Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 1, 2019

Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of The People

Filed under: Film,journalism — louisproyect @ 10:31 pm

Opening today at the Quad Cinema in NY and at the Laemmle a week from now is the documentary “Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of The People” that despite being made before 2016 (based on the typical schedule of film productions) could not be more relevant to the current crisis. With the battle between Donald Trump and the “mainstream media” over “fake news”, a look at the life and career of Joseph Pulitzer will give us the perspective we need on how newspapers functioned in the broader fabric of American society during the Gilded Age. He symbolized the ultimate contradictions of the capitalist press. Determined to boost circulation, he tailed after William Randolph Hearst’s “fake news” during the Spanish-American War and lived to regret it. If “click bait” is the bête noire of electronic media, so was the circulation wars between Pulitzer’s The World and Hearst’s The Journal. For those who are nostalgic for the good old days of responsible reporting, seeing this excellent documentary will remind you how much they have in common with the bad new days we are living through now.

Born in 1847, Joseph Pulitzer was a Hungarian Jew who grew up in dire poverty. Of his 8 siblings, only one other grew into adulthood. His father died when he was 11, leaving the family to its own devices. At the age of 17, he took advantage of a recruitment offer from the Union army. Since Lincoln had a shortage of troops as a result of rich northerners paying bribes to keep their kids from serving, immigrants would get tickets to America to replenish the ranks.

Managing to stay alive, Pulitzer found himself unemployed at the end of the war but resourceful enough to “Go West, Young Man” as Horace Greeley put it. He ended up in St. Louis and found himself playing chess with Carl Schurz, the German revolutionary who was a “Forty-Eighter” just like Pulitzer’s uncles. That in itself might have recommended him to Schurz but the older and highly successful man was far more impressed with the beating he took at the chessboard from the youth. Seeing him as a gifted individual, he hired him to work at his newspaper. Rising rapidly to the top, Pulitzer amassed enough money to buy what would become the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a newspaper that the family owned until 2005.

As ambitious as he was shrewd, Pulitzer decided that New York was the place to go if you wanted to be in the media “big leagues”. Leveraging the money he made in St. Louis, Pulitzer bought The World and turned into the kind of newspaper that he pioneered, namely a tabloid-style voice that took up the cause of poor people and that held the feet of the rich to the fire.

I say “tabloid-style” because it was a full-page newspaper like the NY Times rather than the NY Post or the NY Daily News. However, the emphasis was on attention-getting stories about corruption, Gilded Age plutocracy of the sort symbolized by Stephen Schwarzman today, and “human interest” stories about the kinds of people who paid a penny each day to read The World.

A typical circulation ploy by Pulitzer was to publicize the need for a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty that was being put together during the paper’s rise to the top. He called on New Yorkers to contribute to a fund to pay for the pedestal and who would be recognized for their contribution by being named in an Honor Roll in the paper. He made sure to update the Honor Roll only several days after the contribution was made (usually between a penny and a dime) in order to encourage those making a donation to buy the paper each day until their name showed up.

In 1895, Harvard graduate and rich kid William Randolph Hearst came to New York from California and launched the Journal. Showing the kind of mercilessness depicted in his fictional version in “Citizen Kane”, he began poaching reporters and editors from the World. In addition, he adopted the tabloid style of the World that was expressed above all by Hogan’s Alley, a comic strip that featured a bald kid in a yellow nightshirt nicknamed The Yellow Kid. After Hearst lured the author to the Journal, he escalated the sensationalism to the point of caricature, so much so that the term “yellow journalism” encompassed both newspaper.

When the battleship Maine blew up in Havana’s harbor, Hearst featured the same kinds of articles that led up to George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and LBJ’s war in Vietnam before that. “Fake news” would be an understatement. Under pressure to sell newspapers, Pulitzer began publishing the same kind of “yellow journalism” but would live to regret it. Close to his death, he featured investigative reporting on President Theodore Roosevelt’s virtual colonization of Panama that was calculated to enrich investors in the new canal. Roosevelt was so incensed that he sued Pulitzer for libel but the Supreme Court ruled in Pulitzer’s favor in the interest of freedom of the press.

The film benefits from interviews with academic historians and media professors but above all one interviewee stands out, namely Nicholson Baker, the author of the WII revisionist (after the fashion of Howard Zinn) “Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization”. In 1999, Baker discovered that the British Library had plans to junk more than 2,000 bound volumes of American newspapers, including hundreds of editions of Joseph Pulitzer’s ground-breaking color pages of the New York World. Baker spent $26,000 of his own money to rescue the archives and the film would not be nearly so brilliant without their images.

Most of us know the name Pulitzer through the annual prizes bestowed in his name. He funded the awards and the Columbia Journalism School as well. He was a complex man who deserved the complex treatment he received in this film. If newspapers are in bad shape today, we can at least be grateful that documentary film is in its golden age.

December 15, 2018

A reply to Ben Norton and Ajit Singh’s hatchet job on the Uyghurs

Filed under: journalism,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 8:27 pm

Ben Norton

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Ajit Singh

An August, 2018 article by Ben Norton and Ajit Singh on the Grayzone Project defended the Chinese government against charges that it had put a million Uyghurs into detention camps. If this suggests that these people had plummeted to new depths, it can at least be stated that they didn’t fall too far. In Dantean terms, they were about 3 inches above the Ninth Circle.

Norton, of course, is familiar to one and all as the journalist who scrubbed his website of all anti-Assad articles once he made a Road to Damascus conversion lubricated by jobs with Salon and then Alternet that were peddling the standard pro-Assad propaganda found on the liberal left.

Ajit Singh was a new name to me. A brief look at an article he wrote for Telesur should give you an idea of his perspective on China:

While capitalists exist in China today, unlike in capitalist societies, they are isolated and not organized in pursuit of their collective interests. Instead, they exist under the rule of the socialist state to aid national economic development. Capitalists transgressing their boundaries are swiftly dealt with by the Communist Party and the Chinese people. An annual list of China’s richest citizens is commonly called the “death list” or “kill pigs list” because those named often are later imprisoned. Capitalists also regularly get taken hostage by workers to win labor victories with police actively assisting workers.

When I read this, I laughed so hard that the ginger ale I was drinking squirted out of my nose. The only people who write such nonsense tend to occupy the netherworld of old-school Stalinism, like the theologian Roland Boer in Australia. Most people on the left tend to identify with the young Maoist students who are facing repression for standing up for the working class in China while Singh and Norton would have you believe that the country’s government is wisely and benignly committed to the construction of socialism even though Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, is a member of the CP and worth a cool $40 billion.

The net worth of China’s Parliament’s members is $650 billion. Although the Parliament has very little political power, it is good place for the rich to join. In combination with their party membership, rich businessmen are offered protection against arbitrary measures on their property—not that Xi Jingping is interested in clipping the wings of the bourgeoisie.

In an effort to debunk the notion that Uyghurs are being interned, the Grayzone authors “correct” the impression that the U.N. has taken such a position when it was only that of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination whose members are independent researchers rather than UN officials, a distinction without a difference in my view. An August report by the committee provided the basis for numerous media articles, including one from Reuters that Norton and Singh singled out:

Gay McDougall, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, cited estimates that 2 million Uyghurs and Muslim minorities were forced into “political camps for indoctrination” in the western Xinjiang autonomous region.

Ah-ha, Norton and Singh exclaim like detectives finding a smoking gun, Gay McDougall is not even a member of the U.N., as is the case with all other members of the committee who are only identified as independent experts. In addition, she is the only American serving on the committee, which in their eyes should make her a liar on a prima facie basis. Finally, a look at the official news release about the report showed that the only mention of alleged re-education “camps” was from Gay McDougall. So if an American raises a stink about internment, it must be false, right?

In a sleight-of-hand maneuver, the Grayzone boys do not provide a link to the committee’s reaction to the Chinese government’s report that cleared itself, only to a press release that reflects a range of views. So let’s go to what the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had to say about that self-serving report rather than the press release. This comprehensive 12-page rebuttal was not written by Gay McDougall. Instead, it represented a consensus by the membership that hardly conforms to the cheesy pro-Beijing propaganda served up by Grayzone:

The Committee notes the delegation’s statements concerning the non-discriminatory enjoyment of freedoms and rights in XUAR. However, the Committee is alarmed by:

(a) Numerous reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried, under the pretext of countering terrorism and religious extremism. The Committee regrets that there is no official data on how many people are in long-term detention or who have been forced to spend varying periods in political “re-education camps” for even nonthreatening expressions of Muslim ethno-religious culture like daily greetings. Estimates about them range from tens of thousands to upwards of a million. The Committee also notes that the delegation stated that vocational training centres exist for people who committed minor offences without qualifying what this means;

(b) Reports of mass surveillance disproportionately targeting ethnic Uyghurs, including through frequent baseless police stops and the scanning of mobile phones at police checkpoint stations. Additional reports of mandatory collection of extensive biometric data in XUAR, including DNA samples and iris scans, of large groups of Uyghur residents

(c) Reports that all XUAR residents are required to hand in their travel documents to police and apply for permission to leave the country, and that permission may not come for years. This restriction impacts most heavily on those who wish to travel for religious purposes;

(d) Reports that many Uyghurs abroad who left China have allegedly been returned to the country against their will. There are fears about the current safety of those involuntarily returned to China.

(e) While acknowledging the State party’s denials, the Committee takes note of reports that Uyghur language education has been banned in schools in XUAR’s Hotan (Hetian) prefecture(arts. 2 and 5).

One assumes that if the Committee describes itself as being “upset” about such reports, that’s enough to discount the claims in Norton and Singh’s eyes. After all, with all those reports being “fake news” as Donald Trump would put it, who would believe them except those in cahoots with the CIA, the State Department and the NY Times op-ed page?

To drive this point home, they discredit pro-Uyghur NGO’s because they are funded by the West. This, needless to say, is the same stance they take with the White Helmets and obviously a function of Grayzone’s toxic mixture of Stalinism and Islamophobia. The first group they “expose” is the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which by virtue being located in Washington is all the proof you need to dismiss its findings. Would it have made any difference if the group was based in London, Paris or Bonn? Probably not. The only legitimate locales would be Tehran, Damascus, Moscow and Beijing. Obviously.

If that wasn’t proof enough, the circumstantial evidence of being funded by the National Endowment for Democracy should have cinched it. Everybody knows that the NED is a big-time supporter of regime change.

Things get a bit messy, however, when you visit the NED website and discover that it is funding “civil society” groups in Myanmar and the Philippines. Among its beneficiaries is the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which has been in the frontlines opposing the authoritarian ruler’s extrajudicial war on drugs that has left hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent civilians murdered by the cops. Is opposing Duterte serving the imperialist agenda of Washington? Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Norton and Singh making the case for Duterte since he has cozied up to the wise and benign socialist leadership in China. Rappler.com, a Philippine website that has been threatened by Duterte and defended by the PCIJ, posted an article about the growing ties:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping decided to “elevate” their countries’ ties into a “comprehensive strategic cooperation” even as they “continue to manage contentious issues” in the West Philippine Sea.

In a joint press conference, Xi said, “The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive strategic cooperation. This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development.”

Xi also agreed with Duterte that “every country has the right to choose its path.”

So, surely this must mean that Duterte is on the side of the angels and certainly eligible for an investigative report by Grayzone clearing his name. In fact, Norton has been in a discussion with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about doing a Grayzone interview with the creep who invited David Duke to Tehran for a holocaust revisionism conference, as well as jailing and torturing bus drivers for the offense of trying to start a union.

This reprehensible CHRD is in cahoots not only with the NED but with Radio Free Asia. However, these warmongering ne’er-do-wells are in turn heavily reliant on the World Uyghur Congress, which also receives NED funding.

At an NED conference in Washington, intrepid Grayzone leader Max Blumenthal cornered Omer Kanat, the Uyghur Congress chairman, to challenge him on the claim of Uyghurs being held in detention camps. Kanat told him that “The Chinese authorities have put more than one million Uyghurs in re-education camps, it is very similar to concentration camps.” Using the standard operating procedure of Grayzone, Blumenthal dismissed this claim because it emanates exclusively from pro-Western media.

So, who to believe? I would tend to believe David Brophy, a University of Sydney lecturer in Chinese history who is fluent in Chinese, Russian and Uyghur, a Turkic language that I can decipher very haltingly . I strongly recommend his “Uyghur Nation: Reform and Revolution on the Russia-China Frontier” for its findings that establish the Uyghurs as enthusiastic supporters of the Russian Revolution in 1917, who got short shrift by both the Russian and Chinese Stalinists who replicated the colonialism of the pre-revolutionary regimes.

In an article for Jacobin, Brophy referred to a NY Times Op-Ed piece that sought to establish the existence of detention camps on hard evidence. From the op-ed:

A new study by Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the European School of Culture and Theology, in Korntal, Germany, analyzed government ads inviting tenders for various contracts concerning re-education facilities in more than 40 localities across Xinjiang, offering a glimpse of the vast bureaucratic, human and financial resources the state dedicates to this detention network. The report reveals the state’s push to build camps in every corner of the region since 2016, at a cost so far of more than 680 million yuan (over $107 million).

A bid invitation appears to have been posted on April 27 — a sign that more camps are being built. These calls for tenders refer to compounds of up to 880,000 square feet, some with quarters for People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary security force. Local governments are also placing ads to recruit camp staff with expertise in criminal psychology or a background in the military or the police force.

Brophy adds his own observations drawn from visits to Xinjiang:

The camps are only the culmination of a series of repressive policy innovationsintroduced by party secretary Chen Quanguo since his arrival in Xinjiang in 2016. Many of these were already evident on a trip I made to Xinjiang last year: police stations at every major intersection, ubiquitous checkpoints where Chinese sail through as Uyghurs line up for humiliating inspections, elderly men and women trudging through the streets on anti-terror drills, television and radio broadcasts haranguing the Uyghurs to love the party and blame themselves for their second-class status.

I saw machine gun-toting police stop young Uyghur men on the street to check their phones for mandatory government spyware. Some have simply ditched their smartphones, lest an “extremist” video clip or text message land them in prison. On a weekday in the Uyghur center of Kashgar, I stood and watched as the city went into lockdown, making way for divisions of PLA soldiers to march by, chanting out their determination to maintain “stability.”

One might wait in vain for Norton, Singh or Blumenthal to visit China and do an investigate report clearing the “socialist” government. However, I doubt this would be of much interest to them since most of their reporting consists of researching ties between the Uyghurs and Washington that they assemble from various websites. In the old days, radical reporting is what John Reed did or what Anand Gopal does today. These jerks have more in common with Vanessa Beeley. If they ever made it over to China, their time would be spent in 3-star hotels and being led around by the nose as embedded reporters.

 

 

November 27, 2018

Dark Money; The Panama Papers

Filed under: Film,journalism,taxation — louisproyect @ 11:37 pm

Two documentaries under consideration here fall with within the general rubric of investigative journalism and as such should be of interest to those who trying to get a handle on how the superrich are screwing the vast majority of the human race. “Dark Money”, which can be seen on Amazon and iTunes, describes the resistance Montanans mounted to the Koch brothers and their hired hands bid to buy the state government through their ultraright, bogus, and opaque tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups. “The Panama Papers”, an Epix film, tells the story of how a network of investigative reporters broke the story of Mossack-Fonseca. A trove of documents was furnished by a whistle-blower known only as “John Doe”. (Epix is a premium cable station site like HBO that allows you to take out a fifteen-day trial subscription. I’d take advantage of this if you want to see “The Panama Papers” that premiered yesterday.)

The idea of a typically red state like Montana with its gun-toting ranchers and farmers resisting corporate campaign contributions made legal by Citizens United might strike you as an anomaly. However, a look at the state’s history would reveal a deep-seated hostility to the copper mining industry that had poisoned the waters of Montana to such a degree that even the ranchers and farmers would not put up with it.

Anaconda Copper was the worst of them. In its open pit excavations in Butte, the company allowed copper-infused soil and rocks to seep into the Berkeley Pit, a lake formed by underground water. The combination of mineral waste and water produced an acid pool so toxic that when a flock of 3,000 Snow Geese touched down during a migration, every bird died. In the early 1900s, Anaconda did not just rule over a company town. It was more accurate to call Montana a company state under its thumb.

As part of the progressivist and socialist movements sweeping the country back then, Montana’s legislators passed a bill in 1912 that made corporate funding of election campaigns illegal. However, when the Supreme Court decided in 2010 that corporations were permitted to make campaign contributions without limits, Montana’s law was superseded to the dismay of Democrats and Republicans alike. The documentary points out that Republican state legislators were by no means happy about Koch’s network of shadowy 501(c)(4) tax-exempt groups like Americans for Prosperity and Western Tradition Partnership meddling in the electoral process.

In Montana, the battleground shifted. Instead of being able to ban the Koch brothers outright, the state election commission shifted to monitoring whether disclosure laws were being broken. If one could not prevent Koch, Inc. from dumping a million dollars into Montana, at least you could make sure to monitor the candidates they supported were not benefiting from unreported “dark money”.

In the first election campaign in Montana following the Citizens United ruling, the Koch-funded Republicans came together as an electoral bloc totally committed to their agenda. This meant first and foremost allowing corporate polluters to enjoy the kind of free rein that led to the death of 3,000 Snow Geese. If you’ve ever been to Montana, as I have to visit the Blackfoot reservation, you’ll understand how the despoliation of some of the most beautiful nature in America can move people into struggle.

The villain in this story is one Art Wittich who was elected to the state legislature after defeating a long-time Republican legislator in the primary. He and a number of other Koch loyalists mounted a coup against the old guard that, while not likely to be endorsed by the DSA, was ready to resist both “dark money” and polluted water. It was up to the state election commission to investigate how Wittich’s campaign was funded. Led by commission head Jon Motl, the campaign secured the pro bono assistance of a retired attorney named Michael Cotter, who after laboriously poring through email communications between Wittich and Koch’s hired guns as well as other incriminating documents, argued in court that Wittich never paid for a lot of the services he was receiving, including expensive direct mail campaigns, etc. But the case was ultimately decided in Cotter’s favor when a young woman who worked in the Koch-funded Right to Work Committee in Colorado stepped forward as a witness against Wittich. In the film, she states that she is into Koch brothers ideology but not when it is promoted through illegal means. Needless to say, she has not reached the point of understanding how the two go hand in hand but still to be commended for stepping forward knowing that her career in Koch-funded organizations has come to an end.

In addition to Motl and Cotter, another hero in the film is an investigative reporter named John S. Adams whose persistent reporting about the “dark money” flows helped to raise awareness in the state. When Adams and a group of other independent-minded reporters began raising money to put out a new state-wide paper reflecting their editorial principles, he was fired by The Great Falls Tribune, a Gannett newspaper. Virtually homeless, he continued covering the “dark money” story and was eventually successful in launching an online newspaper called, appropriately enough, the Montana Free Press. Bookmark it to stay informed on the future of red state politics especially in articles like “Where the jobs are: Montana’s economic landscape, visualized“.

In late 2014, a German reporter named Bastian Obermeyer was emailed by a “John Doe” who informed him that he had a massive archive of documents from the computers at Mossack-Fonseca in Panama City. This was a law firm that helped rich people all across the planet avoid paying taxes. As middle men, Mossack-Fonseca lined up banks in places like Panama, the Cayman Islands, and other Caribbean islands willing to shelter their clients’ deposits from tax collectors. In some cases, the tax shelter was legitimate. For example, someone like soccer great Lionel Messi made no effort to hide what he was doing. Star athletes are notoriously protective of their wealth even though it generally does not come exploiting labor except their own.

In other cases, those avoiding taxes might not be making dealings with Mossack-Fonseca a secret but heads of state like David Cameron in England, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson in Iceland, Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Assad in Syria wouldn’t advertiseit either. As it happens, Cameron and Johannsson resigned under pressure after the Mossck-Fonseca news broke as did Sharif who was additionally sentenced to 10 years in prison. It should come as no surprise that nothing happened to Putin and Assad. They have learned to make transparency, accountability and respect of the popular will a crime punishable by death.

The connection between the two films should be obvious. Both expose how the rich use every means at their disposal to hold on to their wealth, while government treasuries are starved. In England, Cameron’s greed, as well as those of other rich people, meant that hiding money in banks that were part of Mossack-Fonseca’s portfolio came at the expense of the national health system, the upkeep of council housing like Grenfell Towers where a fire cost the lives of 72 residents, and other services in the public realm. This is just another tactic in the ruling class’s arsenal that serves the same ends as Americans for Prosperity et al in the USA. They spend millions to support candidates favoring tax cuts and privatization of social security, the schools, and an end to the minimalist Obamacare.

While I am sure my readers understand these things in broad brushstrokes, seeing these two films will make you an even better defender of badly needed changes in the tax laws and in how elections are funded that will at least level the playing field between the vast majority of humanity and a predatory bourgeoisie. Men like the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer, Sheldon Adelson, the Trumps, et al will destroy the planet just as long as they can buy 100-feet yachts and 10,000 square foot mansions. If the only defense against them is a party led by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, something more radical is obviously needed. The two documentaries are useful contributions to raising awareness about how to build a stiffere resistance.

November 5, 2018

Round two in the Robert Brenner-Vivek Chibber fight

Filed under: Academia,journalism — louisproyect @ 9:22 pm

A magazine with an editorial board made up of Vivek Chibber sycophants?

Last June I posted about the feud between Robert Brenner and his one-time disciple Vivek Chibber that had erupted over Brenner’s dismissal as co-editor of Catalyst Magazine. At the time, 15 well-known leftist academics protested Chibber’s power grab in an open letter. Soon afterward, Bhaskar Sunkara, the publisher of Jacobin and Catalyst, defended the move as necessary since it seemed that Robert Brenner not been keeping up with his editorial duties. Since Brenner is a professor emeritus, I wonder what he had been up to that interfered with his job with all that time on his hands. Going to the race track like Charles Bukowski, another elderly Angeleno?

In any case, Sunkara generously decided to keep him on as an associate editor, alongside fellow associate editor Mike Davis. Brenner said nothing doing and Davis quit the magazine as well. Sunkara was just as magnanimous in victory as he was with the ingrates from the Tribune magazine in England, the latest addition to the Jacobin publishing empire, who also felt like they had been cast aside like Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman”. When I was in a high school production of Miller’s classic, I played his boss Howard who gave him the bad news that he was no longer needed. Willy’s response: “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away- a man is not a piece of fruit!”

A new statement decrying Catalyst has just appeared but taking a different tack. The first one simply called for Brenner to have his old post back but this time the call is for a new journal of the left that will fulfill the original mandate of Catalyst:

We had hoped Catalyst would offer an arena where the complex strategic and theoretical issues arising from the strange new world of 21st century capitalism could be debated at length. The journal took important steps in this direction, yet still needed to expand its circle of editors and writers in order to involve a wider variety of anti-capitalist theoretical and political currents, as a well as a more diverse array of voices. Instead, it moved in the opposite direction, making it necessary to envision an alternative project.

Chibber forced the issue by explicitly refusing to work with Brenner unless he was granted full editorial authority over Catalyst’s direction and content. He has now created an editorial board of five to give the appearance of dispersing authority. But in view of the fact that three of the new members are his former students and one a close friend, it is evident that his purpose was only to tighten his stranglehold. We have been left with no choice but to see to the creation of a new publication ourselves.

So Chibber has named three of his former students and a close friend to rubber-stamp his decisions at Catalyst. Why would anybody expect anything different? Chibber is a product of the kind of authoritarian culture that prevails in academia. To succeed in academia, it helps to be a sycophant. Chibber was once the sycophant to Brenner and has now assembled his own bunch of yes men. You’d expect someone teaching at NYU like Chibber to follow in the norms that prevail there. Just look at one former student of the disgraced NYU professor Avital Ronell reported:

Last year I worked as a teaching assistant for Avital Ronell. I hadn’t sought out the appointment; I am a doctoral student in comparative literature at NYU, and that semester I was, per the handbook, guaranteed a teaching job. A few months before the position began, I received an email from one of my professors informing me that Ronell’s other teaching assistants were “all taking her class and working hard to familiarize themselves with her particular methodologies, texts, style, and so on.” I was “encouraged” to do the same. I was told this was “an important part of the process with Prof. Ronell.” After all, there were other students eager to replace me.

You get more or less the same thing from Andrew Marzoni, who told Washington Post readers that “Academia is a cult”  a few days ago:

Academics may cast themselves as hardened opponents of dominant norms and constituted power, but their rituals of entitlement and fiendish loyalty to established networks of caste and privilege undermine that critical pose. No one says it aloud, but every graduate student knows: This is the price you pay for a chance to enter the sanctum of the tenure track. Follow the leader, or prepare to teach high school.

Can you imagine what would happen to one of Chibber’s dissertation students who had discovered in the course of his research that Political Marxism was a load of crap and had decided to write a thesis that said so? Fucking Chibber wouldn’t allow me to use the 3 minutes allotted to me at an HM conference at NYU a few years ago to make such criticisms so why would he put up with a dissertation student, who unlike a computer programmer like me, needed his support to move ahead professionally.

Most of the 180 people who signed the statement are academics like Chibber. Maybe Catalyst will surge ahead despite them but I wouldn’t count on that given the broad spectrum of opposition embodied in the statement that includes a number of Political Marxism devotees like George Comninel, David McNally, Charles Post, Benno Teschke, and Michael Andrew Žmolek.

The statement outlines a number of pressing issues facing the left such as “How and whether movements can engage in electoral politics in ways that amplify (rather than weaken) working class power built in workplaces and the streets, and that avoid falling back into social democratic and other reformist frameworks, which have, under various guises, been complicit in administering austerity worldwide for decades.” As a new subscriber to Catalyst, I am wondering how long it will take for the magazine to defend the perspective Chibber put forward in Jacobin that called revolutionary struggles against capitalism as passé as a Nehru jacket. So far, there hasn’t been an indication of that.

What makes this ongoing drama so comical in my view is the utter refusal to understand that beneath all the leftist rhetoric, Sunkara is a businessman. He hires and fires at will just like any other businessman. Even Monthly Review, an institution that still breathes fire for all its faults, decided to can Ellen Meiksins Wood over some dispute that was never made public. All of these magazines, including New Left Review, Historical Materialism, Capitalism, Nature and Socialism, et al, are a curious hybrid of socialist politics and petty capitalist production.

Given the state of the left today, such journals fill a vacuum that was left by the demise of the “Leninist” parties of the 1960s. Except for the ISO in the USA, Solidarity, and the British SWP, I can’t think of a single magazine worth reading that has an editorial board responsible to the people who pay dues to a party organized along democratic centralist norms. Moreover, Against the Current, Solidarity’s magazine that includes Robert Brenner on its editorial board, can be read in full online, a feather in their cap. Frankly, this should be the standard for all magazines speaking in the name of socialism. Producing print publications necessitates chopping down trees, after all. And if you are going to sell print publications, at least make them affordable to the average worker.

The statement concludes with a preview of coming attractions:

The signers of this statement look forward to the launching of a new journal committed to openness, experimentation, and a spirit of wide-ranging debate that can seriously take up the questions of the transformed character of capitalism, as well as class power and strategy. It should go without saying that these must include vibrant debates about gender, race, and sexuality as distinctive features of capitalist class relations. Just such a project is currently in the works.

Well, good. I’ll take out a sub to that as well. I need something to fill up my days as a retiree. Between a run in Central Park in the afternoon and catching some movie sent to me by a publicist, there’s nothing that gets the digestive juices flowing more than some academic journal putting forward policy recommendations that reflect the vast distance between those who offer them and the actual lives of working people who will never pay attention to Jacobin or Catalyst even if it snuck up to them on the street and bit them on the ass.

November 2, 2018

A Private War; Under the Wire

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:45 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, NOVEMBER 2, 2018

On February 22, 2012, London Times foreign correspondent Marie Colvin and her photographer Paul Conroy were in the ground floor of a multi-story building in Baba Amr, a neighborhood in Homs, Syria, that was being used as a press center when a shell scored a direct hit that left her dead and Conroy badly wounded. Two new films are focused on their experience as the last foreign journalists reporting from Homs that was the first of the liberated areas to be reconquered by the regime mostly as a result of the asymmetric warfare that has drowned the revolution in blood. “A Private War” that opens in NY, Washington, and Los Angeles theaters today (screening information: https://www.aprivatewarfilm.com/) is a narrative film with biopic elements hoping to explain how a 56-year old woman with bad knees could have ended up in such a precarious situation. “Under the Wire”, a documentary that opens at Village East Cinema on November 16th, is much more Paul Conroy’s story and serves as a complement to the narrative film. Watching the two in tandem will remind you of the need for an independent press that is committed to telling the story of people under siege, particularly the women and children who Colvin made it her life’s mission to defend through her journalism.

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September 11, 2018

Was Joseph Hansen a GPU agent? A reply to WSWS.org

Filed under: cults,journalism,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm

Joseph Hansen

Last month on Leftist trainspotters, someone referred to a 4-part series of articles that appeared on WSWS.org making the case that Sylvia Callen, James P. Cannon’s secretary, and Joe Hansen, one of the long-time leaders of the SWP and Trotsky’s bodyguard in Coyoacan, were GPU agents. I wrote a brief rejoinder but did not bother to read the articles. More recently, a troll showed up on my blog to use my article on UNZ Review to bring up the same charges. He thought I had a lot of nerve “policing” Norman Finkelstein’s affiliation with the neo-Nazi website when I was a veteran of a group that was filled with agent provocateurs and finks. When I asked him to substantiate this accusation, he too brought up the WSWS.org articles.

After giving it some thought, I decided to have a look at the articles. Although many veterans of the left understand that the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) is a toxic cult, many less knowledgeable—including Chris Hedges—give it respect that it does not deserve.

This is not the first time I have examined these charges since I was in the SWP in the mid-70s when they were first raised. Before getting into the particulars, a bit of background is necessary, particularly for people like Hedges unfamiliar with the internecine squabbles of the Trotskyist movement.

In the 1950s, the Fourth International was divided into two factions. The International Committee (IC) included the SWP (prevented from formal membership by reactionary laws aimed mostly at the CPUSA) and Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labor League in England. The International Secretariat (IS) was led by a man named Michel Pablo who believed that the Cold War would force the CP’s to move in a revolutionary direction.

Essentially, the Cuban revolution laid the groundwork for reunifying most parties in the IC and the IS even though Healy remained adamantly opposed to the “petty bourgeois” adaption to Fidel Castro who they considered a nationalist defending capitalist property relations. After joining the SWP in 1967, I remember members of the Worker’s League, Healy’s satellite in the USA, showing up at Militant Labor Forums in New York to denounce the “Pabloite revisionists” during the Q&A. They looked rather like Diane Arbus photos.

Before delving into the articles, I should say a few words about Hansen. While generally considering my time in the SWP as mistake, I count Hansen as a major political influence alongside Peter Camejo. He was a master theoretician and polemicist whose critique of Guevarism was a major contribution to Marxism. In the mid-70s, just around the time Healy began explaining Hansen’s alleged Pabloite revisionism as a function of his secret ties to the Soviet Union, Hansen began his defense of mass action against guerrilla foquismo strategy, including a devastating summary of how Che’s failure to understand Stalinism led to his betrayal by the CP of Bolivia. If proof that Hansen was a GPU agent rested in his defending Cuba uncritically, then he should have been found not guilty.

Meanwhile, the Workers League was going through its own turmoil about secret agents at this time. Party leader Tim Wohlforth was married to a comrade named Nancy Field whose uncle was in the OSS, a precursor to the CIA, something that had never been revealed to their comrades. This led to the two of them being grilled by Healy in intimidating circumstances of the sort endured by Soviet dissidents and members of Larouche’s cult. As it happens, a radical being the relative of an CIA officer or any other high-ranking government official was typical of what was going on the 60s. For example, Robert McNamara’s son was an antiwar activist as were many other children of officials in both the Johnson and Nixon administrations as detailed in Tom Wells’s “The War Within”.

To some extent, searching for spies was to be expected in the Trotskyist movement since Stalin had every intention of destroying what he saw rightfully as his mortal enemy. Trotsky’s assassination was just one example of this campaign that forced his followers to fend off Stalinists at the same time they were dealing with FBI harassment and infiltration.

As for the FBI, the Socialist Equality Party claims that the leadership that evolved in the early 60s around Jack Barnes is made up of FBI agents because they all attended Carleton College in Minnesota. An obvious Healyite plant in the SWP, the lawyer Alan Gelfand was expelled as a provocateur in the mid-90s. Gelfand then sued the SWP for damages on the basis that his right to political expression had been denied. So, as you can see, this stuff about agents and spies has a long and tortured history on the fringes of the Trotskyist movement. However, it is odd that WSWS.org would bother in a new assault on the SWP since for all practical purposes it is a moribund sect that is not an obstacle to the growth of the SEP. The real obstacle to their becoming number one on the far left is their own crazy sectarian politics. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

The bulk of the WSWS.org articles, which are written by Eric London, are focused on Cannon’s secretary who was known to the party as Sylvia Caldwell. After Max Shachtman and Albert Glotzer, two former leaders of the SWP who had left to form the Workers Party, heard rumors that Callen was a CP agent, they dropped in on Cannon in 1947 to urge him to conduct an investigation. One did take place that year, clearing her of all charges. One suspects that it was Cannon’s insistence that she was innocent that made the difference. Of course, this would implicate Cannon himself as an agent, a bridge too far even for conspiracy-minded sectarians. As soon as the investigation was completed, Callen resigned from the SWP and abandoned left politics altogether, either Stalinist or Trotskyist.

In 1950, ex-Communist and now McCarthyite tool Louis Budenz wrote a book titled “Men Without Faces” that was typical of the time. Like Whittaker Chambers, Budenz wrote about the CP as if it were indistinguishable from the GPU. This fed the paranoia of the witch hunt that made victimization of CP’ers so easy. Since Budenz identified Callen as a CP asset in the book, the SWP had no other recourse but to follow up and effectively re-open the investigation of 1947 even though she was no longer in the party. Cannon sent Farrell Dobbs out to speak to Callen who insisted that she was not guilty. This was enough for Cannon who wrote an article clearing her of Budenz’s charges.

The SWP continued to insist on Caldwell’s innocence even though she was named as a member of Jack Soble’s spy ring in a 1960 NY Times article. However, the Times refers to her as Sylvia Callen. That leaves open the question whether Cannon, Dobbs et al made the connection to Caldwell, Cannon’s secretary. The other curiosity is that despite being indicted, Callen never spent a day in jail. Considering the political climate 58 years ago, that is something of a mystery.

The first indication that the SWP might consider the possibility that Caldwell was a Stalinist agent occurred in 1976 when Healy’s accusations were roiling the left. In an article that appeared in Intercontinental Press defending Hansen by Betty Hamilton and Pierre Lambert, leaders of another Fourth International franchise,  the authors accepted the possibility that she might have been an agent and thought it appropriate for a new investigation to proceed. Looking back at this period, I doubt that the SWP would have found much use in establishing her guilt since Healy’s accusations only had the effect of deepening the isolation of his cult-sect. They hoped that he would hang himself on his own petard.

image

Sylvia Callen: interrogated by David North’s deputies

In 1976, the Workers League tracked down Callen to conduct their own investigation. At the time she was probably in her late 70s and appeared to have cognitive issues as this excerpt from the interview outside her trailer home would indicate:

Question: Do you have a memory block which begins after all these events supposedly took place?

Franklin: I don’t know. I wish you wouldn’t try to make me remember because I’ll have a breakdown. I can’t remember. It’s been many years, and I’ve put it out of my mind.

Question: Is it possible that you were in the Communist Party and simply have forgotten all about it?

Franklin: I don’t know. I don’t know. It could be one way. It could be the other. I can’t believe that person was me. I can’t believe that I worked in that office. That I was his secretary. I can’t believe anything.

In the view of the SEP, the SWP never held a new investigation of Caldwell because evidence about her GPU/CP connections would point in Joe Hansen’s direction. In the view of this batty sect-cult, it might have brought to light the letter that Hansen’s close friend Vaughn T. “Irish” O’Brien wrote in 1976:

In this letter, dated June 8, 1976, O’Brien recalled an encounter in the late 1940s or early 1950s—the general time frame of the control commission and the publication of Budenz’s books—with Pearl Kluger, a former member of A.J. Muste’s American Workers Party who knew Budenz personally. O’Brien wrote, “I had not seen Pearl for a considerable period of time, but she immediately said, ‘Budenz says your friend Joe Hansen worked with the GPU.’”

Wow, that’s the smoking gun, isn’t it? If Budenz said it, it must be true. For those curious about Budenz, you can find a bunch of his articles archived at the neo-Nazi UNZ Review—that should give you an idea of their provenance. As it happens, you can find O’Brien’s letter on Google books. It is exactly the opposite of what Eric London purports. O’Brien wrote the letter in order to assure Hansen that the charges against him were preposterous.

Indeed, immediately after the sentence above quoting Pearl about Joe working with the GPU, O’Brien follows up with: “I replied, with great earnestness, that while I was aware of circumstances which might lead Budenz to make such a charge, it was not true.” In fact, despite Pearl’s reference to Budenz charge, Hansen is not mentioned once in his writings. Imagine that. With such a potentially juicy expose about Trotsky’s bodyguard being in cahoots with the Kremlin, why wouldn’t Budenz have mentioned it somewhere in his books or articles? Probably because it wasn’t true and didn’t want to risk being sued for libel.

O’Brien clarifies Hansen’s contact with the GPU in 1938 that features so prominently in Healy’s demagogic attacks. What Healy leaves out is that Hansen made this contact with the full knowledge of Trotsky. The only other party members who knew what was really going on were Cannon and Shachtman, the two top leaders of the SWP. All of them were privy to a money-raising scam that Hansen was going to carry out. He would tell the GPU that he had become disillusioned with the movement and would be willing to sell the only manuscript of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin for $25,000 so that he could buy himself a “nice little ranch” in Utah and retire from politics. As it happened, the GPU was not interested in the manuscript but was much more interested in the layout of Trotsky’s house in Coyoacan for obvious reasons.

Does this story sound far-fetched? To me it does but if you are going to cite O’Brien, you need to do it in a way that follows elementary journalistic standards. He was not endorsing Budenz, or at least what he was purported to have said. Just the opposite. As for journalistic standards, they went by the wayside on the very day WSWS.org was launched.

 

 

June 1, 2018

Vogue Magazine in hot water again for puff piece on Mideast tyrants

Filed under: journalism,Saudi Arabia,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:43 pm

NY Times, May 31, 2018
Vogue Arabia Hails Saudi Reform, Ignoring Jailed Activists
By Megan Specia

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is putting women in the driving seat — and so are we.”

That’s how Vogue Arabia described its June cover, which features a glamorous woman behind the wheel of a classic car, parked in the desert.

But the problem for some has been which woman the magazine decided to put in the driver’s seat in an issue that “celebrates the women of the kingdom and their wide-reaching achievements,” but makes no mention of the country’s most recent crackdown on women’s rights activists.

Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah al-Saud — one of the late King Abdullah’s 20 daughters — sits behind the wheel, even as some prominent female activists who fought for the right for Saudi women to drive remain locked behind bars.

In mid-May, at least 11 activists were arrested and labeled “traitors” by the Saudi government, a move that surprised many as the country is just weeks away from allowing women to drive. Some of the activists have been released, but others remain detained.

On June 24, Saudi women will legally be able to drive for the first time. But critics say the Vogue coverage fails to highlight some Saudi women whose activism helped draw international attention to the issue, and who now face persecution.

The issue does feature Manal al-Sharif, one of the Saudi activists who took part in the 2011 protests against the restrictions and was later arrested for the action, but does not mention the latest arrests.

Twitter users were swift in their reaction, calling out Vogue Arabia for what some saw as an oversight.

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In March 2011, Vogue magazine published, for the benefit of its 11.7 million readers, an article titled “A Rose in the Desert” about the first lady of Syria. Asma al-Assad has British roots, wears designer fashion, worked for years in banking, and is married to the dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has killed over 5,000 civilians and hundreds of children this year. The glowing article praised the Assads as a “wildly democratic” family-focused couple who vacation in Europe, foster Christianity, are at ease with American celebrities, made theirs the “safest country in the Middle East,” and want to give Syria a “brand essence.”

Vogue’s editors defended the controversial article as “a way of opening a window into this world a little bit,” conceding only that Assad’s Syria is “not as secular as we might like.” A senior editor responsible for the story told me the magazine stood by it. A few weeks later, the article and all references to it were removed from Vogue’s website without explanation. In August, The Hill reported that U.S. lobbying firm Brown Lloyd James had been paid $5,000 per month by the Syrian government to arrange for and manage the Vogue article.

For all the controversy, the article’s author, former French Vogue editor Joan Juliet Buck, did manage to spend some one-on-one time with both Asma and Bashar al-Assad, an exclusive many journalists might have killed for. Today, as the world watches for cracks in the Assad regime and in the Assad family, Buck’s interviews are an increasingly important tool for understanding the man at the top of Syria and the woman next to him.

Sadly, Vogue’s piece of the Syrian puzzle has been almost entirely scrubbed from the internet. But, somehow, the text can still be found at a website called PresidentAssad.net, a gif-filled but meticulously updated fan page to the Syrian dictator. The site is registered to a Syrian man living in Rome named Mohamed Abdo al-Ibrahim. A personal site for Ibrahim lists him as an employee of the Syrian state-run news agency.

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April 17, 2018

Fisking Douma

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:51 pm

Robert Fisk

With Syria and Russia claiming that East Ghouta is under “full control”, we can understand why Robert Fisk would saunter in with his sleeves rolled up to do some investigative reporting for the Independent. Meanwhile, Syria says that it is “too dangerous” for OPCW to do their own investigations even if it is safe enough for Fisk or any other malleable journalist. Could Syria be buying time to cover up evidence? Who would suspect them of that unless they were for “regime change” and funded by the Rothschild Bank, I guess.

Fisk’s article is really the sort of thing that could occupy an entire semester in a journalism class as an example of what not to do. Fisk is essentially Judith Miller but in a kind of reverse-kryptonite version. Instead of being embedded with the American invasion like Miller was, Fisk is escorted around by Syrian troops. Instead of functioning as a propagandist for George W. Bush, Fisk serves another master in Damascus. Is there anything that Miller and Fisk share in common? Certainly. It is the Islamophobia that allowed both to justify their support of war crimes in the name of stopping al-Qaeda.

In an article titled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack”, Fisk relies on the word of a physician named Assim Rahaibani who refers to the rebels in Douma as “terrorists”, Fisk adding that this is “the regime’s word for their enemies.” Would a journalism class question the use of relying solely on someone like this? Even Fisk has to admit, “Am I hearing this right? Which version of events are we to believe?” This of course is a rhetorical question because he never had any intention of getting any other version except one that would serve Bashar al-Assad. In seven years of reporting on Syria, there has never been an attempt to get outside his pro-regime comfort zone.

Even though he was not an eyewitness to events that took place in another clinic, Dr. Rahaibani assures Fisk that no chemical attack took place there. He claims that because of a conventional bombing attack, “huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived.” (Generally, dust clouds float upwards but let’s not trouble ourselves over this rather minor defect in an article filled with Goebbels-like fabrications.) This led to an onrush of people suffering hypoxia or oxygen loss. Then after a White Helmet member on the scene shouted “Gas!”, a panic began and people started throwing water over each other. That’s what he was told by the medics in that location, in any case. Nothing more to see here. Move along, folks.

Not every doctor agrees with Rahaibani. In today’s Guardian, Martin Chulov describes what they were up against:

The head of the largest medical relief agency in Syria claims that medics who responded to the suspected gas attack in Douma have been subjected to “extreme intimidation” by Syrian officials who seized biological samples, forced them to abandon patients and demanded their silence.

Dr Ghanem Tayara, the director of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) said doctors responsible for treating patients in the hours after the 7 April attack have been told that their families will be at risk if they offer public testimonies about what took place.

A number of doctors who spoke to the Guardian this week say the intimidation from the regime has increased in the past five days, a timeframe that coincides with the arrival in Damascus of a team from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which aims to determine whether chemical weapons were used. All the medics insisted on anonymity, citing the fear for their lives and those of their families.

“There has been a very heavy security presence on the ground ever since the attack and they have been targeting doctors and medics in a very straightforward way,” said Dr Tayara, a Birmingham-based physician, now in Turkey where he is supervising the departure from Syria of some of the Douma medics. “Any medic who tried to leave Douma was searched so vigorously, especially for samples. At one medical point, seven casualties were taken away. The Russian military police were heavily involved. They were directing things.”

Fisk has the temerity to explain the absence of OPCW investigators as if it were simply a matter of bureaucratic delay, like getting your license renewed at the Motor Vehicles Bureau:

At the same time, inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are currently blocked from coming here to the site of the alleged gas attack themselves, ostensibly because they lacked the correct UN permits.

Russia claims that security concerns have led the UN to delay giving permission to the OPCW investigators but if you spend 5 minutes looking into this question, you will discover that this is a lie. Yesterday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “The United Nations has provided the necessary clearances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not denied the team any request for it to go to Douma.”

Continuing in Milleresque fashion, Fisk writes:

There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups.

How did he find these “many people”? Strolling down the street or through dating services provided by the Syrian secret police? Fisk is sure to add that he “walked across this town quite freely yesterday without soldier, policeman or minder to haunt my footsteps, just two Syrian friends, a camera and a notebook.” Odd that this being the case, he could not find a soul that opposed Assad. If you had no knowledge of East Ghouta, you would probably take Fisk at his word. But if you understood that the religiously observant and poverty-stricken agricultural belt around Damascus was the first to rise up, you’d have to be skeptical. Fisk says that “a surprising number of Douma’s women wear full-length black hijab.” Well, I am surprised that he is surprised since the city’s make-up was well known to genuine reporters like Aron Lund, whose integrity is beyond reproach:

Many inhabitants of the Ghouta and the bulging suburbs of eastern Damascus were new arrivals, escaping from drought-stricken parts of Syria to compete over low-paying, menial jobs. They bristled at the glittering wealth, the class divides and the corruption of the capital. Others were part of the Ghouta’s original population, but among them, too, anti-regime sentiment grew alongside the social crisis of the early 2000s. In conservative Sunni towns like Douma, known for its piety as “the city of minarets,” the Sunni-fundamentalist teachings of Salafism were gaining ground. The Salafists excoriated the secularism of the ruling Baath Party and its rapacious corruption as two sides of the same coin.

Well, those Salafists will no longer trouble East Ghouta. In fact, after Assad is finished with these pockets of discontent, he will be free to reconstruct Syria as a place that has been purged of the Sunni poor with their hijabs and their AK-47s. In an article titled “Creating a New Syria: Property, Dispossession, and Regime Survival” Erwin van Veen describes the coming gentrification that would have made Robert Moses green with envy. Who knows? Maybe Jared Kushner has begun consulting with Syrian investors about mega-projects co-funded by Saudi Arabia:

An additional consequence of Law no. 10 is that it will enable large-scale demographic engineering by reallocating appropriated property to new owners. This will not necessarily be sectarian in nature as the majority of both Syrians and regime-loyalists are Sunni. Rather, it will create large loyalist urban centers to underpin the regime’s power base and limit the return of refugees, who are largely not perceived as supporters of President Assad.

In addition to remaking urban centers as areas of repopulated loyalist concentration, the strategy will probably also involve undoing the existence of impoverished Sunni-belts around Syria’s main cities from which so many rebels were recruited. Insofar as these poorer suburbs are currently depopulated due to rebel recruitment, casualties, and flight, the regime is likely to use Law No. 10 to appropriate the land (in many such areas, property rights were not well established even before the war) and to then prevent their resettlement if and when refugees return. Any Sunni populations that have not fled but are still living in such suburbs at present will also be at risk of forced displacement and dispossession commensurate with the extent of their perceived disloyalty to the regime. It is clear that the regime has no problem initiating displacement on a large scale when it suits regime interests. Dealing with the suburban belts in this fashion will remove a source of resistance against the regime once and for all.

Richard Hall, a former editor at the Independent, took to Twitter to debunk Fisk’s reporting:

Robert Fisk is allowed access to Douma before OCPW inspectors are allowed in. Doesn’t speak to any witnesses of the attack, only a doctor who didn’t see it, but says everyone “knows what happened.”

Fisk seems perplexed why victims of the attack did not hang around in Douma when the government took over the area. And doesn’t seriously deal with the fact that those who stayed behind might not be able to speak freely.

Fisk is among a handful of journalists given regular access by Syrian government. He and others are shepherded in on minded trips when it is useful for the government. Journalists who do make it in and write something that counters the government narrative are not allowed back.

Fisk notes in his piece that he was granted access to the site before chemical weapons inspectors. As were a number of other journalists who — let’s be generous here — toe the government line. That feels like an attempt to muddy the waters ahead of an independent investigation.

In his own critique of Fisk, Scott Lucas of EA Worldview provides a translation of an interview that a Swedish reporter conducted with a Douma resident. Somehow the reporter managed to make it into Douma just like Fisk but without the predisposition to absolve Assad. The Douma resident stated:

We were sitting in the basement when it happened. The [missile] hit the house at 7 pm. We ran out while the women and children ran inside. They didn’t know the house had been struck from above and was totally filled with gas.

Those who ran inside died immediately. I ran out completely dizzy….Everybody died. My wife, my brothers, my mother. Everybody died.

Women and children sat in here, and boys & men sat there. Suddenly there was a sound as if the valve of a gas tube was opened.

It’s very difficult to explain. I can’t explain. I don’t know what I should say. The situation makes me cry. Children & toddlers, around 25 children.

Fisk’s reporting has gained so much notoriety over his service to the Baathist dictatorship that it has helped to coin a term: “fisking”. (I have subsequently learned that it was the rightwing that first used the term but that does not let his reporting since 2011 off the hook.) It is not just his embedded reporting from Syria that has come under scrutiny. Brian Whitaker, a long-time editor and reporter for The Guardian, is something of an expert on Fisk. This article on his personal website Al-Bab should reveal how questionable Fisk is across the board:

Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent, once offered this advice to would-be journalists: “If you want to be a reporter you must establish a relationship with an editor in which he will let you write – he must trust you and you must make sure you make no mistakes.”

It was good advice, though perhaps more a case of “do as I say” than “do as I do”. Even if you disagree with Fisk’s articles or find them turgid, there’s still entertainment to be had from spotting his mistakes.

On Wednesday, for instance, anyone who read beyond the first paragraph of his column in The Independent would have found him asserting that Saudi Arabia had refused to take its place among “non-voting members” of the UN Security Council. He described this as an unprecedented step – which indeed it was, though not quite in the way Fisk imagines: the Security Council doesn’t have “non-voting” members (unless they choose to abstain). Presumably he meant “non-permanent members”.

Perhaps that is excusable, since the UN is not Fisk’s speciality. But he does specialise in reporting about the Middle East, and so we find him in a column last year informing readers that Syria had a stockpile of nuclear weapons – or, to be more precise, quoting President Obama as saying that it had:

“And then Obama told us last week that ‘given the regime’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad … that the world is watching’.”

Obama’s actual words were: “Given the regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons, we will continue … etc.”

Fisk is at his most comical when he gets on his high horse and immediately falls off. Writing with (justified) indignation about the killings in Baba Amr last year, he began:

“So it’s the ‘cleaning’ of Baba Amr now, is it? ‘Tingheef’ in Arabic. Did that anonymous Syrian government official really use that word to the AP yesterday?”

Well, no. Obviously a Syrian official wouldn’t use the word ‘tingheef’, since it doesn’t exist in Arabic.

Let me conclude with a link to an article written by Idrees Ahmad, the fearless academic who has become the subject of an investigation by the administration at the University of Stirling after Assadist Tim Hayward lodged a complaint for Idrees’s ongoing critique of Assadist propaganda. Like Whitaker, he has been following Fisk for years and has focused on his Judith Miller-style embedded reporting:

In this context when one of Britain’s more celebrated war correspondents—a person known for his acerbic diatribes against docile western journalists—enters Aleppo and sees a destroyed ambulance righteous fury is sure to erupt. And Fisk doesn’t disappoint. There is the familiar bombast of superlatives. Things are “ghostly”, “ghastly”, “frightening”, and “horribly relevant”.

But it is the object of Fisk’s fury that is a surprise. Fisk is not angry at an ambulance being bombed. Indeed, he heavily implies that the bombing was merited. Fisk devotes much of the article to implicating the Scottish charity that donated the ambulance. In his curious legal brief against medical aid, Fisk’s allies are not facts but suggestion, insinuation and innuendo. His method is insidious and part of a pattern. It merits closer scrutiny.

For the past four years Fisk has reported from Syria embedded with the regime. The regime herds him to the places it wants him to see and the people it wants him to interrogate—and Fisk appears to yield to the controlling arms of his handlers with the somnambulant innocence of a debutante. On more than a few occasions he has echoed the regime line without demur.

Take Daraya. After a horrific regime massacre, Fisk arrived at the site “in the company of armed Syrian forces” riding an “armoured vehicle” and after interviewing a few frightened survivors, wrote that contrary to “the popular version that has gone round the world”, the massacre was the outcome of a “failed prisoner swap”; the men who committed the crime “were armed insurgents rather than Syrian troops”.

In Daraya, however, no one was aware of this “prisoner swap”. And even his own interviewees didn’t support his conclusions. Most gave evasive answers. And the only interviewee he cites as supporting his theory casts further doubt on it: “Although he had not seen the dead in the graveyard,” writes Fisk, “he believed that most were related to the government army”.

The record was quickly set straight by the American journalist Janine di Giovanni who sneaked into Daraya disguised as a local and interviewed survivors without the intimidating presence of regime forces. (The Free Syrian Army had left two weeks earlier.) Di Giovanni revealed in precise detail how the offensive began, what weapons were used, and how the slaughter was carried out. Human Rights Watch corroborated her report.

 

April 16, 2018

The Axis of Resistance can’t get its story right

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:00 pm

Max Blumenthal

Southfront, an Assadist website, reports:

Syrian forces have taken full control of the district of Douma thus liberating the entire Damascus subrub [sic] of Eastern Ghouta from militants, Chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing parties in Syria Yuri Yevtushenko announced on April 12. [emphasis added]

Full control, right? So you’d think that there would be no problem with OPCW inspectors trying to settle the question of whether there was a “false flag” incident.

Not so fast. The Guardian reports:

Inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog have been unable to access sites controlled by Russia and the Syrian regime in the town of Douma to investigate an attack on 7 April that killed dozens and prompted US-led missile strikes over the weekend.

The director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told a meeting of the OPCW executive council that inspectors had not been allowed to visit the town outside Damascus, the UK delegation tweeted. “Unfettered access essential. Russia & Syria must cooperate,” the delegation tweeted.

According to Petter Lycke, Sweden’s representative at the OPCW executive council, Syria and Russia told the inspectors that their safety could not be guaranteed. [emphasis added]

So even though the regime has FULL FUCKING CONTROL, it cannot guarantee their safety. So the Kremlin can issue such statements while its trained seals in the West like Max Blumenthal clap their flippers on cue. What a fucked up left we have.

 

April 13, 2018

Max Blumenthal’s double standards

Filed under: journalism,Red-Brown alliance,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:20 am

Placards from a protest in Istanbul against the killing of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja.

Days after Israeli troops fatally shot a Palestinian photojournalist covering protests on the Gaza border, Israel’s defense minister alleged the photographer had served as a high-ranking member of the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas since 2011.

But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the photojournalist had passed a U.S. government vetting process for his media company to receive a U.S. aid agency grant. The U.S. does vetting to ensure grant recipients have no ties to militant organizations or activities.

The seemingly conflicting claims by Israeli and U.S. officials about the photographer’s identity are raising new questions over a killing that drew international media coverage and calls for an investigation.

On April 6, photojournalist Yaser Murtaja, 30, was shot by Israeli forces while reporting on Palestinian protests at the Gaza-Israel border, Palestinian officials and witnesses said. Images from the scene show Murtaja wearing a protective vest clearly marked “PRESS.”

U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said government vetting of Murtaja began in late 2017. The officials said that last month Murtaja’s Gaza media production company, Ain Media, became a beneficiary of a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told NPR the United States relies on Israeli intelligence to vet Palestinian organizations and individuals for links to militant groups before awarding them USAID grants. Nauert said the U.S. was looking into questions about Murtaja’s alleged Hamas affiliation.



SAMS is not merely a group of Syrian doctors tending to the wounded in war torn areas, nor can it be considered a objective source on chemical attacks and other atrocities. The organization is a USAID-funded lobbying powerhouse that functions with a single-minded determination to stimulate a US-led war of regime change that will place Syrian Islamists in power in Damascus.

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