Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 17, 2017

The Sunshine Makers; The Modern Jungle

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:05 pm

As I sat watching the terrific documentary “The Sunshine Makers” that opens on Friday at the Village East in New York, the phrase “Breaking Good” kept running through my mind since the film was about two men who became LSD manufacturers in the 1960s only to change the world rather than make money. Since scientists today have rediscovered the benefits of LSD, including its ability to reduce anxiety in terminal cancer patients, the two–Nick Sands and Tim Scully–were certainly on to something.

Born in 1941, Sands took mescaline 20 years later when he was a Brooklyn College undergrad. Like many people around that time (including me), psychedelics were the perfect accompaniment to Eastern religion and other forms of mysticism that appealed to many young people turned off by what Allen Ginsberg called Moloch.

This led him to become a regular at a mansion in Millbrook, New York owned by Billy Hitchcock that had become the LSD temple of Timothy Leary. Millbrook was about a half hour’s drive from Bard College and I had heard through the grapevine that Bard students had been spending time there in “psychology experiments”. Even if I had been invited to take part, I doubt that it would have interested me since my drugs of choice were marijuana and hashish that were cheap and plentiful at the time.

Eventually Sands hooked up with a Berkeley mathematical physics major named Tim Scully who was born in 1944 and just 5 months older than me. Scully became the Walter White of their operation largely on the strengths of his brilliance in all things scientific including chemistry. Wikipedia states that “In his junior year of high school, Scully completed a small linear accelerator in the school science lab (he was trying to make gold atoms from mercury) which was pictured in a 1961 edition of the Oakland Tribune.”

I imagine that everybody who sees this film will be swept off their feet but it had a heightened resonance with me. There is a certain poignancy in seeing geezers like these reflecting on their misspent (or spent perhaps) youth as you see home movies from when they were in their twenties. Sands, an Adonis in his youth, is now a slow-moving walrus-like figure who still retains a glint in his eye and a quick wit. Scully, as rail-thin as he was in his youth, is completely bald and wrinkled. But neither man shows the slightest regret in breaking the law just as I have no regret in taking part in my own kind of lawless behavior.

I only had one experience with LSD, just two months before joining the Trotskyist movement. I went to my friend Chip’s apartment on the opposite end of the floor in my West 92nd building to drop acid while he and his wife smoked pot and served as my anchor in case things got out of hand. After swallowing a sugar cube, I didn’t notice anything happening for the first 15 minutes but then the strangest thing. A rather tacky landscape on the wall depicting a fish jumping out of a lake surrounded by mountains became—how should I put it—animated. The water began rippling and the fish kept jumping out of the water. How are you doing that, I asked Chip, positive in my mind that the painting was a “novelty” he bought in Times Square that could be activated by a remote control he had concealed in his hand. Open your hand, I demanded, let me see the remote control. When he opened both hands, I couldn’t believe it. I was hallucinating. For the next two hours, I watched what amounted to Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” on the living room walls but that was about it. It might have been a deeply spiritual experience for Sands and Scully but for me, it was just entertainment.

Sands and Scully were partners with Oswald Stanley who died in 2011. His words are heard throughout the film as are Billy Hitchcock’s but neither are seen on screen for reasons not given. Stanley is far better known than the others largely through his connections to Ken Kesey, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. When I say connection, I mean that both spiritually as well as in the more conventional drug trafficking sense.

The film also includes interviews with the women in Sands and Scully’s lives who, like them, are as rebellious as ever even if they look like your grandmother. In fact, it is the boldness and refusal to conform in all of these characters that makes this film so appealing. If the key to a successful documentary is “casting” the right people, British director Cosmo Feilding Mellen struck gold with these elder statesmen of the psychedelic revolution.

Mellen is the son of Amanda Feilding, whose family is descended from the House of Habsburg that came to England in the 14th Century. Like many in the British upper class, she became a renegade in her youth. And like Sands and Scully, she experimented with mind-altering substances in her youth and even conducted a trepanation on herself in 1970, a discredited procedure that consists of drilling a hole in your head for medical reasons. (She used a dentist’s drill.) Her goal was to see if it could affect her consciousness. Today, she is far more responsible as the founder and director of the Beckley Foundation that advocates for a more humane drug policy and investigates the use of psychoactive drugs for beneficial purposes.

In a profile on the Feildings in the London Times (behind a paywall but give me a shout if you want a copy), Cosmo reminisces on his youth:

Most kids find their parents embarrassing at some point, but it was definitely more pronounced for me. I was christened Cosmo Birdie for a start. The thing people knew about my parents was that they were druggies who drilled holes in their heads. [In her twenties, Amanda carried out the ancient practice of trepanation, which people believed could improve health and wellbeing.] As I got older, I developed a huge respect for what Mum stands for, but trust me, there was no cachet in it as a kid. She’s quite bohemian and has a pronounced posh voice. I can remember her coming to pick me up at school and shouting: “Cooee Bubba!” Not really what you want.

There will always be an England.

“The Modern Jungle” is documentary that will be shown at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on January 20th. Since I doubt that any of my readers except those living in Utah will be able to make the screening, I urge you to look for it if it opens eventually at your local art theater or on VOD.

Set in a village in southern Mexico largely populated by the Zoque Indians, it is a respectful but unsettling account of the lives of two elderly Zoques who live in rudimentary huts, a man named Juan Juarez Rodríguez and a woman named Carmen Echevarría Lopez. Their lives are circumscribed by daily routines of chopping wood for their stoves and gathering corn from nearby fields. Their lives are probably close to the ones lived by their ancestors a hundred years ago, even if it has been impinged upon by the forces of global capitalism and the Mexican landowning class. It was that class that killed Carmen’s husband 45 years before the film was made and that makes both her and Juan’s so difficult today. Even if much of the Zoque land has been swindled from beneath their feet, they still feel the pressures of landlords who would like to see them and the rest of the Zoques gone.

At first blush, I thought the film would be similar to those that I have seen in the past about Indians fending off the rich but there are some wrinkles. Juan is determined that he be paid for his services as a subject in a film that he expects to make money. In several cringe-worth scenes he haggles with director Charles Fairbanks over his pay. It will remind you that in such ethnographic films going back to “Nanook of the North”—the original—the filmmaker has the upper hand. It is to Fairbanks’s credit that he acknowledges this in very revealing footage. (The film is co-directed by Saul Kak, a Zoque Indian who did the translation.) He puts it this way in the press notes:

Here and elsewhere, THE MODERN JUNGLE is also about documentary. As it portrays cross-cultural encounters structured by and through the camera, our film doesn’t shy away from the messy interpersonal, economic, and social repercussions of filming in impoverished communities. In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm describes how the author of nonfiction tends to represent himself differently than all other characters: “He forms the exception to the rule that nothing may be invented. The ‘I’ of journalism” [and, I contend, documentary]:

…is connected to the writer only in a tenuous way––the way, say, that Superman is connected to Clark Kent. The journalistic “I” is an overreliable narrator, a functionary to whom crucial tasks of narration and tone have been entrusted, an ad hoc creation, like the chorus of Greek tragedy. He is an emblematic figure, an embodiment of the idea of the dispassionate observer of life.

In contrast to this convention, I wanted to depict ‘the documentary director’ as a complex and flawed character, despite ‘his’ (that is, my) best intentions. Likewise, I wanted to show that making this film had real repercussions on the lives of its main characters. It became evident, while filming, that I too am an intruder, an outside force, a symptom of globalization in the world of Juan and Carmen. So, to make an honest film about their encounters with modernity, it seemed necessary to subvert this convention and address the ways we negotiate the power of representation.

Kudos to Fairbanks and Kak for making a film with a difference.

January 15, 2017

When Syria used water as a weapon against Iraq

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:36 pm

(The Baathist Amen Corner is distinguished by its faith in the anti-imperialist credentials of the family dynasty in Damascus, most recently reflected in its blind acceptance of Bashar al-Assad’s accusation that the rebels in Wadi Barada sabotaged the water station supplying Damascus. This excerpt from Musseref Yetim’s “Negotiating  International Water Rights: Resource Conflict in Turkey, Syria and Iraq should convince you that bastards like Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar should not be taken at their word.)

By April 1975, Iraqi-Syrian relations seriously deteriorated over the use of the waters of the Euphrates, yet the conflict had been brewing for some time because of concerns deeply rooted in the strategic, ideological, and political realms. Seale analyzed the situation as follows:

If Damascus and Baghdad had not been so much at odds, they might perhaps have been able to resolve their longstanding dispute over the division of the Euphrates waters (…) Dam-building and irrigation projects in all three countries from the 1960s onwards caused a row to break out over the volume of water each was entitled to […) The squabble over water rights grew into a vast bone of contention, not to be assuaged by mediation attempts, most notably Saudi efforts. From 1975 onwards the two countries began abusing each other over the airways — `fascist right-wing criminal’ was standard invective — arresting each other’s sympathizers, moving troops threateningly to the border, setting off explosions in each other’s capitals.39

The bitter rivalry between the two opposing Ba’ath Parties deepened the tension and distrust between Iraq and Syria.40 Both governments sought to undermine each other and were rightly suspicious of each other’s subversive activities and feared the other one was plotting to bring their downfall. The exclusive nature of domestic political institutions created opportunities to exploit internal tensions arising from ethnic and sectarian divisions. The conflict between the Ba’thist rulers of Syria and Iraq was the main culprit for the failure of negotiations.

The tension between the watercourse states, Syria and Iraq, had been on the rise following the nationalization of the Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC). The Syrian demand for the increase in royalties in early 1973 and the subsequent closure of the oil pipeline that carried Iraqi oil to the Mediterranean Sea crossing Syrian soil did not help either.41 Furthermore, Iraq signed an agreement with Turkey for the construction of an oil pipeline to transport Iraqi oil throughout Turkish lands to the Mediterranean Sea on 26 August 1973. Not only did Syria lose a substantial amount of oil revenues and alienated Iraq, it also gave Turkey an opportunity to develop its relations with Iraq and to gain a new source of revenue. Disturbed by the Iraqi oil policy, Syria accused Iraq of not following Ba’thist ideology, not keeping its promises about expanding the capacity of the Syrian-Iraqi oil pipeline, and of favoring Turkey — a non-Arab state. Iraq’s good relations with Turkey concerning the Euphrates waters were also source of a concern for Syria. Indeed, Iraq did not express any displeasure throughout the crises towards Turkey and did not include Turkey in its protests of Syria during the 1975 crisis.

Another important source of tension between the two Ba’thist states was Israel. Since 1948, Israel has been a contentious issue among the Arab states. In 1975, Iraq firmly opposed to a partial Middle East agreement and was accusing Syria of being in the process of accepting such a peace agreement with Israel. The last straw in Iraqi accusations took place in May 1975, when Iraq proposed the creation of the ‘Northern Military Front’ against Israel. Iraq’s policy at that time was likely designed to deepen the Ba’th party rule in Iraq and to steer the members of the Iraqi Ba’th Party away from any involvement with Syria.42 Syria responded by charging Iraq with surrendering Arab land to Iran, the betrayal of the Arab people, and deriding Iraqi aid during the October war.43 Furthermore, Syria retaliated by using its newly gained strategic advantage: manipulation of the water flow entering Iraq. Indeed, Syria reduced the water flow entering Iraq first in the spring 1974 and then in 1975, as we have seen. This led to the destruction of 70 percent of Iraq’s winter crops44 and also formed the basis to Iraqi claims of deliberately holding more water in the lake of the Tabqa dam.45 Iraq also charged the Syrian Ba’th party with betrayal of the Ba’th party ideals. The short and long-term repercussions of Syria’s vast usage of the Euphrates water, including the reclamation of 640,000 ha of land,46 the evaporation of the water from the reservoir of the Tabqa dam, and the quality of water that flowed into Iraq, provided Iraq with good justification for its protests. Overall approximately 3 million Iraqi farmers of Shi’i origin suffered economically.47 In some sources, the spread of the Shi’i underground movement, Al-Dawa, has been attributed to this water shortage.48 This highlights a crucial dimension of the water rights conflict: minorities inhabiting the Euphrates and Tigris watercourse. Here one should also note that the majority of the Iraqi army was at the time of Shi’i origin.49

Every development concerning the Euphrates and Tigris water has important repercussions in domestic politics, especially in Iraq and Turkey. Following the Algiers Agreement in March 1975 between Iran and Iraq that helped Iraq to crack down on the Kurdish insurgence in northern Iraq, Syria attempted to instigate Shi’i unrest in order to weaken the Iraqi government’s hold on power by reducing the Euphrates flow. For a number of reasons, Syria interpreted the Algiers agreement as a harmful development. First, Syria’s position in the Arab world as an ardent antagonist of Israel might be undermined, because having settled its protracted dispute with Iran and established stability in northern Iraq, Iraq now had resources at its disposal use against Israel. Iraq had already accused Syria of selling out to Israel and wrongly opposed Syrian disengagement negotiations with Israel. Secondly, .q could undermine the Alawite dominated Ba’th rule by playing on the suspicions of the Sunni Arabs in Syria concerning the indifference of the Alawite regime to the struggle with Israel. At this point, Iraqi allegations ‘re not groundless and appealed to Syrian Sunnis, who were already suspicious of Assad’s regime, developing conspiracy theories about Assad d the collusion between his regime and the Zionists. Iraq and Sunni Arabs Syria justified their claims by arguing that during the 1967 war Israel occupied the Golan Heights without a fight while Assad was the defense mister; furthermore, in 1970 Assad betrayed Palestine by refusing to allow the deployment of the air force in a Syrian expedition to assist the PLO against Jordan; the Assad regime also sabotaged the Iraqi attack against Israel in 1973.

 

January 13, 2017

The Standout Films of 2016

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

One of my picks

The Standout Films of 2016

As most of you probably know, Netflix no longer bothers with the offbeat films I tend to review, either as DVD or streaming. Since my reviews cover documentaries, foreign films and American indies that tend to be shown in art houses like New York’s Film Forum, I always regret that my readers living in cities or towns where there is nothing but Cineplexes are forced to choose between multimillion dollar movies about space aliens or Judd Apatow comedies.

The good news is that Amazon and ITunes have picked up the slack. Although I hate Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook just as much as the next person, I am glad that these types of art house films can now be seen in the same year they premiered for between $3.99 and $5.99 in these venues.

I tend to avoid identifying “best of” movies or directors after the fashion of the Academy Awards and only take part in New York Film Critics Online yearly awards meetings because members are expected to take part. This week’s Golden Globe awards ceremony pretty much sums up why the whole thing turns me off. Although I managed to sit through “La La Land” that walked off with the lion’s share of the awards, I found it far less interesting than the narrative films listed below that were diametrically opposed to Damien Chazelle’s sugar-coated retro-musical.

The twenty films listed below were among the best that I saw this year but I would be loath to sort them in order by preference rather than alphabetical order. Competition of this sort always turned me off whether it is for the Nobel Prize (good for Dylan to avoid the tuxedo and gown spectacle) or even for the Isaac Deutscher Prize. I wonder sometimes what Trotsky’s biographer would think of Marxists competing with each other for a £500 prize. Or Leon Trotsky for that matter, who is history’s greatest loser in some ways. I tend to identify with losers so I guess I’ll never fit into an American society that now has its President the host of “Apprentice” where “losers” are humiliated for failing to come up with some “winning” strategy for selling junk of the sort that Trump’s Empire is built on.

All of the films below can be seen on Amazon streaming and probably ITunes, although I haven’t checked that out. By and large, they are released to both platforms at the same time. That is why, interestingly enough, that Amazon is not part of the menu that comes with Apple TV, Tim Cook’s rip-off of the Roku box.

Needless to say, none of the documentaries likely made it to cities and towns that lacked an art house. Most of the narrative films are those that were also released in such theaters with a few exceptions made for two films that deserve being singled out: “Free State of Jones” that I consider a political and artistic breakthrough and “Snowden”, Oliver Stone’s best work in many years.

Finally, I include a brief excerpt from my review of the films with a link to the full review.

Read full article

January 12, 2017

Beyond the Golden Showers

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 12:47 am

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-7-47-43-pm(click to animate)

I have finally gotten around to reading the 35-page dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia that has only become viral because of the Golden Showers reference. I will take the president elect’s denial at his word and accept that this lurid tale is the result of a prank on the spook who collected various memos into a dossier.

You can get that side of the story on Zero Hedge, the conspiracist website that is party of the Putin/Assad old boy’s network:

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

In a story that is getting more surreal by the minute, a post on 4Chan now claims that the infamous “golden showers” scene in the unverified 35-page dossier, allegedly compiled by a British intelligence officer, was a hoax and fabricated by a member of the chatboard as “fanfiction”, then sent to Rick Wilson, who proceeded to send it to the CIA, which then put it in their official classified intelligence report on the election.

Here is 4Chan’s explanation of how the story came to light:

>/pol/acks mailed fanfiction to anti-trump pundit Rick Wilson about trump making people piss on a bed obama slept in

>he thought it was real and gave it to the CIA

>the central intelligence agency of the united states of america put this in their official classified intelligence report on russian involvement in the election

>donald trump and obama have both read this pol/acks fanfiction

>the cia has concluded that the russian plans to blackmail trump with this story we made up

just let that sink in what we have become.

There’s only one problem with the claim that this “fanfiction” about Golden Showers was transmitted to the CIA via Rick Wilson, namely that the dossier was apparently put together by a man named Christopher Steele who is reputedly a former MI6 agent and who is a top executive at Orbis, a private intelligence company similar to Stratfor. While Steele has not admitted to being the man behind the Golden Dawns dossier, there are reports that support such a claim including the Wall Street Journal:

A former British intelligence officer who is now a director of a private security-and-investigations firm has been identified as the author of the dossier of unverified allegations about President-elect Donald Trump’s activities and connections in Russia, people familiar with the matter say.

Christopher Steele, a director of London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., prepared the dossier, the people said. The document alleges that the Kremlin colluded with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and claims that Russian officials have compromising evidence of Mr. Trump’s behavior that could be used to blackmail him. Mr. Trump has dismissed the dossier’s contents as false and Russia has denied the claims.

Mr. Steele, 52 years old, is one of two directors of the firm, along with Christopher Burrows, 58.

What is left out of the WSJ article and every other I have read about the dossier’s provenance is who commissioned it. These sorts of reports cost a bundle of cash and it would be interesting to see who paid for it. Likely, we’ll never know. (Update: The Guardian reports that it was a unnamed opponent of Trump in the Republican Party that paid Orbis for the dossier.)

Once you get past the Golden Showers business, which occupies only a couple of sentences in a 35-page document, you’ll find that most of it is a rather unsurprising account of how Russia worked with the Trump campaign to get him elected. Quelle surprise. Towards the end of the dossier, you’ll discover that Putin encountered “buyer’s remorse” over being outed in the American press as responsible for getting Trump elected, who does not quite seem to be regarded as a reliable asset by the Kremlin. That would explain why they were so anxious to accumulate damaging material on Trump even if the Golden Showers business does seem unlikely. Why would Trump spend good money to have prostitutes put on a pee show when the guy was much more interested in “grabbing their pussy”.

Most of the 35 pages are about efforts being made to intervene politically in the American elections after the fashion of the report made by American intelligence agencies on January 6th that had less to say about hacking than it did about the open propaganda such as the kind RT.com traffics in:

In an effort to highlight the alleged “lack of Messaging on RT prior to the US presidential election democracy” in the United States, RT (RT, 3 November) broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates and ran reporting supportive of the political agenda of these candidates. The RT hosts asserted that the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a “sham.”

Holy fuck. I never thought I’d end up as a Kremlin propagandist myself.

As many on the left have noted, there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy involved with such accusations. The USA has openly admitted if not bragged about doing exactly the same thing in countries that had the impudence to stake out an independent course.

During the late 80s, when I was co-editor of the NY Nicaragua Network newsletter, I was always writing about how the USA was basically buying candidates to run against Daniel Ortega. The National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and other groups operating sub rosa like the CIA spent millions of dollars to unseat Ortega in 1990. On its own, the CIA spent $38 million—an amount that far exceeds proportionately what the Koch brothers routinely spend buying candidates here.

Obviously acting on behalf of its own interests, the Kremlin curried the favor of Americans predisposed to its political agenda. And if there is a more motley crew than those named in the dossier, I’d be astonished. It seems that Putin cultivated the support of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the Larouche cult, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who attended an RT banquet alongside Stein, and a key Trump adviser named Carter Page.

From left to right: Flynn, Putin and Stein

Page’s name keeps cropping up in the dossier like a bad penny. He is cut from the same cloth as Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who was dropped in favor of Steve Bannon. Page and Manafort were big-time operators in Russia seeking to promote the interests of Putin and his flunkies like the toppled Ukrainian president Yanukovych.

Page is an investment banker who formed an energy oriented firm in partnership with Gazprom executive Sergei Yatsenko. In other words, Page has the same relationship to Russia as Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil and a close associate of Vladimir Putin.

People like Diana Johnstone are tickled pink that people like Tillerson and Page are key players in the Trump administration. Supposedly this will forestall any moves toward WWIII as the beady-eyed conspiracists at WSWS.org keep warning about even though many on the left are far more worried about a war with China since Trump’s saber-rattling against a country supposedly cheating the USA is well known.

What I found intriguing was a comment in the dossier that claimed Trump was far more interested in partnering with China than Russia: “Suggestion from source close to TRUMP and MANAFORT that Republican campaign team happy to have Russia as media bogeyman to mask more extensive corrupt business ties to China and other emerging countries.” That, of course, backs up what I reported on the article titled “Trumponomics as Professional Wrestling“.

Is there any reason to put a lot of confidence in this dossier? I wouldn’t since most of it is patently obvious, as if it hasn’t been clear for the longest time that Russia is using RT.com and perhaps hundreds of paid trolls to influence voters in the USA. Since I have found Stratfor next to useless over the years, I find no reason to take Orbis’s intelligence more seriously.

The only thing we can be sure about is that Trump, Putin, Obama and Clinton are united around the need to make money for the capitalist class that they orient to. Unlike 1914 or 1941, there is little evidence that the nation-state of today is bent on going to war with its adversaries over the control of markets and resources. With ExxonMobil in partnership with Putin, Lenin’s essay on imperialism cannot be applied mechanically even though some sectarians are in the habit of doing so. There is a war going on, however, and that is between the global capitalist class that these politicians serve and the rest of us who work for a living and would face imminent ruin if we lost our jobs.

Eugene V. Debs put it well:

And here let me emphasize the fact — and it cannot be repeated too often — that the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace.

 

January 10, 2017

Twin Cities; Go North

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

Two narrative films have come my way recently whose combined budget is probably less than 3 percent of what it cost to make La La Land but for my money are far more interesting films. One is titled “Twin Cities” and defies easy description. Even if writer/director Dave Ash is a Twin Cities resident, don’t expect it to be a warm and whimsical treatment of the region’s foibles a la Lake Woebegon. Or like fellow Twin Cities favorite sons Coen brothers whose trademark irony seems toothless compared to Ash, whose sensibility is a mixture of Kafka and Kierkegaard. The other is titled “Go North”, a post-apocalyptic tale inspired by “Lord of the Flies” that eschews the cheap thrills of the Road Warrior series in favor of a simple, even minimalist tale of survival in a world where children seek to build a new civilization based on the worst instincts of the one that has died.

As “Twin Cities” unfolds, we meet a husband and wife whose marriage is beginning to come apart at the seams. John is a computer programmer with an affectless demeanor that makes you wonder if he might be an automaton. His wife Emily is a novelist who has received marching orders from her editor to cut her 1000-page novel drastically and to make her principal characters more developed. While professing their love for each other every chance they get, there is little indication of what drew them together in the first place except physical attraction—the same bad chemistry that accounts for 90 percent of failed marriages.

“Twin Cities” is a sequel to “2021”, a film that I reviewed three years ago when its working title was “Connected” and about which I wrote:

“Connected” opens with John Cooper walking away from his cubicle into the men’s room at his workplace—a biotech company—and sticking a loaded revolver in his mouth. For the time being, he decides that life is still worth living and puts the gun away.

John would seem to have something to live for since he has been assigned to work on the company’s hot new project, an attempt to translate the human genome into computer code that would prove capable of replicating the human brain to the point of passing the Turing test: a computer is capable of fooling a human being to think that he is communicating with another human.

The irony of course is that the very programmer who is leading the project is having a devil of a time getting through to Emily, the smart and beautiful woman whose character armor—to put it in Reichian terms—would thwart a blockbuster bomb. Like John, she uses humor as a defense mechanism. On one of their first dates, he asks her to reveal something very personal about herself. Without skipping a beat, she says that she was born with two vaginas. He quickly replies that he knew there was something special about her.

The deadpan and lacerating humor continues in the sequel. Not long after the film starts, John learns that he has terminal colorectal cancer, which inspires him to seek the deeper meaning of life now that he only has four months of it left. Unlike the soulful main characters of Kurosawa’s classic “Ikiru” or Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” awaiting their own imminent demise, John treats his own prospects with his characteristic sense of the absurd.

After getting the bad news from the doctor, John returns home to fill Emily in:

“I have cancer”.

“What?”

“I have cancer”.

“What do you mean? How?”

“I went to a doctor since I haven’t been feeling well lately and they ran some tests a few days ago”.

“Fuck you”.

“I begin intensive chemotherapy in a week. And if they don’t stop it in a few months, then that’s the end of me. Colorectal carcinoma. I have cancer in my asshole. I have asshole cancer.”

While this exchange is taking place, an inane pop tune is playing on the radio. “California…Well, the sun is shining bright”.

Like most people facing death, John meets with a minister who ends up confessing to him that he really has no answers to the big questions of life and death. When he visits his parents for perhaps the last time, he is told that they only went to church because they enjoyed the social life. As they used to say in the 1960s, God is Dead.

But in the final analysis, the film is not about Existential issues but about art itself. As John exits the stage (but not in the way we expect), Emily becomes the central character and the story of the film and her elephantine novel become interwoven in a way that finally leaves your head spinning.

I have no information on the film’s distribution but keep an eye out for it at your better film festivals.

Appropriate to a post-apocalyptic film, “Go North” was filmed in Detroit and stars Jacob Lofland in the role of Josh, a fifteen-year old denizen of a Detroit (unnamed in the film) neighborhood that consists of rundown houses and abandoned factories.

Each day he goes off to a nearby school where the teachers are just a couple of years older than him and ill-prepared to teach anything except survival skills like trapping animals. Since everybody over the age of twenty-one seems to have succumbed to some global catastrophe that the film does not identify (it is not needed for a plot that brackets out social and political considerations), it is up to what amounts to high school bullies to keep order and to help propagate the species.

Josh’s teacher is an alpha male named Caleb who is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son Patrick in the casting coup of the year. If you are going to develop a villainous character for a post-apocalyptic film, there’s no better choice than the Terminator’s son.

When Caleb is not “teaching”, he is acting as overseer for the garden that Josh and other children toil in after class under the watchful eye of Caleb’s henchman Martin (Joshua Close) who epitomizes the worst aspects of the high school bully. But when social norms have disappeared such an individual can abuse his power to the point of making up Josh’s mind and that of Caleb’s younger sister Jessie (Sophie Kennedy Clark) to “go North” in search of a better life.

As I have stated, this film makes no pretense of trying to make social commentary about the sharp decline of American civilization and sticks to telling a story about young people on the run from predators. In effect, it is a road movie in the same genre as the Road Warrior flicks but much more modest and much more enjoyable.

The film opens this Friday at the Cinema Village in New York and on VOD. It is well worth seeing.

January 8, 2017

Trumponomics as professional wrestling

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 10:16 pm

Any number of pundits on the left welcomed Donald Trump as an alternative to a Clinton presidency that would be beholden to Wall Street in general and Goldman-Sachs in particular. Pepe Escobar, who is on the farthest reaches of this territory, even considered the possibility that his election was “an unprecedented body blow against neoliberalism” and “Perhaps a new push towards democratic socialism”.

While many of these people have woken up with a bad hangover after seeing all the Goldman-Sachs people connected to the new administration, they still might feel worse over the possibility of Donald staying so nationalistic that it would risk a nuclear war with China, his supposed arch-enemy.

For example, the screwballs at the World Socialist Website have now switched from doing their Chicken Little routine over Ukraine to China:

As he declared that he would not feel bound by the One China policy, Trump lashed out at Beijing not only over trade and North Korea, but also for “building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing.” … If there were any doubt that he is preparing for war, Trump’s tweet prior to Christmas that the US must “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear [weapons] capacity” is a chilling warning of his reckless and militarist intentions.”

Once you step back and look at things coolly and calmly, which such people are obviously incapable of doing, you will see that there is not that much of a break between Obama and Trump, just as there wasn’t between Bush and Obama. Despite all the acrimonious words coming out of the mouths of Charles Schumer or Elizabeth Warren, the two capitalist parties are much more like professional wrestlers who threaten to destroy each other in a main event only to go out for dinner later that night. Not only that, there’s not much chance of a war breaking out between Trump and China as we shall see later on in this article.

Just consider the willingness of rising liberal Democratic star Kamala Harris to let Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, a former Goldman-Sachs partner, get off the hook in the same way that Obama let all the other banksters go free after he was elected.

In 2009 Mnuchin led a group of investors to buy IndyMac, one of those shady mortgage companies that had been nearly destroyed by the 2007-2008 meltdown. George Soros, who was seen alongside Janet Yellen in a Trump campaign commercial widely viewed as anti-Semitic, was part of the group as was John Paulson. Both Paulson and Soros had bet correctly that the mortgage-backed securities business would tank and after cashing in on their winnings bought IndyMac at fire sale prices.

Once Mnuchin’s OneWest Bank absorbed IndyMac’s mortgages, it began to aggressively foreclose on families in arrears. The Daily Beast reported on one homeowner he went after:

One-hundred-and-three-year-old Myrtle Lewis ran into such issues with OneWest in 2014. She accidentally allowed her insurance to lapse, which prompted the bank to attempt to foreclose on her property. Lewis reinstated her insurance and the bank still didn’t back off. It is unclear what happened to the property.

So, this guy symbolizes exactly what drove people to Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Why then would someone the Nation Magazine describes as “one raising her voice for social and economic justice” let him get away with foreclosures that were prosecutable?

Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept recently got its hands on an internal memo from Harris’s office that referred to over a thousand violations of foreclosure laws by his bank when she was Attorney General in California, and that predicted that further investigation would uncover many thousands more. The bottom line on Mnuchin:

Despite the limitations on the investigation, we uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct, including evidence that OneWest:

(1) signed backdated and false instruments, acknowledged them to notaries, and then caused them to be recorded with county recorders throughout the State; (2) made and directed unlawful credit bids at trustee’s sales which resulted in the wrong parties winning auctions and the unlawful evasion of documentary transfer tax obligations; (3) performed other acts in the foreclosure process without valid legal authority-, and (4) failed to comply with requirements related to the execution, timing, and mailing of foreclosure documents.

Keeping in mind that Mnuchin’s partner in this enterprise was George Soros, who is supposedly the mastermind of every liberal initiative against the Koch brothers et al, you really have to wonder whether it is nothing but professional wrestling. Pure fakery.

As for Mnuchin, he is just the kind of person who might have shown up at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at Barbra Streisand’s mansion. When he was not trying to foreclose on 103-year old women, he was investing in films such as James Cameron’s “Avatar”, one that Steve Bannon’s Breitbart.com called an “America-Hating, PC Revenge Fantasy”. Get it? Professional wrestling.

It also seems that Mnuchin had put his money where his mouth was when he funded Cameron’s movie. The Blaze has reported that “according to Federal Election Commission filings, Steven Mnuchin has donated more than $96,000 to political candidates, the vast majority of which went to Democrats and left-wing organizations, such as the League of Conservation Voters.” He gave $4,000 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2004 and more than $8,000 to Hillary Clinton’s various campaigns. He also gave $10,000, the largest single donation listed on the FEC website, to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2004. That’s not the end of it. The entire Mnuchin family has been delivering wheelbarrows full of money to the Democrats since the late 1990s. His father, mother, brother and his brother’s spouse have made major donations to Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Schumer and to former Democratic Party presidential candidate John Edwards. Odd that Mnuchin would give money to Warren since she is supposedly Wall Street’s worse enemy. She even described him as the “Forrest Gump of the financial crisis.” (Professional wrestling.)

So why would Kamala Harris let this bastard go free? The answer is that she is like many of the new faces in the Democratic Party that are supposed to be a breath of fresh air and a repudiation of Clintonite neoliberalism just like Barack Obama was in 2008, if you took the Nation Magazine at its word. The daughter of a Jamaican economist father and an Indian biologist mother, she has many progressive credits on her resume—just the sort of thing that is necessary to develop a political career in San Francisco, her home base. The NY Times drew attention to her in a September 2010 article:

In 2008 she laid the groundwork for a statewide race by being co-chairwoman of Barack Obama’s California campaign and fund-raising extensively on his behalf in Southern California. After his victory, Ms. Harris began appearing on national television, with journalists like Gwen Ifill and Matt Lauer referring to her as the “female Obama.”

The female Obama? That sounds about right.

Turning now to worries about Armageddon with China, there’s less there than meets the eye. In fact, the ties between the Trump White House and the Chinese ruling class might be even more intimate than those with Russia based on an eye-opening report in today’s NY Times on his son-in-law’s dealings with the Chinese investors close to the government’s top officials.

Jared Kushner is not just Trump’s son-in-law. He is slated to be appointed as one of his chief advisers. Like the Donald, there will be a token divestment of his business dealings but you can be sure that his empire will grow and prosper as a result of the dovetailing of interests with the Trump administration.

The article sets the tone in the opening paragraphs:

On the night of Nov. 16, a group of executives gathered in a private dining room of the restaurant La Chine at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The table was laden with Chinese delicacies and $2,100 bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild. At one end sat Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of the Waldorf’s owner, Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial behemoth with estimated assets of $285 billion and an ownership structure shrouded in mystery. Close by sat Jared Kushner, a major New York real estate investor whose father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, had just been elected president of the United States.

It was a mutually auspicious moment.

Anbang and Kushner’s real estate firm are co-owners of 666 Fifth Avenue, a “fading jewel” of the Kushner empire. Just by coincidence, after dining at the Waldorf Astoria, Wu Xiaohui has expressed a desire to meet with President Trump. I am sure that Jared will exercise some influence to make that happen.

Apparently the 35-year old Kushner knows how to get around. Last August he and his wife Ivanka hobnobbed with some VIPs:

In August, they were spotted with Wendi Deng, an ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch, on the 453-foot yacht Rising Sun, owned by the entertainment mogul David Geffen. Several weeks later, they were photographed watching the United States Open tennis finals with the art collector Dasha Zhukova, wife of the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, a member of President Vladimir V. Putin’s inner circle.

Is there any better way to describe the internecine ties between the ultra-rich than is encapsulated here?

  • David Geffen: the gay Hollywood macher who was an early backer of Bill Clinton but who had a falling out with him over his decision not to pardon Leonard Peltier. Geffen was also an early backer of Obama for president and raised $1.3 million for Obama in a Beverly Hills fundraiser.
  • Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife, who divorced her when he learned that she was having an affair with Tony Blair. She is also rumored to have had one with Putin. So incestuous.
  • Abramovich is the 13th richest man in Russia and said to enjoy the status of a father-like figure to Vladimir Putin. Sort of like being a godfather to another Vlad—Vlad the impaler.

These sorts of connections have paid off for Jared. Russian billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner and Chinese billionaire founder of Alibaba Jack Ma are investors in Cadre, a real estate investment company he and his brother started with a friend. Guess what. Goldman Sachs has invested as well.

But the bridge being built to Anbang will lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Times has reported that Anbang is “owned by a few dozen companies, which in turn are owned by a number of shell companies that are controlled by roughly 100 people, many of whom have ties to a county in China that is the home of Mr. Wu, whose own power stems in part from marriage.” Like Jared Kushner, Wu knew how to marry well, in his case to Zhuo Ran, a granddaughter of Deng Xiaoping, the CCP leader who carried out the capitalist turn.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding Trump’s faux saber-rattling that has the sectarian nut jobs at WSWS.org shitting in their pants, the president-elect is not likely to launch H-Bombs at people he has these kinds of connections with. The president-elect has his own financial entanglements with China: Trump “owns a 30 percent stake in a partnership that owes roughly $950 million to a group of lenders that includes the Bank of China, and one of his biggest tenants at Trump Tower is another state-owned bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.”

A week after Jared Kushner met with Mr. Wu, Donald Trump has lunch with him at the Waldorf. It must have been a pleasant and mutually rewarding affair since Wu was heard saying as left in perfect English: “I love you guys”.

January 6, 2017

What Turkey has become

Filed under: Turkey — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

What Turkey Has Become

Almost every week lately, there is another incident that can be tied to ISIS whether or not it actually takes “credit”. On New Year’s Eve, we were at her brother-in-law Mehmet’s apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan sitting down for dinner with Prosecco, the poor man’s Champagne, when the news broke about the terrorist attack on the Reina nightclub in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul. When I first met Mehmet on a visit to Istanbul in 2003, he anticipated that this sort of thing would eventually begin to take place in Turkey. He thought that the war in Iraq could spill over into Turkey and that it would be best for his family to relocate to the USA. This is pretty much what has happened.

ISIS is a product of the invasion of Iraq, a war that Turkey opposed and whose decision was welcomed by the left. While most people might remember the AKP as key to voting down a resolution that would have permitted Turkey to be a staging ground for the invasion, the truth is that its opposition was based more on cash than principle. Like a mafia gang, it offered the USA a deal. A fifty-two-billion-dollar aid package would buy Turkey’s backing but when Bush refused to pay more than half of that, the AKP nixed the deal.

In fact, the baksheesh economy prevailed in Syria as well, the “anti-imperialist” country often depicted as the polar opposite of NATO member Turkey. Clifford Krause reported in the NY Times on January 2nd, 2003 that the Bush administration was “surprised and gratified by Syria’s recent vote in the United Nations Security Council in favor of the resolution demanding Iraq allow weapons inspectors to return or face possible military action.”

Read full article

January 4, 2017

RT.com report on the rebel sabotage of the Wadi Barada springs

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:17 pm

RT.com has just identified the jihadist who blew up the pumping station in Wadi Barada. He is the infamous leader of the al-Malarki militia that has been funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and East Waziristan. He goes by the name Yossan Miti al-Sami and has reputedly killed and eaten the hearts of 2,386 Syrian soldiers.

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January 3, 2017

Did Syrian rebels sabotage the water supplies of Damascus?

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:53 pm

Over the past six years, I have noticed time and time again that a seemingly organized campaign has been mounted to accuse rebels of the kind of atrocity that the regime carries out routinely, with the “false flag” accusation that they used Sarin gas on their own supporters in East Ghouta the most notorious case.

In the latest instance, the Assadists are pushing the line that the rebels in Wadi Barada, a rural suburb northwest of Damascus, have either blown up the water pumps that supply the city with water or contaminated it with diesel fuel to make it undrinkable. Whether it is the clearly deranged Moon of Alabama or “professional” journalists like Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal, they automatically take the side of a dictatorship that has used water as a weapon against rebel-held villages and cities from the very beginning of the war.

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Ben Norton, whose tweet referred his followers to a Reuters article, probably didn’t bother to read the whole thing and was content to use the heading to condemn the rebels. If he wasn’t so lazy and so biased, he might have discovered that the very article undermined his claim: “The rebels in Wadi Barada have allowed government water authority engineers to maintain and operate the pumping station and supply Damascus since they took control of the area in 2012.”

There is also the possibility that indiscriminate barrel bombing might have damaged the water pumping station especially since the Syrian air force has never been noted for careful targeting. When you drop a 50-gallon steel drum filled with dynamite, nails, scrap iron, ball bearings and the like from a thousand feet above ground, accidents will happen. Of course, since the goal is only to kill or maim men, women and children who have the gumption to oppose a mafia state, who can blame Assad when a few of the barrel bombs go astray? Nobody’s perfect.

This frame grab from video provided By the Wadi Barada, a Syrian opposition media outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows the damaged Ain el-Fijeh water processing facility which supply the capital, northwest of Damascus, Syria. Water supplies to Damascus have been largely cut off for nearly two weeks because of fighting between pro-government forces and rebels for control of the main tributary, forcing millions in the Syrian capital to scramble for enough to drink and wash with. The cut-off is a major challenge to the government’s effort throughout the nearly 6-year-old civil war to keep the capital as insulated as possible from the effects of the conflict tearing apart much of the country. (Wadi Barada, via AP)

This frame grab from video provided By the Wadi Barada, a Syrian opposition media outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows the damaged Ain el-Fijeh water processing facility which supply the capital, northwest of Damascus, Syria. Water supplies to Damascus have been largely cut off for nearly two weeks because of fighting between pro-government forces and rebels for control of the main tributary, forcing millions in the Syrian capital to scramble for enough to drink and wash with. The cut-off is a major challenge to the government’s effort throughout the nearly 6-year-old civil war to keep the capital as insulated as possible from the effects of the conflict tearing apart much of the country. (Wadi Barada, via AP)

For a useful report on Wadi Barada written by a genuine journalist rather than a third-rate propagandist like Norton or Blumenthal, I recommend Alisa Reznick’s “Weaponizing War” in the Boston Review. She makes it abundantly clear why the rebels would be loath to cut off water to Damascus:

Each time rebels have shut off the water supply, they have restored it within a few days, according to Baradawi. He says this is partly because the spring also supplies the Wadi Barada villages along the road to Damascus and opposition-aligned neighborhoods inside the capital. Moreover, the rebels receive a major blow when government forces inevitably retaliate.

“For two days [after the shutoff] the regime was hitting Ain al-Fijah with heavy shelling, dropping barrel bombs and mortars and sending snipers into the mountains,” he said. “Entire buildings were hit with families living in them. It was really barbaric, and it turned the people against the FSA.”

Even after the water flowed again in Damascus, the regime continued to punish Ain al-Fijah. In August, Assad’s forces ordered a blockade, causing garbage services, electricity, and traffic from the capital to cease. Baradawi said only 150 or so students and government workers with business in Damascus were allowed to exit or enter the area; they were prohibited from carrying food and fuel back inside.

“People have started eating leaves,” Baradawi said when we spoke in November. “All the people want now is to find a student going to Damascus who can buy one potato. A kilo of sugar is a dream.”

The blockade also prevents chlorination of the water pumped back to Wadi Barada from the station on Mount Qasioun, sparking a host of sanitation concerns. Cholera and Hepatitis A are currently on the rise as families use untreated water to drink and cook food. Local doctors have documented some three hundred cases of stomach illnesses since the blockade began.

“We can say the regime 100 percent won this one,” Baradawi tells me in resigned tones. The blockade has been so effective that, he believes, residents no longer see the spring as a useful bargaining chip.

There’s another dimension to this story that would likely be of zero interest to either Norton or Blumenthal who are content to see Syria as merely a pawn in the geopolitical chess game. If the USA is playing white, they would cheer on the black player even if he was a combination of Somoza and Batista. Come to think of it, that pretty much describes Bashar al-Assad.

On December 14th, I wrote an article on the economic roots of the Syrian revolution that called attention to the ruling class’s exploitation of water resources that drove the rural poor to rise up. The Middle East Report (MERIP), another worthwhile magazine that would never bother to consider Norton or Blumenthal’s articles publishable and probably not even worth lining a birdcage with, documents how the people of Wadi Barada became part of this movement. According to author Mohammad Raba‘a, a Syrian researcher and journalist, the rural region northwest of Damascus was the typical victim of the mafia/bourgeois state:

But the disaffection with the regime in Wadi Barada is of long standing and rooted in exploitation of the area’s water and land to shore up the regime’s support in Damascus and among privileged strata of Syrian society. Much of the groundwater in the formerly productive farming valley was pumped out to supply the capital city. In the 1970s and 1980s, the regime expropriated vast tracts of land in Wadi Barada, including mountain ridges, “for the public good.” These lands were designated for public buildings such as schools, hospitals or military facilities, but in practice most plots were sold (or given) to high-level officials and businessmen who built private homes.

Over the last year, even as Wadi Barada and environs become war zones, the regime is applying a new version of this old strategy with a series of large-scale tourism developments in the area. In June 2014, for example, the state-run Tishrin newspaper announced that the Ministry of Tourism has licensed a new complex including a four-star hotel and a swimming pool. The complex will cost 3.5 billion Syrian pounds (over $185 million) and cover an area of 10,808 square meters. Tishrin did not mention the names of the investors, the means by which the lands would be obtained or the timeline for the construction. The drive for real estate takes advantage of the growing poverty among the population to acquire valuable land at a fraction of the pre-conflict price.

If Norton and Blumenthal had not become such shallow propagandists, this is the kind of story that they could have written. Both of them could discriminate between good and evil and truth and falsehood once upon a time. Too bad they lost that ability in pursuit of a journalism career inspired apparently by Judith Miller.

January 2, 2017

MRZine: goodbye and good riddance

Filed under: Iran,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:41 pm

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After a decade of pumping out propaganda for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Baathist dictatorship in Syria, MRZine is no more. In a farewell note, editor Yoshie Furuhashi, who never wrote more than 2 or 3 articles for the online publication and none at all for its parent print magazine Monthly Review, stated that she is being reassigned to do translation for the institution founded by Paul Sweezy 67 years ago as a voice of the independent left.

Furuhashi’s hiring was a perverse act and likely the decision of MR board member John Mage, who like Furuhashi has a scanty publication record. Around the time that she was being considered for this post, she had been at war with subscribers to Marxmail, the mailing list I created in 1998, LBO-Talk, Doug Henwood’s listserv created the same day as mine, and PEN-L, a mailing list geared to economics professors in the spirit of URPE. For Furuhashi, these 3 mailing lists, which were among the most prominent in Marxist cyberspace, only served as a receptacle for her pro-Ahmadinejad messages that came across as leaflets being dropped from an airplane.

Her devotion to the Islamic Republic was the culmination of a several years long disaffection from the American left, including a brief membership in Solidarity. Like many young radicals, the realization that socialist revolution was not around the corner came as a bitter disappointment. Instead of taking the “longer view” of history as articulated by Monthly Review editor Paul Baran, Furuhashi was attracted to the Ahmadinejad presidency like a moth to a flame. Why fritter away your time in a small and isolated socialist group in the USA when you can become a minister without portfolio for a government that she considered even “more socialist” than Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela?

Not everybody at Monthly Review was happy with MRZine turning into something that prefigured the turn toward RT.com on the left. Seven years ago, Barbara Epstein resigned from the MR board because she found the pro-Ahmadinejad material on MRZine unacceptable. Three years earlier 17 Iranians living outside of the country wrote an open letter to Monthly Review with the same complaints. Despite Epstein’s resignation and the open letter, John Mage rejected the idea that MRZine was pro-Ahmadinejad. Of course, as is the case with all such matters, the people who owned Monthly Review were not under any obligation to meet anybody’s expectations. Who knows if Mage or John Bellamy Foster would still regard MRZine as having a diversity of views on Iran and Syria today? If you did a mathematical analysis of the tweets that appeared on its home page, you will find that there about 100 pro-Assad tweets to every one against the dictator. But like I say, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.

I had the foolish idea ten years ago that MRZine might have functioned in the same spirit as the Guardian (the now defunct American leftist weekly newspaper) and Monthly Review that were both launched around the same time as part of an attempt by the left to reach out beyond the CPUSA’s orbit. Like Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman’s American Socialist, the Monthly Review was not a “line” publication but much more of a forum for the Marxist left to discuss and even debate its differences.

In a NY Times obituary for Paul Sweezy in 2004, John Bellamy Foster is quoted about the original vision of its founder:

“The Monthly Review was attractive to people who were leaving the Communist Party and other sectarian groups,” said John Bellamy Foster, a co-editor of the publication now. “It was and is Marxist, but did not hew to the party line or get into sectarian struggles.”

That might be true to some extent about the magazine but clearly not of MRZine. There certainly was a party line and it certainly did involve itself in sectarian struggles. Everybody understood that Yoshie Furuhashi was the last person in the world to be hired as an editor if the intention was to stay above the fray. Her history was that of a one-person sect that had a program of defending the “axis of resistance” to the point of self-parody. In March of 2011, when Assad’s cops had castrated a 13-year old boy who had been caught protesting the dictatorship and left the dead body on his parents’ doorstep, Furuhashi wrote one of the few articles under her name for MRZine that showed her true colors:

Millions of Syrians rallied all over Syria, pledging loyalty to the country, in support of Bashar al-Assad, on 29 March 2011.  The dialectic of the regime and the opposition in Syria, it is safe to say, is neither like Tunisia and Egypt, nor like Iraq and Libya.

Moreover, the president of Syria has a weapon in the obligatory media war accompanying any protest in a geopolitical hotspot these days, which neither any other Arab regime nor the Islamic Republic of Iran can claim: his undeniably charming wife Asma.  Perhaps not altogether inconsequential in the age of celebrities.

This was the Furuhashi that had antagonized hundreds if not thousands of subscribers on listserv’s such as Marxmail, LBO-Talk and PEN-L. Her article was pro-regime propaganda and blatantly so, the sort of thing that people like Rick Sterling, Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett have become infamous for. After six years of genocidal=like war, there are more and more articles now that assess the role of this sector of the left. Among them is one written by Santiago Alba Rico, a Spanish-born philosopher and writer based in Tunisia. Titled “Aleppo, the tomb of the left”, it is unsparing in its judgement of the Yoshie Furuhashi’s of the world.

In short, a large part of the Arab, European and Latin American left has sacrificed internationalism to a geostrategic order in which the peoples and their democratic struggles no longer have any friends and in which this left, irrelevant and in retreat now throughout the world, has let the regimes against which the “Arabs” rose up in 2011 advance without resistance. We have understood nothing, we have done nothing to help, we have handed over to the enemy all our weapons, including conscience. After Syria democracy is retreating everywhere. Aleppo is indeed the tomb of the Syrians’ dreams of freedom, but it is also the tomb of the global left. Just when we need it most.

 

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