Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 17, 2017

The Mighty Atom

Filed under: Catskills,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:48 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 17, 2017

When I was about ten years old, my mother took me to see the Mighty Atom’s legendary strong man act at the Panoramic Health Farm, a bungalow colony he owned in Woodridge, New York—my home town that was described by the leftist PM newspaper as a utopia in the Catskills in 1947.

I watched in awe as the 62-year old, 5’4”, 145-pound bearded man with shoulder-length hair perform the stunts that had been part of his repertory since the 1920s such as bending nails with his teeth and an iron bar across his nose. In his prime, he could pull a fire engine with his hair or twist horseshoes into a pretzel. In fact, until his death at the age of 84 in 1977, he continued to perform. The new documentary “The Mighty Atom” that became available as VOD (iTunes, Amazon and Google Play) on November 14th points out that on the day he died, he walked from room to room in the hospital performing for fellow patients to lift their spirits. After his last tour through the wards, he laid down on his bed and passed on.

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November 10, 2017

Intent to Destroy

Filed under: Armenians,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 2:05 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 10, 2017

Joe Berlinger’s reputation rests on a number of documentaries about the injustices of the judicial system including a trilogy about the trial and imprisonment of three teens in West Memphis, Arkansas falsely accused of taking part in a Satanic ritual murder of three 8-year old boys. Next came “Crude”, a film about the struggle of indigenous peoples in Ecuador to make Chevron pay for the massive despoliation of their land and water. It should not come as a big surprise that an American judge declared Chevron innocent of all charges.

His most recent film opens on November 10th at the Village East in New York and the Laemmle in Los Angeles. Titled “Intent to Destroy”, it is an examination of the Armenian genocide that took place between 1915 and 1916 and that left just under 300,000 survivors out of a population of 1,700,000 in the Anatolian heartland of the Ottoman Empire. As opposed to the Nuremberg trials that punished the Nazis and the allied powers insistence that reparations be paid to Israel, the Armenians were left with nothing. This is a sorry confirmation of the historical law that victorious nations never have to pay for their crimes. Despite being on the losing side in WWI, the Turks found themselves in the envious position of being a geopolitical asset in the hands of the West for quarantining the USSR and as a launching pad for Middle East incursions. Even Israel found Turkey to be a convenient ally. When a bill was introduced in Congress some years ago condemning Turkey for genocide, Abraham Foxman opined, “I don’t think a bill in Congress will help reconcile this issue.”

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November 3, 2017

Five Absorbing Documentaries From Bullfrog Films

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 6:30 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 3, 2017

Unless you live in a major city like New York with its arthouse movie theaters, most of the documentaries I review will be beyond your reach. Furthermore, even if you live in such a city, you might be tempted to see something like “Wonder Woman” rather than a documentary about climate change on Saturday night when you are looking for entertainment or even a escape from thinking about impending catastrophes. This is a loss to you as well as the people who make such films since they often have to practically mortgage their homes to finance the production. Perhaps I am speaking mostly for myself, but I find most documentaries ten times more engaging than the standard Cineplex fare for the simple reason that the people featured in such films are just like most CounterPunch readers—trying to survive in an increasingly desperate world.

Fortunately for you and the courageous men and women that make such films, there are a small number of distribution companies that make them available as DVD’s or VOD after their initial theatrical or festival run. It is safe to say that they—like CounterPunch—are not in it for the money. One of the pioneering companies is called Bullfrog Films that operates out of Oley, Pennsylvania and that got its name from a nearby pond that spawned a noisy chorus of bullfrogs. The Bullfrog founders confess that when they came up with the name 30 years ago, they did not foresee that even frogs would be threatened by environmental contaminants. For both personal and societal reasons, the company is dedicated to distributing films about ecology, energy, indigenous peoples and the like. In this review, I will be covering five documentaries that have just become part of their catalog.

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Trailers for films covered in this review:

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October 27, 2017

The Political Economy of Fascism

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism — louisproyect @ 12:33 pm

Considered Keynesianism as a “useful introduction to fascist economics.”

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 27, 2017

For all of the millions of words written about the fascist danger posed by Donald Trump, there are very few devoted to an actual analysis of fascist economics both as ideology and state policy. Instead there is a fixation on marchers in Charlottesville chanting “blood and soil” or other Nazi era memes. Before considering whether people like Donald Trump or Steve Mnuchin seek to impose a fascist dictatorship on the USA, it might be useful to take a look at some of the demands found in the Manifesto of the Fascist party founded by Benito Mussolini in 1919 that was co-written by labor syndicalist Alceste De Ambris and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the author of the 1909 Futurist Manifesto that had a powerful impact on Russian art in the 1920s.

+ The quick enactment of a law of the state that sanctions an eight-hour workday for all workers

+ A minimum wage

+ The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions

+ To show the same confidence in the labor unions (that prove to be technically and morally worthy) as is given to industry executives or public servants

+ A strong progressive tax on capital (envisaging a “partial expropriation” of concentrated wealth)

+ The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor

Unlike Donald Trump, whose populism was mostly campaign bluster and a rightwing version of the hokum Barack Obama used in 2007 to get votes, Mussolini’s dictatorship could hardly be confused with the neoliberalism that has been hegemonic since the early 1970s under Republicans and Democrats alike.

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October 20, 2017

Was Syria an exception to the Arab Spring: commentary on Stephen Gowans’s “Washington’s Long War on Syria”

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 12:29 pm
Stephen Gowans
COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 20, 2017

One can debate whether to label the ideology that structured the Arab nationalists’ economic policies as socialism, but U.S. officials unquestionably regarded the economic demarche of the Arab nationalist countries, including Syria, as socialist. As mentioned, some even went so far as to brand Assad’s father, Hafez, an Arab communist. Others described Syria’s economic policies under Bashar as inspired by Soviet models.

— Stephen Gowans, “Washington’s Long War on Syria

Late last year, a group of big-name investors — including Bill Miller of Legg Mason Capital Management and Barton Biggs, managing partner of Traxis Partners, a New York hedge fund — spent a week in Syria and Lebanon. They met with top political leaders and local businesspeople and were feted with elaborate dinners with the cream of society.

Traveling to far-flung corners of the world to get an early look at promising markets has long been a staple of global investing. But Syria — until recently a pariah state in the eyes of the U.S. — proved irresistible, drawing an unusual array of money managers.

Long isolated from international finance, Syria is one of the last remaining investment frontiers. It has a sizable economy, an educated populace, and, lately, a new degree of openness to foreign investment.

“This was not a group of naive investors, and [I] have to say it opened all our eyes,” said Steven Galbraith, a partner at Maverick Capital, a $11 billion hedge fund.

— Joanna Slater, “Syria Woos Investors From Half a World Away”, Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2010

Published in April, 2017, Canadian blogger Stephen Gowans’s “Washington’s Long War on Syria” is a 282-page full-throated defense of Bashar al-Assad, who, according to the excerpt from the book’s Introduction above, amounts to a heroic figure defending socialism just as much as Fidel Castro did during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. In a Manichean-like understanding of politics that permeates the openly pro-Assad left, the world is divided between Good and Evil. On one side, you have vintage Arab nationalism that stood up to Israel, exploited a nation’s resources for the common good, opposed medieval Islamic institutions, and generally took the side of people struggling against imperialism everywhere in the world. On the other hand, you had villainous Salafi jihadists funded by the Saudis and other Sunni states in the Middle East who sought to kill “infidels” such as the Shia and the Alawites. These mustache-twirling fiends were in turn backed by the CIA and Israel. According to this scenario, the revolt that began in 2011 was nothing but a plot hatched by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria to foment discord among a comfortable and untroubled Sunni population that was unfortunately susceptible to demagogic appeals based on religious dogma. It was not hardship that drove people to protest but differences over who is entitled to speak in the Prophet’s name.

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October 13, 2017

Bringing Down the Cali Cartel: “Narcos” Season 3

Filed under: Colombia,Counterpunch,crime,drugs — louisproyect @ 2:57 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, OCTOBER 13, 2017

Last December, I recommended Netflix’s “Narcos” to CounterPunch readers with the qualification that it had political problems. After having just finished watching Season Three, which deals with the Cali cartel (seasons 1 and 2 were about the hunt for Pablo Escobar), I can only repeat my endorsement for a thoroughly entertaining and frequently accurate portrayal of the attempts to bring down Gilberto and Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, the brothers who ran the Cali cartel.

The series is based to a large extent on William Rempel’s “At the Devil’s Table”, a 2011 book whose subtitle “The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel” refers to Jorge Salcedo who was chief of security for the Rodríguez brothers. Rempel’s book is a redemption tale as its protagonist decides to become an informer for the Colombian security forces and the DEA after seeing sicarios(hitmen) kill one of the cartel’s enemies. He was happy to keep his bosses safe from the law’s grasp through sophisticated counter-surveillance strategies, especially when the pay was very good, but drew the line at torture and murder.

Given the risks of going undercover against the cartel, much of the drama in Season Three revolves around Salcedo’s high-stakes game. His motivation was not to get a handsome reward for his efforts but to simply return to a normal life. Resignation from the cartel was not an option, especially when they relied on you for security. However, if he was ever found out, the consolation prize would be suffocation by a plastic bag wrapped tightly around his head, the preferred execution method in such circles.

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October 6, 2017

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Filed under: Counterpunch,indigenous — louisproyect @ 12:43 pm

On September 30thNew York Times reporter Simon Romero profiled the thief who had severed the bronze right foot from a statue of Don Juan de Oñate twenty years ago as a protest against the genocide of American Indians. Even the normally sedate “gray lady” could not help but refer to Oñate as the “despotic conquistador” of New Mexico. Indeed, the theft of the foot was highly symbolic since Oñate had once ordered the chopping off of the right foot of 24 Indigenous captives.

Romero got a chance to interview the foot thief through a rendezvous set up by Cheyenne-Arapaho filmmaker Chris Eyre who made “Skins,” a 2002 film that climaxes with red paint tossed in George Washington’s face on Mount Rushmore.

Romero analogized these protests with those against the statues of Confederate heroes such as Robert E. Lee. Eyre referred to the president’s complaint about these disrespectful acts: “Trump asked if all this stops with Washington or Jefferson. For me, that’s actually where it starts because we need to go back a whole lot further to examine the crimes upon which these lands were claimed.”

Trump is well-qualified to defend Washington and Jefferson since he harbors the same sort of racist attitudes that these Indian-killers embodied as early architects of Manifest Destiny. When he was building up his gambling casino empire in the early 90s, he claimed that Indian reservations were run by the Mafia. He secretly paid for more than $1 million in ads that depicted the St. Regis Mohawks in upstate New York as cocaine traffickers and career criminals around the time that they were seeking to build a casino in the county where I grew up. He even told the notoriously racist shock jock Don Imus that they were probably not real Indians, stating that he might have more Indian blood than them.

Besides the St. Regis Mohawks, there was another Indigenous group seeking permission to build a casino–the Munsee Lenapes. They were ethnically cleansed from Sullivan County, where I grew up, in the 1800s. Monsey, New York (now a predominately orthodox Jewish enclave) was named after the people who lived in the area while the city of Muncie, Indiana was where they were forced to go. Frankly, I would welcome a return of all the Munsees to their original homeland. They certainly would have more respect for a beautiful part of New York state that is being sacrificed at the altar of capitalist development and its consequent environmental despoliation.

When some on the left seek to contextualize Washington and Jefferson, it usually follows the line of reasoning that despite being slave-owners, they were also founding fathers of a democratic republic that was the envy of the world. While this might not sit well with the descendants of the slaves they owned, it also carries the burden of sweeping Indigenous peoples under the rug.

After reading Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, you will conclude that all these great White leaders should be condemned to the ashbin of history. Published as part of the Beacon Press’s Revisioning American History series (there are also books about gays, the disabled and Blacks/Latinos in American history), it is very much in the vein of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”. While the term “revisionist” is often applied to works such as these, I am persuaded that “revisioning” is a far more appropriate term since it points to both past and future. If we do not have a vision of how the United States should be governed, our future is bleak.

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October 5, 2017

CounterPunch fund drive

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 9:07 pm

 

Whatever your views on Syria, CounterPunch is a valuable asset of the left as well as a place I can reach a wider audience. Please make a donation now.

https://store.counterpunch.org/

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September 29, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 12:58 pm

One of the primary imperatives of the Hollywood film industry is to make money, just is it would be for laxative or automobile manufacturers. Unlike the lonely art of literature that only requires a computer or typewriter to get started (or even a pen or pencil for the Luddites among us), film-making is an expensive proposition. The average budget for an independent film is $750,000, something that is beyond the means of most aspiring filmmakers. For the big production companies that will spend $80 million for a film like “American Made” that opens today, the emphasis is on hiring “bankable” stars like Tom Cruise who plays the drug dealer and Oliver North operative Barry Seal. That $80 million was almost as much as Congress voted for Nicaraguan contra funding in the year that Seal was involved in a sting operation against the Sandinistas.

Once you have the bankable star, you need to consult with the studio’s top financial geniuses who likely will recommend bankable genres that are geared to the youth market that will see a film multiple times and that consumes large boxes of popcorn given its youthful appetites. Just yesterday, when I went to see the film that is the subject of this review at a Manhattan AMC Cineplex, I decided to pick up a small box of popcorn even though I knew it was be deluged with salt—a means of luring me back to the concession stand to slake my thirst. When the concessionaire told me that it would cost $8.37, I decided against the purchase since the raw materials only cost AMC ten cents.

The youth market is drawn to two kinds of films like moths to a flame. The first are those that are based on Marvel comic books and others in this vein. The second are sequels to a successful film largely based on the Marvel comic book or videogame sensibility such as Transformers or Mortal Kombat. Closely related to this genre are remakes of classic films such as Star Wars or The Magnificent Seven that are generally inferior to the original.

Ostensibly a remake product of the bookkeeping mentality, the film I saw yesterday was the third in a recent series of Planet of the Apes films. Since I had not seen a single Hollywood film this year, I realized that I would look like an interloper at the December NYFCO awards meeting unless I came up with a few plausible nominations. Unlike my colleagues, most of whom are trying to make a living as reviewer, I am under no obligation to see something like Transformers. In fact, when I received a pass years ago to see films being shown at AMC theaters after becoming a member of NYFCO, I almost never used it.

Despite having all the earmarks of Hollywood commercialism, “The War for the Planet of the Apes” is a singular instance of art trumping commerce.

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September 22, 2017

Let if Fall; The Force

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 12:47 pm

 

Perhaps nothing illustrates the lawlessness of law enforcement in the USA more than the spectacle of cops in St. Louis shouting “Whose streets? Our streets!” as they arrested people protesting the not guilty verdict of white police officer Jason Stockley, who had been recorded telling his partner that “we’re killing this motherfucker, don’t you know,” just minutes before firing five bullets into the body of an African-American youth named Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. It did not matter to the judge that Stockley had fired his pistol at Smith, whose car he had overtaken in a drug bust pursuit, just six inches from his body—a clear indication of premeditation. Nor did it matter that the pistol that had been found in Smith’s car was likely planted since it only had Stockley’s DNA on it. Since Stockley had waived the right to a jury trial, it was up to Judge Timothy J. Wilson to render a verdict: not guilty. Considering Wilson’s reputation for being fair, you can only conclude that he was simply adapting to the racism that pervades American society, especially the criminal justice system.

Two recent films help to place this by now predictable outcome into perspective. Both put a spotlight on the police forces in Los Angeles and Oakland. Despite California’s liberal reputation, its cops act as if they are reporting to Bull Connor. As Malcolm X once put it, everything south of the Mason-Dixon Line is the South.

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