Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 20, 2017

Elizabeth Blue; Thy Father’s Chair

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 9:12 pm

The two films under review are about people living at society’s margins and not the flashy superheroes you are used to seeing in summer blockbusters about space alien invasions or super-spies but both are two of the better films I have seen in months and a testament to the integrity of their respective creative teams. In a period of commercialism running rampant, symbolized most of all by the garish and murderous clown in the White House, “Elizabeth Blue” and “Thy Father’s Chair” are reminders that humanism is still alive in a dying empire, at least in the world of cinema.

For the longest time, films about schizophrenics have tended to be horror stories like “Psycho” or Grand Guignol tales like “Shutter Island”. Given the cheap exploitation of a serious illness, we are thankful for a film like “Elizabeth Blue” that offers a fictional tale deeply engaged with the real medical challenges facing its victims. And we should be doubly thankful that first-time feature director/screenwriter has done it so well, making him the inside track for my nomination as top new director of 2017 when NYFCO has its awards meeting in December.

The hope of all schizophrenics is to live a normal and productive life, which is shared by Elizabeth who we meet as she is being discharged from a psychiatric ward. She is a young and attractive woman who had a career as an editor before the first in a series of psychotic breaks. Perhaps this time things will turn out better since she is soon to be married to a handsome young man named Grant who has accepted her illness in the spirt of the “for better or for worse” marriage vow.

To help her along, Elizabeth and Grant meet with a psychiatrist who prescribes a number of medications that will help relieve her of the symptoms that bedevil all schizophrenics. Despite Alfred Hitchcock’s lurid (if even cinematically memorable) tale, most are of no danger to other people. Instead their most frequent victims are themselves since the psychological torment often leads to suicide.

In Elizabeth’s case, you see a highly realistic portrayal of what typically happens. Auditory hallucinations take the effect of disembodied voices telling the schizophrenic that they are worthless and that they do not deserve to live. If this happens infrequently, one might assume that these attacks can be relieved through medication and the support of family or a future husband like Grant. But when it is incessant, it can reach the point where the illness can totally incapacitate the sufferer.

Elizabeth is played by Anna Shafer, who is superb. Her shifting moods and hallucinatory episodes are played most effectively without the need to exaggerate the emotional reactions to the horrors that such a patient would be enduring. In an interesting casting coup her mother, who in layperson’s terms might be seen as having driven her daughter crazy, is played by Kathleen Quinlan, who was the schizophrenic patient in the 1977 “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”.

Success stories for this illness are infrequent. Among them are Tom Harrell, the jazz trumpeter, or the late John Nash, whose battles were dramatized in “A Beautiful Mind”. They also include director/screenwriter Vincent Sabella who as a schizophrenic himself knew first-hand how to dramatize the inner life of a schizophrenic as well as the medical regimen that is necessary to stay afloat. He has not only contributed to cinematic art but to the ongoing support campaign for a much stigmatized part of society. 3.2 million people suffer from the illness in the USA and most are regarded as either a danger to society or not worth supporting through a social safety net, even with its gaping holes. “Elizabeth Blue” is a stunning drama that will help to shed light on an illness that deserves to be understood dispassionately and without prejudice.

“Elizabeth Blue” opens on Friday at the Cinema Village in NYC. Highly recommended.

Opening on October 13nd at the Cinema Village in NYC and at the Laemmle in LA a week later, “Thy Father’s Chair” joins “Menashe” as a penetrating look at the orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. While not Hasidim, twin brothers Shraga and Abraham are about as close as you can come. They worship in a Hasidic synagogue and wear full beards and the black suit and white shirts that are a virtual uniform in this world.

But unlike the Hasidim, they are not only bachelors but living in a completely degraded state. They are alcoholics and living in filth in an apartment that is so insect-ridden and malodorous that the upstairs neighbors in the building they own have gone on a rent strike until the mess is cleaned up.

That indeed is how the documentary starts with the Israeli owner of a specialized cleaning company and his Black and Latino workers tackling a job that would make the ordinary person gag. There is garbage strewn across the floor in every room and a kitchen and bathroom that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in a decade.

The two sixtyish brothers are a distinct NYC type that you read about every so often, the pathological hoarder who we only find out about after they die. The smell of the decomposing body prompts the neighbors to call the police and attend to the body and the filth the dead man left behind.

On October 19, 2015 I blogged about this phenomenon after reading a story in the NY Times titled “The Lonely Death of George Bell”, a morbidly fascinating article that included this:

The two men foraged through the unedited anarchy, 800 square feet, one bedroom. A stench thickened the air. Mr. Plaza dabbed his nostrils with a Vicks vapor stick. Mr. Rodriguez toughed it out. Vicks bothered his nose.

The only bed was the lumpy foldout couch in the living room. The bedroom and bathroom looked pillaged. The kitchen was splashed with trash and balled-up, decades-old lottery tickets that had failed to deliver. A soiled shopping list read: sea salt, garlic, carrots, broccoli (two packs), “TV Guide.”

The faucet didn’t work. The chipped stove had no knobs and could not have been used to cook in a long time.

Instead of decades-old lottery tickets, the twin brothers have tons of Judaica that has accumulated alongside old newspapers and magazines, as well as junk they picked up off the street. If cleanliness is next to godliness, these brothers had no hope.

To me the most interesting aspect of the film is the clash between the Israeli and the two old-school Brooklyn Jews who probably spoke Yiddish growing up. At one point, Abraham asks him whether he believes in god. The Israeli says he doesn’t. Interestingly enough, the old observant Jew says that he is not sure he does himself. As a secular-minded take charge guy, the Israeli immigrant is an obvious contrast to the kind of shtetl life that Israel was meant to replace, including the Yiddish language. Why he has moved to the USA would probably be a good subject for another film.

This is a cinéma vérité that shows the influence of Frederic Wiseman and the Maysles brothers as the co-directors openly admit. Despite the advantage that a Jewish director, such as the one that made “Menashe”, would have in securing the agreement of the twin brothers to be filmed, it is instead a Spaniard named Alex Lora and an Australian named Antonio Tibaldi who made this extraordinary film. I can’t imagine how they ever hooked up with the Israeli cleaning contractor or the two lost souls who they have rescued from obscurity. Their readiness to make a film in the midst of such squalor shows a dedication to film art that most men and women could not muster.

Highly recommended.

September 19, 2017

This is what American fascism looks like: the Lyndon LaRouche story (part four)

Filed under: LaRouche — louisproyect @ 7:33 pm

Lyndon LaRouche’s ties to Ronald Reagan, the Donald Trump of the 1980s

(part onepart two, part three)

In 2017, large segments of the left—especially anarchists—would have you believe that the USA has something in common with the Weimar Republic in 1930 and that it is necessary to punch neo-Nazis in order to prevent Richard Spencer from becoming a new Hitler.

In reality the largest fascist movement in the USA since the 1930s would never have organized its members to march in torchlight parades chanting “blood and soil” even though it was clearly trying to emulate the Nazis. With allies such as the Grand Wizard of the KKK in Michigan, who had been convicted of bombing school buses to protest busing, you’d think that Lydon LaRouche would have created a new party to serve as a pole of attraction. Showing much more savvy than Richard Spencer and his ilk, he instead submerged his US Labor Party into the Democratic Party just as the CPUSA has done since the New Deal.

Between 1982 and 1988, his movement ran in 4,000 Democratic Party primaries and general elections in over 30 states. At the peak of his powers when he was a presidential candidate, LaRouche used to buy an hour’s worth of time on network TV to present his rather convoluted mixture of leftish sounding attacks on the IMF and bizarre conspiracy theories about how Queen Elizabeth was a drug lord. Dennis King describes the scope of his electoral machine:

Its fund raisers brought in tens of millions of dollars while its candidates attracted over 4 million votes, including voting percentages above 10 percent in hundreds of contests. In at least 70 statewide, congressional, or state legislative races, LaRouche candidates polled over 20 percent of the vote. At least 25 appeared on the general election ballot as Democratic nominees, either by defeating a regular Democratic opponent or by running in the primary unopposed. Although none was actually elected to any public office higher than a local school board, hundreds won Democratic Party posts (mostly county committee seats) across the country.

So how would antifa have dealt with this growing menace? By punching people who were passing out his campaign literature? Given the vast network of people taking part in his cult’s election bids, it would have been impossible to make a dent. For all of the talk from the liberal left about becoming the equivalent of the Tea Party in the Democratic Party, LaRouche came much closer to that goal but with one difference. He sought to incubate an ultraright movement in a traditionally liberal party even though a lot of his rhetoric began sounding similar to Ralph Nader’s “anti-globalization” politics and even to Trump administration ideologues. For example, Paul Gallagher ran for governor of New York in 1978 urging the New York bourgeoisie to take the lead in a “national export boom.”

And also like the Trump administration, his candidates were complete racists. During the struggle for busing in Boston, one ran in a district that included South Boston, where white racists were terrorizing Black schoolchildren just like in Alabama and Mississippi a decade earlier. After denouncing busing as a Ford Foundation conspiracy, he got 10.7 percent of the vote. What would antifa have done to suppress his hate speech? Storm into one of his rallies in South Boston and begin hitting people with 2 by 4s? Politics is a lot more complicated than that, especially considering the opposition of Robert Avakian’s cult to busing back then.

LaRouche calculated that his mixture of addled populism and racism would appeal to older and white DP voters in the same way that a part of this demographic decided to vote for Reagan and then for Donald Trump. It was the same voter that George Wallace appealed to in 1968 when he ran for President on an openly racist platform. Like Trump promising the sky to former coal miners, LaRouche tried to win the votes of workers in the nuclear industry who were suspicious of the anti-nuclear direction of the DP. In a speech to construction workers at the Seabrook nuclear power site, he promised to build 2,500 nuclear plants by the year 2000.

Despite continuing to run as a Democrat, LaRouche became an enthusiastic supporter of the Reagan Revolution in 1980. In exactly the same fashion as Bannon and Alex Jones hanging on to Trump’s coat-tails, LaRouche saw Reagan as a defender of nationalist values. In many ways, the fight within the Republican Party in 1979 mirrored that between Trump and Jeb Bush in the 2016 primary. In his speaking engagements, LaRouche concentrated his fire on his father George H.W. Bush who was denounced as a “globalist”. Despite a lot of the craziness in his party press, LaRouche was very much the counterpart of Steve Bannon (granted Bannon can be pretty crazy himself.)

Repeating themes popular on the left back then (and today, for that matter), LaRouche denounced Bush as a tool of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. The steady drumbeat of LaRouche’s campaign speeches likely had an effect since reporters began bombarding Bush with questions about the Trilateral Commission.

Once Reagan was elected, LaRouche felt the same sense of exultation that could be found in alt-right circles but unlike the alt-right, he was much more successful in building ties to a president who was about to carry out a vicious attack on the working class in the USA and internationally.

Showing an ability to suppress some of the wacky stuff published in the cult’s Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), top operatives went to Washington in 1981 to sell their services. They made sure to advertise themselves as boosters of Reagan’s Trump-like policies on the military, the environment, and drugs while making sure to avoid any references to Queen Elizabeth as a drug lord.

The Reagan White House and LaRouche saw eye-to-eye particularly on the need for Star Wars and pushing for nuclear power. They had even beaten Reagan to the punch. In the late 70s they were lining up rightwing atomic scientists like Edward Teller to support the goals of the Fusion Energy Foundation that promoted a Star Wars type anti-missile defense, fusion energy, and bigger and more powerful thermonuclear devices. While Teller considered them too weird to network with, a close friend of his and highly respected scientist named Robert Budwine from the Livermore Labs was drawn into their periphery. King, a consummate researcher, wrote:

Budwine became deeply intrigued by the LaRouchians and was drawn for several months into the periphery of their cult life. Among other things, he attended the NCLC annual conference in January 1984 at LaRouche’s Virginia mansion, where the baroque harpsichord background music struck him as “an attempt to re-create an eighteenth-century salon.” He formed friendships with Uwe Parpart and other NCLC members, and spent several hours in private discussions with LaRouche on Indo-European root languages, Riemannian geometry, and other LaRouche hobbies.

As King also reported, LaRouche recruited Winston Bostick, the former chairman of the Stevens Institute of Technology physics department, and Friedwardt Winterberg, a fusion specialist with the University of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute, into the FEF. Bostick became a leading figure, speaking at its conferences, writing for its journal and serving on the editorial board of another FEF publication, the International Journal of Fusion Energy. In a 1984 telephone interview he said he supported LaRouche’s attempts to promote “German military, scientific, cultural, and economic traditions.” Meanwhile, Winterberg hailed LaRouche as having the “most scientifically founded” program of any presidential candidate and allowed the FEF to publish his Physical Principles of Thermonuclear Explosive Devices in 1981, sending him on overseas speaking tours.

By providing a platform for softball interviews, the EIR cultivated ties to the Republican Party elite. Among the politicians whose views could be seen in this fascist journal were Agriculture Secretary John Block, Defense Under Secretary Richard DeLauer, Commerce Under Secretary Lionel Olmer, Treasury Under Secretary Norman Ture, Assistant Attorney General Lowell Jensen, Murray Weidenbaum, the chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Senators Orrin Hatch and John Tower. No matter how much Richard Spencer has praised Donald Trump, he never could have gotten through the front door to the equivalent of such pols today. That’s the big difference between LaRouche and the alt-right. He was far more interested in influencing public policy than doing half-assed imitations of a Nuremberg rally.

The most important inroads, however, were with the National Security Council and the CIA. LaRouche followers met frequently with Richard Morris, the top aide to National Security Adviser William Clark. They also got the ear of other NSC officials such as Ray Pollock and Norman Bailey.

From the CIA, the cult developed ties to CIA deputy director Ray Cline, who was deeply involved with the rightwing death squads in Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as former CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton, who headed up surveillance of anti-war protesters and left groups in the 60s and 70s. Once again we are indebted to King’s superlative research to see how internecine the ties were between LaRouche and the CIA:

In the early years of the Reagan administration the LaRouchians established direct channels into the intelligence community. Admiral [Bobby] Inman appreciated their “flow of materials” to help fill the gap left by [Stansfield] Turner’s cutbacks [Carter’s CIA director]. LaRouche was allowed to brief two aides to John McMahon, Inman’s successor, at CIA headquarters in 1983. According to court papers, an aide to Federal Emergency Management Agency director Louis Guiffrida frequently met with the LaRouchians and even came to NCLC headquarters for a day’s briefing. Jeffrey Steinberg visited the National Security Council eight to ten times between June 1983 and June 1984, according to his deposition in LaRouche v. NBC. Articles in EIR were peppered with quotes from unnamed “CIA Sovietologists” and “DIA analysts.”

The real question is what bearing the obsessions of the Southern Poverty Law Center and “It’s Going Down” have to do with arguably the most powerful fascist movement since the 1930s. What do you do when the fascists operate as a wing of the Democratic Party, are focused on electoral activity and generally avoid street-fighting? LaRouche had finally decided not long after he abandoned stormtrooper type activity against the left in the early 70s that his role was to bloc with the most reactionary forces in American politics. It started with his ties to the KKK and other fringe figures on the ultraright and eventually evolved into providing intelligence to the CIA and other security agencies about the left. Constituting a private investigative agency, his followers worldwide fed information to headquarters about anti-nuclear activists, peace groups, and anybody else who wanted to challenge corporate power. LaRouche also came to the conclusion that in addition to snitching on the left, it was worth his while to make a good living at it. He sold his dossiers on the left to whoever was willing to pay the hefty price. He also began running a multi-million dollar hustle that parted older and often half-senile Republican Party voters from their bank accounts. His phone bankers were very aggressive and very skilled. Eventually this caught up with him in on December 16, 1988, when he was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud involving more than $30 million in defaulted loans. He spent five years in prison as part of a fifteen year sentence.

Even though the LaRouche cult is still operating today, it no longer has the influence it once had. You might even argue that it is no longer fascist but simply just one more ultraright outfit of the sort that the Koch brothers fund and toward the same end.

In my next and final post in this series, I will describe where the group stands today and the possibilities for a new American fascism that had the reach and power of this cult during its heyday.


September 16, 2017

Red Trees

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:03 pm

When I received an invitation from a publicist to review “Red Trees” that opened yesterday at Lincoln Plaza and Quad Cinema in NYC, I was initially undecided since the documentary was about surviving the holocaust. Having seen dozens of films, both fiction and nonfiction, about this crime against humanity starting with Alain Resnais’s 1956 documentary “Night and Fog” that I saw as a college freshman in 1961, I was not sure what more could be said. I finally decided to review the film since it was produced by Charles S. Cohen who owns the Cohen Media Group and Quad Cinema. Over the years I have developed a deep respect for Cohen Media Group films and those shown at Quad Cinema. Suffice it to say that “Red Trees” meets the lofty standards set by Mr. Cohen, who decided to produce the film after seeing a shorter version.

Although the images summoned up the word holocaust are black-and-white photos and historical footage of skeletal victims at Auschwitz, “Red Trees” is instead a lyrically evocative picture of the world of the Czechs both past and present as director Marina Willer and her father Alfred visit the places where he grew up. Even when he recalls terrifying moments, his daughter never forgets that the overarching purpose of the film is to convey the joys of civilized life in places like Kaznêjov and Prague where the Willer family prospered economically and culturally until the Nazis began their brutal occupation in 1939.

The Willer family was a paradigm of secular and educated Czechoslovakia, in no way different from the Christian elite. Indeed, the contribution that the patriarch Wilem was making helped the family become one of the twelve that survived the genocide. He was an industrial engineer who developed the process for manufacturing citric acid, a chemical key to preserving food. Even with this to his credit, he narrowly escaped being sent to a concentration camp. The film cites Hitler’s words in 1933: “If science cannot do without Jews, then we will have to do without science for a few years.”

His son Alfred was born in 1930 and demonstrated an talent for art that was as formidable as his father’s was for science and technology. Not long after he began painting landscapes, the teachers noticed that the trees were red—a dead giveaway that he was colorblind. This did not dissuade him from a life in the arts and eventually becoming an outstanding architect. The title of the film refers both to his minor disability as well as his and his daughter’s belief that skin color should not matter when it comes to human relations. After obtaining passports in 1947, the Willers headed for Brazil, a country that symbolized the kind of racial diversity these progressive Jews believed in and that is now under mounting attack across Europe and the USA. Although the main purpose of Marina Willer’s film is to tell her family’s story, you can’t help but think that it is 2017’s most important anti-fascist statement.

I kept thinking of Stefan Zweig as the film unfolded. He lived in Vienna that like Willer’s Prague was a symbol of civilized European values. And like Willer, he chose to live in Brazil, emigrating there in 1940, not long after he had narrowly escaped Hitler’s death squads. In 1941, he wrote “Brazil: Land of the Future”, a book that saw his new adopted homeland as free of Europe’s “race fanatics”, its “frenzied scenes and mad ecstasies of hero-worship”, its “foolish nationalism and imperialism” and its “suicidal fury”. As it turned out, Zweig’s despair, and his wife’s, over the horrors overtaking Europe became too much of a burden. They committed suicide a year later, becoming Hitler’s victims just as much as those who died in concentration camps.

Marina Willer made this film as a way to get closer to her father, who had never spoken much about his ordeals as a Jew in Prague during WWII. In making the film, she was able to piece together a story that is as much a commentary on the suffering of the Jews as it is of the general problem of people being driven from their homelands because of ethnic or racial hatred or–even worse–murdered. In the press notes, she says, “Red Trees is a personal project that merges the story of my family with something that’s really universal—what’s going on today with the world’s refugees. The story becomes much more relevant because of the refugee crisis. The point of telling personal stories is that they become universal, and we can learn from history to not make this mistake again.”

Now based in London, she drew upon the cinematographic talents of her Brazilian countryman César Charlone, who won an Academy Award for “City of God”. They filmed in abandoned factories where her grandfather worked and in synagogues that contained the names of all the Jews who had died in concentration camps. Suffice it to say that Marina Willer’s background as a designer and Charlone’s stunning visual acuity make watching this film something like a visit to a museum.

In addition to telling her family’s story, we also learn about Czechoslovakia’s resistance to Nazism that includes a closing credit to some of the country’s resistance fighters. When I was very young, WWII was still very much alive in the minds of my parents and their generation, including those who scheduled what we saw on television. In the mid-50s, something like “Hogan’s Heroes” would have been totally unacceptable. Instead, we saw “The Silent Village” that can now be seen on Youtube. This British documentary made in 1943 told the story of Lidice, a Czech town that was wiped off the face of the map because it was accused of supporting the resistance fighters who assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, considered the main architect of the holocaust. After he was killed, Hitler ordered the execution of every male adult in Lidice and that the women and children be sent to concentration camps. Afterwards, every building was burned to the ground and salt was spread across the soil in order to prevent anything from growing again. As Marina Willer points out, many villages and towns were renamed Lidice in solidarity with the victims as were newborn children. It may be said that if “Red Trees” had a subtitle, it would be “Lidice”.

The film ends with the words of Alfred Willer that are germane to the social crisis we face today. “I have never understood an attachment to one nation, one culture. We are a mixture, and in this there is beauty. I’m Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Czech, German, Brazilian, English– I’m everything. What a salad.” What did Stalin call such people? Rootless cosmopolitans? People such as Stefan Zweig and Alfred Willer were naturally drawn to places like Vienna, Prague and Rio de Janeiro where their catholic and progressive sensibility could flourish. Ultimately, this is the task we face today and one that “Red Trees” undertakes, to make a world where cosmopolitanism reigns supreme.


September 15, 2017

Vietnam: The Commodity

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:23 pm

Source: Vietnam: The Commodity

Gareth Porter: master alchemist

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:30 pm

Gareth Porter: master alchemist

The Grayzone Project at Alternet is a primary source of Assadist propaganda, the latest instance of which is a 5,226 word article by Gareth Porter titled “Have We Been Deceived Over Syrian Sarin Attack? Scrutinizing the Evidence in an Incident Trump Used to Justify Bombing Syria”. It denies that the Syrian dictatorship unleashed a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4th and instead puts the blame on an accidental release of phosphine gas when a warehouse containing aluminum phosphide was bombed. As has been claimed by a number of Assadist propagandists, it was the bombing of a phosphate based pesticide rather than sarin gas that caused over a hundred deaths.

I addressed this claim in a July 8, 2017 article titled “Phosphorus, phosphates, organophosphates and phospine” that attempted to ground the discussion in the abc’s of chemistry even though I am obviously not a chemist. Under the section that dealt with phosphine, I referred to Porter’s initial foray into this matter:

On April 13, 2017 Gareth Porter, who was as ardent in his support for Pol Pot in the 1970s as he is today for Bashar al-Assad, told Truthout readers that it was not necessarily sarin gas that was used in Khan Sheikhoun. He came close to Ritter’s account but identified phosphine rather than white phosphorus as the smoking gun. He stated, “Both the Syrian Army and the Al-Nusra Front fighters in the Aleppo area, moreover, had abundant stocks of phosphine-producing smoke munitions in 2013” and that “phosphine-producing munitions can be lethal if humans are exposed in confined space”. Well, I don’t know how Porter defines confined space but by all accounts the toxic cloud swept across several miles. Maybe the jihadists were funded by the Rothschild bank to put a huge glass dome over the village to make sure that the “false flag” worked. Who knows?

Chemically, phosphine is produced by combining white phosphorus with sodium or potassium hydroxide in laboratory conditions. As is the case with Ritter’s accusation, there are no news accounts of phosphine weaponry being used in Aleppo by either Assad or rebels—not even by Sputnik news. Maybe it was a dream he had.

Porter returns to the phosphine explanation but from a different angle this time. He writes:

Eyewitness accounts of the airstrike, the revelations in Seymour Hersh’s article in Die Welt and other information about the building hit by a Syrian bomb, the geographic pattern of the casualties, the known characteristics of aluminum phosphide and the symptoms of the victims all indicate a very different explanation: A Syrian high explosive bomb hit supplies of aluminum phosphide stored in a building in the northeast area of Khan Sheikhoun, releasing a cloud of deadly phosphine gas, which caused the deaths and injuries.

Can bombing aluminum phosphide release phosphine gas? Only if there were different laws of chemistry that were only recognized by Porter and his feckless editor at the Grayzone Project, one Max Blumenthal. Maybe it would be best to describe Porter’s article as an exercise in alchemy.

As it happens, aluminum phosphide is a deadly poison that has resulted in significant accidental deaths in India, Saudi Arabia and Iran. But this is typically how it occurs. Since as a pesticide, it comes in the form of what looks like rice pellets, it is often swallowed by toddlers or by adults intent on suicide. You can understand why this would make India a prime candidate for aluminum phosphide deaths since farmers who have access to the pesticide are also prime candidates for suicide. The International Journal of Medical Research and Review pointed out in a recent article:

Acute self infliction of poisoning is very common among young in developing countries. The epidemiology of poisoning changes time to time and varies region to region. In south India, organophosphorus compound poisoning has been more common as compared to Aluminium phosphide poisoning in north India. All over India males are more commonly reported to poison themselves. Poisoning in farmers has been reported more commonly than in any other profession. Madhya Pradesh is situated in central part of India, where agriculture is the predominant source of income.

The actual chemical basis for the poisoning, however, is the creation of phosphine gas when the pesticide reacts to water in the human body since it is only this combination, which chemists call hydrolysis, that can produce the gas. This is what you will find in the Wikipedia entry on aluminium phosphide poisoning:

The toxicity of aluminium phosphide is attributed to the liberation of phosphine gas, a cytotoxic compound that causes free radical mediated injury, inhibits vital cellular enzymes and is directly corrosive to tissues. The following reaction releases phosphine when AlP reacts with water in the body:

AlP + 3 H2O → Al(OH)3 + PH3, and

AlP + 3 HCl → AlCl3 + PH3 (stomach)

So if you drop a bomb on barrels of aluminum phosphide, that does not produce phosphine gas. All it will produce is pulverized pellets. For a citizen of Khan Sheikhoun to have been poisoned by phosphine, it would have required them to scoop up some of the powder and ingest it. This hardly seems likely. Nor does it seem to matter to people like Blumenthal and Porter that the warehouse in question has never been identified by Syria or Russia.

To illustrate the difference between bombing aluminum phosphide and the chemical process needed to unleash phosphine, I would refer you to a December 29, 2015 article in Marine Insight, a trade publication:

A container vessel loaded some containers of Aluminium Phosphide (IMDG Class 4.3, UN No. 1397) from an Asian port. The consignment used plastic bags as inner packaging and steel drums as outer packaging. The drums were then secured on wooden pallets and these were finally stacked inside a standard marine freight container.

During the voyage, the crew heard a number of small ‘explosions’ inside one of these containers, after which some smoke escaped past the rubber seals of the door. On seeing the smoke, the crew assumed that the cargo inside was burning and sprayed water on the outside of the container exterior in order to cool it.

Although the cargo had been correctly declared at the time of shipment, the relevant Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) was not provided to the carrier or to the vessel. The crew was unaware of the fact that contact between water and Aluminium Phosphide produces phosphine, an extremely flammable and toxic gas.

I have no idea how much money Alternet pays Max Blumenthal to turn out this easily refuted propaganda but they are not getting their money’s worth. Maybe they should reassign him to cover the alchemy beat. It would make a lot more sense than this bullshit.

Reflections on the DSA

Filed under: social democracy,socialism — louisproyect @ 12:59 pm

Fifty years ago I fully expected that by 2017 we would be living under socialism in the USA, thanks to a combination of deepening contradictions that would make capitalism untenable and our steely resolve in building a vanguard Trotskyist party up to the task of leading the glorious revolution of the future. It turned out that it was our vanguardist pretensions that were untenable. That plus capitalism’s ability to both co-opt and repress the left leaves us where we are today: in a total mess.

In the early 80s I hooked up with Peter Camejo’s North Star Network in the hope of building a new left that dispensed with vanguardist pretensions. Carrying out a one-man probe of the extant non-Leninist left, I decided to attend DSA’s “Radical Alternatives for the 1980s: A Conference on Education and Strategy for Progressive” in 1983. After spending 11 years in the Trotskyist movement with its cocksure belief that it was predestined to lead the American revolution, I found the conference a breath of fresh air, especially Stanley Aronowitz’s presentation on what Peter and I used to call “tasks and perspectives” reports. The DSA was only a year old at the time, having been formed through a merger of Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and the New American Movement (NAM). NAM was probably closer to the North Star politically but not likely to be interested in a regroupment effort with ex-Trotskyists. Michael Harrington’s DSOC was not only much larger but had an orientation to the Democratic Party that was a match to the ideological background of leading NAM members like Richard Healy, the son of former CP leader Dorothy Healy.

Continue reading

September 13, 2017

My mentally ill troll

Filed under: psychology — louisproyect @ 11:43 pm

This guy has been writing comments for at least a decade. I can’t remember when I put him into a spam filter but it must have been at least 6 years ago when I started writing about Syria. It doesn’t seem to matter to him that all of his comments end up in the trash. Some inner compulsion must force him to write such things that nobody reads except me when I am obligated to remove them from my trash bin like flushing the toilet after a big bowel movement. He must be a lonely soul up there in Boston (an Iranian it would appear based on past communications), who feels that he is defending the mullahs by excoriating me or in this instance my good friend Reza. One of these days when he writes me one of his comments threatening violence, I just might cross class lines and contact the cops. His IP address can easily be tracked down.

Beeley admits: “Even Assad doesn’t deny torture”: Spy vs Spy… a Pro-Assadist Comedy

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 5:32 pm

We Write What We Like

spy vs spy“Even Govt don’t deny torture happened”: Spy vs Spy…. A Syrian comedy starring Vanessa Beeley. Guest starring Tim Anderson, Eva Bartlett, Scott Gaulke and Iman & Susan Safi

In the midst of the Syrian genocide, it’s always interesting when you manage to be amused by the antics of the enemy. If you thought that the Pro-Assad faction was united, you haven’t been paying close enough attention. The fact is that there is a civil war going on between the Old Guard and the New Guard. Both factions claim to be intimate with “the President” and privy to special, secretive knowledge. Yes, we know, Knowledge is Power. Both factions also are waging their own little cyber war based on calling each other spies, Mossad agents and cyber stalkers. There is so much importance given to the claim about being “invited” to countries such as North Korea and Syria by the leadership…

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The Deuce

Filed under: racism,television — louisproyect @ 5:25 pm

I have just spent probably the longest 90 minutes of my life watching the first episode of “The Deuce”, an HBO series that examines prostitution and pornography in New York City in 1971. The show is co-written by George Pelecanos and David Simon, the creative team behind “The Wire”, another highly acclaimed HBO series that I could never stand for more than 5 minutes. Both shows are highly exploitative. In the name of gritty realism, they pander to the tastes of an educated urban middle-class that gets its kicks out of gaping at society’s lower-depths, especially African-American petty criminals who are stereotyped in this fare. In “The Wire”, it was drug dealers; in “The Deuce”, it is pimps and prostitutes. Despite the lofty pretensions of the men and women behind this series, it is nothing but Blaxploitation tailored to the carriage trade. All this would be forgivable if there was something dramatic going on. Sitting through the first episode was analogous to watching paint dry, to use a hoary cliché. How something as lurid as pimps and whores going about their business could turn out to be so humdrum and predictable indicates to me that Simon and Pelecanos’s reputation has been overblown to the nth degree.

“The Deuce” includes Richard Price and James Franco as executive producers, who likely had an influence on the story’s narrative arc. Price, a one-time very good novelist, began a steep decline once he began writing policiers like “Clockers”, a 1992 novel based on the cat-and-mouse games played by cops and African-American drug dealers. Expecting something approaching Dostoyevsky based on the rave reviews, I couldn’t get past page 50 or so. This novel evidently qualified Price to begin writing for its first cousin “The Wire” ten years later. Price also adapted the very fine British Criminal Justice TV series about a young man falsely accused of murdering a woman he met on a one-night stand into the mess called “The Night Of”. Like “The Wire” and “The Deuce”, it was mostly a way for Price to highlight repulsive and grotesque African-American characters.

In addition to executive producing “The Deuce”, James Franco plays twin brothers Vinnie and Frank Martino. Vinnie is a bartender from Brooklyn while his brother is a Vietnam vet with a gambling addiction. Evidently the two of them become pioneers of the porn industry but I don’t have plans to stick around to watch the characters “making it”. I find pornography in and of itself to be a crushing bore so I don’t expect a film about its rise to break the mold.

Like Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal is both an executive producer and an actor. She plays Eileen “Candy” Merrell, a street-walker in Times Square, where most of the action takes place. Unlike the other whores, she works on her own.

Setting the tone for the sort of pimps that are featured in “The Deuce”, we meet C.C. and Reggie Love hanging out in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. They are dressed in the garish costumes featured in Blaxploitation films of this period, conked hair and all. The predictably named Reggie Love, who has returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam, is singing the praises of Richard Nixon whose ability to intimidate the Vietnamese makes him a fellow pimp in spirit. From there the conversation turns to how they want to line up some white bitches for their stable. Listening to the dialog between the two characters is a revolting experience akin to that produced by the scene in “Dumbo” where crows are stand-ins for Black people.

When C.C. spots a young woman who has just deboarded a bus from Minnesota, he strides toward her with a cane in his right hand. No, he is not disabled from a tour of duty in Vietnam, only using it as a fashion accessory. It is obvious that subtlety is not a word found in Simon and Pelenacos’s vocabulary.

Leaving aside the message of this dubious product, there are stylistic choices that strike me as boneheaded. In the ninety minute pilot for “The Deuce”, there are 46 separate scenes, most lasting no more than a minute. They all involved different characters, sometimes overlapping in the by-now overused “coincidence” fashion of films like “Crash” or “Amores perros”. You know the sort of film I am talking about, right? It is one in which 25 different characters cross each other’s path beating the kind of odds you would find in the NY State Lottery. The hub for all of these coincidences is the House of Korea, a restaurant in Times Square where Vinnie works as a bartender that is favored by pimps, prostitutes, cops and businessmen far more interested in getting drunk than eating some of the best cuisine on earth.

Additionally, to appear faithful to the period, nearly every character smokes cigarettes during the dialog. It becomes a huge distraction since it is so italicized. As I said, Simon and Pelenacos are not into subtlety.

Since the device of having such brief scenes is meant to draw you into the texture of Times Square society in 1971 rather than to develop the characters psychologically, you begin to tire of the fragmentation. Price used the same approach in “The Night Of”, which he clearly borrowed from “The Wire”. I much prefer something like “The French Connection” or “The Godfather”. If that makes me a moldy fig, so be it.

I think Ishmael Reed had the last word on this crap in an interview he gave to Wajahat Ali on Counterpunch:

ALI: Let’s talk about the media. Here are some popular examples of media content and personalities that have gone mainstream and are successful: Oprah. Will Smith. Jamie Foxx. Tyra Bank. Tyler Perry. The Wire. Barbershop. American Gangster. You’re known as a vociferous critic of mainstream media and its tendency to stereotype. So, why complain now? You guys– African Americans – have made it.

REED: The Wire– you know, David Simon [the creator of The Wire] and I have a running controversy for years. It all stems from a telephone call I made to KPFA [Pacifica radio] when he was a guest there in the 90’s on Chris Welche’s show. He was going around the country with a Black kid from the Ghetto to promote something called The Corner– it was all about Blacks as degenerates selling drugs, etc.

ALI: Was that HBO?

REED: Yes. HBO does all this kind of stuff. I called in and told Simon, “You’re using this kid.” Later I said it [was] like Buffalo Bill going around the country exhibiting Indians. He got really pissed off and went to the New York Times, where he has a supporter there named Virginia Hefferman, another Times feminist who, when it comes to Black urban Fiction, can’t tell the difference between the real and the fake; she’s his supporter. She said that George Pelecanos, David Simon, and Richard Price are the “Lords of Urban Fiction,” when the Black Holloway authors like Iceberg Slim can write circles around these guys when it comes to Urban fiction.

Simon, Price and Pelecanos’ Black characters speak like the cartoon crows in those old racist cartoons [“Heckle and Jeckle.”] Henry Louis Gates knows this about “The Wire,” yet his right wing blog, The Root, carries an ad for “The Wire” today and a glowing article about this piece of crap. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an intellectual entrepreneur all right. He condemns my work as misogynist yet supports Simon’s Neo-Nazi portrait of Black people. “The Wire” and novels by Price and Pelecanos should be submitted to the Jim Crow museum at Ferris State University– this is the website: www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/, where they can have a honored place alongside of some of Robert Crumb’s Nazi cartoons.

When I was researching my novel Reckless Eyeballing, I attended a lecture sponsored by the San Francisco Holocaust Museum, March 26,1984. The program said that the stereotypes about Jewish men in the Nazi media was similar to that about Black men in the United States. I thought, what on earth are they talking about? And then I went out and examined some of this junk, especially the cartoons in the newspaper Der Sturmer – see Julius Streicher Nazi Editor of the Notorious Anti-Semite Newspaper Der Sturmer by Randall l. Bytwerk. I was shocked. Jewish men were depicted as sexual predators, raping Aryan women. They were exhibited as flashers. Both Bellow and Phillip Roth’s books include Black flashers. Jewish men especially those immigrants from Russia were depicted as criminals. Jewish children were seen as disruptive, a threat to German school children and so on.

If any one looks at this stuff for example, you’ll find a perfect match for the way that David Mamet, David Simon, George Pelecanos, Stephen Spielberg and Richard Price portray Blacks. They are very critical in their projects about the way Black men treat women, yet none of them has produced a project critical of the way that men of their background treat women.

September 12, 2017

Why in god’s name did the Socialist Project decide to recommend Alastair Crooke’s article hailing Assad’s victory?

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 3:54 pm

Alastair Crooke

Yesterday, I wrote a message to Marxmail condemning Socialist Project’s decision to regularly tweet Assadist propaganda, the latest installment of which is an article by ex-MI6 operative Alastair Crooke that appeared on Consortium News. Crooke, whose spooky past and name seem lifted out of a John Le Carré novel, was described as a supporter of Islamic “freedom fighters” and power-hungry clerics in a Mother Jones profile ten years ago but more recently has become the typical Assadist, sounding every bit as committed to the “war on terror” as all the other people writing for Consortium News, starting with its webmaster Robert Parry, a one-time investigative reporter who like Seymour Hersh is far more dedicated to covering things up today.

In email exchanges with Sam Gindin today, I was assured that the Socialist Project editor Greg Albo was only posting a link to Crooke’s article for informational purposes, only to allow readers to get inside the skull of a figure with a background in foreign affairs. Since the Socialist Project Twitter feed is an almost daily source of Assadist propaganda, I tend to doubt that but will not dwell on it. Gindin invited me to write a critique of Crooke’s article, which I will do after saying some brief words about the provenance of Socialist Project.

This is a collective of sorts that was initiated by Socialist Register editors, including Gindin, Leo Panitch and Greg Albo, who is the nominal editor of Socialist Project. I welcomed this initiative back in 2000 as described on their website:

At a meeting in Toronto in the fall of 2000, some 750 activists responded to a call to “rebuild the left” by developing a structured movement against capitalism. This call for a new political formation that would be “more than a movement, less than a party” was similar to other initiatives in Canada and around the world that have been undertaken as the traditional organizations of the political left have waned.

I suspect that Gindin, Panitch and Albo have not given much thought to Syria, at least on the basis of a search of Socialist Register where there are zero references to the country dated after 2009. Nor will you find a single reference to the Arab Spring. I would describe this as a dereliction of socialist duty and leave it at that.

Turning now to Crooke’s article, it basically describes Syria as suffering the same kind of “regime change” attack as Iraq in 2002 that was supposedly intended to bolster Sunni fundamentalism against Russian and Iranian interests: “Fired-up Sunni radicals have now been used by Western states to counter Nasserism, Ba’athism, the USSR, Iranian influence, and latterly to try to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.”

Would you expect Crooke to explain why Bush’s invasion helped to install a Shia regime close to Tehran? Of course not.

One of the host of experts on Syria Crooke calls upon is a libertarian named Dan Sanchez, who has written articles like “Mises Never Gave In to Evil“. This is the same Mises who once wrote that “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.”

No wonder Sanchez is an Assad fan.

I have no idea who at Socialist Project deemed Crooke’s article worth linking to but wonder if they share his view that the Arab Spring was a vehicle supported by the West “to break up the nationalist-secular Arab world” and replace it with Islamists.

Crooke is encouraged by BRICS calling out Pakistan for providing aid to jihadist groups. As Charles Davis pointed out in a recent al-Jazeera article, George Bush’s brand of “war on terror” has spread internationally as a favorite tool to cover up of war crimes. Does anybody think that Modi, whose BJP carried out pogroms against Muslims, or China that has been suppressing Uighur rights for decades in the name of fighting terrorism have the moral high ground to lecture Pakistan?

Right now Myanmar is working with China and Russia to make sure that the UN Security Council is prevented from censuring the Assadist-like scorched earth tactics that has forced nearly 150,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. Myanmar National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said he was counting on China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, to block a UN resolution on the crisis. “We are negotiating with some friendly countries not to take it to the Security Council. China is our friend and we have a similar friendly relationship with Russia so it will not be possible for that issue to go forward.” About Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi blaming “terrorists” and “a huge iceberg of misinformation”, the less said the better.

Crooke is also encouraged by a statement made by his country’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt on behalf of General al-Sisi in Egypt who has killed, imprisoned and tortured members of the Muslim Brotherhood as part of a crackdown on “jihadism”. With the “axis of resistance” to jihadist terror now encompassing the White House, the Kremlin, the British foreign ministry, Assad, Robert Fisk, Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn and thousands of other journalists and politicians, one can understand why the Socialist Project has decided not to swim against the current.

Crooke, like many others on the Assadist left (using the word left charitably), is positively gloating over Assad’s victory, since it has shown Wahabbism to be “thoroughly discredited by its careless brutality.” How remarkable it is for someone to write an article hailing Assad’s victory without even the slightest whisper that the man he is hoisting on his shoulders has used poison gas repeatedly, killed 13,000 prisoners, driven half the country into either internal or external displacement and is responsible for over a half-million casualties. If Syria had the same population as the USA, this would amount to 9 million deaths.

Crooke asserts that this victory was ensured by “the mostly Sunni Syrian Arab Army.” Odd, all along I thought it was Russian bombers, Hezbollah, Iran’s Quds Brigades, Shia mercenaries from Afghanistan and Iraq that did the trick. I guess I should have been paying closer attention to sources like Dan Sanchez to understand what was happening in Syria. In reality, it is doubtful that Assad would have made it past 2014 unless these outside powers had stepped in. In a speech made in July 2015, Assad stated that “the country’s army faced a manpower shortage and had ceded some areas to insurgents in order to hold onto other regions deemed more important”, according to the NY Times. It was just such a manpower shortage that led to the use of barrel bombs and poison gas. The barrel bombs were meant for wholesale murder in rebel-controlled areas and the sarin or chlorine gas was meant to frighten the survivors into submission.

With all due respect to Sam Gindin, I don’t think that Crooke’s article was meant as an example of how such people view the current situation in Syria. I am convinced that this is the editorial outlook of some leading Socialist Project members, at least those like Justin Podur, an ideologically committed Assadist. For all I know, it is Podur who is responsible for this garbage.

Back in 2014, Greg Albo signed an open letter titled “Odessa: The Last Warning” that repeated the Kremlin’s talking points about Euromaidan being a fascist plot. At the time, it suggested to me that the milieu around Socialist Register and Socialist Project were being drawn into the emerging “anti-imperialist” front based in the Kremlin. I have no idea whether Sam Gindin or Leo Panitch paid much attention to this development but I certainly did.

I was struck by this sentence in the letter: “If we allow the Banderovites in Kiev to do what they like in Odessa, then we will allow tomorrow the same crime to be committed by the ‘Golden Dawn’ in Greece, by Jobbik in Hungary or, even, by Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France.” What a striking irony that these three fascist parties are all staunch supporters of Bashar al-Assad. That is a contradiction I will leave Sam Gindin and Greg Albo to resolve.


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