories, ports, universities and Government offices as workers, students and white-collar Government employees challenge the Government’s authority and demand better living conditions. Militant members of the Marxist Avant-Garde Socialist Party and various underground Islamic fundamentalist groups have encouraged protests.

In October, the discontent exploded into the bloodiest riots Algerians have known since they won independence from France in 1962 when a brutal war took the lives of between 1 million and 1.5 million Algerians.

In seven days of what many Algerians pointedly call ”the uprising” -likening it to the Palestinian revolt against Israeli rule in the occupied territories – the Algerian Army shot and killed between 150 and 300 people, mostly teen-agers. Hundreds more were wounded, and thousands were arrested. The troubles subsided around Oct. 10, but only after Mr. Benjedid promised to try to make fundamental political changes.

In essence the transformations he wants to make would turn around one issue: how to strip the encrusted 250,000 or so people who control the top of the party of their overwhelming control of every facet of power and politics in Algeria.

Sounds a bit like the troublemakers who took to the streets in Syria in April 2011, doesn’t it? Didn’t they realize that they never had it so good as under benevolent secular and socialist governments like Algeria and Syria’s even if it took a cop’s club to beat that into their thick skulls?

Roberts has problems with the notion that Syria had a “deep state”, a key finding in Jean-Pierre Filiu’s “From Deep State to Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution and Its Jihadi Legacy”, the first of the books he reviews. In his view, this is something that is fairly universal. As he puts it, “The state and the deep state are not two things but all of a piece, in what we call democracies as well as in dictatorships.” That might be true, but we should never be indifferent to the need for democracy over dictatorship if for no other reason that it facilitates challenges to all aspects of the state both within view and in secret. Given Roberts’s blithe acceptance of the FLN’s overturning of the results of the first free election in modern Algeria’s history, one has to doubt his commitment to democracy.

As a master of the justification of the unjustifiable, Roberts uses a curious historical analogy to make the case for Baathist dictatorship. Referring to Hafez al-Assad, he writes:

He rebuilt the armed forces and other state institutions, and even allowed four other political parties of the Syrian left to operate, on condition that they did so as members of a National Progressive Front in which the Baath retained primacy. In short, Assad performed the function in the Syrian national revolution that Cromwell had performed in the English revolution: he stabilised it so that the country could be governed and defended. In the process, he induced the Syrian Baath to concentrate on making Syria itself, at last, a viable state.

Perhaps the fact that Roberts contributed once to Socialist Register indicates that he is familiar with the concept of a bourgeois revolution (even if he calls it a national revolution), a staple of Marxist theory notwithstanding Robert Brenner and company. What a strange way to look at the Baathists who created a family dynasty based on sectarian Alawite interests. Cromwell acted on behalf of the class prerogatives of a rising bourgeoisie, with their emergent state enshrining property rights based on the philosophy of John Locke. By contrast, the Baathist state was one that enshrined the backroom deal, the bribe, favoritism and kleptocracy—all in the name of “socialism”. Indeed, it was exactly this kind of resistance to the norms of bourgeois property rights that fueled the protests against both Roberts’s FLN and the Baath party. Anybody who carries out a rigorous class analysis of 17th century Britain and 20th century Syria can figure this out in a few minutes even if they never went to Oxford like Hugh Roberts.

For Roberts, the national revolution had a need to defend itself against outside powers:

With Assad’s death, autocracy gave way to an oligarchy in which Bashar was the public face of a regime he could not dominate as his father had done. Allowed to make minor reforms and to bring on younger men of his own choosing, he was undoubtedly made aware of red lines that could not be crossed. In this respect Syria resembles Algeria and Yemen, and for that matter Mubarak’s Egypt. All of them have been national security states whose rulers have calculated that liberalising in earnest would compound their already serious national security problems, enabling hostile powers to manipulate the new political parties that liberalisation would bring.

Really? So when the Baathists tortured a Canadian named Maher Arar who the CIA had kidnapped and sent to Syria as part of the “extraordinary rendition” program, they were not concerned about collaborating with a foreign power that was supposedly bent on its destruction? In 1994, Bill Clinton visited Syria for a friendly chat. He was not bothered by the fact that there were 7500 political prisoners at the time, many of them enduring torture that made the CIA look benign by comparison. Apparently Hafez al-Assad must have gotten hoodwinked at the time, giving the green light to the state-controlled media to trumpet this as a “A meeting between the two giants” that will mark “a strategic turning point that will decide the future of the region for years to come.”

If and when Syrians decided to organize to overthrow a dictatorship based on torture, corruption and lies, they would not be allowed to cross Hugh Roberts’s red lines:

It isn’t that such regimes are entirely unreformable. But qualitative political reform can only come about if they are put under sustained pressure by effective movements from below – movements that articulate demands which can be defended as strengthening the state by enhancing its legitimacy…The theoretical possibility of such a thing happening in Syria in 2011 was destroyed almost at once.

That’s quite a formulation: strengthening the state by enhancing its legitimacy. In other words, people who had been subject to torture, arbitrary arrest, economic misery, and all the rest, had to consider how their protests fit into an agenda that enhanced the “legitimacy” of the state that was responsible for their suffering. Amazing.

The Syrians decided to ignore Roberts’s advice after Baathist snipers began killing peaceful protestors. They created the Free Syrian Army that saw as its primary task in the beginning to defend demonstrators from being shot down in the street. But, according to him, jihadists—an obvious threat to Syrian national security that had to be destroyed–soon superseded the FSA. The “hijackers” referred to in the title of his article.

Towards the end of his article, Roberts gets down to brass tacks and begins repeating all the talking points of the pro-Assad left, almost as if he were hosting a show on RT.com or Iran’s Press TV. For those of you accustomed to this sort of thing, there is little to distinguish it from the hysteria over al-Qaeda that dominated the American discourse in 2003 except that this time it is coming from people like Hugh Roberts, David Bromwich, Seymour Hersh and others in the LRB stable rather than Christopher Hitchens or Paul Berman.

He spends about a thousand words exposing Hillary Clinton’s organizing of a cabal to overthrow Bashar al-Assad while neglecting to mention that her boss in the White House never had any intention of removing him as was made abundantly clear in a recent PBS Frontline documentary. For Roberts it matters more that the White House issued empty statements that Assad must go than it did that the CIA was blocking the shipments of MANPADs into Syria for use by the FSA whose cause they supposedly espoused.

When Roberts finally gets around to reviewing Patrick Cockburn’s book on ISIS, he drops any pretense to scholarly impartiality and begins to repeat some of the more frequently invoked and blatant excuses for the Baathist war machine.

He quibbles with Cockburn’s claim that “for America, Britain and the Western powers, the rise of Isis and the caliphate is the ultimate disaster.” Instead, Roberts assures his readers, the West conspired to bring about the rise of ISIS. His evidence? A document from the US Defense Intelligence Agency dated August 23, 2012 that was published by Judicial Watch, a conservative outfit. This is a document that got what disk jockeys call “heavy rotation” on all the usual websites: Alex Jones’s Infowars, WSWS.org, Global Research, et al. It supposedly proved an American/ISIS connection because it stated “If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

It is rather depressing to see this document taken seriously in a magazine like LRB that can usually be counted upon for intelligent articles on 16th century French poetry, Dadaism, psychoanalysis and the like.

For a powerful refutation of this nonsense, I recommend the Magpie68 blog, where an article titled “Who are the real Godfathers of ISIS?” appeared on June 5th, 2015. It states:

A feeding frenzy has broken out among conspiracy theorists and pro-Assad circles in the wake of the release of a document from the US Defense Intelligence Agency dated August 2012. This was obtained by conservative lobby group, Judicial Watch, seeking ammunition for their campaign against Hilary Clinton in connection with the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. They have made little use of it but others have pounced on it with great enthusiasm.

The Washington Blog ran with the headline “Newly-Declassified U.S. Government Documents: The West Supported the Creation of ISIS” while regular Stop the War (UK) contributor Matt Carr flourished the banner “How the US-helped ISIS Carve its caliphate in Blood across Iraq and Syria” and Guardian journalist Seumas Milne joined in with “Now the Truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” Most recently the normally level-headed US left journal Jacobin has picked up on the theme.

Even more incredibly, Hugh Roberts asks us to take the words of one Ralph Peters seriously:

A second piece of evidence is a map prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters of the US War Academy and published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006. It shows a ‘New Middle East’ that, as imagined by Colonel Peters, would annoy most of the region’s current governments. What is striking is that, in place of Iraq and Syria, it suggests there could be three states, an ‘Arab Shia’ state extending up to Baghdad, a ‘Sunni Iraq’ and then ‘Syria’, with the last two shorn of their Kurdish districts, now included in a new state of ‘Free Kurdistan’. On its own the map proves nothing beyond one man’s imagination and the fact that a journal found it interesting enough to print.

To start with, Peters is a retired officer who has no status with the US War Academy today. Second of all, the only places where you can find this map taken seriously is Global Research and the like. Like Roberts, the conspiracists at Global Research view Ralph Peters as some kind of master strategist speaking for the invisible government pulling Obama’s strings.

In reality, Peters is a sort of rightwing geek who writes for the NY Post and other shabby outlets, sounding rather like E. Howard Hunt, one of the men who pulled off the Watergate burglary rather than a master strategist. From Wikipedia:

Peters’s first novel was Bravo Romeo, a spy thriller set in West Germany, and was published in 1981. Since then his novels progressed from futuristic scenarios involving the Red Army to contemporary terrorism and failed state issues. His characters are often presented as military mavericks who have the knowledge and courage to tackle problems others cannot or will not. His novel, The War After Armageddon, was released in 2009. In 2008 he published the non-fiction Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World. He is a regular contributor to the military history magazine, Armchair General Magazine, and he also serves on its Advisory Board.[7]

Maybe LRB can line up Ralph Peters for their next piece of garbage about Syria.

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