Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 2, 2010

Time Magazine: still setting the ruling class agenda

Filed under: Afghanistan,media,oil — louisproyect @ 5:06 pm

Admired Mussolini

Time Magazine still has the capability of defining the agenda of the ruling class even though the magazine no longer has the reach it once did. In the 1950s, it was practically de rigueur for working class and middle class families (like my own) to have a subscription. This magazine was not just where I learned about Jack Kerouac. It was also where I learned to hate Communism, which in my adolescent mind was interpreted as the world’s greatest threat to abstract expressionist art, atonal music and “freedom” more generally.

This week the mendacious newsweekly made bold attacks on behalf of the national-security state on two fronts. Michael Grunwald (possibly related to former chief editor Henry Grunwald?) told Time Magazine readers on Thursday July 29 that the damage to the Gulf of Mexico has been “exaggerated”, citing a local scientist:

LSU coastal scientist Eugene Turner has dedicated much of his career to documenting how the oil industry has ravaged Louisiana’s coast with canals and pipelines, but he says the BP spill will be a comparative blip and predicts that the oil will destroy fewer marshes than the airboats deployed to clean up the oil. “We don’t want to deny that there’s some damage, but nothing like the damage we’ve seen for years,” he says.

Grunwald also cites Ivor Van Heerden, another scientist, to this effect but admits that he “like just about everyone else working in the Gulf these days, is being paid from BP’s spill-response funds.” Well, what difference does that make? We all know that it is only the conspiracy-minded who would make a connection between somebody making light of the spill and being on the payroll of BP.

If this article gave what amounts to a green light for deep-water drilling, a cover article that displayed an Afghan woman with her nose cut off by the Taliban gave the Obama administration badly needed propaganda support for “staying the course” in Afghanistan:

For Afghanistan’s women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous. An Afghan refugee who grew up in Canada, Mozhdah Jamalzadah recently returned home to launch an Oprah-style talk show in which she has been able to subtly introduce questions of women’s rights without provoking the ire of religious conservatives. On a recent episode, a male guest told a joke about a foreign human-rights team in Afghanistan. In the cities, the team noticed that women walked six paces behind their husbands. But in rural Helmand, where the Taliban is strongest, they saw a woman six steps ahead. The foreigners rushed to congratulate the husband on his enlightenment — only to be told that he stuck his wife in front because they were walking through a minefield. As the audience roared with laughter, Jamalzadah reflected that it may take about 10 to 15 years before Afghan women can truly walk alongside men. But once they do, she believes, all Afghans will benefit. “When we talk about women’s rights,” Jamalzadah says, “we are talking about things that are important to men as well — men who want to see Afghanistan move forward. If you sacrifice women to make peace, you are also sacrificing the men who support them and abandoning the country to the fundamentalists that caused all the problems in the first place.”

For young people fortunate enough to have been spared the kind of diet of Time Magazine that I received in the 1950s, a word or two about this fetid newsweekly might be in order. It was founded in 1923 by one Henry Luce as the first news magazine in history.

Luce was a powerful member of a Republican Party that was more in line with Eisenhower, Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller than the current outfit identified with Rush Limbaugh and the tea party. This was a Republican Party that differed little from the current Democratic Party. Luce was also closely associated with “the China lobby” that pushed for war against Mao’s China. His wife Clare Booth Luce was a major figure in anti-Communist politics who was to the right of her husband, backing Goldwater enthusiastically in 1964.

While not exactly the kind of ferocious attack that Henry Luce deserves, Alan Brinkley’s (a Columbia University history professor) recently published biography reveals how the magazine winked its eye at fascist dictators. Michael Augspurger, a professor at the University of Central Arkansas, wrote an article on Luce that contained the following:

In the late twenties and thirties, Henry Luce was accused of harboring fascist tendencies. His accusers pointed primarily to the editorial practices of Fortune and its older sibling, Time. Time, a magazine notorious for its editorializing news copy, was particularly well-known in its support of Mussolini. As Herzstein notes, “When important issues were at stake, one knew where Time’s editors stood…. The magazine approved of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, il Duce” Time’s involvement with fascism was not limited to Italy, either. Time foreign correspondent Laird Goldsborough, for example, called supporters of Spanish fascist leader General Francisco Franco “… men of property, men of god and men of the sword.” And while Luce was not nearly as vocal as Goldsborough, he did support his correspondent’s writing even when it became a highly divisive staff issue at Time, Inc. But there was more to the accusations than just these editorial tendencies. Observers as disparate as Fortune writer Dwight Macdonald, Fortune managing editor Eric Hodgins, and biographer W.A. Swanberg have seen fascist leanings in Luce himself. Macdonald, referring to the anonymous corporate structure of Time, Inc., accused Luce in 1937 of “fascist capitalism.” Hodgins, in his 1973 autobiography, recalled that Luce liked “the purported aims of fascism.” And Swanberg claimed that Luce admired the dynamism, militarism, strong leadership, and anti-Communism of Mussolini’s Italy. Clearly, Luce appeared to some of those familiar with him to be attached to certain fascist ideals.

Returning to the questions of the BP spill and the war in Afghanistan, it first of all has to be understood that the magazine is a cut above the Murdoch press in terms of credibility. In fact, Time Magazine’s website is co-sponsored by CNN, a news organization that is still capable of solid reporting. (Newsweek has a similar connection to MSNBC.)

Michael Grunwald, the author of the BP article, is the also the author of a highly regarded book on the Florida Everglades. He has written for www.grist.com, a highly respected environmentalist online magazine, including a piece on the Everglades that states:

But starting in the 1880s, Americans determined to subdue Mother Nature started trying to drain the Everglades with canals, hoping to create a new paradise for agriculture and development. A few lonely voices warned that ditches could turn the swamp into a desert, but most Floridians agreed with Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who declared in the early 1900s that if drained swamps could really burn, “the great bogs of Ireland would have been ash heaps long before St. Patrick drove out the snakes.”

But sure enough, the early ditches started sucking the marsh dry, ruining wells, damaging soils, and, yes, igniting fires so smoky that children in Miami had to cover their faces at school. And in the summer, southern Florida’s torrential downpours overwhelmed the ditches, converting farmland back to swampland, inspiring the first jokes about buying Florida land by the gallon. The jokes seemed a lot less funny in 1928, when a hurricane blasted Lake Okeechobee through a flimsy muck dike, killing 2,500 pioneers in the Everglades.

So clearly we are not dealing with John Stossel or Spiked Online, especially since Grunwald hedges his bets:

The potential long-term damage that underwater oil plumes and an unprecedented amount of chemical dispersants that BP has spread in the area could have on the region’s deep-water ecosystems and food chains might not be known for years.

Well, I should say so. Not long after the ink was dry on his article—metaphorically speaking—there were reports on dispersants that undercut his article. Even his own magazine was forced to go along with what the Washington Post and New York Times have been reporting about the looming threat:

In humans, long-term exposure to dispersants can cause central nervous system problems or damage blood, kidneys or livers, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

BP’s apparently generous use of dispersants helps explain why so little oil has been spotted on the surface recently, said Larry McKinney, executive director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Whether the benefits of dispersants outweigh the possible risks is a “debatable point,” he said, noting that they’ve protected some fragile coastal wetlands from heavier bands of oil.

More to the point, we are dealing with a situation in which BP and the government have a vested interest in controlling the flow of information, something they were much better at than controlling the oil spill. Reporters and scientists were not allowed to conduct their own survey of the troubled waters. In light of this, it is hard to take Michael Grunwald’s bromides seriously. He has only damaged his own reputation through such a specious article, although I am sure that he is rewarded handsomely by Time Magazine for writing such nonsense.

Turning to the question of Taliban cruelty, we wonder if the magazine has a double standard (gasp!) when it comes to such questions. While preaching the need to stay the course in Afghanistan to defend women from sexist brutality, it seems quite content over how things have turned out in Iraq, with a Shi’ite government working assiduously to deny women the limited gains they achieved under Saddam’s government, not to speak of the misogyny of Afghan warlords on “our side”.If the magazine was really concerned about the status of women in Afghanistan, it would publish the speeches and articles of Malalai Joya, a fearless defender of peace, human rights and social justice. As it turns out, Time did recognize her as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People of 2010 but in their typically dishonest fashion as Salon.com blogger Judy Mandelbaum pointed out:

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, Homer wrote thousands of years ago. Today human rights activists would be well-advised to beware of major American news magazines passing out honors. Last week, noted Afghan politician Malalai Joya, the author of “A Woman Among Warlords” whom the BBC has called “the bravest woman in Afghanistan,” was named one of TIME Magazine’s “World’s Most Influential 100 People” of 2010. The trouble is, the magazine presented her to the world in a brief but misleading text by Islam critic and American Enterprise Institute fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who concluded her tribute with the words:  “I hope in time she comes to see the US and NATO forces in her country as her allies. She must use her notoriety, her demonstrated wit and her resilience to get the troops on her side instead of out of her country.”

What an odd choice of words, considering that Ali is writing about a woman who wrote in the Daily Beast last week that:

more than eight years of occupation have made life bleak, and we are tired of being pawns in the US and NATO’s game for control of Central Asia. We can longer bear the killing of our pregnant mothers, the killing of our teenagers and young children, the killing of so many Afghan men and women. We can no longer bear these “accidents” and these “apologies” for the deaths of the innocent.

Are Ali and the editors of TIME really entitled to tell Malalai Joya what to think about her country’s plight? To set the record straight and to find out what really motivates this activist, journalist Sonali Kolhatkar of UprisingRadio contacted Ms. Joya yesterday and conducted an interview, which I have excerpted below (you can – and should – read the entire discussion here):

I am very angry with the way they have introduced me [Joya said]. They have a completely painted a false picture of me that does not mention at all about my struggle against the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and NATO, which is disgusting. In fact every one knows that I stand side by side with the glorious-anti war movement around the world and have proved again and again that I will never compromise with the US and NATO who have occupied my country, empowered the most bloody enemies of my people and are killing my innocent compatriots [inaudible] in Afghanistan. What TIME did was like giving an award to someone by one hand and getting it back by another hand. I have sent my protest to it to the Defense Committee [for Malalai Joya] but TIME did not bother to even answer than protest letter. Perhaps this is the kind of freedom of expression exercised by TIME and the USA. …

May 1, 2010

Obama’s Katrina?

Filed under: Ecology,oil,Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:54 pm

Barack Obama statement on April 2, 2010:

I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.

John McCain statement on June 17 2008:

As for offshore drilling, it’s safe enough these days that not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from the battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston.

But according to the official report prepared for the US Government by a Norwegian firm:

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused 124 Offshore Spills For A Total Of 743,700 Gallons. 554,400 gallons were crude oil and condensate from platforms, rigs and pipelines, and 189,000 gallons were refined products from platforms and rigs. [MMS, 1/22/07]

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused Six Offshore Spills Of 42,000 Gallons Or Greater. The largest of these was 152,250 gallons, well over the 100,000 gallon threshhold considered a “major spill.” [MMS, 5/1/06]

If 100,000 gallons is considered a “major spill”, what are we to make of the discovery that the BP platform has been dumping 210,000 gallons per day since April 20? Furthermore, unlike the Exxon-Valdez this spill is impossible to quantify since the oil is coming from the ocean bottom rather than the innards of a ship.

Even at this late date, Obama has not backed off from the idea of offshore drilling as the McClatchy news service reported yesterday:

President Barack Obama on Friday appeared unwilling to scrap plans to expand oil and gas exploration, but promised that the administration will carefully study what mistakes led to the explosion of an oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

As is the case with just about every other Obama policy, his commitment to offshore drilling is portrayed as transcending traditional divides:

Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.l

Not surprisingly, this very same speech proposed a renewed commitment to nuclear power. Despite his insistence on avoiding “tired debates”, Obama manages to repeat the same talking points as John McCain about Hurricane Katrina and oil spills. Looking back at the 2008 election, frightened liberals urged a vote for Obama since a McCain victory would amount to a 3rd Bush term. If they had the capability to think honestly, they’d have to admit that this is what we got anyhow.

Like the slasher villain who refuses to die in a Halloween or Friday the Thirteenth movie, Halliburton turns up in this oil spill catastrophe. Not content to have ruined Iraq, this energy tools and technology company that Dick Cheney ran from 1995 to 2000 now appears ready to commit homicide on the U.S. itself as yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reports (the news section of the paper has not been completely tainted by Rupert Murdoch, the new owner, at least not yet.)

An oil-drilling procedure called cementing is coming under scrutiny as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico that has led to one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history, drilling experts said Thursday.

The process is supposed to prevent oil and natural gas from escaping by filling gaps between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole bored into the ocean floor. Cement, pumped down the well from the drilling rig, is also used to plug wells after they have been abandoned or when drilling has finished but production hasn’t begun.

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, workers had finished pumping cement to fill the space between the pipe and the sides of the hole and had begun temporarily plugging the well with cement; it isn’t known whether they had completed the plugging process before the blast.

Regulators have previously identified problems in the cementing process as a leading cause of well blowouts, in which oil and natural gas surge out of a well with explosive force. When cement develops cracks or doesn’t set properly, oil and gas can escape, ultimately flowing out of control. The gas is highly combustible and prone to ignite, as it appears to have done aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which was leased by BP PLC, the British oil giant.

Concerns about the cementing process—and about whether rigs have enough safeguards to prevent blowouts—raise questions about whether the industry can safely drill in deep water and whether regulators are up to the task of monitoring them.

The scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig, which burned and sank last week. The disaster, which killed 11, has left a gusher of oil streaming into the Gulf from a mile under the surface.

Federal officials declined to comment on their investigation, and Halliburton didn’t respond to questions from The Wall Street Journal.

British Petroleum, a European conglomerate that took advantage of American deregulation, owned the oilrig. They wanted to make bigger profits at the public’s expense just like that other scumbag corporation Goldman Sachs. In one case, you get a ruined environment and in the other ruined homeowners all for the sake of the almighty dollar.

Last night Mike Papantonio was a guest on the Ed Schultz show on MSNBC. He is an environmental attorney, lawyer whose firm has filed a class-action lawsuit in three states on behalf of the shrimpers, fisheries, oystermen and business owners. Here’s the exchange between host and guest that demonstrates the clash between social needs and private property:

SCHULTZ: Where`s the liability? Where`s the culpability here? What`s the call for the lawsuit?

PAPANTONIO: You nailed the story perfectly at the beginning of this program. Deepwater Horizon had two trip devices to use in blowout catastrophes. Both of them failed because of either human error or defect.

Now, here`s what people don`t know. BP didn`t want to spend the money for a system. It`s a fail-safe system, absolutely fail-safe. It`s a device system that`s used all over the world except in the United States, because we give them a free pass in the United States.

SCHULTZ: What system is that, Mike?

PAPANTONIO: The system`s called the acoustic switch system. It`s a relay system that blows out the bottom of the catastrophe. In other words, it stops the oil where it — exactly from the source.

Now, here`s what`s interesting. If BP has to do business in Norway, they have to use the switch. When they do it in the U.S., they don`t have to use it.

It happened because of this — during the Bush deregulation years, you had the Minerals Management Service that told companies like BP that, gee whiz, we have a new policy. It`s the closed-door Dick Cheney policy.

That Dick Cheney program allowed the industry to bypass safe systems like the acoustics switch, and there was no need to spend $500,000 with a company that was making $40 billion. It was a complete bypass of safety.

So is this Obama’s Katrina? Apparently the liberal apologists for this 3rd Bush term president reject this notion, especially since the chief outlet for such a charge is Fox News, WABC talk radio, Matt Drudge and all the other rightwing shitheads who care little for the environment or the New Orleans poor.

Media Matters, a Democratic Party website funded by George Soros, takes pain to distinguish Obama from Bush by citing the federal response the day after the oilrig explosion:

April 21: Deputy Secretary of Interior, Coast Guard dispatched to region. An April 22 White House statement noted that following a briefing with President Obama, Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, Admiral Thad Allen, United States Coast Guard Commandant, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, “Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes was dispatched to the region yesterday to assist with coordination and response.” The Coast Guard announced that four units were responding to the fire, with addition units en route.

While all this might be true, the real similarity between Katrina and the current disaster is that the two-party system—not individual presidents—bears the brunt of responsibility. In Katrina, you had faulty levees brought on by government neglect. With priorities set on destruction in Iraq, the government allowed levees, roads and bridges to become risks to humanity. It was understood by both parties that the fight to control oil in the Middle East meant much more to the future of capitalism than flooded homes in an African-American neighborhood.

That devotion to the needs of oil companies continues unabated. President Obama, just like the president who preceded him, sees the world in the same way as the men who run Exxon, BP, Chevron and all the rest. For most of the 20th century and continuing into the 21st century, wars between nations have often involved power grabs over oil resources. Some scholars explain the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as a response to an embargo on oil by the U.S.

Meanwhile confrontations with Iran threaten once more to let loose the dogs of war at the very same time that oil itself makes war on nature. Either the human race gets rid of capitalism, including its wasteful and destructive dependence on greenhouse emission fossil fuels, or the system will get rid of us.

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