Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 10, 2018

Chris Hedges, Glen Ford and the “diversity” question

Filed under: racism,sexism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

As a follow-up to his February 5, 2018 assault on “identity” politics titled “The Bankrupcy of the American Left”, Chris Hedges now takes aim at “diversity” with Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford as an all-too-willing accomplice. The July 8th Truthdig article titled “The Con of Diversity” allows the two to defend what they see as a class-based politics against the liberal Democrats using “identity”, “diversity”, “multiculturalism” and other tricks to sidetrack the necessary fight against the capitalist system.

Diversity in the hands of the white power elites—political and corporate—is an advertising gimmick. A new face, a brand, gets pushed out front, accompanied by the lavish financial rewards that come with serving the white power structure, as long as the game is played. There is no shortage of women (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile), Latinos (Tom Perez and Marco Rubio) or blacks (Vernon Jordan, Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson) who sell their souls for a taste of power.

To his credit, Glen Ford emphasizes the need for affirmative action even though for some on the left, starting with Walter Benn Michaels, it is just as much of a con game. However, he complains that somewhere along the line it mutated into diversity and as such no longer served the needs of the Black community. “Stripped of its core, affirmative action morphed into ‘diversity,’ a vessel for various aggrieved groups that was politically versatile (and especially useful to the emerging Black deal makers of electoral and corporate politics), but no longer rooted in Black realities.”

The one thing that surprises me in this put-down of diversity is how tone-deaf it is when it comes to the most urgent issue of the past year or so, namely the #metoo movement that is taking on the sexual assault culture that exists in some of the key sectors of the American economy from the film industry to restaurants and the media.

As a film critic, I have been paying closer attention to the abuses that have been around since the 1920s through the “casting couch”. For the past 90 years Hollywood management has been male-dominated in a way that other industries have not been. Unlike finance, for example, Hollywood producers can rely on an “old boys network” that would not be allowed in banking or the brokerage business after the 1970s forced human resource departments to act on complaints by women being treated as sex objects and denied opportunities. All you need to do is look at the statistics for 2016. Women accounted for only 17 percent of all the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors who worked on the top-grossing 250 domestic films. Blacks did not fare much better. Across the 100 top movies of 2017, only 6 directors were Black while 92 percent of all top executives are white.

What this means is that it is easier for a bastard like Harvey Weinstein to force himself on women trying to work in film and for the top studios to put obstacles in the way of Black directors and actors. As must be understood, film is one of the most powerful ways in which mass consciousness is shaped in the USA. For every Ava DuVernay, there are a dozen hack Caucasian directors who feel no particular need to address the racism that has brought us Donald Trump. Obviously, having women, Blacks and Latinos in powerful management positions in the film industry will not lead to socialism but on the other hand if it has some mitigating influence on the sexism and racism of this empire in decline, why treat their presence as if it were an insidious plot to preserve the status quo?

A lot of the reasoning embodied in the Hedges/Ford collaboration is reminiscent of what I heard around the time proposals were being made to allow gays in the military. If you are for allowing gays in the military, this must mean that you are a supporter of American imperialism. This absurd argument did not engage with the reality that many people join the armed services because they had no other employment options. Gay teens in some isolated rural village were not likely to read some advanced revolutionary thinker before going down to the recruitment station on a main street filled with empty stores, after all. And even if they did, the revolutionary rhetoric would not put food on their table.

Once inside the military, they had a right not to be killed by homophobic soldiers as was the case with Private Barry Winchell who had begun dating a transgender showgirl in 1999. When he was sleeping, another soldier crept up next to his bed and smashed his skull with a baseball bat. All this happened during Bill Clinton’s homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. What was needed then and what is needed now is the kind of diversity and diversity training that makes such acts impermissible. If homophobic soldiers cannot be educated to respect their gay comrades, they can at least understand that a gay captain or a gay general might have the power to put their ass in the stockade for a few months for stepping out of line. This would have been the kind of thing The Weinstein Company needed or Mario Batali’s restaurant empire as well.

If there’s anything that cries out more for some diversity, it the underrepresentation of Muslims across the board in American society. It is especially egregious in the military where Muslims have to put up with treatment that is even crueler than what gays and Blacks have put up with on occasion.

Two years ago Raheel Siddiqui, a Marine recruit of Pakistani origin, committed suicide after putting up with months of harassment from a drill instructor who forced him into a dryer multiple times. The drill instructor ended up being sentenced to a long prison term but why submit any soldier to this kind of abuse even if there are stiff punishments associated with it? The presence of Muslim captains and generals can go a long way in preventing such behavior even if risks being denounced as a capitalist trick in Truthdig.

Until we have a new society based on respect for every human being, there are measures that can be taken to uphold such respect even if they are being meted out by managers or by judicial writ as is the case with affirmative action. When a Hollywood studio, a media company or a restaurant empire decides to carry out preferential hiring and promotion practices to help ensure that the upper ranks reflects the ethnic, racial and gender make-up of the lower ranks, we have no business opposing that. Such “diversity” policies are in their own way a reflection of the same social forces that produced affirmative action. In a perfect world, working people would have the good sense not to mistreat their fellow workers but in country like the U.S. that has been built upon racism, colonialism, and the secondary status of women, a little force is advisable whether by statutes or by managers intent on punishing wrong-doers.

Let’s never forget what happened in Cuba after the revolution triumphed. Fidel Castro declared that refusing to cut an Afro-Cuban’s hair was now a crime. That, much more than stirring speeches about racial equality, helped to elevate the status of Black people in Cuba even though racism continues to this day. Racism took hundreds of years to take root in Cuba and even a revolutionary government cannot uproot it overnight.

July 24, 2017

Chapo Frat House

Filed under: comedy,sexism,social democracy — louisproyect @ 6:13 pm

The Chapo Trap House boys from left to right: Matt Christman, Felix Biederman, Will Menaker

I am gay and I voted for Obama
I am a shill for the Clinton campaign and the leftwing mainstream press
I’m a pussy who gets fucked right up the ass

I am a cuck
I am a libtard
I am a fag who was blessed to live amongst us
And Arabs to have equal rights.
I have no love of country and the white folks are not all bad
And the Albright folks are tacky
It makes me sad

I am a cuck
I am a libtard

Don’t talk of Trump ‘cause nothing scares me more
I really should call him daddy
He could be the savior and will go down in history
And save us all from douchebags like me

I am a cuck
I am a libtard
A cuck has no fun
A libtard always cries

Choosing a Chapo Trap House podcast to listen to for the first time, I picked a show that featured an interview with Shane Bauer. Bauer is a journalist who has written for Mother Jones and who I follow on Twitter, partly because he has a very good understanding of what’s happening in Syria. Perhaps that’s a function of spending two years in an Iranian prison accused of being a CIA agent. He and two others were hiking in Iraq (don’t ask me why) and inadvertently strayed in to Iranian territory.

Bauer was being interviewed on his going undercover to gather material on rightwing militias for a Mother Jones article and for the first half-hour, I found nothing objectionable even if it was hardly the sort of radio (or podcast) that I would make a habit of.

At the thirty-minute break, the song above came on. Sung ostensibly by the Chapo Trap House principals, I wondered what was the point. Was this something in the spirit of Sasha Baron Cohen singing “Throw the Jew Down the Well” at a Texas roadhouse in “Borat”? The point of Borat’s exercise was to demonstrate that Texas was filled with anti-Semites but what was their point? Maybe they didn’t have any except to show that they were “bad boys”.

Ironically, in another podcast I sampled earlier, they were riffing on Bill Maher’s use of the “nigger” word to show how disgusting he and HBO were. So exactly what’s the difference? I don’t see any unless it is okay to call people “fags” as a joke but not to use the word “nigger”. What about “kike”? That might get a few laughs.

I first heard about this show from a puff piece that appeared in The New Yorker magazine on November 18, 2016 that quoted Matt Christman, one of the three men who started Chapo, on what the goal of the “dirtbag left” is: “to offend the sensibilities of ‘leftist’ language police whose only goal is sabotaging social solidarity in order to maintain their brands as arbiters of good taste and acceptable speech.” Oh, I see. How about throwing in some “kikes” and “niggers” somewhere along the line to push the envelope even further.

For me, the mystery was how Chapo ever got such a glowing testimonial in a magazine that hates the left. The New Yorker, for example, published an article by Jill Lepore trashing Howard Zinn, as well as one promoting GMO. The editor is David Remnick, a Sovietologist who Alexander Cockburn once referred to as “a third-tier talent who has always got ahead by singing the correct career-enhancing tunes, as witness his awful reporting from Russia in the 1990s.”

Like Jacobin, Chapo has the knack of getting accolades from the most powerful newspapers and magazines in the USA. The next big publicity shot in the arm came in the form of a July 5, 2017 New York Times Sunday Magazine article titled “Hated by the Right. Mocked by the Left. Who Wants to Be ‘Liberal’ Anymore?” The author was Nikil Saval, a founder of n+1 magazine that is often mentioned in the same breath as Jacobin—namely, a Young Lion pretender to the throne of Marxism. I generally enjoy reading n+1 but found Saval’s prolix account of working on the Bernie Sanders campaign pretty objectionable from a Marxist standpoint. As might be obvious, the Chapo/Jacobin/n+1 milieu takes Sanders’s “socialism” at face value.

The brunt of Saval’s piece is to call attention to liberal-bashing of the sort that Chapo Trapo House specializes in. Saval mentions that they spend a lot of airtime “making fun of liberal cultural life, with one common target being fervor for the musical Hamilton.” Well, with the price of tickets for the Broadway smash hit, most of their listeners would not be able to pay for a ticket so the jokes might have sailed over their heads. However, with the $70,000 per month the boys are making from their podcasts, I assume that they might want to go see it for themselves. I just hope they don’t yell any racial epithets at the performers even if they are tempted to call Javier Muñoz, the HIV-positive star, a fag.

Just this week a feud broke out between the boys and The New Republic’s senior editor Jeet Heer who faulted them for trafficking in “dominance politics”, which means using mean-spirited humor against the Clinton wing of the party that The New Republic identifies with. Heer advocates reconciling the Sanders wing of the party that Chapo belongs to with the centrist old guard, something obviously not on Chapo’s agenda.

In a Twitter war between Heer and the boys, Chapo host Felix Biederman tweeted that he is “not reading Jeet’s article about how rude we are until he takes David Frum’s dick out of his mouth”. Both Heer and Frum are heterosexuals, while Frum is a longtime neoconservative who voted for Hillary Clinton. It is really difficult for me to understand how in 2017 this kind of gay-baiting can take place. I was around to see the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 and welcomed the rise of a Gay Liberation movement. In the radical movement of that period, you could have gotten expelled for using that kind of language unless, of course, you were in Avakian’s sect. Now it seems that it is not only permissible in the DSA/Jacobin milieu but perhaps helps to generate $70,000 per month. Other times, other manners, I suppose.

While not exactly an A-List bourgeois newspaper, the Guardian certainly has the readership that might pay for a Chapo subscription. Yesterday, they published an article titled “Leftwing Breitbart? Chapo Trap House is strong new voice in resistance to Trump” by Edward Helmore that took Chapo’s side in the conflict with Heer and The New Republic.

Helmore’s article has the benefit of placing Chapo into an ideological context:

The hosts, who are aligned with the Brooklyn arm of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), met on social media, gaining followers with their offbeat humor and views on what is termed “left Twitter”.

That led to a series of podcasts on the popular Street Fight Radio before the launch of Chapo Trap House, named for Sinaloa cartel head Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the hip-hop term for a drug house.

One DSA member familiar with the thinking of the podcast producers offered the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxism as an ideological reference, and said the spat with the New Republic illustrated the resistance of neoliberals to warnings that a hard left turn is necessary to counter the rise of the so-called alt-right and avoid continued electoral defeat.

Yes, indeed. How did I miss the parallels between Chapo Trap House and Theodore Adorno, especially given the chapter on fags in “Dialectics of Enlightenment”. I should have realized that DSA members would have been attuned to the Frankfurt School, given Stanley Aronowitz’s role in the organization’s ideological journey. Maybe at the next Left Forum, the boys can do a performance of “I am a cuck”. I’ll bet it will go over great with the bitches and the fags. Oh, did I mention that in the closing moments of the Shane Bauer podcast there was an elevated discussion of the Trump-Putin connection with the new president being referred to as Putin’s “bitch”?

Helmore is also very astute in sizing up Chapo’s role in electoral politics, referring to John Mason, a political science professor in New Jersey:

“Who is the most popular politician in the United States right now?” asked Mason. “Bernie Sanders! The ground has shifted and this is really the centre of the Democratic party. The people who have been marginalised, especially after this defeat, are those who belong to the Clinton-Obama wing.”

The far left, Mason said, is articulating itself in new ways. He pointed to a recent meeting of Sanders and Al Gore and the emergence of anti alt-right groups such as Redneck Revolt. Last week, the DSA published an electoral strategy guide; it anticipates strong or record attendance at its convention in Chicago next month.

So, let me get this straight. The “socialist” wing of the Democratic Party is now its center and proof of that is Bernie Sanders meeting with Al Gore? And what about that electoral strategy guide? Written by Joseph M. Schwartz, a political science professor at Temple University and national vice-chair of DSA, it proposes the same “inside/outside” electoral strategy that not only defines social democracy in the USA but that of the Communist Party as well:

DSA should not be in the business of solely working to secure Democratic majorities for the purpose of pressuring them from the left. But many of our allies in the black, Latino, trade union, LGBTQ, immigrant, Muslim, and feminist communities will be mobilized in 2018 to flip Republican state legislatures, to expand Democratic majorities in Democratic states, and to take back, at least, the House at the national level. We can’t simply ignore what those constituencies who would constitute a multi-racial and class-based left will be doing.

Thus, in my view, DSA should deploy its limited resources primarily to build social movements and, where possible, shore up a progressive electoral pole (a more multi-racial and labor-based version of the post-Sanders trend) that opposes the corporate, neo-liberal dominance of the Democratic Party.

I believe that the best way of doing that is to run viable democratic socialist candidates either in Democratic primaries (see Ross Mittiga) or in local non-partisan races (see khalid kamau). But if the social movement groups we work with back a strong anti-corporate Democratic Party candidate of color or labor or another staunchly progressive activist, some locals will clearly consider working on those campaigns, too — particularly if they involve a primary challenge to a pro-corporate neo-liberal Democrat.

That’s what we are left with beneath all the “bad boy” shock jock humor at the expense of gay people. A business as usual orientation to liberal politicians like Bernie Sanders and Al Gore in the hope that the Democratic Party can serve as what? The vanguard of a socialist revolution? A return to the New Deal? Talk about utopian schemas.

I find myself in advanced years wondering what will take such people to break with the Democratic Party once and for all. If it wasn’t support for slavery, the invasion of the USSR in 1918, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Korean war and the Vietnam war, what will it take? At a certain point, you begin to wonder if maybe such people are not that opposed to the capitalist system, especially when you are making $70,000 per month sitting around making banal observations about American politics that relies on four-letter words to spice things up.

Update:

I have just learned on Facebook that “I am a cuck” was “a song by the comedian Tim Heidecker who wrote it to mock the alt-right kids who went after him for, among other things, siding against keeping an alt-right influenced show on Cartoon Network’s adult swim.” As I said, the song was likely meant in jest but so was Bill Maher’s wisecrack about being a “field nigger”.

July 15, 2017

Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames: sexist pigs

Filed under: journalism,sexism — louisproyect @ 2:25 pm

When I watched Oliver Stone’s Putin interviews, I was struck by how the two men were bonded by homophobia. I have a strong sense that some on the American left are attracted to Putin because he isn’t into “political correctness”. For example, when the subject of gays in the military came up, Stone asked how he would deal with having to take showers with “them”. Putin smiled and said that he was a judo expert. Does anybody not understand that this meant that he would kick their ass?

I don’t think that Matt Taibbi is the sort of person nowadays who would be drawn to Putin’s backward attitudes but I’ll bet anything that Mark Ames would have gotten a chuckle out of the shower room exchange. Ames is a ubiquitous figure on social media who can be counted on to take Putin’s side on just about every issue, from his intervention Ukraine to blaming a rightwing gay activist for the murderous assault on gays in Chechnya.

Here is an excerpt from a Chicago Reader article about a book they wrote about their time publishing Exile in Russia:

Most notably, the Exile nurtures a peculiarly vicious and schizoid attitude toward women. While Russian women are rhapsodically celebrated as long-legged gazelles with loose morals–“the most physically attractive women on earth, and…usually available to the highest bidder,” expat women are ridiculed at length as “fat-ankled” and defensively sexless. Self-hating geeky American men are encouraged to take advantage of the perception that all Americans are rich and have oodles of condomless sex (sometimes in the ass!) with drunk, nubile dyevushkas. Ex-girlfriends are held up to public ridicule–Ames at one point chronicles his threats to kill a pregnant ex if she won’t have an abortion. The club listings are rated by three factors: how cheap the beer is, how thuggish the crowd is, and how likely an expat male is to score: “Babes with nose-bleeds and their pot-bellied, cell-phone-totin’ sugar dyadyas. One of the highest concentrations of beautiful chicks–and heavily armed men–in the world. (If you have an 8-ball of whiff you’ll get laid.)”

It’s not ironic–Ames and Taibbi explicitly scorn the bourgeois safety net of irony–and it’s not just a rhetorical stance. “You’re always trying to force Masha and Sveta under the table to give you blow jobs,” complains their first business manager, an American woman, in chapter six, “The White God Factor.” “It’s not funny. They don’t think it’s funny.” “But…it is funny,” replies Taibbi. They take particular glee in trashing several former female staff members in print, taking multiple potshots at the aforementioned business manager’s “gorilla ass.” They’re equally nasty to her replacement, who quit in disgust after they went on a four-month “brain-sucking speed binge.”

And Ames’s treatment of Russian teenage girls is documented with frightening glee. In the book he recounts one evening with an expat investment banker pal and what he thought were three 16-year-old girls:

“When I went back into the TV room, Andy pulled me aside with a worried grin on his face. ‘Dude do you realize…do you know how old that Natasha is?’ he said.

“‘Sixteen?’

“‘No! No, she’s fif-teen. Fif-teen.’ Right then my pervometer needle hit the red. I had to have her, even if she was homely.”

After they do it, she tells him she has a three-month-old baby.

“It was hard to imagine that Natasha had squatted out a baby,” Ames writes. “Her cunt was as tight as a cat’s ass….I’d slept with mothers before–they’re a lot wider. Sex with them is like probing a straw in a mildew-lined German beer mug.”

Later he learns that she’s lying–she has no baby, but rather is four months pregnant. After she has an abortion, he writes about her in the Exile, suggesting that she be sterilized and awarded “one of those cheap trophy cups with the inscription ‘World’s Greatest Mom.'”

Ames and Taibbi rationalize their flaming sexism with the argument that part of the whole expatriate experience is to have one’s moral compass come loose. American men have internalized a sexual script that prescribes equality and respect, but “out in Russia,” Ames writes, “you gain a little perspective, which can be dangerous. Deep down, even the most emasculated, wire-rimmed glasses, cigar-smoking and martini-drinking American guy fantasizes about living in a world full of…well, I’ll let you guess: a) self-reliant, androgynous women who are also your friends, b) young, beautiful sluts.”

Needless to say this kind of thing pisses some people off. In early 1998 Ames’s column about Natasha pissed off a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun named Kathy Lally, who lobbied to get an influential Internet newsgroup about Russia to stop posting the Press Review column. This in turn pissed off the Exile boys enough that they decided to give her the treatment. They had a female friend call her and, posing as an anti-Exile sympathizer, ask her to help shut the paper down by giving a statement to FAPSI–Russia’s Federal Agency of Government Communication and Information, an organization analogous to the National Security Agency that, according to Taibbi, has a reputation for being “a reactionary force on par with the old KGB.” They got Lally on tape agreeing to “think about it,” and of course they published the transcript. Upon hearing from a friend that they’d made her cry, Taibbi writes, “Mark and I burst out laughing.

“‘Good!’ I shouted.

“‘Fuck her!’ said Mark.”

July 29, 2015

Richard Bernstein and New York’s nail salons

Filed under: sexism,workers — louisproyect @ 2:43 pm

Richard Bernstein

In May the NY Times ran a series of investigative reports on the city’s nail salons that depicted a trail of abuse that consisted of sub-minimum wage pay, exposure to toxic chemicals and a work week that might consist of 66 hours according to one report.

I found the articles compelling both for what they said about super-exploitation and as a welcome exposure of one of the city’s more dubious enterprises. When I moved to New York in 1979, they were beginning to take root. Like everything else that has transformed the city into a playground for the rich and the superrich, they always struck me as a kind of decadent reminder of colonialism with white women having their hands and feet catered to by Asian women. Sarah Maslin Nir, who deserves a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting, wrote:

The juxtapositions in nail salon workers’ lives can be jarring. Many spend their days holding hands with women of unimaginable affluence, at salons on Madison Avenue and in Greenwich, Conn. Away from the manicure tables they crash in flophouses packed with bunk beds, or in fetid apartments shared by as many as a dozen strangers.

Ms. Ren worked at Bee Nails, a chandelier-spangled salon in Hicksville, N.Y., where leather pedicure chairs are equipped with iPads on articulated arms so patrons can scroll the screens without smudging their manicures. They rarely spoke more than a few words to Ms. Ren, who, like most manicurists, wore a fake name chosen by a supervisor on a tag pinned to her chest. She was “Sherry.” She worked in silence, sloughing off calluses from customers’ feet or clipping dead skin from around their fingernail beds.

At night she returned to sleep jammed in a one-bedroom apartment in Flushing with her cousin, her cousin’s father and three strangers. Beds crowded the living room, each cordoned off by shower curtains hung from the ceiling. When lights flicked on in the kitchen, cockroaches skittered across the countertops.

The articles were so well researched and so filled with righteous indignation simmering beneath the surface of the typically neutral reportorial style that they were enough to spur NY State’s neoliberal governor into action. On May 18th he announced a series of bills that would curtail such abuses and that would include a Bill of Rights to be posted in every workplace informing workers of their rights to a decent wage and normal working hours.

Four days ago, however, a blog post titled “What the ‘Times’ Got Wrong About Nail Salons” appeared in the New York Review of Books, a high-toned journal that has been around since 1963. During the Vietnam War it reflected the popular mood, publishing articles by Noam Chomsky and other leftists. As it has gotten older, it has moved to the center and become complacent. So in that sense, it was no surprise that Bernstein would submit his article to the NY Review and that they would publish it.

Bernstein traded on the fact that he used to work for the Times and that his Chinese wife and sister-in-law run a nail salon:

As a former New York Times journalist who also has been, for the last twelve years, a part owner of two day-spas in Manhattan, I read the exposé with particular interest. (A second part of the same investigation, which appeared in the Times a day later, concerned chemicals used in the salon industry that might be harmful to workers.) Our two modestly-sized establishments are operated by my wife, Zhongmei Li, and my sister-in-law, Zhongqin Li, both originally from China, and “mani-pedi” is a big part of the business. We were startled by the Times article’s Dickensian portrait of an industry in which workers “spend their days holding hands with women of unimaginable affluence,” and retire at night to “flophouses packed with bunk beds, or in fetid apartments shared by as many as a dozen strangers.” Its conclusion was not just that some salons or even many salons steal wages from their workers but that virtually all of them do. “Step into the prim confines of almost any salon and workers paid astonishingly low wages can be readily found,” the story asserts. This depiction of the business didn’t correspond with what we have experienced over the past twelve years. But far more troubling, as we discovered when we began to look into the story’s claims and check its sources, was the flimsy and sometimes wholly inaccurate information on which those sweeping conclusions were based.

Today I was pleased to see the NY Times response to Bernstein that basically stated that Bernstein was trying to depict his own nail salons as typical of the industry when the investigative reporting team’s work was based on a broad cross-section and backed up by Department of Labor statistics. It concluded with this knockout punch:

Mr. Bernstein produced much fine and admirable work during his lengthy tenure at The Times. He has many friends here. To his credit, he has been upfront about being part of the salon industry and having a vested financial interest in its health. Still, that doesn’t alter the fact that he has taken on the role of a partisan defender, not a journalist.

In an exchange prior to his story, Mr. Bernstein argued that our stories failed to highlight how being a manicurist can lead to a successful career as a salon owner. We concede he made a valid point about certain positives in the industry that could have been amplified. But we are nonetheless disappointed that the New York Review of Books chose to publish what is essentially an example of industry advocacy, not unbiased journalism.

Out of curiosity, I checked out Bernstein’s articles in the NY Times archives just to see why someone would try to put a positive spin on an industry that was just one step up from slave labor. With 1,867 articles to his credit, I could find none that were particularly obnoxious.

But what did catch my eye was a review of a book he wrote in 2009 titled “The East, The West, And Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters”. Hmm. What was up with that? Reviewer Simon Winchester found this observation of Bernstein’s troublesome: “the sexual advantage of the Western man in the East is an aspect of Western dynamism, the questing spirit of Europeans, compared with the relative passivity of Asian in these matters.” Talk about Orientalism!

Winchester was relatively charitable to Bernstein, as you would expect for a review of an alumni’s book, but Salon.com not so much as might be indicated by the tile of Laura Miller’s review: “White male seeking sexy Asian women”. She wrote:

However, sexual freedom, to a greater and more intimate degree than any other freedom, is a paradoxical thing. Unless you’re talking about masturbation, then someone else — a human being with his or her own desires and dislikes — is involved. If you define sexual freedom as being able to do whatever you want with whomever you please, then (except in very rare cases of perfect compatibility with one’s partner at every moment) one man’s freedom is another woman’s compulsion. Women in traditional harem cultures languished in a condition of de facto slavery, where they had no right to determine anything about their own lives, let alone their sexual partners and activities. Their very survival was predicated on pleasing men. They were treated for the most part as animate commodities, like livestock, to be bought, sold and discarded at will. And if Eastern men’s adulterous shenanigans were regarded as “natural,” in women such behavior was punishable by extreme social ostracism and frequently by death.

No wonder that a man who wrote a book that was indifferent to Asian women languishing in “a condition of de facto slavery” and being treated “like livestock” would put the best possible spin on nail salons.

Disgusting.

 

 

April 27, 2014

Donald Sterling: racist and sexist pig extraordinaire

Filed under: capitalist pig,racism,real estate,sexism,sports — louisproyect @ 8:45 pm

This week there were blatant signs that America was not yet a “postracial” society. First we were treated to the spectacle of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, hailed by the libertarian right for his stand against a federal government he deemed non-existent, telling a NY Times reporter that Blacks abort their young children and put their young men in jail “because they never learned how to pick cotton.”

Fast on his heels, Donald Sterling, the 81 year old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, a basketball team with a Black coach and star guard who also happens to be the president of the players’ union, was caught saying over the phone to his 38 year old girlfriend—of mixed Latino and Black ancestry—that she should stop showing up at his arena with so many Blacks. Quoting Sterling:

It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?

You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that … and not to bring them to my games.

I’m just saying, in your lousy fucking Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people.

…Don’t put him [Magic Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.

This was all on a tape that his girlfriend released to TMZ, a gossip website.

This story has burst through the seams of sports and become a hot topic on television news and the newspapers. In today’s NY Times, William C. Rhoden, a Black sports reporter, wrote:

The more compelling question for the league’s players is whether they will speak out — or act out — against Sterling. And what about the league’s other owners? How will they respond? Will they remain silent? Will they issue a collective statement? Or will individual owners like the usually vocal Mark Cuban, who declined to address the Sterling issue, send their own messages?

Mark Cuban has a reputation for being one of the more progressive-minded owners (his Dallas team, like Sterling’s, is in the playoffs). He also owns Magnolia Pictures, a prime distributor of hard-hitting documentaries including one based on the the March 2006 rape, murder, and burning of 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her parents and younger sister by U.S. soldiers.

But I am not that surprised he declined to comment on the Sterling affair. Cuban is a diehard libertarian and as such views property rights as sacrosanct, just like the Nevada rancher.

In digging into Sterling’s past, I made the discovery that he was born to Jewish immigrants surnamed Tokowitz. Like many men getting off the boat, his father made a living as a peddler just like my grandmother. Sterling’s father peddled fruit while my grandmother pushed clothing.

Sterling started off in Los Angeles as a divorce lawyer but soon switched to real estate cases. That led in turn to a full-time real estate business that included properties in Black and Latino neighborhoods. This is where his racism first reared its ugly head. Dave Zirin, a radical sportswriter for the Nation Magazine, details his sordid past:

Sterling is also the Slumlord Billionaire, a man who made his fortune by building low-income housing, and then, according to a Justice Department lawsuit, developing his own racial quota system to decide who gets the privilege of renting his properties. In November of 2009, Sterling settled the suit with the US Department of Justice for $2.73 million, the largest ever obtained by the government in a discrimination case involving apartment rentals. Reading the content of the suit makes you want to shower with steel wool. Sterling just said no to rent to non-Koreans in Koreatown and just said hell-no to African-Americans looking for property in plush Beverly Hills. Sterling, who has a Blagojevichian flair for the language, says he did not like to rent to “Hispanics” because “Hispanics smoke, drink and just hang around the building.” He also stated that “black tenants smell and attract vermin.”

One of my earliest memories was visiting “Tante Leya” in New York with my mother—I must have been 10 years old or so. This was most likely my grandmother’s cousin who spoke no English. After spending two of the longest hours in my life as Leya and my mother chatted in Yiddish over tea and cookies, we finally left to go downtown—probably to see the Radio City Christmas show or something like that. In the elevator, my mother turned to me and said,”Leya is a slumlord. She buys buildings and rents the apartments to Negros who complain about rats and broken boilers.” That was the first time in my life I heard the term slumlord.

At 81, Sterling’s values were a lot closer to Tante Leya’s than mine. This was a man who worshipped money not “Jewish values”. When a Satmar Hasidic slumlord was killed a few months ago, I was reminded of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”, a case in which Inspector Poirot was stymied by the fact that a multitude of people had motives to kill the victim. The Satmar was such a crook and so callous in his dealings with Black tenants that it was impossible to figure out who killed him. If Donald Sterling ever ends up with a knife in the back, the cops will have the same problem.

A Sports Illustrated profile on Sterling from 2000 analyzes his cheapskate behavior as a reaction to childhood poverty. Michael Selsman, his former publicist, told SI: “As a kid, Donald never had enough of anything. With him, acquiring great wealth is a crusade. He’s psychologically predisposed to hoarding.” Not every Jew who lived through the Great Depression ended up in quite that manner. My mother complained bitterly about my father’s reluctance to buy a house in the roaring 1950s but understood it as a reaction to childhood poverty. That being said, my father—like most Depression era men—had no ambition to build an economic empire over hapless victims, particularly Black people.

Perhaps taking the advice of another publicist concerned about his shitty reputation, Sterling got involved in a project to benefit Los Angeles’s enormous homeless population but like everything else the billionaire gets involved with, it was nothing but a scam. The Los Angeles Weekly reported in 2008:

These days, though, Sterling’s vow to help the homeless is looking more like a troubling, ego-inflating gimmick dreamed up by a very rich man with a peculiar public-relations sense: Witness his regular advertisements proclaiming another “humanitarian of the year” award — for himself. From homeless-services operators to local politicians, no one has received specifics for the proposed Sterling Homeless Center. They aren’t the least bit convinced that the project exists.

“He uses every opportunity to have it announced somewhere,” says Alice Callaghan, an Episcopal priest who runs the Skid Row day-care and education center Las Familias del Pueblo. “But it sounds like a phantom project to me.”

Like many other scumbags who made a fortune (George Steinbrenner, Fred Wilpon, James Dolan) in some other type of business, Sterling decided to buy a professional sports team at the top of his game. In 1981, he bought the Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise that was nowhere near as prestigious as the Los Angeles Lakers (Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s team) but a bargain at twice the price. His initial 12.5 million dollar investment is now worth a half-billion.

The SI profile captures a man who would make Scrooge McDuck look like Lucky Jim Fitzsimmons. He suggested to coach Paul Silas that they could save money if he taped the players’ ankles.

Nobody ever bothered to challenge Sterling until the superstar Elgin Baylor became general manager. Baylor was committed to making the team competitive even if it meant demanding that his boss open up his wallet. After 22 years of fighting a losing battle, Baylor was probably relieved to be fired in 2008 but not so much so to prevent him from filing a racial discrimination case against Sterling. The LA Times reported:

In the original lawsuit, Baylor said that Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the Clippers and accused the owner of a “pervasive and ongoing racist attitude” during long-ago contract negotiations with Danny Manning. The lawsuit also quoted Sterling as telling Manning’s agent, “I’m offering you a lot of money for a poor black kid.”

Baylor alleged Sterling said he wanted the Clippers to be “composed of ‘poor black boys from the South’ and a white head coach.”

It should of course come as no surprise that Sterling was a sexist pig as well as a racist. ESPN, a sports magazine similar to Sports Illustrated, Jason Easly recounts his scandalous abuse of women. Christine Jaksy, a former employee, sued Sterling for sexual harassment in 1996. ESPN states:

Jaksy first worked for Sterling in 1993, as a hostess at one of his “white parties,” where guests dressed Gatsby style at his Malibu beach house; she eventually went into property management. Jaksy testified that Sterling offered her clothes and an expense account in return for sexual favors. She also testified that he told her, “You don’t need your lupus support groups I’m your psychiatrist.” Jaksy left her job in December 1995, handing Sterling a memo that read in part, “The reason I have to write this to you is because in a conversation with you I feel pressured against a wall and bullied in an attempt to be overpowered. I’m not about to do battle with you.” She carried a gun because, according to her testimony, she feared retribution.

One of the most shocking revelations about Donald Sterling was the NAACP’s decision to present him with a Lifetime Achievement award this year. (Of course, they also decided to give a Man of the Year award to the snitch Al Sharpton.) Even though they made the decision to present the award before the phone call tape was released to TMZ, they must have been aware of all his other anti-Black words and actions. What prompted them to overlook this was his handing out of from 2 to 3 thousand tickets to Black youth for home games of the LA Clippers. They have since rescinded the award.

Professional sports fascinates me both as a fan and as a critic of American society. What makes it unique is the tension between private ownership and the public’s sense that it is “their team”. Toward the end of the NBA season, New Yorkers planned to stage a protest against owner Jim Dolan in front of Madison Square Garden. They were sick and tired of his meddling in the team’s business, making decisions that undercut the team’s fortunes. Apparently nervous that the protest might lead to more escalated forms of action such as a boycott, Dolan hired Phil Jackson, a basketball legend like Elgin Baylor, to run the team and promised to not interfere.

When you listen to sports fans calling in to WFAN or the ESPN station in New York, they sound more informed about the team than Jim Dolan. Unlike their generally passive acceptance of whatever Chase Manhattan Bank has up its sleeves to screw the working person, the sports fan is ready to take to the barricades in order to win a championship. In the documentary “Manufacturing Consent”, Noam Chomsky states:

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. That keeps them from worrying about — keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in (discussions of) sports (as opposed to political and social issues). I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

If and when that passion becomes devoted to challenging the corporate system as a whole, we might finally see the possibility of realizing that old-time vision of a Socialist America.

 

May 7, 2013

Guest speakers at the 2013 Socialist Rapist Conference

Filed under: Academia,British SWP,sexism — louisproyect @ 6:35 am

http://www.marxismfestival.org.uk/speakers.htm

Paul Le Blanc
Paul Le Blanc is an author and activist flying in from the United States for Marxism 2013. His many books include “Lenin and the Revolutionary Party”, and “Black Liberation and the American Dream”. He will speak on “The history and future of Lenininism” [Is that anything like Troskyismism?]

Gilbert Achcar
His many publications include “The Arabs and the Holocaust”.  His new book “The People Want: a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising” is out this year.

Plus Alan Freeman and Radhika Desai who seem to live for these things.

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