Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 23, 2018

China can’t save capitalism from environmental destruction

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:16 pm

Systemic Disorder

A year ago at the World Economic Forum, China’s president, Xi Jinping, won plaudits from Davos elites for his commitment to open trade. Of course, because China’s economy is heavily dependent on exports, so-called “free trade” is in its interest, so President Xi’s stand was no surprise.

What has drawn less attention are President Xi’s statements on the environment, something the elites of capitalism find rather less convenient. This past October, at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress, for example, he delivered this statement: “Man and nature form a community of life; we, as human beings, must respect nature, follow its ways, and protect it. Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face.” He set a goal of “restor[ing] the serenity, harmony…

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February 22, 2018

How Ukraine’s neo-Nazis came to oppose NATO and the European Union

Filed under: fashion,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 11:17 pm

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 6.15.31 PM A conference that unites Russian and Ukrainian fascists

Putin’s propagandists, including Boris Kagarlitsky, Roger Annis, Stephen F. Cohen and Daniel Lazare, would have you believe that Washington is using Ukrainian fascists as a battering ram against Russia. The overall strategy is to encroach militarily through NATO while using the EU to weaken Russia economically. Euromaidan was a conspiracy to further these aims, especially in light of the protests being triggered by Yanukovych’s refusal to join the EU. The next step would be for Ukraine to join NATO using the excuse that it had to protect itself against Russian designs on its territory, with Crimea and Donetsk being the prelude to further advances. Of course, everybody on the left must understand at this point that Russia had the right to protect its territorial integrity just as JFK did back in 1963 by demanding the removal of missiles from Cuba.

Of the three principal fascist organizations in Ukraine—Svoboda, Pravy Sektor and the Azov Battalion—the last of the three is the most clearly neo-Nazi. Russia Insider, whose editor Charles Bausman blames the Jews for being America’s worst warmongers, published an article titled “Media Ignore 20,000 Nazis Marching in Kiev, Obsess Over Charlottesville” on October 30, 2017. It states “Ukrainian Nationalists are being used as useful idiots in an ancient plan to divide and conquer Russia, starting with the destruction of Russia’s birthplace – Kiev. Western powers have been trying to do this since before the Austrian Empire.”

The organizers of the protest were the National Corps and the Pravy Sektor, both of which are banned in Russia. Most people are familiar with Pravy Sektor but what was the innocuous sounding National Corps? It turns out that this is a political party formed by Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov Battalion that earned a reputation for being little more than a death squad in the Donetsk Republic. Just look at its insignia to get an idea of how closely tied to neo-Nazism it is:

Given this nefarious history, you’d have to believe that the National Corps would be gung-ho for NATO and the EU. Well, maybe not. In an article titled “The Frightening Far-Right Militia That’s Marching in Ukraine’s Streets, Promising to Bring ‘Order’”, the Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova reported:

Biletsky’s party, the National Corps, is against Ukraine joining the European Union and NATO. He says he thinks the EU wouldn’t let Ukraine join, and that he is “not a fan of NATO.” Among other things, both demand Western European democratic standards for membership.

While not neo-Nazi, the nationalist Aidar Battalion (now disbanded), which Amnesty International accused of “using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”, agrees with Biletsky, as its former leader Serhiy Melnychuk made clear in a Huffington Post interview:

I am against Ukraine’s potential accession to NATO. I think that Ukraine should pursue common military objectives with NATO, like counter-terrorism. Ukraine’s official position right now is to become a member of NATO, which violates the Budapest memorandum’s calls for Ukrainian neutrality. We want to have some of the benefits associated with closer integration with Europe, like a visa free regime, but we should resist becoming part of the NATO security bloc. Instead, Ukraine can lead a new system of collective security, which will include all neutral countries.

These developments should not be that surprising. Despite their hatred of Russia, the far right in Ukraine has plenty in common with pro-Russian fascist organizations spreading up all over Europe. Anton Shekhovtsov, the author of Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir tweeted about a conference in Germany shown above that seeks “a strong Europe that protects and promotes its peoples, their cultures and their idiosyncrasies. The Occident, with its millennia of history, is the foundation on which the Europe of the future is built.”

Among the guest organizations is the Russian Imperial Movement, a right-wing political group united around reverence for the Russian Empire, the czar and Russian Orthodoxy.

And guess who is a guest speaker. None other than Olena Semenyaka from Ukraine who is speaking on “Beyond the ‘Wall of Time’: Ernst Jünger and Martin Heidegger on the New Metaphysics”. I am sure you know who Martin Heidegger is but Ernst Jünger might not ring a bell. He was not a Nazi but had beliefs that dovetailed with theirs. Wikipedia states that he criticized the Weimar Republic, stating that he “hated democracy like the plague.” He portrayed war as a mystical experience that revealed the nature of existence. Jünger considered total military mobilization as the life-blood of Germany. Nice.

And who is this Olena Semenyaka? She was the press representative of the Azov Battalion who was asked in an interview whether Euromaidan was about joining the EU. Her answer:

It should be stressed that the Maidan protests were not “pro-EU” per se. Although, before the beginning of war with Russia, a big percentage of Ukrainian citizens idealized the EU as an embodiment of civilization and higher living standards, the failed EU association agreement, which was probably not even Yanukovych’s fault, was only a trigger for expressing a wider public discontent with his regime in general. Of course, ignorance and the work of the mass media and international funds, above all, are to blame for the uncritical and unconditional support for the EU that still may be found among Ukrainian citizens. But experience has had a sobering effect on them as well, The EU’s friendly relations with Putin and the Russian Federation, in spite of sanctions, its disapproval of nationalism and demands for the federalization of Ukraine, which under current conditions means nothing but separatism, the lack of real political and military aid, and more, have led to growing disillusionment with the EU.

Also, I have to add that, although Yanukovych is believed to have been a puppet of Putin, he, in no way, can be considered “anti-Western” or “anti-EU.” As in Russia’s case, the anti-Western rhetoric is only a disguise for selling out the country to the West while claiming to “raise it from the ashes.” All high-ranking Ukrainian officials, the same as the Russians, keep their funds in Western banks while their children study abroad, so confrontation with the West is just a populist fiction. The reality is with the struggle for territories, like the Ukrainian Crimea, and resources.

It was Yanukovych’s regime that initiated Euro-integration, and during his rule the Berkut riot police, which tried to disperse the “pro-Western” Maidan, also protected the first gay parade held in the Ukraine that was attended by the Mayor of Munich. So, the mass pro-EU sympathies expressed during Maidan can be better interpreted as the first attempt of Ukrainians to escape from the yoke of post-communist oligarchic capitalism that flourishes both in Ukraine and Russia.

Fleeing the “the yoke of post-communist oligarchic capitalism that flourishes both in Ukraine and Russia.” Who can argue with that? Sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Boris Kagarlitsky might have written, or Ernst Röhm for that matter if he were alive today.

February 18, 2018

The three degrees of separation between Lyndon LaRouche, the left, and the alt-right (part five)

Filed under: LaRouche — louisproyect @ 10:17 pm

(part onepart twopart three, part four)

This is the fifth and final installment in a series of articles about LaRouche’s movement that began on July 31, 2017 with the intention of demonstrating what a real fascist movement in the USA looked like as compared to the spectacles mounted by Richard Spencer and alt-right websites like the Daily Stormer. Unlike the fascists of today, LaRouche had built bridges to the CIA and important rightwing politicians, including Reagan administration officials. Even though objective conditions precluded him from ever achieving his dream of becoming the American Führer, his reach extended into the ruling class as well as into the corrupted trade union movement, especially the Teamsters.

In exploiting the fund-raising potentials of his cult members phone-banking elderly Republican Party voters to support the “Reagan revolution”, LaRouche diverted funds into his lavish life-style, including a 13-room mansion in Leesburg, Virginia.

The authorities finally caught up to him in 1988. After being found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud of more than $30 million in defaulted loans, eleven counts of actual mail fraud involving $294,000 in defaulted loans, and a single count of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, he was sentenced to 15 years but was released on January 26, 1994.

Keep in mind that LaRouche’s  basic program prior to his imprisonment mapped closely to the Reagan administration’s, including the ardent support of Star Wars and the expansion of NATO. A lot of his economic policies had much more in common with “statism”, including the support of vast infrastructure projects that sounded both like what FDR carried out as well as Hitler and Mussolini. In addition, his primary allies were outright fascists such as Roy Frankhouser Jr., a former Grand Dragon of the KKK.

Much of my analysis was based on Dennis King’s “Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism” that concludes with his arrest in 1986. I had not given much thought to LaRouche in the more recent period except to take the time to give his cult followers a hard time whenever they set up a table in front of my high-rise on the Upper East Side.

However, after my first installment appeared, I was startled to discover from a friend and comrade that his movement was deeply involved in the propaganda network defending Bashar al-Assad and the Russian intervention in the Ukraine.

So I’ve come across the Larouchies several times while covering the Syrian conflict. While the Larouche organization itself is persona non grata in mainstream political circles there are several Larouchie and ex Larouchie organizations and individuals who are very active on the “alt right” and the Assadist pro-Putin “alt left.” There is a lot of spillover with Russia Today as well. it’s notable that during the 2011 Tahrir Square protests Russia Today featured Lyndon Larouche himself as an expert on the events. Many Larouche affiliated organizations seem to enjoy very active relationships with authoritarian regimes, an alliance that has become more useful to these governments after the Arab Spring created the need for a fresh crop of conspiracy theories to justify remaining in power.

Syrian UN ambassador recently spoke at a Schiller Institute a few months ago and he appeared very familiar with the individuals and the organization. The Virginia State senator Richard Black, who has raised red flags with his repeated contacts with the Assad regime, including a visit during which he posed in the cockpit of a Syrian government fighter Jet, has been a go to commentator on Syria for the LarochePAC YouTube channel. In a shockingly bizarre incident earlier this year, The Schiller Institute Chorus sang the Russian National Anthem after somehow duping local law enforcement into holding a ceremony with Russian diplomats after the crash of a Tu-154 crash that killed the Red Army Choir. It’s very noteworthy that the ceremony treats the incident as a terrorist attack and tries to draw a parallel to the 9-11 attacks even though the official Russian position is that this incident was an accident.

The Larouche organization has been involved in sending solidarity delegations to Damascus as well as El Sisi’s Egypt for some time and they are somehow involved in a project called “the new silk road“. I’m not sure what relationship this has to the Chinese economic initiative that India snubbed a few days ago but as far as I can tell there is a connection. Larouchie protestors have showed up to events with signs that say things like “please join china and Mr. Xi on the new silk road.” Indeed Larouche delegations have been sent to Egypt and Syria with the explicit purpose of pushing this concept. This YouTube video from LarouchePAC from last week, hypes the Chinese conference. Apparently Larouche has been devoting a ridiculous amount of resources to promoting an obscure Chinese economic initiative for several years now. I think there is really something to this story because the Larouche organization has been pushing for a “New Silk Road” for at least 3 years. Here is a video from 3 years ago of Larouche talking about this where he mentions the Chinese leadership.

Trolls and Dupes

Navsteva

Scott Gaulke is a Wisconsin-based Larouche follower who has developed quite a reputation for trolling and stalking under his online personality “Navsteva.” At one point Gaulke claimed to have Visited Damascus but presented images that were taken by Ulf Sandmark, a Swedish Larouchie who had visited on a solidarity delegation, which incidentally was named “the new silk road.”

Workers World Party

I’m not sure what the connection between Larouche and the Workers World Party is but there is certainly some spillover. In this image, Caleb T. Maupin, the Russia Today journalist who was described by Trump as his “favorite journalist” can be seen with former Larouche candidate Webster Tarpley, who once notoriously claimed AIDS was an airborne disease and that AIDS patients should be locked up. Tarpley has also been a fixture of Assadist circles for a while, this 2015 video from a bizarre meet up of Assadists features Tarpley and is absolutely hilarious to watch when the crowd turns on the speakers.

I’m sure if you follow the money there is something going on with the “New Silk Road” talk.

I hope this is useful and let’s stay in touch

P.

The next report that corroborated P.’s account appeared in CounterPunch when David Barker covered LaRouche’s role in the emerging Red-Brown alliance. Titled A “New Dawn” for Fascism: the Rise of the Anti-Establishment Capitalists,  the article honed in on the role played by former LaRouchite F. William Engdahl. Like other ex-members such as Webster Tarpley and Andrew Spannaus, there is little to distinguish what they write now from what appears in Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), the house organ of LaRouche’s cult. Or for that matter, much of what appeared in the Nation Magazine written by Stephen F. Cohen.

It turns out that the first issue of EIR in 1995 calls for a revolution against conservatism and sounds like it might have been written by Paul Krugman or Robert Reich. Evidently, when LaRouche was in prison, he figured out that it no longer paid to be associated with the ultraright:

The people who are behind George Bush, who are behind the funding of the Conservative Revolution, have just looted a number of counties and local governments of the United States and California. What happened in Orange County, in the looting of pubic funds by financial speculators using a Chapter 9 bankruptcy procedure–a derivatives scandal looting–also represents the same problem which many other communities in the United States face. The tax rolls and securities and budgets of communities throughout the United States, are being looted by the financial bubble called the derivatives bubble.

The author? None other than Lyndon LaRouche.

Now there had always been leftist demagogic appeals in his various journals and propaganda outreach but something had begun to change after he got out of prison. Instead of being couched in apocalyptic terms, it was much more mainstream liberalism so much so that the reformulated economic analysis was sufficient to convince someone as prominent on the left as Nomi Prins, a former Goldman-Sachs employee and frequent contributor to The Nation, to grant interviews to the cult.

The other important turn was in foreign policy. Instead of attaching itself to anyone like Ronald Reagan or any other conservative anti-Communist, LaRouche became a passionate supporter of Vladimir Putin. A 2016 article in LaRouche/PAC titled “LaRouche—The Future of Mankind Will be Determined by Putin’s Creative Interventions Over the Coming Period” might have been written by Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek or Mike Whitney.

You get the same sort of “radical” journalism on Syria with this 2015 LaRouche/PAC article being typical:

Amid widespread reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin is about to intervene militarily in Syria to defend the sovereign government of President Bashar Assad, against the genocidal lunatics of the Islamic State (ISIS), Lyndon LaRouche has thrown his support behind Putin. A Russian military intervention at this time would be a “strategic game changer,” that would crucially frustrate President Barack Obama’s plans for a military confrontation with Moscow.

One of the few people who has noted the “left turn” is the anonymous blogger Ravings of a Radical Vagabond, whose 100-page article “An Investigation Into Red-Brown Alliances: Third Positionism, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, And The Western Left” is must-reading in order to understand the crisis in the left today. He or she writes:

At the same time as his rapprochement with the Russian establishment, LaRouche moved from biological to cultural racism, and started shifting towards more ostensibly left-wing positions in the 90s, organizing anti-war demonstrations and rallies and attempting to insert themselves in anti-war coalitions during the Gulf War, attempting to form coalitions with and control African-American civil rights groups since the 70s, opposing the death penalty, praising the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, supporting social programs against the Republican Party’s budget cuts, criticizing neoconservatives and organizing anti-war conferences in the prelude to the imperialist invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush.

In his section on LaRouche, the Radical Vagabond turns up some of the third degrees of separation between a one-time notorious fascist cult and other respected or at least nominal members of the left. For example, the shadowy Anti-Globalist Resistance that has annual conferences in Russia staged one in 2009 around the theme “Save Human Dignity For The Sake Of Mankind” that included such speakers as Samir Amin, the 86-year old dependency theorist, speaking from the same podium as Lyndon LaRouche, his wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche, and the anti-Semite and Wikileaks representative in Russia Israel Shamir. While a case may be made that LaRouche had abandoned his erstwhile fascist ideology, it is troubling that Amin would find himself in the same company as Tomislav Sunić, the leader of the American Freedom Party who has written that “Over the last fifty years, no effort has been spared by the Western system and its mediacracy to pathologize White Western peoples into endless atonement and perpetual guilt feelings about their White race.” Now, one might excuse the octogenarian Amin for not vetting an obscure figure like Sunić, he should have at least been uncomfortable with being part of a conference that also featured a representative of the openly fascist AfD party in Germany that sent Jürgen Elsässer to speak on their behalf. Surely his speaking as a representative of the AfD should have set off alarm bells for Amin. Or, maybe not.

Perhaps Amin believes that opposing “globalization” is so urgent a task that alliances can be built with someone like Tomislav Sunić or Jürgen Elsässer. When that term became popular in the 1990s as a replacement for the more class-oriented term imperialism, you saw the first blush of a Red-Brown alliance as the left abandoned “utopian” notions of worldwide socialist revolution in favor of an enlightened capitalist development that would flourish after free trade agreements like NAFTA had been abolished. This was around the time when speeches by Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan could not be distinguished, at least when it came to such treaties.

One of the most thorough investigative reports on the LaRouche/Putin connection appears on the website of Sean Guillory, whose article Where Foreign “Experts” and “Political Scientists” on Russian Television Come From is basically the translation of an article written by Alexey Kovalev. (One wonders if this is a pseudonym since this is the same name as Russia’s greatest hockey player.)

Kovalev mentions the appearance of F. William Engdahl on RT as well as Jeffrey Steinberg, a one-time top leader (arguably number two) in the LaRouche movement. Like Engdahl, Tarpley and Spannaus, there is little to distinguish what these guys are writing now from what you can read in EIR even though Kovalev finds some continuity:

Steinberg is an author for Executive Intelligence Review which is published by the so-called LaRouche Movement. This “movement,” to put it kindly, is actually just a bunch of LaRouchies—a quasi-fascist cult with fairly seedy rituals (read about “ego-stripping“, for example). Their views are also purely cultish and conspiratorial. LaRouchies, for example, are completely nuts about the British royal family, which, in their view, are to blame for all of mankind’s troubles, Queen Elizabeth II personally controls the drug cartels, and so on. Jeffrey Steinberg, for example, claimed in an interview that Princess Diana didn’t die in a car accident but was killed by British intelligence on the orders of Prince Philip (Conspiracy theories that Diana was murdered and didn’t die in an accident are popular).

Kovalev also refers to the presence of LaRouche’s Schiller Institute in Russia and a Russian-language version of EIR, which obviously requires a considerable staff to translate its drivel each month. In addition, LaRouche has made regular appearances on RT since 2008. All this constitutes one degree of separation, maybe zero.

These connections did not appear out of thin air. LaRouche came to Russia during the turmoil of the Yeltsin years and reached out to economists and bureaucrats who were upset with what people like Jeffrey Sachs (a recent convert to the Assadist cause) were doing to the former Soviet Union.

One of them is Sergei Glazyev, who is Putin’s adviser on regional economic integration. A former member of Rodina, a Russian party, Glazyev sounds pretty radical according to Wikipedia:

In 2015, Glazyev felt that the American capitalist model was entering an inevitable, very dangerous, phase of self-destruction. We are, he felt, “truly on the verge of a global war.” Although this coming war poses a great danger for Russia, Glazyev said that the USA will fail to achieve its hegemonic goals of controlling Russia and the entire world.

The Radical Vagabond reports that in January 2005 a group of State Duma members including from Rodina and the Communist Party claimed that the world was “under the monetary and political control of international Judaism” and signed a petition to the prosecutor-general demanding the ban of all Jewish organizations in Russia. In 2015, Rodina organized the “International Russian Conservative Forum” (IRCF) in order to launch a coalition of far-right parties. Among the invitees was Jared Taylor of the magazine American Renaissance. Taylor hailed Trump’s inauguration as “a sign of rising white consciousness” and is on record as stating “Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.”

Now, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t touch Rodina with a ten-foot pole but one well-known leftist—indeed Marxist—feels differently. He has associated with Konstantin Krylov, a one time member of Rodina. I am speaking of Boris Kagarlitsky, who organized a conference in 2014 titled “The World Crisis and the Confrontation in Ukraine” that included among its attendees:

Alan Freeman, a former member of Socialist Action, a British Trotskyist group, and co-director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group

Radhika Desai, who is co-director of the Geopolitical Economy Research Group who once moderated a conference that included Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, a supporter of National Bolshevik ideologue Aleksandr Dugin

Richard Brenner of Workers’ Power

Roger Annis, the editor-in-chief of The New Cold War

Hermann Dworczak, of the Austrian section of the Fourth International

Jeff Sommers, from the University of Wisconsin

Now these are all highly reputable people but you have to wonder what they thought of another speaker that Kagarlitsky invited, namely Vasiliy Koltashov, who heads Kagarlitsky’s Institute for Global Research and Social Movements and supported Marine Le Pen recent election campaign for president of France. Or Vladimir Rogov, the leader of the Slavic Guards who spoke about the threat to Ukraine by Western-backed gay liberation activists. In In 2013 his Slavic Guards put up posters in the city of Zaporozhe depicting a military parade and a gay parade, and asking the question “Which Parade Will Your Son Take Part In?” Rogov is on record stating: “The struggle against the new Kiev authorities is really a struggle against the EU, only not just in the form of a rejection of the politics of the destruction of the family and heterosexual relationships but in the form of a rejection of the entire anti-social neo-liberal policies of the western elites.”

Three degrees of separation, indeed. I’d advise the left to maintain three thousand degrees.

February 15, 2018

The Assassination of Gianni Versace

Filed under: Gay,television — louisproyect @ 8:37 pm

My wife and I are huge fans of Ryan Murphy, the gay writer/director/producer who just signed a 5-year deal with Netflix for $300 million that begins after his contract with Rupert Murdoch’s FX expires in July. Murphy is probably best known for “Glee”, an ABC network show about a high school glee club that is a backdrop for various dramas involving gender, race, class and other fragmented identities in American society. My impression is that it had a lot in common with “The White Shadow”, a CBS network show that ran in the late 70s using a racially mixed high school basketball team to offer the same sorts of social commentary.

We originally got hooked on Ryan Murphy after discovering “Nip/Tuck”, a cable TV show that ran on FX from 2003-2010. We only decided to pay for cable TV after we lost our barebones network TV connection as a result of the 9/11 attack taking out the TV transmitter that fed our high-rise.

“Nip/Tuck” used a plastic surgery clinic in the same way that “Glee” used its youthful singers–as a way of commenting on American society, in this instance the foibles of rich people who were never satisfied with their appearance. As I pointed out in my review of Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Nose, Iranian Style”, this is a sad practice that has been adopted in the Islamic Republic.

I made the case for “Nip/Tuck” in a 2006 article:

With enough postmodernist tropes to keep a MLA convention going for an extra week, FX’s “Nip/Tuck” uses plastic surgery as a metaphor for various gender, racial and broader cultural issues. Although not as acclaimed as some of HBO’s marquee attractions such as “The Sopranos” or “Sex and the City,” “Nip/Tuck” is certainly as well written, acted and directed. Now in its fourth season on the FX cable network, which is not a premium outlet like HBO or Showtime, it is a true pop culture achievement. Past seasons can be viewed on DVD as well.

A year after “Nip/Tuck” came to an end, a new Ryan Murphy show began. Like “Nip/Tuck”, “American Horror Story” was laden with Grand Guignol visual effects but this time using a butcher’s knife instead of a scalpel. It borrows elements from the genre involving vampires, zombies, killer clowns, serial murderers, etc. and wraps them in Murphy’s unique comic sensibility, as well as exploiting them for social commentary.

If you haven’t seen “American Horror Story”, I urge you to watch “Cult”, an 11-episode series from last year that can be seen on Amazon and iTunes. The first episode depicted a clash between candidates Trump and Clinton supporters in a small, upwardly mobile town. Two of the main characters are married lesbians who have had a falling out over one deciding to back Jill Stein instead of Clinton. The main Trump supporter is a Richard Spencer wannabe named Kai whose top lieutenant was abducted by the two lesbians and tied to a chair in order to prevent him for voting for Trump. To make his escape, he cuts off an arm. He is played by Chaz Bono, the transgender son of Cher and Sonny Bono originally named Chastity.

The show is not that interested in presenting an MSNBC type commentary (thank god) but much more in examining American cults of one sort or another. Kai is trying to build a fascist cult that will start by taking over the small town the characters live in and using it to catapult him into the presidency with the help of his stormtroopers.

The series incorporates reenactments of infamous cults, including those led by Jim Jones and Charles Manson, who are played by the same actor who plays Kai. Blood flows by the bucketful as the characters become increasingly crazed. It is vastly entertaining.

Once again, a psycho criminal is the main character in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” that is now showing on Season 2 of FX’s American Crime Story. As you may know, this is based on the July 15, 1997 murder of the trendy designer on the front steps of the mansion he owned in South Beach, Florida. The killer was Andrew Cunanan, a deranged gay man who had traveled across the USA, serially killing people one by one to facilitate the mission he was on. To this day, there has never been a satisfactory explanation why he targeted Versace, nor any of the other mostly gay men along the way.

Since my wife and I have always been curious about the Versace murder, having stayed a month in South Beach not far from his mansion in 2009 and sharing a general interest in fashion (she is an adjunct at Fashion Institute in addition to her main gig as a tenured economics/business professor). What we had trouble understanding is how FX and Murphy could have turned this into a 9-episode series since the story could have easily been told in an hour or so, as it was in a documentary we saw some years ago and that can be seen here:

Watching episode 5 titled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last night, it became crystal-clear why Murphy decided to create a show based on the killing of Versace. He saw it as much more than the tale of a serial killer. It was to be an ambitious epic tale about the state of Gay America in 1997 when equality was still beyond the grasp of gay men and lesbians. In an amazing coincidence, it turns out that the first of Cunanan’s victims was a former Navy officer named Jeff Trail who was an important figure in the struggle for gay liberation.

All this is detailed in Maureen Orth’s “Vulgar Favors” that Murphy’s docudrama is based on. In 1992, Trail was a naval officer on the USS Gridley, a cruiser docked in San Diego, where Cunanan lived. Just by chance, the two met in a gay bar where the  Cunanan approached the still closeted sailor. The two became fast friends, mostly because Cunanan—very much out of the closet—helped him to navigate the gay world that Trail had begun to explore.

If Jeff Trail could not reveal his sexuality on the USS Gridley, he could make the case for gays in the military on a CBS “48 Hours” in 1993. His face was not visible in the interview and his voice was disguised. You can see the interview here: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/02/versace-jeff-trail-american-crime-story-interview

Even though Versace was in an industry that had as many out of the closet men as in ballet, he still kept his sexuality a secret. In this episode, you see him arguing with his sister about being seen too often in gay hangouts. It might alienate men who would otherwise wear his clothing, especially from the macho sports world and among those actors who cultivated a macho identity. The two men’s wrestling with homophobia is interwoven skillfully by Murphy.

In 1995, Versace did an interview in the Advocate, the U.S.’s most widely read gay magazine that can be read here: https://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/2018/2/15/seen-american-crime-story-read-interview-where-gianni-versace-came-out Unlike Jeff Trail, Versace never denied who he was sexually but neither did he advertise it. Over the past 22 years, the struggle has been to make it as easy as possible to be upfront about your sexuality in the fashion industry, the navy and in public restrooms even if that turns off the Christian Right and the homophobic morons in the Socialist Equality Party.

 

 

February 14, 2018

Tehran Taboo; Mehrdad Oskouei retrospective

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 6:47 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, February 14, 2018

If you want to understand the social contradictions in Iran that lead to periodic explosions like those that took place recently, there is no better resource than Iranian film. Often risking repression, which at its most extreme cost the life of environmentalist Kavous Seyed Emami, filmmakers put a spotlight on the grievances of large parts of the population, especially women and those who have not benefited from the wealth-producing oil rentier state.

New Yorkers have an unparalleled opportunity to see Iranian film at its best this month from two unheralded directors. On February 14th, the Film Forum will be showing “Tehran Taboo”, a noirish animated feature by Ali Soozandeh who lives and works in Germany after leaving Iran in 1995 at the age of 25. I have no doubt that “Tehran Taboo” will get my nomination as both best foreign-language and animated film for 2018. It is the story of three women dealing with different aspects of a suffocating patriarchy and one young man trying to live the life of a free artist in an unfree society. On February 23rd, the Anthology Film Archives will be showing a retrospective of Mehrdad Oskouei’s documentaries that address Iran’s deep-seated gender and class injustices. While Iranian film is best known in the West for the narrative works of Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi and Asghar Farhadi, Oskouei deserves pride of place alongside such masters. His work has appeared at over 400 film festivals in over 50 countries and earning him over 90 awards, so it is high time for a retrospective here and now.

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February 13, 2018

Ben Norton cooks the books

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Once you decide to become an Assadist propagandist, it is like selling your soul to the devil. If Faust sought infinite knowledge,  a job with AlterNet or Salon seems rather cheap by comparison. Ben Norton is a case in point.

In an article for The Real News, Norton uses all sorts of dodgy journalistic tricks to make the case for Assad. Like AlterNet, TruthDig, et al, the Real News is a bully pulpit for Assadists with Ray McGovern, Lawrence Wilkerson, et al, making frequent appearances. With over 100 articles turned up by a search for “Syria”, not a single one challenges the Assadist propaganda machine.

The goal of Norton’s article is to prove that the USA sought regime change in Syria by “following the money”. He writes:

The United States spent at least $12 billion in Syria-related military and civilian expenses in the four years from 2014 through 2017, according to the former U.S. ambassador to the country.

This $12 billion is in addition to the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011.

To start with, Norton makes no attempt to document the “the billions more spent to pursue regime change in Syria in the previous three years, after war broke out in 2011”. It is common knowledge that the USA spent money through two different programs, one out of the Pentagon and one out of the CIA that only began in 2013. It is a sign of Norton’s dodgy reporting that he does not bother to identify where “the billions” were coming from unless they were part of an underground, illegal network like Oliver North set up for the Nicaraguan contras. This was not Obama’s style, especially since he held the rebels in contempt from the beginning.

So let’s take a look at that $12 billion and see why it failed to make a dent in the Assadist killing machine. Most of it was actually spent on humanitarian aid that Norton considered part of the “regime change” agenda, just like the White Helmets:

Ford also reported that the U.S. spent $7.7 billion in humanitarian aid efforts in Syria in those same four years. This figure cannot be excluded from the overall cost of the U.S. regime change mission, however, because U.S. spending on humanitarian aid in Syria has often been explicitly politicized.

Did the USA spend nearly $8 billion dollars on humanitarian aid in Syria? That’s a lot of dough and it hardly made a difference, as far as I can tell. All you need to do is check all the articles on starvation conditions in places like East Aleppo, East Ghouta, and Idlib where such aid could not be distributed for obvious reasons.

If you go to the Department of State website, you’ll get a proper accounting for the funds. Of that $7.7 billion, less than half of that was spent in Syria. Most went to refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Does this Assadist propagandist really think that the people living in tents in Lebanon were a threat to the regime with its barrel bombs and poison gas? I suppose anything is possible with such a sick mind.

The $7.7 billion is not distributed by American agencies, needless to say. But even the UN, that does operate in Syria with other NGO’s, admits that it has not had access to “hard-to-reach” places, including East Ghouta. Since Norton blames the “extremist” rebels for carrying out a “false flag” attack there, I suppose he is pleased that people in East Ghouta are being reduced to Auschwitz like conditions. In November, Reuters reported that they are so short of food that they are eating trash, fainting from hunger and forcing their children to eat on alternate days. Meanwhile, Norton gets paid to write propaganda describing such suffering as necessary to prevent al-Qaeda from invading Park Slope.

Once you subtract the $7.7 billion, you end up $4.3 billion that supposedly went to weapons and material aid for fighters in programs mounted by the Pentagon and the CIA’s Timber Sycamore. You might as well subtract the $500 million that the Pentagon spent since it would only be allocated to rebels who signed a contract that they would not fight against Assad’s military and only target ISIS.

As for remainder doled out by the CIA, it paid for everything except MANPAD’s. In fact, the CIA created border guards in collaboration with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to keep the Libyan-supplied weapons out of the hands of rebels. If the CIA had kept its AK-47s that could be bought cheaply on the black market and simply gotten out of the way, the war would have likely ended in 2015 by turning Syria into a graveyard for MIGs.

It is important to mention that despite claims that Timber Sycamore supplied anti-tank TOW missiles to the rebels, there was little indication that they were received until 2015. A 2013 NY Times article describes the reality:

Through the fall, the Qatari Air Force cargo fleet became even more busy, running flights almost every other day in October. But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft.

Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought. [emphasis added] These complaints continue.

“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” said Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province.

I have heard Assad supporters justify the blockade against MANPADs on the basis that they can be used against civilian airliners (even though most fly above their range) but why would the USA interfere with the shipment of TOWs if it was so hell-bent on regime change?

Two years alter, TOW missiles became available but only from Saudi Arabia that plausibly was acting on its own. They proved so devastating that there were genuine fears that Assad’s days were numbered, especially after the Southern Front of the FSA overran a major air base near Dara’a in June of that year. This evidently persuaded the Russians to intervene in September. You might remember that the combined firepower of the Syrian and Russian air force was initially directed against everyone except ISIS.

Clearly, it was Russia, Iran, Hizbollah, Iraqi sectarian Shi’ite brigades and Afghan mercenaries that finally broke the back of the revolutionary resistance. This is a Pyrrhic victory. Syria is rapidly running out of oil and water, so much so that even if had been at peace for the past six years, it would still be in a deep economic/ecological crisis. This is compounded by massive infrastructure destruction that will require billions to replace but that the West has little interest in supplying. This leaves it to oil rentier states like Russia and Iran to step into the breach. Given the economic woes of both countries, it is doubtful that Syria will be anything except what Tacitus described: “To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.”

 

 

February 11, 2018

Newsweek: the death of a corpse

Filed under: journalism — louisproyect @ 7:48 pm

David Jang: the cult leader who owns Newsweek

This week Newsweek Magazine, a journal that usually doesn’t show up on my radar screen, caught my attention. The NY Times reported on February sixth that “Two top editors and a reporter at Newsweek were fired on Monday, and two other reporters left in limbo, in a purge that targeted employees involved in coverage of the company’s financial and legal troubles.”

This was fall-out from an editor’s decision to assign reporters to cover an incident that occurred on January 18th when investigators for the NY District Attorney raided Newsweek’s offices. The Newsweek article that led to the firings stated:

A grand jury investigation of Newsweek Media Group, formerly known as IBT Media, has been ongoing for at least 17 months, according to a source familiar with the matter. The probe was likely looking at loans the company took out to purchase the servers.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan DA’s office declined to comment on the probe.

The company has a rocky financial history. Digital publisher IBT Media bought Newsweek from IAC, an internet and media company, in 2013, and it missed payroll and laid off large numbers of employees in 2016.

Both Etienne Uzac and Johnathan Davis, the IBT founders who bought Newsweek in 2013 and still own parts of Newsweek Media Group, also appear to have large debts, according to public records. The Internal Revenue Service filed a $1.2 million lien against Uzac in December 2017, while the IRS filed an $800,000 lien against Davis in October that year, public records show.

IBT Media has faced questions about its relationship with David Jang, a South Korean pastor who leads a Christian sect called “the Community” and founded a small Bible college called Olivet University, according to a 2014 Mother Jones report.

The Mother Jones report portrayed David Jang as being cut from the same cloth as fellow Korean Sun Myung Moon, the deceased cult leader of the Unification Church that launched the Washington Times in 1982 to promulgate his reactionary views. Like Moon, Jang, who was formerly a key figure in Moon’s cult, portrayed himself as a godlike figure–the Second Coming Christ. Jang’s cult is organized as the Community, a project that also includes the Olivet colleges in the USA. Newsweek’s top executives, including Uzac and Davis, are long-standing members of Jang’s cult.

Unlike Moon, Jang has describes his media goals as one of promoting business news objectively rather than propaganda. Notwithstanding the stated goal, he claims that everything he is involved with is designed to promote the Kingdom of God. Jang’s first foray into the media business was something called the International Business Tribune (IBT) that at first blush seems legitimate. Peter Goodman, a top editor at Huffington, was hired to be editor-in-chief. The main problem wasn’t content but shady business practices behind the scenes.

Like most Internet based publications, IBT was dedicated to traffic, just as is Newsweek now. The bosses demanded that every article generate 10,000 hits or else you’d get fired. And like other electronic publications, the articles tended to be virtual plagiarisms with IBT in Japan publishing 302 articles constructed of patches lifted from Japanese media that were combined in “collage-style”.

A Guardian article on IBT/Newsweek dated March 28, 2014 reported:

A former editor at 33 Universal said “full-time freelance” writers who did much of the writing were paid $8 per article for pieces aiming to ride the crest of that day’s wave of popular news search terms. “You wrote at eight articles a day minimum, sometimes more,” said one former writer for 33 Universal websites.

Even I couldn’t keep up with such a pace.

Like Jacobin that falsified the number of its Twitter followers to convince Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to write an article for them, Newsweek was not above juggling the books. A full report on their fraudulent traffic statistics can be read at Social Puncher, a website dedicated to exposing such manipulative practices.

While some of the staff has been fired, others have left in protest. One of them is David Sirota, a very capable reporter who I used to read in Huffington Post. He was a Bernie Sanders supporter and described himself as a “democratic socialist”.

But even more disconcertingly, I discovered a couple of days ago that Patrick Hilsman, a FB friend and occasional email correspondent on matters such as the LaRouche cult, had tweeted that he too had quit. However, it did not take the post-January 18th turmoil to convince him to leave. He quit the same day he started work:

Like me, Patrick Hilsman has been one of those stiff-necked people who refuse to hoist Bashar al-Assad on our “anti-imperialist” shoulders. To show you how much things have changed at Newsweek, an article written by one Ian Wilkie has been making the rounds in the Max Blumenthal/Consortium News/Global Research propaganda network. Titled “Now Mattis admits there was no evidence Assad used poison gas on his people”, it rehashes all of the “false flag” narratives promoted equally by “leftists” like Seymour Hersh and not so leftists like David Duke and Pamela Geller.

Saving me the trouble of wading through Wilkie’s manure, Eliot Higgins donned his hip boots and did his usual yeoman job on Bellingcat:

Wilkie also repeats one of the popular theories among chemical weapon conspiracy theorists that people filmed at the impact site of the Sarin bomb after the attack would have died from Sarin exposure, stating “these people would all be dead if they had come into contact with real military-grade Sarin.” This is based on the popular misconception among chemical weapon conspiracy theorists that Sarin is a persistent agent, in that it remains in the environment in lethal quantities long after an attack has occurred.

Naturally enough, Wilkie describes himself as a “terrorism expert”, which is ultimately the perspective of Consortium News, Global Research, LaRouche’s EIR, et al. It does not recognize the class origins of the Syrian civil war and has no other interest than in preventing another 9/11, as if bombing hospitals in Idlib will serve as a prophylactic. Wilkie is a contributor to Tracking Terrorism, a website based on a $500 subscription. I was considering taking out a trial subscription just to see what lurked beneath but was persuaded not to bother when I checked what its editors had written about the mass murder in Las Vegas last year:

My guess is that Wilkie’s article does not indicate that Newsweek is going to read anything like Consortium News that was started by the late Robert Parry, a former Newsweek reporter himself. Throughout 2017, there were articles at odds with Wilkie’s op-ed piece such as “Assad Regime is Still Making Chemical Weapons in Syria: Report”. Perhaps the only explanation is that the magazine saw Wilkie’s piece as prime clickbait since it is well-understood that there are many people attracted to such slop as might be obvious from Breitbart News offering up much of the same.

Centrist political opinion is quite upset with developments at Newsweek. Jonathan Alter, a former Newsweek pundit, wrote “The Death of Newsweek” for Atlantic, a prime dispenser of centrist politics.

Newsweek was always the scrappy, risk-taking underdog, Avis to Time’s Hertz. As Don Graham, his mother’s successor, liked to say, “We’re the pirate ship and they’re the stately ocean liner sailing off.” Pirates had fun—not raffish newsroom amusement (our offices looked more like an insurance company) but a spirit of adventure every week. “Scramble the jets!” our late editor, Maynard Parker, would shout, and all over the world dozens of correspondents and editors swooped and dove on a Friday afternoon to cover the big, late-breaking story of the week. Within 24 hours, we could produce a polished 7,000-word cover package with arresting, often-exclusive reporting from far-flung locales, fresh columns and sidebars, classy photos and spreads, and—especially if someone like Peter Goldman, Evan Thomas, or Jerry Adler was writing—exquisite narrative “tick tock.” The features and criticism in the “back of the book” were also as good or better than those in more intellectual publications, even if it wasn’t cool in New York to admit that about a middlebrow magazine.

My own experience with Newsweek was ambivalent to say the least. Back in the stone ages when there wasn’t an Internet, households such as ours relied on Time and Newsweek much more than the N.Y. Times. The magazine was tabloid sized and the articles were written for someone with a high school education or presently in high school, as I was. It was in Newsweek where I discovered the beat generation, foreign films and contemporary classical music.

Between 1965 and 1967, Newsweek published ten articles about the US war in Vietnam that focused almost exclusively on the advances produced by firepower. Typically, such magazines only devoted 3 percent of its coverage on the toll B-52s and other killing machines were taking on civilians.

By 1967, the malfeasance of Newsweek and much of television reporting was enough for me to break with the system and become a revolutionary socialist. I stopped reading Newsweek or any other capitalist print publication and relied strictly on the radical press, especially the SWP’s, and the NY Times that can be very useful if you read it critically.

Eleven years later, when Reagan was trying to make the Nicaraguans cry uncle at the same time I was recruiting engineers, programmers, skilled tradespeople, and medical professionals to volunteer to help keep the revolution alive, Newsweek was writing the kinds of articles that are now being written about Venezuela. The government was repressive, the economy sucked, etc. But none of the articles really explored the American role in creating such a dire situation. This article was typical:

In the battle over contra aid, the administration was set to open a new offensive. Congress has become increasingly skeptical about the Nicaraguan rebels’ military capabilities, and the peace plan signed by five Central American leaders last August isolates the contras politically. But U.S. officials had a new weapon: Maj. Roger Miranda, a high-ranking Sandinista defector with stories of secret Cuban and Soviet pacts and of links to other leftist guerrillas. Last week Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams allowed several news organizations to interview the defector. Then, learning that reporters planned to publish Miranda’s revelations, Nicaraguan Defense Minister Humberto Ortega launched a pre-emptive strike. Speaking at a gathering in Managua, he confirmed some of Miranda’s most damaging disclosures.

Among the revelations:

* Manauga [sic] has made secret agreements with the Soviet Union, Cuba and East-bloc nations. Ortega said the pacts, which Managua has never before acknowledged, call for assistance in helping the Sandinistas arm and train 600,000 Army troops and civilian militia by the mid-1990s. According to one U.S. official, the goal is to make any U.S. invasion prohibitively costly. With that kind of troop strength and arsenal, it would take four divisions and massive air strikes to oust the Sandinistas.

* Nicaragua has “several hundred, a few thousand” officers taking courses in Cuba and the Soviet Union in the use of sophisticated weapons, Ortega admitted for the first time last week.

* The Sandinistas are training Salvadoran rebels to use ground-to-air missiles; the shoulder-launched weapons could sharply escalate the eight-year-old war.

Oh, did I mentioned that Robert Parry was one of the three Newsweek staffers who co-wrote the piece?

 

February 9, 2018

A Sniper’s War

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 5:48 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, February 9, 2018

“A Sniper’s War” just premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and will next be seen at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana on February 23rd. Although I doubt that many of my readers will be in Missoula for the festival—or for any other purpose—I still want to call attention to a film that should eventually and hopefully make it into theatrical distribution before too long. This is a first-time work by a young filmmaker that shows remarkable courage, talent and perseverance in painting a portrait of a Serb volunteer who came to the Donetsk People’s Republic to defend his socialist beliefs. Whether or not those beliefs were grounded in reality is not really a question the film sought to answer. Director Olya Schechter simply wanted to tell the story of a man nicknamed Deki who was poised on the razor’s edge between duty to a higher cause and murder.

Early on in her powerful documentary, we see Deki showing photographs on his smart phone of the devastation wrought by NATO in Belgrade. There are bombed out buildings that by any definition were the result of war crimes. Behind him on the wall is a banner from the former Soviet Union of a hammer and sickle poised above a red star. Later on, we hear him and fellow separatist fighters mourning over the loss of Communism that they blame on NATO and Western imperialism. Deki is nostalgic for a system that provided free health care and education in Yugoslavia, as the militia members nod in agreement. The men are not ultra-nationalist special forces “volunteers” hoping to reabsorb the whole of Ukraine into a new Russian empire. Instead, they are the salt of the earth of Eastern Ukraine: middle-aged schoolteachers and coal miners.

Continue reading

February 6, 2018

Chris Hedges and Identity Politics

Filed under: Workerism — louisproyect @ 11:26 pm

One can only hope, maybe even pray, that the well-intentioned Chris Hedges knew very little about the Socialist Equality Party when he participated in a webinar with cult leader David North on January 25th that drew statements of support from the feckless Putinites John Pilger and Julian Assange. The webinar was devoted to a discussion of “Organizing Resistance to Internet Censorship” that grew out of the SEP’s campaign against the new Google algorithms that cut down on the number of “hits” that its website got. The campaign made it sound as if they were being singled out because of their threat to American capitalism whereas other left websites were affected as well.

Over on Truthdig that still has mud on its face for publishing Daniel Lazare’s Assadist propaganda, you can now read an article by Hedges titled “The Bankruptcy of the American Left” that takes the side of North’s super-sectarian sect-cult on “identity politics”. He found himself in complete agreement with this comment by the cult leader:

We totally reject the narrative that the working class is racist. I think this has been the narrative pushed by the pseudo-left, middle-class groups who are drunk on identity politics, which have a vested interest in constantly distracting people from the essential class differences that exist in the society. Dividing everyone up on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference fails to address the major problem.

Hedges also recommends the writings of the Boston College sociologist Charles Derber:

The left offers no broad critique of the political economy of capitalism. It’s largely an identity-politics party. It focuses on reforms for blacks and women and so forth. But it doesn’t offer a contextual analysis within capitalism.

As an example of the bankruptcy of identity politics, Derber mentions gay people wanting to “fight in the military” since this amounts to “legitimating the American empire”. He asks, “If you were living in Nazi Germany, would you say I want the right of a gay person to fight in combat with the Nazi soldiers?” I suppose that you might as well have denounced civil rights activists demanding equal rights for African-Americans in the military as well, or at least making sure that if they became soldiers that their duties be limited to non-combat roles such as washing dishes or ironing an officer’s uniform, as was once a common practice.

Much of this conversation about the left and identity politics is driven by policy wonks in the Democratic Party who blamed Hillary Clinton for the party’s loss in 2016. Chief among them is Columbia professor Mark Lilla who described BLM as a “textbook example of how not to build solidarity.” You also get a Marxist version of this from Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed.

Hedges has had a stick up his ass about identity politics and multiculturalism for some time. In November 2015, he wrote a screed that hailed Russell Jacoby’s “The End of Utopia”. Jacoby, according to Hedges, says that the call by multiculturalists for inclusion within the power structure does nothing to challenge the deadly “monoculturalism” of corporatism. This, of course, is exactly what Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed argue as well.

Probably the most rancid example of this political philosophy can be found in Todd Gitlin’s 1995 “The Twilight of Common Dreams” that complained about how multiculturalism (ie, uppity women, gays and Blacks) alienates blue collar workers from voting Democrat. In 1997, Gitlin and the late Bogan Denitch spoke together at a plenary session at the Socialist Scholars Conference denouncing “identity politics”. I encourage you to read Jesse Lemisch’s “Angry White Men on the Left” for a brilliantly lacerating take on the two:

GITLIN HAS RECENTLY MOVED FROM THE SOCIOLOGY DEPARTMENT at Berkeley to become Professor of Culture, Journalism and Sociology at New York University. His arrival in New York City seems to have given added strength and legitimacy to a pre-existing condition: a straight male backlash among New York left intellectuals. This was especially clear in the presentation by Bogdan Denitch, the conference organizer, who spoke along with Gitlin in the session on identity politics.

In his introduction to the conference program, Denitch had written, “We must learn to effectively confront the splintering politics of identity…” Speaking alongside Gitlin, it seemed that Denitch (who had arrived at the same conclusions on his own) had nonetheless been freed from a great burden, now that prestigious validation had been given to the attack on most kinds of feminism, gay liberation and black self-organization. In a truculent and martyred spirit, he dragged out the old Lasch-ian vocabulary with its condemnation of “self-indulgence” (as if those who organize themselves on any basis other than class are frivolous, irresponsible and destructive). To a sprinkling of applause from other angries in the audience, Denitch announced, “we don’t care if you are gay; we want to know whether you are a left gay!” And he was positively ferocious about some unspecified excesses by feminists which seemed to have been performed directly on his person. Whatever it was, I felt sorry for him and the obvious resultant trauma. As more of this kind of belligerence appears within its ranks, DSA is going to have to figure out where it stands.

People new to Marxist politics like Chris Hedges probably have no idea what kind of background David North has. He was a member of the Workers League in the USA that was the satellite of Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party in England that in its prime had enough clout to recruit Vanessa Redgrave.

Healy was expelled from his own party in 1985 after it was revealed that he was a sexual predator. In Chapter 11 of Bob Pitt’s “The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy”, we get the picture of someone who might be described as the Harvey Weinstein of the left, capitalizing on his cult status rather than the promise to an actress of getting a role in a Quentin Tarantino movie:

What was the character of this sexual abuse? It was later stated that the women Healy pressurised into having sexual relations with him ‘mistakenly believed that the revolution – in the form of the “greatest” leader demanded this, the most personal sacrifice of all. They were not coerced … physically, but every pressure was brought to bear on them as revolutionaries’. The situation was ‘not so much rape but … sexual abuse by someone in a position of power and trust’.6 It was, Dave Bruce comments, ‘wholesale sexual corruption in a manner analogous to these religious sects. There’s a very close parallel’.7

David Walsh, North’s film critic at wsws.org, is very upset over the stink women are raising over Weinstein and other sexual predators. He takes particular issue with Ronan Farrow, whose reporting on Weinstein in the New Yorker magazine was quite devastating:

Ronan Farrow, who helped launch the current campaign with his exposé of Harvey Weinstein in the New Yorker, personifies the nexus between middle class moralizing, the Democratic Party and high-level state operations. The son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, Farrow began working “in some unspecified capacity” (Politico) for US diplomat (and Democrat) Richard Holbrooke when he was a teenager. At one point, Farrow served as a speechwriter for Holbrooke, who, as the WSWS noted in a 2010 obituary, was “a man steeped in the commission and cover-up of bloody crimes” from Vietnam to the Balkans, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond.

So, dear readers, this must mean that all this stuff about Weinstein jerking off into a potted plant while he blocks an actress from leaving his office might lead to a nuclear war or something. (Don’t forget that I told David North that WWIII was not imminent over the fighting in Donetsk. He never forgave me.)

This is how David North’s cult sees all these uppity women complaining about getting fucked over by men like Harvey Weinstein or Gerry Healy for that matter:

The stage is set for an explosion of the class struggle, in the US and around the globe. Every social layer is propelled into motion. The affluent middle class resents those above and fears the working class below. Historically impotent and incapable of reorganizing society in a progressive fashion, this social grouping aspires to changes that “will make the existing society as tolerable and comfortable for themselves as possible.” (Marx)

The #MeToo movement, like Black Lives Matter, emanates from this layer. It represents one portion of the upper-middle class. There are certainly some powerful men who will lose out if this movement has its way. However, they are mere “collateral damage” in the eyes of more farsighted sections of the ruling elite, including leading Democrats, the New York Times, Washington Post, etc., who recognize the value of the sexual misconduct campaign in strengthening identity politics and generally distracting attention from the cancerous social inequality, the danger of dictatorship and the drive to war.

So, here we have it. The dead end of anti-identity politics. If women or blacks complain too much about getting raped or shot by a racist cop, they are “distracting attention from the cancerous social inequality, the danger of dictatorship and the drive to war.” I hope that someone who has Hedges’s ear can warn him that this has nothing to do with the task of overthrowing capitalism and building a new society on full respect for one and all. Marxism has had to deal with this “workerist” crap going back to Karl Marx’s day.

The “orthodox” Marxists like Frederic Sorge were similar to David North while Victoria Woodhull was much more like the feminist or Black Marxists of today. She wrote:

The sexual relation, must be rescued from this insidious form of slavery. Women must rise from their position as ministers to the passions of men to be their equals. Their entire system of education must be changed. They must be trained to be like men, permanent and independent individualities, and not their mere appendages or adjuncts, with them forming but one member of society. They must be the companions of men from choice, never from necessity.

The debate on the left about “identity politics” has to transcend the obsessions of people like Mark Lilla or Walter Benn Michaels. It doesn’t matter if we are building a movement that loses the support of some whites because it defends the right of transgender people to choose the bathroom they are comfortable in or the need for affirmative action in the building trades or wherever it is needed. Unless we are ready to challenge injustice on all fronts, we will never create the vanguard that is so necessary today.

In “What is to be Done”, Lenin wrote:

Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc.

Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life. That should be our watchword just as it was Lenin’s in 1903.

February 5, 2018

Fact-checking the latest propaganda rolling off the Assadist assembly-line

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 9:23 pm

Judith Miller and Christopher Hitchens: forerunners of today’s Assadist propagandists

One of the most off-putting things about Assadist propaganda is that it advertises itself as a corrective to the “mainstream media” even as its purveyors adopt the journalistic norms of Judith Miller. What explains the cavalier attitude toward the truth? To a large extent, it is a function of deep-seated Islamophobia that is rooted in 9/11. Back then, Christopher Hitchens earned the contempt for most of us on the left for his close ties to the Bush administration. Even if it was becoming obvious that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was based on a mountain of lies, Hitchens gave the Bush administration a free pass because he saw al-Qaeda as the greatest threat to “Western Civilization” since Adolph Hitler.

Today, there is a virtual army of journalists who combine the shoddy journalism of Judith Miller and the virulent Islamophobia of Christopher Hitchens on behalf of a new crusade against the “Salafist menace”. But instead of serving as the lapdog of George W. Bush, they operate as cogs in the propaganda machine for the Kremlin and the Baathist state. Their hatred for “jihadism” runs so deep that they justify the bombing of hospitals in Idlib because Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra) has a foothold there. The ability of many leftists to lament the war crimes in Yemen and now in Afrin while cheering on Russian and Syrian mass murder is a defect in the kind of movement we have become, showing the same kind of cynical “ends justify the means” mindset that destroyed the Stalinized Communist Party.

Two recent examples illustrate how low the Assadist left has sunk. The first is an article in Viewpoint by Patrick Higgins titled “The Enemy at Home: U.S. Imperialism in Syria” that invokes Karl Liebknecht’s call for opposition to WWI. Hasn’t Higgins any idea that opposition to WWI in the USA back then would land you in prison as Eugene V. Debs discovered? Today, opposition to a Bush-style American intervention in Syria is universal, spanning from Higgins on the left to Henry Kissinger and David Duke on the right.

As is customarily the case, as long as Higgins writes about American foreign policy exclusive of Syria, there is not much to quibble with. Most of it is what you’d read in Noam Chomsky or Alexander Cockburn. Or, for that matter, what I wrote about Vietnam, Nicaragua, Palestine or Iraq over the years.

It is only when he gets to Syria that the propaganda kicks in.

Higgins argues that the war in Syria is the culmination of a policy that began during Eisenhower’s administration to contain Arab radicalism, particularly of the type Nasser represented. Making the case that the Baathist state is inimical to American interests in the region would by necessity omit any reference to Hafez al-Assad becoming part of the coalition to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. The Baathist dictator’s support for American imperialism paid dividends as the Chicago Tribune reported:

A year ago Syria, which always has aspired to a leadership role in Arab affairs, was isolated and resented by most of its neighbors. Now it has forged an alliance with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and has joined with Egypt in providing the bulk of the troops for a new Arab peacekeeping force in the Persian Gulf region.

It has received about $2.5 billion in assistance from the Gulf States and Japan, and its role in the peacekeeping force promises another sizable windfall.

So, imagine that. Assad the father cuts deals with Mubarak and the Saudis in cahoots with the USA and this is what “Arab radicalism” amounts to? Oh, did I mention that Kuwait is not mentioned once in Higgins’s article?

Like many others who profess support for the Palestinian cause, Higgins credits the Syrian dictatorship for backing Hezbollah’s resistance to Israel in 2006 even if it is impossible for him to sweep under the rug how it allied with Israel against the PLO in Lebanon.

Once again, this is a highly selective version of Syrian-Palestinian relations. Search for a reference to Gaza or Hamas in his article and you will come up empty just as was the case with Kuwait. He cannot admit that Hamas has condemned Russian and Syrian war crimes in East Aleppo. When Russian and Syrian jets were bombing hospitals, Hamas issued a statement that said: “We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely.” Unlike Higgins, Hamas was not persuaded by the need to bomb hospitals because they were treating 4-year olds with broken bones who might grow up one day to become “terrorists”. When Syria dropped leaflets in East Aleppo to demand that the citizenry repudiate terrorism in the way that IDF did in Gaza City, Hamas could not help identifying with the victims of the “war on terror”.

In a journalistic maneuver that would have been too crass for Judith Miller to employ, Higgins claims that weaponry supplied to rebels in Syria were “diverted” to al-Nusra. As is often the case when I click the link to an article such as this, it is not what it was supposed to be saying. Maybe Higgins did not read past the Reuters article headline: U.S.-trained Syrian rebels gave equipment to Nusra: U.S. military. However, when you continue reading the article, you will learn that the weapons were surrendered in order to gain safe passage. This is like saying shopkeepers used to “give” protection money to the Mafia as if the consequences for refusing such payments would have been nothing but a slap on the wrist rather than a bullet in the head.

To make the case that the rebels were “Salafists” from the beginning, Higgins cites a Pentagon report that appears on the rightwing Judicial Watch website and that has been cited by a thousand other Assadist propagandists. However, in 2012 the dominant force in Syria was the FSA that would soon begin to clash with ISIS as it had with al-Nusra on occasion. To really make sense of the relationship of forces in Syria, you’d have to do more than write a brief report that was never official policy and that was also heavily redacted.

In May of 2013, the Center for American Progress issued a report estimating that the FSA had 50,000 fighters as opposed to al-Nusra’s 6,000. Another report from Charles Lister around this time estimates ISIS and al-Nusra’s combined forces to be 12,000 (I would have put ISIS into a separate category altogether since it had little interest in the goals of the Arab Spring, even less so than al-Nusra), while all other rebel groups amounted to 88,000. Perhaps Higgins has his own estimates but I doubt that someone who relies on the specious Judicial Watch report has any interest in that.

Higgins has the audacity to compare US bombing in Syria to that which occurred during the Vietnam war. This is truly astonishing. The USA dropped more than 3 times the tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than it dropped during all of WWII. And what was an example of US bombing in Syria? The only examples that Higgins could dredge up was a mortar attack on a trade fair in Damascus last August that killed 6 people and a suicide bombing there 3 months earlier that killed 31. This is on one side of the ledger and on the other you have artillery, missiles, barrel bombing and Sarin gas attacks that have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Talk about putting your fingers on the scales of justice.

As it happens, Higgins wrote essentially the same article for Jacobin in 2015 before it switched gears editorially to oppose Assad. To a large extent, Max Ajl was responsible for Assadist propaganda when he was a member of the editorial board. That kind of garbage disappeared after he got the boot. Now that he is on Viewpoint’s editorial board, we can expect the same kind of Islamophobic junk to appear. We might even assume that he will recruit the same scoundrels he used to line up for Jacobin.

On December 2, 2017, I wrote about Ajl’s conversation with fellow Assadist Justin Podhur about his departure from Jacobin. The oddest thing about their wound-licking session is their outlandish exaggeration of the power that is wielded by people like me, Gilbert Achcar, the ISO, New Politics and the new Jacobin over the Syria debate. Podhur put it this way:

And I think that feeling is something that I have personally been feeling for a really long time – guilty, muted, fumbling, silenced – about opposing imperialism, especially in Syria, and it’s been really confusing for me. And so for you to write that…I felt a lot of relief reading that somebody else felt that way.

This is truly astonishing. You have Alternet, Truthdig, CommonDreams, The Nation, the Boston Globe (via Stephen Kinzer), the LRB, the NYRB, 90 percent of the articles on CounterPunch, and countless other bloggers and websites making the same arguments as Ajl and Higgins and they feel “silenced”? Maybe what is irking them is that there are still a few lonely voices that don’t buy their crap. It wasn’t enough that Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton were bribed into write Assadist propaganda. Speaking for myself, I’d rather be water-boarded than justify bombing hospitals.

Unlike Higgins, who was an obscure graduate student with little to show either as a journalist or activist, Daniel Lazare has written some important stuff, including two books on the American constitution. But like all these good people from Seymour Hersh to Patrick Cockburn, he turned into Mr. Hyde after 2011.

In a Truthdig article titled “Jacobin Is Fueling the Lies About Syria”, Lazare hyper-ventilates on the post-Ajl Jacobin:

Syria has generated more lies than any United States action since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That’s why Jacobin Magazine, the self-proclaimed “leading voice of the American left,” is so important. Readers need it to help cut through the dense fog of mendacity billowing forth out of Washington.

Correction: That’s why Jacobin should be important. In fact, the magazine/website has echoed U.S. propaganda on Syria and in some cases even exceeded it.

Like Higgins, Lazare makes claims that are not backed up by the articles he links to in support of those claims. For example, he writes that “Jacobin has attacked the Assad regime for dwelling excessively on rebel atrocities against Christians, Shiites and other minorities” but when you go to the article in question, which is an interview with Yasser Munif, you can find nothing remotely connected to this. Just go to the article and look for anything about the Assad regime being attacked in such a manner. If you can find it, I will donate $1,000 to the Moon of Alabama’s next fund-drive.

Lazare misses the good old days when Jacobin was publishing Patrick Higgins. That’s a laugh. His 2015 article was even a worse case of yellow journalism than his Viewpoint piece. I would refer you to my commentary on it here. He tells his readers that the rebels were bloodthirsty jihadists from the beginning, referring to a BBC article that connects them to the death of 120 Baathist cops in 2011. What he fails to tell you, however, is that the BBC was simply reporting what state television said. Covering this up is just what you’d expect from a shameless propagandist like Patrick Higgins.

Lazare is upset that Jacobin questioned whether Obama was for “regime change”. Maybe he hadn’t read the October 22, 2013 N.Y. Times article that made this crystal clear, written when worries over a looming war with Syria were at their height. It stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”

This is not to speak of the Atlantic Magazine interviews that Jeffrey Goldberg conducted with Obama in 2016. Once again the clash with Samantha Power is cited:

At the outset of the Syrian uprising, in early 2011, Power argued that the rebels, drawn from the ranks of ordinary citizens, deserved America’s enthusiastic support. Others noted that the rebels were farmers and doctors and carpenters, comparing these revolutionaries to the men who won America’s war for independence.

Obama flipped this plea on its head. “When you have a professional army,” he once told me, “that is well armed and sponsored by two large states”—Iran and Russia—“who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …” He paused. “The notion that we could have—in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces—changed the equation on the ground there was never true.” The message Obama telegraphed in speeches and interviews was clear: He would not end up like the second President Bush—a president who became tragically overextended in the Middle East, whose decisions filled the wards of Walter Reed with grievously wounded soldiers, who was helpless to stop the obliteration of his reputation, even when he recalibrated his policies in his second term. Obama would say privately that the first task of an American president in the post-Bush international arena was “Don’t do stupid shit.”

Lazare explains Syria’s war as the outcome of religious Sunni resentment toward a leader who even Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami considered “genuinely popular” with most Syrians. These are the co-authors of “Burning Country” whose meeting at Columbia University was trolled by Lazare. I suppose that Lazare assumed that people would not go out and buy their book to judge the accuracy of his citation. As it happens, the book—happily—can now be read online and in the context that Lazare slyly omitted. The authors were referring to the hopes of some that Assad would respond positively to the earliest protests in 2011:

Some even thought the popular protests would be welcomed by Bashaar as ammunition in his presumed struggle against regime hardliners. After all, the man was genuinely popular. Perhaps – after allowing  non-sectarian and non-ethnic parties to operate openly – he could  even have won a real election, and gone down in history as hero of  the democratic transition.

In other words, the authors were referring to what some thought. I suppose by this criterion, Assad was the most popular president in modern history, routinely getting 98% of the vote. That “some” might have been 25% of the country or maybe even 40% but we’ll never know since door to door polling would have been about as possible as a television station that challenged a system that relied on prison, torture, murder and beatings for a stability based on fear.

For Robin Yassin-Kassab’s reaction to Lazare’s intervention, I recommend this:

We heard some strange things, but were only once confronted by a highly aggressive, profoundly ignorant and prejudiced white man. This was during our talk at Columbia University, New York. This character was the first to put up his hand after our presentations. He’d been glaring, particularly at Leila, throughout the talks.

He was almost spitting with anger. How could Leila describe Iran as a prime generator of sectarianism, he wanted to know, when everyone knew it was Saudi Arabia? He himself knew for sure that Syria’s 2011 protest movement was entirely made up of Sunnis, and that they were calling for the blood of the Alawis and Christians from the first day. He knew that all the Christians and Alawis and Druze had demonstrated for Assad. He named a French commentator as evidence for this (Fabrice someone?), and expressed admiration for Patrick Cockburn, who I’d criticised in my talk.

And so he encapsulated some of the worst characteristics of this pro-fascist ‘left’ that has run so badly aground. The lack of detail, and useless binarism, of the Iran/Saudi comment; the orientalism and Islamophobia of the rest; the anger born of a sense of entitlement to narrate other people’s struggles; and the reliance on French and Irish commentators rather than on Syrian revolutionary voices. Neither Leila nor I claim to be Syrian revolutionary voices, but we have interviewed many Syrian revolutionaries, including many from Christian and Alawi backgrounds, who were part of the protest movement from the start. In my answer I mentioned them, and also towns like Yabroud, with a very high proportion of ‘religious minorities’, which liberated themselves from Assad’s forces and set up free local councils and Free Army militias instead. The angry man tutted and spat through my answer. At least two Syrian Christians were in the room, rolling their eyes as he spat.

Leila was disturbed by him. I told her not to dwell on it. The man was so emotionally overwrought he probably had mental problems, like so many in this city. But afterwards we learnt that the angry man is a Stalinist ‘intellectual’, that he writes for the ugly magazine Jacobin, and that his name is Daniel Lazare.

If Lazare’s analysis rests on shaky foundations, his writing is just as badly in need of a watchful editor that the well-endowed Truthdig’s editors were unable to catch. He cites a book “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam” as proof of the U.S.’s evil intentions. The author? None other than Richard Dreyfus [sic, it is actually Dreyfuss], the star of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” who was recently charged with sexual harassment? Nope. Lazare meant Robert Dreyfuss, who is as hysterically obsessed with al-Qaeda as Lazare or Higgins.

Like Higgins’s 2015 Jacobin article, Lazare insists that the rebels were bloodthirsty jihadists from the start:

The claim that protesters turned to violence only after the regime used deadly force is belied by an Israeli TV report in March 2011 that protesters had killed seven soldiers in Dera’a and set fire to the local courthouse and Baath Party headquarters.

Naturally, Lazare fails to mention that four protestors were killed and another 100 were wounded days before the retaliation took place. If you want to see why peaceful protestors decided that they had enough, watch this:

Naturally, Lazare begins to wind down his article with an endorsement of Robert Fisk’s reporting from Syria, where he has  been continuously embedded with the Syrian army just as CNN was embedded in the U.S. military during the war in Iraq. Fisk’s reporting has been so atrocious that the word “Fisking” was invented to describe his habitual distortions and lies.

On February 2nd, Fisk told his Independent readers: “I have to say, however, that after a 2,000-mile tour over much of Syria, I have – for the first time in recent months – seen neither a single Hezbollah member or Iranian revolutionary guard. And since Western leaders believe Syria is swamped with Iranians, this is interesting.”

But on January 3rd, Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah was quite clear that his troops were in Syria.

The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said on Wednesday the Syrian war, now in its seventh year, will be finished in one or two years at most.

In an interview with Lebanon’s pro-Iran al-Mayadeen channel, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also said Israeli strikes on Hezbollah positions in Syria did not, and will not, prevent supplies of weapons reaching the group.

You can read the whole thing here: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/five-things-you-may-have-missed-nasrallah-s-interview-372610417.

So, if Robert Fisk didn’t see any Hezbollah fighters in Syria, maybe he should get checked for cataracts. As for Daniel Lazare and Patrick Higgins, they are clearly beyond help.

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